Sunday, June 2, 2013

On losing faith...

I haven't posted on here in eons. Just not inspired, I guess.

First, a complaint. Why is it that if you follow a pastor long enough, they seem to fall off the rails eventually? It's like they start out fresh and full of godly ideas and ideals and build a community based on those things and soon enough, the community ends up reciprocating in such a way that the pastor ends up brainwashed and obsolete- like all the others before him who were the reason he felt charged to overthrow the pulpit in the first place.

I've posted several quotes and things from Matt Chandler's sermons here in the past, but I have to admit, I haven't listened to his sermons in a long time. It seems like the goal (or the method, I guess) has shifted from teaching to preaching and I don't tend to accept preaching nearly as readily. It's like he forgot that people need to know why they should want to believe these things and instead has moved towards an approach closer to the old, overused "because the Bible says so" doctrine. It's underwhelming, unmoving and frankly, inhuman.

When I hear stories of abuse in the non- Catholic church community and Matt Chandler retweets a reprehensible, appalling, morally corrupt defense of the abusers or when he pushes absolute propaganda against abortion rights, I can't help but feel like he's been blinded. Blinded and brainwashed.

I'm not saying a pastor has to be pro-choice, but if you're going to be anti-choice, at least focus on the root of the problem. At least. Don't demonize abortion. And if the reaction to that sentence is, "But it's murder," I've seen far more compassion towards convicted murderers than I have seen to the women and girls who are facing this truly cruel decision. And it is a cruel decision- it takes years to build towards the decision that abortion is the best option. Even if the decision seems hasty sometimes, it actually isn't. It's still made with the information with which the woman is equipped at the time the decision is made. If they believe they are unsupported and that a baby would be a truly crippling endeavor, even with adoption as a possibility, how did they get there? Odds are, they got there through events that were less of their own doing than that killer in prison for whom pastors show an abundance of compassion.

Of course I'm generalizing, but at the same time, the fact that there are endless possibilities and endless reasons means that pastors should show more restraint, more compassion, less judgment and they should definitely not alienate those in need by perpetuating propaganda, whether it's a fake abortion "documentary" or a sleazy victim-blaming statement in support of disgusting pastoral behavior.

Pastors are supposed to fight for the widows and children, aren't they? And it seems as they get bigger and their celebrity isolates them from the real people, the less they can empathize and connect with those who need it most. They start focusing on mass salvation rather than profound salvation.

And it makes me sad.


On an unrelated topic, the death of my dog on April 25th messed with my faith enormously. I couldn't understand why God would make her suffer the extra hours that she suffered. It still hurts my heart to think about it. But oddly enough, my non-Christian husband restored (most of) my faith. He does believe in God, which is important, as if I had married an atheist, odds are I would have lost my faith through all of this. Instead, he reminded me where God was in all this heartbreak and I am grateful that he did, even if I'm still pretty resentful and distant to God right now. He told me God gave him those few hours with her, the ones I wished He had taken away because he needed them. He needed those hours to say goodbye to her, so it wasn't that God wasn't listening but that God was doing the best He could for all of us, I guess.

But man, she got sick so suddenly. She was our healthiest dog and within a few weeks, she was gone. And at the same time, a dog who belongs a friend of mine had a massive tumor removed from her belly. At fourteen, it was unlikely that she would have escaped cancer and survived the surgery too. But she did. The massive tumor wasn't cancerous and now she's up and about again. And though my friend says she would have been able to handle it if her doggy had died, I remember reading her messages about it all and feeling scared for her. I remember feeling like there was no way this dog could die right now, that it would be too much on her plate with all that was going on with her father being ill, her own health scare and the sudden instability and anxiety in her life. And so, I prayed for her dog to be healed. I pleaded with God to give her this reprieve. And He did. And somehow, at the same time, took mine away.

I have to admit it does bother me that my prayers work for other people and not for me. I guess I take for granted the ones that do. We are provided for (somehow) and she didn't suffer long either. People I love make it to and from places safely and we're safe and loved. I do have a lot of blessings. But I can't help but feel like these major ones, the ones that break me to pieces fall on deaf ears. And then, at the same time, I would accept it if that was the case. I would accept all the heartbreak and all the grief and all the pain if it meant those I pray for wouldn't have to.

I would give anything to have my Jemma alive again, but I wouldn't ever wish that it was reversed and my friend's dog be taken instead of mine.

I just hope God has taken her swimming. When she was on the vet table and she was terrified, I told her we would go swimming tomorrow. I hope God kept my promise. Please, God, keep my promise to my baby girl.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So a father shot up his daughter's laptop...

And this passage from Matt Chandler came to mind (see full text here, which was about Colossians 3 and for this part in particular, he was talking about Ephesians 6:4) :
Just to be straight, as fathers we do not negatively motivate our children. Your daddy might have done that to you, but a godly man does not negatively motivate his child. He doesn’t poke and jab and exhaust their son’s or daughter’s spirit. They don’t provoke them to anger. I think a house should just be filled with grace, mercy and fun, but at the end of the day, you have to figure out a way to nurture, disciple and shape your children that does not exasperate them. Now, at some level, children are going to rebel against rules and they’re not going to like the rules. We have already covered that they’re morons. So they’re just not going to get it. I don’t think this is saying, “Don’t make your children angry,” because there are times your children are going to be angry. The text is saying, “Don’t try to make them angry.” Don’t take things personally to the point where you aggressively attack your children and try to lay burdens on them that they’re going to be unable to walk in and unable to submit to. In the end, you simply create children who become frustrated with the authority over them in a way that honestly isn’t biblical.

And I’ll say this just because we do a lot of work with twenty-somethings here that are banged up. Specifically you fathers, watch your mouth. And I’m not talking about cussing. Watch your mouth towards your sons, and definitely watch your mouth towards your daughters. I cannot unpack for you how powerful your mouth is when it comes to your children. It can absolutely instill in your daughters self-confidence and safety in a man who will treat her, encourage her and lover her well. Or you can teach her that she’s worthless and that what she needs is to be demeaned her entire life. That will start with daddy. You can make your son feel safe in how God created him to be. So maybe your son loves soccer, maybe he loves ballet. Your goal regardless, is to nurture and to love and to encourage them with your mouth. You need to speak life and blessing into your children and not use your tongue to wound or assault your children. It has lasting effects. In my sit-downs with twenty-somethings, they can still tell me of instances and times where a father or mother was quick with their tongue and that was a shaping, molding moment.
The first time I heard that sermon, it touched me deeply because I believe it to be so, so true given my past experiences. And right now, from this vantage point, I can't help but feel so grateful that my future husband will raise his daughters in an encouraging and incredibly unconditionally loving way. Thank God for that.

Thank God for that.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On aging gracefully...

When a really, really old devout Christian dies, it seems there's this aura of, "See? God gave her a long, amazing life because she was so strong in her faith," and when a young atheist dies in a brutal way, the aura is the opposite. If he had just believed, he wouldn't have died so miserably, so soon.

But what of the young child with incurable brain cancer who believes that Jesus is her savior?

What do we say about her?

She doesn't believe enough? Or her belief isn't real? Is it not deep enough? Or is this just part of the plan?

Maybe it's the remnants of my agnosticism, but I do believe the world is a warped, broken place with so much damage that we've created added onto the chaotic innate power the world has already.

So we develop cancers. And we die young. Or our genes and development and lifestyle mesh just so and we live for eons.

But in all this, two things are true: God is present and nature is unforgiving.

How do the two line up? We just don't know. You know what I mean? If you give somebody a charmed life full of happiness and without suffering, the first bit of suffering they incur, however minute, will be catastrophic. We're seeing the world, as cruel and heartless as it is, from the perspective of that person, our suffering now placed on the scale of the infinite. We can't know what it means or why we have to endure it.

But what we can know is that through this suffering, we grow, we become humble and we empathize. We also learn to love more wholeheartedly and unabashedly. And in those things, we become relevant to the rest of humanity in that we are probably more likely to show people humility, grace, forgiveness, love and compassion that they might know a world where these things exist and in that way, there is always a potential for believing that there is a God from whose essence these things emerge.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


It came up in conversation today that my faith is on the back burner. The person implied I was "invested" in the wrong things, and also inferred that choosing to stay in this house, the one my dad built for me in a mad hurry after I left my abusive ex, rather than moving into the newly opened up apartment on the floor below the pastor and his wife in the city meant I was choosing other things over God.

Why is my faith on the back burner? It's not because I'm invested in other things. It's only partly because of my disease, which causes me to spend my time between sleeping, moping, being angry at being mopey and overextending myself only to wind up with even less energy the next day. Only partly because even if I would love to blame my disease for my lack of reading of the Bible these days (I honestly don't have enough focus to wrap my head around it right now, nor the memory to retain it), for my lack of church attendance (I really am too tired to drive that far and "waste" that many spoons on such a short-lived endeavor), and for everything else I've been neglecting lately, but that's just not the root of it.

The root is that I'm angry at faith.

I'm not angry at God. I love God. I pray to Him and explain to Him how I think my prayers are meaningless because of the neglects mentioned in the previous paragraph. God doesn't listen to those who only go to Him when they need something, they say. Repent, they say.

They, they, they.

They make me angry.

I was going to say, "Ever since Tim Keller answered my question asking if he had any advice to give a believer engaged to a non-believer," but it was even before that (by the way, he answered, "Oh, that's easy: get unengaged.").

I think it's ever since I explained to the pastor of this particular Montreal church in explicit detail why I wasn't going to church that I've had this anger. Maybe even before that.

So, where are you at in terms of being part of a gospel community? Are you plugged in anywhere? If not, you should come be a part of [his church] (or at least check out the service piece of it).

me, a day later:

I've been trying to figure out how to answer this... No, I'm not plugged in anywhere. I still have a hard time with churchy things, both on and emotional level (the confinement and obligation bothers me) and as a remaining conflict of life-long agnosticism. Also, I tend to lack self-discipline as far as meaning to attend goes, in large part because my job allows me to work at night (I'm a natural night owl) so waking up in single digit time is difficult for me. And by difficult, I don't mean tedious and painful. I actually get really upset about it and cry very easily. :D

All those excuses aside, I think I am having a hard time reconciling church practice with my life. Without intending to sound like a stereotype, I know that my relationship with my boyfriend is not the ideal, but I also know I don't trust God enough to go any other way at this point and somehow going to church seems... dishonest. I know that church isn't "a museum of saints", but I pray on everything and plead with God to be merciful because honestly, I feel too broken to give up certain parts or patterns within my life that I've come to use as a measure or means of progress and growth.

When I'd met with you guys, this relationship had just started and prior to it, I really had no intention on dating at all. But I had plugged in to Christians a little to ask how a Christian dating relationship is supposed to play out because it just doesn't make sense to me and while the advice I got wasn't all that helpful, I did try to do things differently this time, and I think for the most part, I did grow apart from a lot of the behaviors that used to be staples in my relationships, but some remain- some that aren't "biblical", even if I can't seem to find anywhere in the Bible to back that up properly.

Anyway, I know you're a busy guy so I'll stop there, but I know you've probably heard the same story a thousand times already and hearing "but I'm different" another time doesn't make it any different. I just wanted to be honest...

I am praying on it. I know church is my downfall in Christianity. I've hated church since before I even started school and no matter what the form, it still elicits a strong negative reaction out of me...

Anyhoooo, I should get going to work.

I didn't get a reply. And I know he's a busy guy (I even said it in the email and I mean what I say), but I can't help but feel the way I did when I was agnostic: church Christians love you within the walls of the church and the minute those walls are gone, so is the love. And it burns me up.

And over the past few months (nearly a year since I wrote that email), it's been accumulating in me.

If the love we experience in this world, both the giving and receiving, is meant to show us God, meant as a form of worship, how does this happen in Christian communities? How do so many of the people not know how to love?

And some might reply that they're just human, etc etc, but in my lifetime, if I was to add it all up, I have witnessed more utterly selfless examples of love through atheists and agnostics than I have with religious people of any faith. If we are all just human, why aren't the probabilities even all across the board?

Christianity, if not played right, is a sport of introversion. I have to make me better, I have to serve, I have to repent, I have to pray, I have to stop sinning, no wait, I don't have to stop sinning, I have to love and trust God more. It goes on and on and on and at the end of it, you have a person who is ONLY serving to be (or feel like?) a better person, not because he is a nobody who deserves nothing.

Get unengaged. It reminds me of the blog post I read written by a missionary a couple years ago in which he was absolutely elated that this guy who was cohabitating with his non-believing girlfriend dumped her (FINALLY!) and decided to pursue his faith more determinedly. Is that really a cause for elation? Doesn't anybody know what love is?

There's a passage everybody knows, right? The one everybody uses at their wedding:

1 Corintians 13, from the ESV:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Let's break it down, shall we?

1. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

What's he saying here about love? Nothing matters, not being supernaturally spiritual, not knowing everything, not being all-faithful, not being generous, not sacrificing yourself, if there is no love? Is that not what he's saying?

4-6. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

What is love? It is humble, human, selfless and true.

7. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

"Bear" goes two ways, I think. Love allows us to carry weight we wouldn't otherwise be able to carry but it also reveals all things. It has no secrets and hides nothing. And love also gives us hope. It keep us from growing cynical and bitter. Through everything, through all we go through both in our lifetime and as a species in general, love endures. I actually say that to people when I am asked for proof that miracles happen: the fact that we are still able to love when the world is so full of reasons not to (and has always been full of brutal reminders not to- this isn't a new thing), is a miracle. It really, really is. The fact that I am still able to love is a miracle. And on that miracle rests all of the hope I have for anything else in this lifetime and beyond.

8. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

It never ends. Humans will come and go. Knowledge will come and go. All things will come and go, but love? Love endures. Love never ceases. What does that say about our daily priorities? What is on top? What should be on top?

9 & 10. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Here's where we get into my interpretation, so bear with me if you know more than me. We only barely have a glimpse of the love of God. The sum of every bit of love we absorb and give in our lifetime is only a part of the perfect love we will come to know with God. Imagine that for a second. Imagine that if you spend your entire life loving and that is all you do, you will still end up with only a partial view of what love is.

11. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
12. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

This part, the ESV study Bible jumbles up for me. To me, the child is us in this lifetime, the man is the one who knows God. Now, as children, our view is obscured, we only see part of what it's all about, even if we're face to face with what we're supposed to see. As men, we will see it all and realize how small and naive and dim our perception really was.

And love is most important.

Now you take all that and you compare two versions of how it's played out in our lives.

First, through a dog.

A dog wakes up and is ecstatic that you are there. If you're upset, it tends to you. If you're happy, it feeds off your happiness and reflects it back to you. It lives to see you smile. It lives to see you make the most of every day. It adores you and forgives you, whatever your mood. It regards you through an unwavering childlike perspective, even as the years go by.

Don't you find it odd that you can train a dog from birth to death, teaching them full sentences and even teaching them to ask for what they want, expanding their capacities both physically and mentally until they reach the limits set by the degradation of their abilities due to old age and yet, no matter what we do, what we put these animals through, we can never seem to impart on them our humanly bitterness, cynicism, vengeance and selfishness?

I remember standing with my Boo in an airport waiting for a friend's plane which was hours delayed and these weary travelers got off the plane, and as soon as they saw us in the terminal, the overwhelming majority of the tired, defeated passengers smiled at my Boo. They smiled. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of.

But I'm also admittedly biased in that I believe that dogs are meant to teach us the love of God beyond the capacity of any human.

Every day with a dog is a new day, a fresh day, and everything is forgiven and love is strengthened.

Now let's look at the guy who dumped his non-believing girlfriend. What kind of ripples does that cause?

I know from the perspective of the woman, it will be hard to stave the bitterness, the cynicism, the lack of trust. Will she ever date a Christian again? Will she ever be a Christian? What does she learn about love and loyalty from this experience?

And the guy? Even if Christians (I won't agree with) believe it was not selfish of him to abandon her for his faith, you cannot deny it was selfish of him to leave her behind, was it not?

Get unengaged.

This man I am with is not a Christian (he does believe in God, however). He is also the kindest, most loving, most respectful, most honorable person I have ever met. He wakes up every day and loves me more. And I don't mean the type of thing where our love grows because we've been together for a while, I mean this guy actively grows his love for me. He pursues me and learns about me and asks questions. He encourages me and takes care of me. He pushes me to grow and tells me when I need to fix my junk. He doesn't let me stay the same.

This man embodies everything I know (and hope) to be true about love.

Get unengaged?

To me, that is a terribly unChristian statement.

I live with this man (in sin!) and sleep with this man (also in sin!) and tell this man I love him. What, to me, is the Christian thing to do in this situation?

Love him fully. Commit to him fully by honoring the vows we have already made. Marry him. Follow through with the love I have started such that it will not be unholy. Pursue him. Show him the love that I am capable of through Jesus, through God. Show him that tiny glimpse of God's love through me. Love him unconditionally and selflessly. Respect him and help him to grow into a stronger, more forgiving love.

And in doing so, we will both be an example the world around us that this miracle, this love of which we are not only still capable but also able to grow throughout our lives, is but an immeasurably infinitely small fraction of the love of God.

That, to me, is how this relationship plays out from my perspective as a Christian.

Am I wrong?

Monday, November 21, 2011

On suffering and the limits of being human...

One of the few verse fragments I had actually heard before I got my Bible a couple years ago was from Matthew 22:46:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I was listening to a sermon from Tim Keller on suffering (I think it was from a long time ago), and he was saying that the suffering now will make whatever is to come all the more sweet and talked about how the reason Jesus endured such suffering was not to get to heaven, but to get us to heaven, that we were his hope in his time of greatest pain.

And aside from the sermon message, it occurred to me that if Jesus is God, how could He feel abandoned by God? And I know I've heard preachers explain it already, that in that particular moment, because of some accumulation of sins, Jesus was actually apart from God. Some even go so far as to say he went to hell for a while.

But if Jesus was fully human, there could be another explanation.

In the depths of greatest suffering, what happens to us? In the midst of some suffering, we shrug it off. Give us a little more and we're likely to turn to God, right? Given the right conditions, even the non-believers might find themselves pleading with a God they don't otherwise believe in. But throw us into extreme suffering, suffering where the body is absolutely overwhelmed and can feel nothing else but suffering and what happens?

I've never been there, I guess, but at the same time, I suppose my own moments of greatest suffering, even if they're insignificant in the realm of possible suffering, might paint a glimpse of what might happen and I think it really is the feeling of being abandoned by God.

If you're a self-aware believer, you've probably noticed that very many of the atheists you meet carry with them this deep unresolved pain (as do most humans...). And I know in my experience before learning about Jesus, I had it too and it did keep me away from God. If my own family, in particular my own mother, did not love me when they are naturally predestined to love me, then how could God love me and not only that, but why would He allow me to experience such a strong, irreparable abandonment? Those questions, along with the fundamental sorrow I carried with me about them, did keep me from knowing God. It all kept me angry at God, even if I didn't believe in Him at all.

So what if that is a layer to Jesus' death on the cross?

And I also realized that the actual physical death on the cross and its complex multidimensional physical nature has the potential to grasp anybody. I've noticed that people who are afraid of death are left in awe by the fact that Jesus knowingly died, but for people like me, who aren't afraid of death, the dying part isn't the most significant. For us (of course I'm speaking generally), it's the earthly suffering that is what creates awe. He didn't just die knowingly; he endured hours of torture first. Knowingly. That is a sacrifice.

Back to my point. What if the human body in a state of suffering overwhelm detaches in such a way that there is no God? What if God, in all His might and power, is intangible at that level of suffering because our broken body creates this impenetrable wall to block out anything but the knowledge of our suffering? And it would be a wall so strong that even Jesus endured it. It would be a distinct human limit to our connection to God.

Then let's take that concept and modify it to accommodate each individual's ability to cope in the face of suffering, however mild or extreme and then you'd have this sort of human predisposition to losing faith under certain pressures.

And so, under these particular circumstances, depending on our own personal vulnerability, we find ourselves utterly alone, completely abandoned. But we know that Jesus wasn't actually abandoned. We know God never stopped loving Him, right? We know that eventually, Jesus was going to be at the right hand of God. (Or maybe we don't and I'm wrong?) But even if we are limited by the mechanisms we've evolved to cope with suffering, even if those mechanisms might have the potential to bring about a state where faith is impossible, it is also impossible that our perception in that moment causes God's love to cease to exist.. While we might not be able to feel God in that particular moment, God is always there.

And I think, as with anything about God, you can look at it as infinitely vast beyond our realm of knowledge, but you can turn it the other way, into the microscopic aspects of our lives. In moments of great suffering where we are rendered incapable of anything but suffering, God is there and conversely, in moments of minor suffering, even if we aren't overwhelmed and isolated, God is also there.

I don't know- I just thought it made sense as a possibility because if God is God and God influenced the Bible, then without a doubt there are layers in there we can't even begin to analyse.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On the lies demons tell us...

Me again.

As I do my copying and pasting, as I have been for work for the past... um, longer than I can remember anymore, I finally figured out that it's so mindless that I can listen to sermons again while doing it. And so, until I'm done, which will hopefully be this week, this place will probably be flooded more than usual with sermon snippets. Apologies if you find it dull and/or don't really like Matt Chandler's sermons, but really, I think they're awesome, and so that's how it goes.

So he rambles on (in the sermon from April 10th, 2011, which you can hear/read here) and somewhere near minute twenty, he quotes Colossians 2:13-15:

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14. by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

And then a little later he says this:
Now I love that last line in that text that says, “He puts to open shame the rulers and the principalities.” That’s a reference to demonic creatures. And I know we’re in the West and we want to pretend that stuff is not real, but in the Scriptures and in our experience here as your pastors here, there are demonic activities still very much functioning. Really the sole weapon they have is lying. They just lie and get us to believe lies. And those lies lead us into dark places.

Here’s what the text just said. A couple weeks ago, we were doing baptisms, and the girl who was baptized before my daughter gave this testimony of being sexually abused by a family member who was a deacon at a church. And then another family member did the same thing, which led her into a life of deep darkness, depravity and choosing to be abused by people. In fact, in her testimony, she said, “There are men with a radar for women like me.” She talked about how she had been abused and had just surrendered herself, thinking that she deserved that abuse somehow. Those are dark lies that she has believed. Who is whispering those lies to her? The authorities and principalities of this fallen world. And then yet in the middle of all those lies, being led down dark and deplorable, unspeakable paths, Jesus intervenes. Do you know what’s crazy? She gets in the water in front of a thousand strangers and shares her darkest moments. Do you know what happened in that moment? Jesus just said, “See? I’m better, bigger and stronger than this.”

And sure, anybody who knows me might see how that sort of explanation might affect me directly, even though my story isn't nearly that brutal, but I've never heard demons explained that way. I mean, I've heard them explained in a few ways, mostly with self-destructive behavior alteration, but this is the first time it's been said in a way where the person still makes all their choices on their own, but the information they're given in order to make those choices, and in particular, the information they're given about themselves, is very, very wrong.

And in my own personal story, there was a really distinct and abrupt shift from that perception of me where that treatment was what I deserved to realizing that I could get out of that pattern if I would just call a spade a spade and stop justifying the mistreatment of myself as being something unchangeable or even usual.

And in that sentence, it makes it seem like an easy thing to do, but it really wasn't. I spent months trying to figure out what it was that I was emitting that made me vulnerable, what those men's radar was picking up. And then just like that, a friend last summer told me my perception of events that had transpired in the winter of 2000 were wrong, it negated everything I'd felt about what I deserved in a flash, even though I'd spent the ten years after those events in that same trap of abuse as Matt Chandler described.

The thing with deserving is we don't deserve anything. I think I've talked about it before, either in this blog or the black blog, but even from a natural, non-religious standpoint, we don't deserve anything. I mean, nature is a cruel, cruel game of survival and the fact that we have shelter, that we have food and water, that we have things in our lives that go above and beyond simple survival and that's not enough and we think we deserve things on top of that? It makes no sense. We don't deserve anything. There is no deserving. Even earning is iffy in the world we live in. You earn your living, earn your car, earn your house and then what? It gets wiped away in a tsunami. Just like that, in a second, it's gone. Add to that the disproportionate way that income is inversely related to work and really, what is earned anymore? You have the person working their ass off making minimum wage, going home utterly exhausted and spent physically and emotionally and totally beaten down at the end of the day and you have the executive who spends three hours of his workday on facebook.

So what is it that makes us feel we deserve anything?

But what I never realized in having that point of view is that I also held the opposite view. It's not that I deserve nothing at all, which really is what not deserving anything is, right? No, instead, all along, I've believed I deserve bad things. I deserved to be abused. I deserved to be mistreated. And it was only when Matt Chandler used that word that it clicked.

I've never said I have bad luck, but I have said I am unlucky in some aspects of life. To me, they're not the same. One implies junk is forced upon you as though you're some sort of victim, while the other, I felt, was more proactive. I tried, I did my best to remain idealistic and to stave off the cynicism, but in the end those aspects of my life just weren't meant to go well. But I didn't stop trying, even though I "knew" that. But the thing is, when you try and try and try all while believing you deserve horrible things, you will get those horrible things.

And I did analyse to death how those men got into my life, and I did find a pattern wherein they'd hurt me or reject me in some brutal, blatant way and when I wouldn't leave, when I'd forgive them and move on, that's when they knew. Whether it was conscious or not on their part, it was the same in every abusive relationship I've been in so far. And because I craved that indifference because I thought that was all there was out there because it was all I knew, I stayed and in staying, I shut myself off to any other possibilities.

But really, when I found God, or God picked me, stuff started to fall apart. How could God love me, how could I be a child of God, and- not that He'd let these things happen, but that He'd let me do these things to myself- how could He not make me feel loved enough to not even know what kind of love to hope for? And it made no sense because He made me loving. He made me forgiving. He made me strong enough to not carry a grudge (in the majority of situations anyway). What if God's example for love in my life was me all along? How could selfless, sacrificial love not exist if that was how I was living?

Or at least, striving to live.

And then that friend said without using the words, "You were loved; it just didn't come across that way," and things changed. There was love for me in the world, but I was missing it.

And so, I kind of do believe that explanation of demons. Not to shield myself from responsibility, but people say I'm fairly self-aware, but how else could I miss something so huge?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On idols and love...

From Matt Chandler's sermon given on March 20, 2011, questions which he says he took from Tim Keller originally:

So how do you identify idols? I have ten questions to ask yourself:
1. What consumes most of your thoughts and feelings?
2. What motivates the things that you do?
3. What are you most afraid of?
4. What brings the highest amount of frustration or anger into your life?
5. What is one thing that can change your mood in a second?
6. What would your friends say is your favorite topic of conversation?
7. What are some things that you feel you can’t live without?
8. What brings you solace?
9. What do you yearn for?
10. What is one thing that you wish God would do for you?
If you begin to answer those questions, you’ll be able to find your idols. Because what you think about, what you yearn for, what you talk about, what you want God to do for you, what drives you, what makes you angry, what satisfies you and what brings you comfort is what you worship.

I figure the best way to answer those questions is to just whip out answers as fast as possible without thinking. Here are mine.

1. Everything. There’s no real singular subject, but it’s everything. My dad refers to it as my anxiety, but it’s not usually anxiety so much as trying to figure things out. Assessment, I guess.
2. Love. More specifically, to be loved.
3. Everything. Life itself.
4. Lack of control.
5. Hard to put into words, but there are these moments where I’m the bad guy and I’m going to lose somebody and I have zero control over what they will do with me next. In those moments, I am ruined for the day. It doesn’t help that they’re usually brought on by things I’ve said or done that I really shouldn’t have.
6. Dogs. Probably. But I talk a lot, so I’m not sure that’s the only subject they might pick up on.
7. A car. Cars are freedom. And my dogs. Dogs are joy and family. Comfort and protection, I guess, is what I get from both.
8. Nothing. God, I guess, because nothing of this world brings me solace. It’s a major complaint lately. I have no escape. I have no tv, I have no substance that I can take to take me away and people would say the internet is my solace, but really, it’s more work than it is fun most of the time. It’s not relaxing. Writing does give me some relief, but I haven’t gone without it in over four years so I don’t know how big of a part it plays. You can always write- wherever you are. There’s always a pen and a receipt or business card or whatever. And if you know yourself well enough, you can write tiny and in code to fit it all in.
9. Happiness, I guess. Just knowing what that feels like. Maybe I already have it but I just don’t realize that this is what happiness feels like.
10. Love me. I wish I could know it’s there. I wish I could feel it even if I don’t feel it directly. You know? I wish I could be sure of it. Same goes for earthly loves too. I’m not even sure my own dogs love me.

Sometimes, I wish my idols were the easy ones, like money or lust or stuff. Or maybe they are easy ones and I just don’t see it. The most obvious one is my dogs but even then, I don’t think they’re idols so much as a part of my life I know a lot about and that just makes me laugh every day. They’re a source of a lot of stories. But I guess that’s it, right? If God is everything, shouldn’t He be a source of stories? I never do talk about God. Well, not never, but rarely. Of all the things I talk about, His pepperings are probably among the rarest. Shyness, I guess. How do you talk about greatness without ruining it? It’s like trying to describe how the Rockies make you feel to somebody who has never been. (Except that there's a 98% chance that they're somehow adamantly opinionated and confrontational about whether or not mountains exist.)

The other most obvious one is control. There are two instances of control with which I have the most trouble. One is the one I talked about in #5 and the other is with my dogs in public. I got yelled at by neighbors in the city so often that I am actually still quite scared of walking them in the daytime. I'm on high alert the entire time, waiting for somebody to come out and scream at me. As a result, if I'm out with my dogs in the daytime, I stress an enormous amount over the control I have over them. If they do something out of line, I panic. I become so easily frustrated because of the tenseness of the situation that the whole ordeal becomes so unpleasant that I just won't do it. I'll either walk them in the middle of the night or not at all.

I guess if I branch that out further, the overall theme is that I can't make mistakes. Whether I make a mistake in a relationship or I make what some stranger perceives as a mistake, I lose the control. I lose my confidence and my equality. All of a sudden, I'm the underdog and there's nothing I can do about it. In those moments, to be honest, I loathe myself.

Because if I was good enough, if I was a quality individual, I could make mistakes and people would forgive me. But since I'm not, people don't forgive me and instead, choose to walk out of my life completely or berate my person without any regard for me as a soul. Evidently, my quality of person makes it such that either one of those becomes easy.

And there is the other point Matt Chandler made in the same sermon:
The Bible is filled with shady characters. And this goes back to the point that the book is about the mercy and beauty of God in Christ and not you and me. Because almost all the men and women in Scripture are these abject failures who God uses mightily. Why? Because the point is Him, not you. So for those of you who like the other end of the spectrum where you loathe yourself, that’s just as much idolatry as loving yourself. Both are saying, “I have no need of the cross of Christ.” Both are wrong.

Right there, the point being I should be allowed to make mistakes, I should be allowed to fail and I should be allowed to just be me because that's enough. I may not be the best and I may not be perfect, but God made me lovable.

Jesus, the most loving character ever written, was sacrificed to make me perfect and take away my profound failings and to make me enough just as I am.

One day, I'll figure it out. Maybe.

And until then, it (this particular bit of idolatry), among many other things, will stand between me and God, from my end, not His.