Monday, December 31, 2012

Bringing good out of bad

I contemplated this as the ten year anniversary of the injury that started it all came and went, bringing no Mayan Apocalypse with it.
"To the limited extent that I suffer, I want that suffering to be productive, to bring about holiness and a purity of character.  I am grateful that the Bible is honest about the bad in this world: the bad is bad.  Too often Christians seem to want to say that because God allows suffering, that suffering is somehow good in itself.  This is not true; God is good, but sin and suffering are not.  They are not what God intended for this world and they will not be there in heaven.  But God does have the power to bring good out of bad (which is not the same as saying that a bad situation is inherently what God wants), and He is able to work in all things (good, bad and ugly) for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28)." - Tanya Marlow
I choose to believe this.

Happy New Year.

Family depression

The recent school shooting has brought mental illness and how families deal with it into spotlight once again.  The blame game has been played (the mother should have known, should have gotten her son help, the signs were there, etc.).  It's good to try to look for root causes to prevent future problems if at all possible, but her son was legally an adult.  And just because you want to help your adult children or adult siblings, doesn't guarantee that they get help, or that if they get help, they will be fixed by it.  The human mind is an unbelievably complex thing.

This is much on my mind as I watch and wonder if my sister is spiraling further into mental illness.  She is an adult, nearly 30, and she has suffered from depression (untreated) for years.  We have asked her if there is some reason for the way she treats my father (the kind of treatment one would expect from someone toward their rapist/abuser).  She has promised us that it's nothing like that.  He just sniffs, and she can't stand it.  That's all. 

Depression runs in my family.  (As Miles says, "We give it to each other.")  My mom has explained the briefest bit of her childhood struggles with it in her dysfunctional family.  She later sought treatment for anxiety and panic disorders, and her mental health has improved.

My sister has not sought treatment.  Instead, she has always had many excuses.  We are reaching the end of our patience for excuses. 

We, her loving family, are tired of watching her hurt us.  Some of us think she is fully in possession of her mental faculties and is choosing to act in cruel ways.  I think maybe this is related to OCD, depression, and maybe other mental health problems.  Either way, she needs help.

I think a reason I lean towards mental illness is because I don't want to believe that she is capable of deciding to act with such cruely while mentally balanced.  I don't want her treatment of my father and her distancing from my mother and her decision to end her friendship with me to be possible if she is in full possession of her wits.  That would hurt too much.  I would rather have something to blame it on.  I have that luxury because I live several states away and am naturally someone who does not need the company and affection of others. 

My parents who live with her do not have that luxury.  They just have the hurt.  And it's eating at them, threatening their mental health.  It has to be stopped.  But how?  I'm praying.  But I can't help thinking there is no right answer.  Having a loved one with mental health issues is not a simple situation with a single right answer.

If you are ever tempted to point fingers and blame when you encounter a situation like this, well, maybe hold that thought.  Humans and human relationships and love in a fallen world are messy, and it's always easier to point from outside, especially after the fact, to try to make neat conclusions once all the chips have fallen.  But inside, it is sad and scary and messy.  Please remember that.  Be careful how you judge.

And please pray.  Because I don't really know how to right now.

Give your friends a chance

An acquaintance recently informed us that she has suffered with depression and OCD for a couple of decades.  She was so nervous, it hurt to watch her.  I wondered whether she would start unraveling the blanket if she ran out of tissues to shred.  She made eye contact in stuttering dashes.

Oh, I thought, some things make sense now.  And then I thought, Why is she acting like she's coming out to a hostile audience?  She knows two others in the group have wrestled with depression (and still do).  Why is this so hard for her to "admit"?

As she told us she'd been kind of suicidal, I said a little prayer of thanks to God that I had been too typically procrastinatory to actually write that email I had been thinking about sending because I thought maybe she was just doing what my other friends who just wanted to move on had done because they were too cowardly to just say it to my face and break things off cleanly and openly.  Don't leave us hanging and wondering if you're going to come this week or ever again, I would have said in a more polite way because I was afraid she was just dithering in a passive aggressive way and afraid of hurting our feelings with the truth.  It's a very good thing I didn't send that email, which would have kindly assured her that if she didn't want to be part of the group anymore, she could just tell me, and I would tell everyone else and no one would hold it against her. 

Because that would really not have been a good thing for her to hear while she was trapped in negative thoughts, withdrawing from us all, as she told us she has done to many friends, because she didn't want to inflict herself on us, especially not when she was like that. 

I thought of a couple of my friends who pulled away in this way for some of these reasons because they were depressed.  Were they, like her, afraid of finding their friends really weren't that good of friends? That their friends would slowly drift away, always having a good excuse, not saying anything, not returning calls until no one called anymore?  Did they, afraid of finding out that truth, take the yoke upon themselves and wrap themselves in silence because forcing everyone away and leaving them seemed preferable to being left by them?  Probably.

My heart hurts.

How do I tell her that I am honored that she told us these things, yet that I beg her to please oh please give those friends a chance.  Because while it's true that some of them--even most of them and maybe all of them--will leave, some might stay, and she owes it to herself and those friends to uncover this truth?

"I was writing to figure it out, writing to get through it, writing because I couldn’t remember how to pray." - Addie Zierman

My heart hurts.  And all I can pray is, "Please, God . . ."

There are no unanswered prayers

Why is it, do you suppose, that in evangelical Christian sub/culture, we seem to believe that the only answered prayer is one where we get what we want?  As if the completely reasonable answers of "No" or "Wait" (which really sound the same practically speaking) are not actually legitimate answers for God the Father to give His children when we ask for something we, in all our finitude, want.

It's in songs, in church sermons, even in the words of some of my favorite contemporary bloggers.  It makes me so very sad.  Do we really believe that God just ignores some of our requests for some reason?  That He's not listening?  Where did this traditional view of things come from? 

Any insight you have would be appreciated.

Friday, November 23, 2012

When the body breaks down

Here is an interesting article about one former athlete's descent into the mire of medical problems.  In her struggles, I heard echoes of my own.
"I have known God's presence in unique ways during my journey from physical powerhouse to pathetic patient. As Christians, we know that we must take up our crosses and follow him daily. But what happens when that cross is gall bladder failure or an allergy to tomatoes? Saints in ages past were boiled in oil or crucified upside down for their faith. What good is it to suffer as an unwilling martyr merely to one's own brittle body?

"This would be the place for the inspiring testimonial about how spiritually transformative the experience of ill health has been. How I have been purified of fleshly pleasures and am now more single-mindedly focused on the celestial. Instead, I obsess about macaroni and pie. I find other ways to indulge, such as with junky magazines or mindless materialism." - Kathleen Anderson
My small group has been reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, and Lewis mentions that our highest goal and highest good is not health.  We are not commanded to be healthy, and good health is not a requirement for us to have faith.  Poor health, in fact, helps us acknowledge our dependence on God, and that is a very valuable thing in a world that lies to us and says our comfort, pleasure, will, and ease are the most important things we can seek.  Not that anybody would really ask for it, per se, but when God is ruthlessly loving us and molding us for our betterment and His glory, sometimes the poor health is going to happen in a fallen world, and it won't seem fair and we won't know why and we will have to choose to keep praising Him and trying to make what meaning we can.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What sex is like at its best

So I mentioned this awesome post by a homosexual Mormon not living a homosexual lifestyle and explaining his history and thought process and decisions along the way.  One of the things I found most interesting was what he said about his relationship and sex life with his wife.
"I knew that I was gay, and I also knew that sex with my wife was enjoyable. But I didn’t understand how that was happening. Here is the basic reality that I actually think many people could use a lesson in: sex is about more than just visual attraction and lust and it is about more than just passion and infatuation. I won’t get into the boring details of the research here, but basically when sex is done right, at its deepest level it is about intimacy. It is about one human being connecting with another human being they love. It is a beautiful physical manifestation of two people being connected in a truly vulnerable, intimate manner because they love each other profoundly. It is bodies connecting and souls connecting. It is beautiful and rich and fulfilling and spiritual and amazing. Many people never get to this point in their sex lives because it requires incredible communication, trust, vulnerability, and connection. And Lolly and I have had that from day one, mostly because we weren’t distracted by the powerful chemicals of infatuation and obsession that usually bring a couple together (which dwindle dramatically after the first few years of marriage anyway). So, in a weird way, the circumstances of our marriage allowed us to build a sexual relationship that is based on everything partners should want in their sex-life: intimacy, communication, genuine love and affection. This has resulted in us having a better sex life than most people I personally know. Most of whom are straight. Go fig." - Josh Weed
As a contented celibate/asexual person, I found this really interesting because it confirmed that some things I had thought could be true can in fact be true.  It seems a bit like arranged marriages: if both parties come in with their eyes open and the same goals, they can have a very rich marriage full of mutual love and respect.  Hormones and passion don't have to have much to do with it, really, and can, in fact, be detrimental.

Anyway, it provoked a lot of thought for me.  Doing anything for you?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Homosexual voices of faith

This blog post about a Mormon who identifies as homosexual and chooses to live the way he believes is correct even though it goes against his inclinations is one of the best things I've read in years.  Everything is so logical and clear while still being emotionally powerful and ringing with the truth of hard choices made.  I've wondered if these voices were writing somewhere because they are voices that need to be heard in the church.
"Why was he gay? What did God expect him to do?"  - Josh Weed
Does this mean I agree with everything the poster said/concluded?  Of course not, but so what?  It is a voice that is part of an important conversation we need to be having about homosexuality and religion so that thinking people who are homosexuals can see that they don't have to either "live a lie" or just give up on the church.
"One of the sad truths about being homosexual is that no matter what you decide for your future, you have to sacrifice something. It’s very sad, but it is true. I think this is true of life in general as well. If you decide to be a doctor, you give up any of the myriad of other things you could have chosen."
. . .
"I chose not to “live the gay lifestyle,” as it were, because I found that what I would have to give up to do so wasn’t worth the sacrifice for me."  - Josh Weed
A while back, there was a kerfuffle on one of the related-to-Publisher's-Weekly blogs wherein commenters got very vocal about the idea of different voices in genre fiction.  A lot of people who were not fans of religion said some things that made me sad in their call for inclusion and tolerance and such.  They didn't want any more lying religious propaganda where no characters are ever not-heterosexual or where any incidental homosexual characters are miraculously "cured" to live happily ever after.  They wanted stories that ring with truth (in their case, defined as not-mainstream, not-easy, not-convenient, not-limiting, not-church).
"It all comes down to what you choose and why, and knowing what you want for yourself and why you want it. That’s basically what life is all about."  - Josh Weed
I agreed with these posters in theory, that kids need to be able to read stories told well by realistic narrators they can identify with.  I disagreed with these posters because I think there are stories with religious and even Christian narrators who wrestle with their faith and homosexuality and find their way onto a path they can live with in both their hearts and their heads.  But who would ever publish such writing?  As my college writing professor once said, "Too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals."  But I can't help feeling that the audience is out there, listening to the sound of crickets chirping and feeling miserable and horrible and more sinful than those around them because that is the only message they really hear proclaimed loudly.
"I want you to stop battling with this part of you that you may have understood as being sinful. Being gay does not mean you are a sinner or that you are evil. Sin is in action, not in temptation or attraction. I feel this is a very important distinction. This is true for every single person. You don’t get to choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose what you do with them."  - Josh Weed
We need writers who have gone through this struggle to relate it to those struggling with it now to show that there is hope, intellectual integrity, faithfulness, and peace out there, not just despair.  The backlash could be tremendous, but those kids struggling now deserve that helping hand.
"You are no more broken than any other person you meet."  - Josh Weed
If you've come across anything written by those with non-heterosexual inclinations who have chosen to live what they believe is right according to their carefully considered faith, please pass them my way.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Let's Stop Pretending, Shall We?

"[T]he truth has always been that without God’s intervention, I am selfish and prideful every minute of every day. I care what others think because deep down I want to be seen as great—I want to matter. I find it impossible to forgive; to truly be able to forgive people who hurt us must be one of God’s greatest miracles. And I belittle the God of the universe by worrying as if he is not really in control. Inside, my soul seems prone to slant toward every quality I would never want to possess. I live assuming I am not alone in these weaknesses. Mostly because I know a lot of people."
. . .
"We don’t want to fall. We like to see great testimonies of God’s grace, but we don’t want to be the testimony."

Oh, yes.  Please check out this article.  It's called "Don't Pretend," and a lot of broken people just like me, just like us, need us to stop pretending in the church.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Because I listen to the words (Part 27)

They started a new slogan at my Christian radio station a while back.  It irritated me in the way that these things usually do when I know they are created by nice people with good intentions who just don't think things all the way through.  The first day they were trying out this new slogan, the DJ jovially identified the station call letters and then went on to say, "where you don't have to worry because the lyrics are safe for the kids."

Now, I know what this means; I speak evangelical enough to know that this means there is no swearing or talk about sex.  I know this radio station prides itself on being family friendly, positive, uplifting, encouraging, etc.  (I know this because they say it approximately 100 times a day.)  The thing is, sometimes things that are positive and encouraging and safe for the kids due to the absence of swear words and sexytimes are things you still have to worry about because they're bad theology.

I mean, maybe it's not as embarrassing for your kids to publically sing the words to Citizen Way's "Should've Been Me" as, say, "Last Friday Night" by Katie Perry.  * (See Note below.)  But do you really want them unconsciously accepting the prosperity gospel nonsense "Should've Been Me" teaches?  The song as a whole is not necessarily theologically face-palm worthy; the exception is the verse where the singer talks about how he lives in a nice house in a nice neighborhood with nice friends and a good wife and lovely children and how he feels bad that he often forgets that this is what Jesus died for.  Upon mature reflection, I would like to believe that these lyrics are another example of people just not thinking it through (possibly because it's such a nice, bouncy song, and the rest of the message is good to think about), but . . .

My very first thought after I stopped being stunned and appalled was, "Really?  You think Jesus died for your middle class yuppie American dream comfort and happiness?  That's . . . wow.  Really?  How very sad."  Because my Jesus died to take away the sins of the world and bring abundant life to the suffering victims of attempted genocide in Africa and the terrified, frequently injured in drug battles folks in South and Central America and the persecuted and imprisoned people in the Middle East and Asia and all manner of other humans who do not live middle class yuppie American dream comfortable and happy lives.  He died to give us all the same thing: eternal life as adopted children of God and membership in a universal body of believers past and present.

The thing we all share is what Jesus died to give us, not the temporary comforts some of us have because the rain falls on the righteous and the wicked.

However, I can see why "where you don't have to worry because the lyrics are safe for the kids as long as you make sure they understand the lyrics and discuss any problematic theology with them to help them learn discernment" just doesn't roll off the tongue in quite the same simple, positive way.  So of course we have to go with the one that's easier to say.  (And then we wonder why people don't bother to try to listen to and understand Christians.)

I guess this should serve as a warning to those who don't already know that mindlessly consuming "Christian culture" doesn't necessarily have fewer pitfalls than consuming "secular culture."  Just different ones.  It's a reminder for those of us who are tired and weary and don't have the energy to deal with it.  Maybe we can turn our brains off once we get to heaven, but we've gotta' leave 'em switched on down here.  It's a fallen world, and there are lies everywhere, often cleverly and attractively disguised in wrapping paper of safety and comfort.

* (Or maybe you would.  Maybe hearing your child mindlessly chirp the sad, reduced, lie of prosperity gospel in public would embarrass you more and lead to some good conversations with your kids.  If so, way to be awesome!)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lord, teach us to pray (Part II)

So I stand here panting from the effort of figuring out what to say, silent in another hour of need. 

What I want to pray is,"God, please don't let me lose my job in the layoff the day before I talk to the surgeon.  God, I know I complain about the arm and how much simpler things would have been if something was just ripped/broken/torn and repairable, but I think maybe I take that back in this case.  God, please don't let me need surgery.  Please don't let this be torn or worn away or dented.  Please don't let this be arthritis."  So many things I am asking for.

"What I want is for this to go away quickly because the magic cure to this one thing--God, please, just this one damn thing--exists, and I can afford it, and I'm not allergic to it, and it won't make things worse, and my inability to heal quickly due to exhaustion won't matter, and then this will be over, and I can go back to concentrating on the pain in my arm and my jaw and my foot and my wrist and my shoulder and my knees.  Please, Lord, aren't those things enough?" 

There are so many people who have it worse, and I feel like a jerk for praying for me instead of them.  "What should I be saying, God?  Please tell me."  These are some of the things I consider saying.

Instead I stand silent on the official prayer channel. 

What if I once again pray for the wrong thing?  (And then get what I pray for?)  But what if I just need to pray one more time for the answer to be yes?  Is it sinful for me to wonder if it's like that parable about the old woman getting justice because she kept at that corrupt judge, or was that the point of the parable "always pray and never give up."  But this is a young woman and a righteous God, and how do I know if what I ask for is justice or just selfishness?  And maybe I'm supposed to just be whimpering help, but it feels like a cop-out, like laziness, like weakness, like failing.

"Lord, teach us to pray," one of His disciples said.  Oh, please, God, please.  Amen.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Standing silent in the armory, crying (out) (Part I)

I used to pray a lot to arm myself when facing "battles."  I would pray all the time during volleyball, basketball, racquetball, and softball games, concert performances, plays, presentations, the science fair; whatever the battle, I prayed for help and victory.  As I've dealt with chronic pain, there have been days where all I could muster was a whimpered help to God every few seconds.  I think back then, God was always very aware of what I wanted. 

Now I am afraid to pray like that, like a selfish, demanding brat.  I want, I want, I want, please, please, please, me, me, me.  And so I don't pray as much.  There're still a lot of whimpering helps as I add new pains to my total, but I don't know that I consider this quality time in communication with God. 

I am so afraid of praying for the wrong things that I just don't pray much at all unless specially called upon.

There is too much pain in me.  I have asked for it to be removed (this cup, this thorn in the flesh), and the answer so far has been no (or, charitably, not yet), and I am tired of praying the "wrong" thing, tired of hearing no, wait, not yet, no.  Tired of not knowing what to pray to get a "yes."

And so I am silent. 

And so is He.

I am afraid to want the wrong things.  I was so glad when my arm wasn't fractured, when nothing big was torn, when the nerves weren't ripped.  But now that I float in a sea of uncertainty that will remain unresolved because I am at the mercy of OWCP, sometimes I think maybe I shouldn't have prayed, "Let it not be broken, let it not be torn, let it not be ripped."  As if praying these things led to this result.  As if my pain is somehow my fault because I asked for the wrong things and God did what I asked just to spite me.  The pain interrupts sleep, which makes it hard to think, and I am so unreasonable sometimes I can hardly stand it. 

Continued next post . . .

Friday, October 5, 2012

Adopting embryos: Y'know, I don't even know what to think about this

Possibly the only thing here that didn't totally creep me out here: 'These are image-bearing persons who are endowed by their Creator, not by their “usefulness” with certain inalienable rights. Opening our hearts, and our homes, and sometimes our wombs, to the least of these is a Christ-like thing to do.'  I guess I would still suggest that Christians prioritize adopting currently-born children and teenagers around them who desperately long for a home and a family.  As Christians, we really aren't doing a very good job at this whole "looking after widows and orphans" thing, leaving aside this idea of adopting embryos.

On a related note, I have to say that every time I read an article about the tens of thousands of dollars people spend trying to get pregnant while so many kids sit around now waiting for families, I get pretty irritated.  I don't talk about it much because I'm usually told that I just don't understand since I am not a person who is looking for another person to have children with.  Maybe this is true, but I do understand cold, hard, numbers, and I think I have a basic understanding of stewardship.  I guess that's why I can't fathom why people think it's a better use of their God-given resources to desperately try to get pregnant while abandoning the orphans in their communities.

I'm told I don't understand the desperation of women who can't get pregnant, like Hannah and Sarah and Elizabeth.  This is true.  However, they prayed, as far as I know, and didn't spend thousands of dollars to get their babies.  (This might not be true.  Maybe they did sacrifice extravagantly while praying over the years.  I guess the Bible just doesn't mention that, so I can't really know.)

Sometimes you get a baby, and sometimes you don't.  Sometimes a terrible person who doesn't want kids and mistreats and raises them badly gets to easily have lots of babies, and you, a decent person, do not.  That is the cold, hard truth of the matter.

I don't understand why this is so devastating when, as I have mentioned, there are plenty of parent-less kids around who want parents.  If you want children to love and care for and raise, there are plenty out there waiting desperately for you right this very minute!

I am told that this is not really the point.  I guess I just don't understand what the point is.

As I said, I don't talk about this much.  It doesn't seem helpful or really sensitive to toss off around people who might be having fertility issues because I really don't understand their pain at all (which does not invalidate that pain).  But I guess I think it does need to be said, to be tossed out into the sea of possibilities and ideas because maybe it's something someone really needs to hear, and maybe it could change the life of a child somewhere waiting for a parent and a home, especially since some states are staring to make it illegal for single people to adopt.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Can we just drop the F-bomb?

Why do some Christians choose to be so easily offended when they know they live in a fallen world full of sin and are part of a family made up of believers who are all sinful people?  I re-shared something on Facebook the other day.  It was pretty funny for the video game-knowledgeable, general nerd crowd.  Apparently, the group that posted it had the F-word in its name.  Someone I am "Friends" with on Facebook freaked out about that and sent me a text at 5 in the morning and also sent an email freaking out about it and telling how offensive it was that this word existed on my Timeline.  I took a couple of days to respond because I couldn't trust myself not to be a jerk about it. 

It brought back to mind this pre-occupation with appearances many Christians have.  Don't smoke, don't drink at all, don't swear, don't show how you really feel, don't hang out with folks who do these things because that makes you guilty by association.  I guess they wouldn't approve of Jesus since he was referred to as a friend of sinners because he had a reputation for hanging out with people the religious elite considered bad.

Keep up appearances; stay in these lines, and you are one of us.  That is not the law of Christ/the law of love.  It's kind of the opposite, really.  Then there's the whole Don't Cause a Brother to Stumble and the way we really blow that one out of context . . .  Can we really just drop this preoccupation with being offended by real life happening around us?  Or is that a dangerous line of apathy to cross?

To be honest, I was irked mostly because these are tough issues, and I don't really want to deal with them right now.  Again.  Especially when I'm not really at my best.  (See next paragraph.)

I'm in increasing pain and in a corresponding increasingly bad mood.  I'm glad I took the time to respond in a way that didn't dump my general frustrations on this person, but I'm also disappointed at this reminder that sometimes we're so busy judging others about useless things that we can seem really tedious and not the loving, thoughtful people we're commanded to be.  I can't possibly have this conversation with this person right now because I'm too easily riled up when I've had so little sleep and so much pain.

When I'm this hurt and likely to lash out, maybe I should just avoid all social media altogether.  My poor judgment seems likely to be less exhausting and less offensive to people's delicate sensibilities.  Like I said, I'm not a nice person to be around right now.

The whole situation made me more tired.  I forget sometimes that some Christians: 
  • live in enclaves of evangelical Christians and only have social contact with other believers. (Some statistics indicate that most new Christians have no more non-Christian friends within 2 years of getting saved.)
  • don't hear this word every day through the walls of their old, cheap apartment building. 
  • are bothered enough by this word that they will take action on behalf of the other people it might possibly offend.
  • are not mostly numb to it after spending time abroad. 
  • have no friends who say it. (This can mean all sorts of things.)
  • are sheltered and safe enough that they care more about a bad word forwarded peripherally on Facebook than a million other things they could and should be more concerned about as Christians.
On another note, Facebook says, "[TMIA] likes To Cause a Brother to Stumble" because I liked Addie's excellent post on this phrase.  Oh, Facebook, you little troublemaker.  What did I ever do to you?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Responding to "public" sin

So a quote about how people erroneously confuse goodness with niceness got me thinking.  And then I started wondering about how this fake niceness can exist alongside the ranty rage that characterizes the politics of morality these days.  How can we have both?

This sort of thing is hard to find biblical examples for, I guess.  Some things (as Paul pointed out in Corinthians) are just clearly morally wrong and need to be addressed by the church more publicly (I think it was someone having an affair with his mother-in-law or something in that particular example).  But I thought the Bible was pretty clear that sin is something that concerns the body of Christ and needs to be addressed within the body. 

I tried to think of public examples, but, you know, the internet wasn't really around in biblical times, so there's really no direct parallel.  The closest I could get were Jesus' displays of anger in the Temple and the way He wouldn't hold back when confronted out in town by certain religious elite of the time. And that wasn't really close at all because that was still within the confines of the "religious" world.

Do you have any examples, ideas, or opinions about this idea?  (How) Ought we to respond to "public" sin as individuals?  Is it worth expending energy, or should we be using that energy more within the local body?  Paul strongly indicated that our responsibility as a member of the body is to judge sin within the body, but he did seem to think there were times to publicly take a stand when sin in the church was getting out of hand.  Is generally staying out of the public discourse really the wiser path, though?  Or does it lead to even more dire consequences than people thinking the body of Christ is made up of unreasonable, hateful jerks?

I've contemplated before whether the opposite of love (strong positive emotion) is really hate (strong negative emotion) or is actually apathy (the absence of emotion).  I find myself wondering about it again.  There's a lot of emotion swirling.  Is it better for it to be misplaced emotion than none at all?  Better to try to care for the world and fail at doing it or to just give up and not care at all?

My head hurts.  What about yours?  Any insights or other questions to throw in?

Friday, September 14, 2012

No need to be meaner

Thinking about how we conflate ethical or just conduct (goodness) and polite conduct (niceness), I said that sometimes the culture of fake niceness bothered me in the church.  This strikes me as particularly funny because it almost makes it sound like I want people to be meaner in the church.  Really, I don't.  Especially not in these politically combustible times when there is a whole lot of screaming and what appears to be hatred directed toward and away from people who go to church on Sunday.

Recently, a friend of mine posted something on Facebook that was pretty counter Evangelical culture, and someone just ripped into him in the most unreasonable and destructive way possible.  Regardless of who was right or wrong or who I agreed with on basic principle or didn't, I was horrified to watch once child of God treat another child of God like that.  There was rage and contempt and anger and fear nearly bordering on hate and not really any sign of thoughtfulness, reason, or, well, love on the part of the attacker, while the attacked remained calm and reasonable and tried to redirect the posts towards the actual issue/argument at hand.

I tried to defuse the situation, but I ended up getting slapped, as well.  Stepping back away from the cloud of acrimony and letting the hurt subside a bit, I can now more clearly recognize that there was genuine concern and even anguish, but it was applied in the most unproductive way possible in the most unproductive place possible. 

Later I was told that the person who made all the hurtful comments was a very learned man with many degrees and a lot of knowledge about theology.  Maybe this person was trying from a place of knowledge and deep conviction to speak the truth in love, but he was frankly speaking the language of unreasonable hatred and couldn't even understand that this way of handling the situation was a new kind of wrong he was bringing in and committing against the brother he believed had wronged him.  (Or the world or whoever it was he thought had been wronged and needed defending because, well, just keep reading.)

I was also told the wife of the man said that he didn't think the Bible verses I brought up applied to the situation because my referenced verses were when Jesus was talking about how we should respond when a brother sins against us, and that's not what was happening in this case.

I had a few thoughts about that.
  1. In this particular case, lots of the rantings were very much obvious accusations of sins committed against the ranter (at least in his own mind).  
  2. What exactly does it mean to sin against a person?  In the past, I've wondered about this idea because, really, how frequently does someone in my local body of Christ sin against me?  Not very frequently.  (It helps to be antisocial and not really have relationships with people, certainly.)  If this is how we are supposed to keep each other on the right path as members of the body of Christ, it seems kind of . . .  I'm not sure inefficient is the right word.  Hands-off?  Maybe we're not understanding this idea of sinning against a person right.  Maybe it's broader?  Maybe it's indicating that whenever one of our family members in Christ sins and we see it?  Is it that someone does something that offends us morally?  What is sin against a person?
  3. What is our responsibility when a brother doesn't sin against us (in the way I initially interpreted it) but publicly makes a stand/does something we believe is wrong?  Since the sin is committed in a public forum, should it be addressed in the same public space?  Or is it not our place to address it publicly? And should this be limited only to believers?  What does the internet do to the body of Christ?  How are they related?  (How) Should they relate?
Any thoughts?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Goodness, niceness, kindness, the meaning of words

Rachael says: "Here’s all I am saying: the conflation of ethical or just conduct (goodness), and polite conduct (niceness) is a big problem."
"This works because the primacy of nice in our culture creates a useful tool – to control people and to delegitimise their anger. A stark example of this is the stereotype of the desirably meek and passive woman, which is often held over women’s heads if we step out of line. How much easier is it to hold on to social and cultural power when you make a rule that people who ask for an end to their own oppression have to ask for it nicely, never showing anger or any emotion at being systematically disenfranchised? (A lot easier.)"
"So if you – the oppressed – hurt someone’s feelings, you’re just like the oppressor, right? Wrong. Oppression is not about hurt feelings. It is about the rights and opportunities that are not afforded to you because you belong to a certain group of people."
Food for thought.  I find this sometimes to be a problem in the church.  When we go on Sunday, we are supposed to wear our happy faces (at least a sociologist would likely observe this), and we are supposed to be nice to each other.  We are not to let our jagged edges or bleeding wounds show.  Best foot forward, and all that.  I am not sure this is particularly biblical because the Bible definitely talks more about loving each other and not really about being polite or nice to each other.

Being kind is commanded, yes, but kindness is another word that has been warped, and now people use it synonymously with "nice."  I actually struggled with this when I was reading manga or watching anime.  Characters would describe characters who were not polite or civil and generally not nice at all as being kind, and I would go, "Dwah?"  I would wonder, "Is this a Japanese thing I just don't understand?"  I eventually realized it was just that translators are more precise with words and their meanings and were simply using the word as it was meant to be used, and I wasn't used to that.  The manner may have been gruff, harsh, or impolite, but the intentions and actions showed a loving concern for others: kindness in its essence?

So do you ever struggle with the way culture (especially in the church) has equated goodness with niceness?  Any particular instances that left you frustrated or scratching your head?  Do you think it's really just basically about power, or is there more to it than that?  And why does the church seem to be buying into it?

Friday, August 31, 2012

lost and found

"The Bible is not a road-map that shows you exactly which route to choose, exactly which turns to take. When we pretend it is, we cheapen the hard beauty of it." 
"The goal of this thing is not getting there safe, getting there quick, taking the simplest route. It’s not really getting there at all, because, if we are moving in the love of Christ, then we are already there. Each leg of this journey is its own destination." 
"The beauty of all this lostness lies in the fact that we are never really lost, not to him who sees us. Not to him who knows every stone of this, every tree and building, every dark alley, every resting place."
- Addie Zierman

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sermons, rock bands, and other contemplations

So recently I was talking about forgiveness in my own special way.  Then there was the bit about using an example from my life for a sermon.  That made me think about pastors and the responsibility they have.  I mean, not only are they responsible for knowing and living out the things they preach about, they are also responsible for the fact that they spiritually lead others.  The Bible says that those in leadership positions are held to a higher standard of accountability, but what does that mean?  It's enough to give me ulcers.  And make me think about the reason I'm kind of afraid to give sermons anymore.  (Or be in a rock band.)

I went on a long missions trip the summer I graduated from college, and the tech guy on the team was also a Christian ministries minor maybe?  Anyway, his job, aside from connecting the right wires, was to give sermons/messages/whatever you want to call them at the places that wanted us to do more than just music and drama.  He had this one sermon about forgiveness that was really touching the first few times I heard it.  He was on the forensics (speech team), so he was very good at delivering a memorized thing in a natural-sounding way.  But after the first several times, it really started to sound rehearsed, especially the more I got to know about him.

We were hardly close friends by the end of the months of preparation and the weeks of actual touring together, but I knew him a little better, and I learned that one of the things he really struggled with was forgiveness.  I wonder how it felt to him to keep giving that speech over and over again when he couldn't live it out.  Did it make his heart harder (to borrow biblical language) every time he gave his Do-What-I-Say-Not-What-I-Do speech?  Did it make him feel more guilty?  More like a failure?

There's a saying about how the message we most want to preach is often the one we most need to hear, but what happens if we keep preaching it over and over again and don't actually learn from it?  Maybe if you look at it as a performance, you don't mind?  I mean, professional musicians earn their keep singing and playing the same songs over and over and over.  How do they not hate the songs and the sounds of their own music after that much repetition?  How does it not end up sounding like meaningless noise that isn't worth spit?

In my writing, I write about the same things over and over.  I attack them from different angles, creep up on them from new directions, link them to different pitons, but they're often still the same ideas.  How do I not get tired of it?  Narcissism?

I wish I knew some pastors I could ask about this.  Your thoughts?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Words I Can't Say

"It makes me feel good to know you like my company."  A friend of mine said this to me, and it made me respect him even more.  Which he would totally know if he could read my mind but likely will never know because it seems like I can't say things like that out loud.

"I'm really glad to have you as a friend."  He just says these things.  Can you believe it?

I can't claim he does so without embarrassment, but it's all the more admirable because he is obviously embarrassed, but he thinks it is important for him to tell me these things.  And then I sit there not making eye contact like a chump, feeling strangely glad that I think he can tell I am okay with his company even if I am apparently incapable of saying so.  And also glad that he likes my company, as I am, on the whole, less likeable company than most.  : ) 

Not that, apparently, I can say this to his face.  I hope he understands that, me being who I am, that fact that I hang out with him means the things I don't say.  Or maybe he can read it here where I can write things I can't say.

Some things need to be said.  Often those things are the ones I can't say.  Why is it so hard for me to say these kinds of things?  Why do I never think to say them first?

Apparently, my brain believes it is important that I say things first sometimes.  If I say, "I feel the same way" or "Me, too," in response, I feel like that's cheap and insincere, like it doesn't count if I don't say it first, or something.  (Count for what, I don't know.)

It's been this way since I was a child and could never seem to be the first one to thank my dad for taking me out for free pizza I earned reading books.  I would sit in the car reminding myself to remember to say it, but then we'd go inside, and the food would come, and I would be eating it, and my sister would always say, "Thank you," first, and I would feel I had lost.  (At what, I don't know.  But it seems like this is related to my current hangup.)

Are there things that you find it difficult/impossible to say to others?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Someone use this for a sermon

When I was very young, around 3, I lost my hearing for a while.  We don't really know how long because it didn't seem to bother me.  Recently, a friend who went through something similar said the adults in her life knew because she told them she couldn't hear them.  Apparently, I didn't.  It just never occurred to me that it might be a problem, I guess.  My mom says I could still sing on pitch and everything.  Weird.

I was learning to read at the time, and my teacher said to my mom that she thought I had some sort of hearing problem.  My mom was pretty frustrated with me at this point because she thought I was Evil Rebel Child #1, the One Who Wouldn't Listen to her.  After she dropped the unabridged dictionary behind me to test the hypothesis, and I didn't even flinch, she knew there was a problem that wasn't due only to my stubbornness.

So here's the sermon tie in: my mom thought I was choosing not to listen, but the truth was that I couldn't hear.  Isn't that maybe a helpful example to explain depravity?  It's not that we're choosing not to listen to God, it's that we actually can't hear Him even if we want to.  Our sin (like my ear infection gunk), gets in the way and plugs our ears, so even if we want to listen, we can't hear.  We can't even tell if someone is talking.

I hesitate to compare the Holy Spirit to tubes in the ears because it's a super imperfect metaphor that dissolves on contact, but, well, some intervention from outside us needs to happen to open up the ear canals, so that we can choose whether to listen.  Once I wasn't deaf, I was still certainly accused of selective hearing frequently, but if I wanted to listen, I could.

Any takers?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reexamining the Bible Literally

All these years later, I'm learning that understanding the literal meaning of the Bible is a more nuanced adventure than my college friends and I imagined. We'd been blithely unaware that there is more than one genre in the Bible, or that literary context profoundly matters to meaning. We didn't understand that when we read ancient Hebrew prose poems (like Genesis 1), wisdom literature (like Proverbs), or apocalyptic literature (like Revelation) as if they were science textbooks, we were actually obscuring their meaning.

For me, the most negative consequence of all that well-intentioned literalism was the conviction that Yahweh, having given us his straightforward Word, was completely comprehensible. This paradigm both diminished my perception of God and set up my faith for crisis when I discovered aspects of God that remain stubbornly shrouded in mystery.

If you'd told me back then that the language we have for God—even (especially) much of our biblical language—must be understood analogically, I would have prayed for you and backed away slowly. I wouldn't have understood that there are no words that can be applied to God exactly the same way they are applied to creaturely things, no language that can be used "univocally."

- Carolyn Arends
Yeah, this whole article is kind of amazing.  Please go check it out now.

I find this interesting because of the examples she uses and the way she talks about how we use words for God and humans that mean different things when we use them about God.  I suspect the descriptors of God as Father and Christ as Bridegroom fit in this category.

Have you ever had a very "literal" mindset toward the Bible?  If so, are you still there, or are you in a different place now?  Have you ever had a moment of insight about the meaning of a word used to describe God being different from the same word being used to describe a regular human being?  Or is this the first time you've really thought about it?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Forgiveness: Losing: The Screaming and the Silence

"That's what forgiveness sounds like: screaming and then silence." - Carl from Llamas with Hats [Google at your own risk; you have been warned, seriously.]
That's actually kind of what it felt like to me as I tried to control my anger at the federal Office of Worker's Compensation Programs.  It took me misunderstanding the new 10th Avenue North song to remind me again that if I don't forgive, I'm the one who loses out and that it really doesn't matter if they're sorry or not.  My duty is to forgive.
"Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."  - Jesus
A couple of years ago when I was feeling discouraged and helpless and frustrated after a failed appeal, I tried to experiment with this phrase as a way to remind myself to forgive, but I couldn't really do so because, honestly, it felt kind of sacrilegious.  To compare my situation with Christ's on the cross just seemed wrong on all kinds of levels.  The metaphor fell apart for me, and then I felt even more guilty.

When the new 10th Avenue North song "Losing" started getting airplay, I totally misinterpreted the snatches of it I heard.
"Father, give me grace to forgive them 'cause I feel like the one losing." -Tenth Avenue North "Losing"
When I don't let go of the bitterness, it feels like they're winning, like they're beating me, since they're on my mind more than they should be.  When I don't forgive, especially in this situation where the offender doesn't care at all about me or my feelings, I'm the one who is harmed, and I'm doing it to myself.  They're not hurt at all; they don't know or care or lose sleep.

And so this time, when I lost yet another appeal and had to read through a letter wherein the hearing representative sounded smug and triumphant, as though he were defeating the forces of evil with his not-quite-solidly-logical arguments rather than dooming a legitimately injured worker to ten more years of chronic pain (that's how long it will take me to pay off the debt I went into to get the master's degree that allowed me to get a job that can accommodate my disability; after that, maybe I'll be able to afford to continue the search for pain-relief), when I got the appeal letter riddled with incorrect information, assumptions, and slurs on my character, I really was able to let go in a way I hadn't before.  I was still a bad human being to be around for a bit, but even as I sat making notes about the things that were ridiculous, in case the lawyer cared, I really wasn't bitter in the personal way I have been before.

Maybe I've matured?  Maybe I've just given up on them ever caring.  Maybe I've just lowered my expectations sufficiently.  Whatever the reason, I have let go.  Forgiveness, while it doesn't feel like floating away on a cloud of joy, at least feels better than grudge-building and -bearing.  So thanks to not understanding the lyrics of a song, I have embraced the silence after the screaming.

Sigh . . .

Pub Singing with Jesus

It had been a while since I had been to church on a Sunday, so I found it somewhat ironic that I roused myself to go to a gospel music sing at an area pub on Sunday afternoon.  Previously I had been at the pub for sea chanty singing which was done at high volume and with passionate, often salacious, enthusiasm.  The idea of that colliding with gospel music was definitely intriguing . . .

Many of the singers are vocal about their non-religiousness, even the ones who do shape-note singing, so I really wasn't sure what to expect.  I was pleased that even the avowed pagans and atheists seemed enthusiastic.  Louder, actually, even though many of the songs were completely unfamiliar to them.  Many of the selections were from the grand tradition of the rebel Jesus, one that I find myself liking more the more I encounter it, and there were even a few I knew.

One of the best things about these sings, especially when it gets loud is that there are so many notes that you can follow someone else or pick out your own harmony.  Sometimes you can't really even hear yourself singing, so you can't tell if you're flat or sharp or on pitch.  That doesn't matter.  Sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

I think Jesus would have had a good time there hanging out with the sinners (all of us).  And I'm told the beer isn't bad.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sometimes love looks like this

“Sometimes love
looks like this:
you go
to the study,
week after
week. You
don’t want to, but
there are those
who do,
so you

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Letting your swear down

"Some Christians will only swear around other Christians."
". . . ?"
"That way they don't have to worry about ruining their witness."
"Except, you know, because of their total hypocrisy."
"It's like letting their hair down."
"Letting their swear down?"

Something like this conversation occurred in my small group one day.  I was 100% flabbergasted (and horrified).  How about you?  Do you know people like this?  Can you explain to me why they think this is okay?  I'm quite curious . . .

Less Like Falling in Love

"Evangelical teenagers were coming to describe the Christian life as falling in love with Jesus and experiencing the "thrills" and "happiness" of a romantic relationship with him. Perhaps because they believed so strongly in a personal relationship with Jesus as the center of Christianity, they didn't question what might be lost when that relationship was equated with an erotic, emotional attraction to a teen idol." - Thomas E. Bergler

You know, this is really interesting to consider.  My small group just finished reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, and in chapter 18, Miller talks about the problems with the fact that the dominant metaphors we often use to describe other kinds of love in the church are economic metaphors.  In the very next chapters, however, he didn't have a problem with using the evangelical American church's dominant metaphor for relating to Christ: romantic love.

As one who has an outsider's view of romantic love, I have really found this metaphor and its consequences disturbing, especially in the church.  God's love, as depicted in the Bible, is so much more than a crush, puppy love, passion, or even the best romantic relationship ever.  Why would we want to reduce it to something so much smaller?  There is no one metaphor that can contain God's love in the Bible because it's that big.  He's God, after all.

On top of that, it seems like if we-the-Evangelical-US-church are doing this to try to make Jesus (and Christianity and the church) more attractive to others, this is the wrong tactic.  People outside the church are aware of the limitations of romantic love (despite also seeming to glorify and idealize it as the ultimate kind of love available to humans), so why would they be interested in a temporary, often emotion-based relationship with an unknown quantity they can't see, let alone have sex with?

Are you uneasy with this metaphor?  Do you have any thoughts about this or what metaphors might be better to emphasize?

Do you really want to help?

"We live in society where no one lets you know anything – we all suffer in silence. And the person saying 'let me know' knows full well that you won’t – but if some kind of problem crops up in your life, they will pull that out and say 'I told you to tell me and you never did.'" - Matt comment on April 17th 2012
I have a friend who was until quite recently very pregnant with twins.  She found herself encountering all kinds of weird invasions of her personal space from people who had once been pregnant and thus felt entitled to inflict themselves on her.  She said that during her time of obvious disability, she discovered this piece of advice for those who really want to minister/help/be a blessing to those in distress/disability:

Don't assume that you know what the person/people in questions want/need just because you were in a similar situation.  Keep your "I know just how you feel"s and unasked-for advice to yourself.  If you actually want to help, ask the person how you can help.  I'm experimenting with, "What one thing can I do for you right now that would be the most helpful?"  Ask more than once.  (Also, be okay with the answer of, "Nothing right now, thanks.")

I suppose the extension of this would be to make sure you ask the people in your life what you can do for them even when they seem okay.  I suspect, as Matt says, there's a lot of suffering in silence going on, possibly related to the fact that we spend much of our time trying to pretend to the rest of the church that we are okay and fine and dandy especially when we know we are not. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Losing slowly

I have this good friend who is male.  I allowed the friendship because he is aware that I am happily single and celibate and have no intention of pursuing a romantic relationship with him or anybody else, and he has acknowledged that and is dealing with it.  He is not similarly geared, so I know that some day he will get a girlfriend and leave me behind.  And so, every bit of time we spend together is precious because it is finite, and I know it brings us closer to an ending.

I find that, surprisingly, this does not poison our time together.  I think this is the result of some combination a better understanding of the way God lets us intersect the paths of others and an understanding of the Japanese concept of finding beauty not just in things that are impermanent but in things that are fading right now before your very eyes.

My friend said once that he hoped we would be good enough friends that his future girlfriend would be jealous, and I found that touching but probably somewhat unrealistic.  I don't do well with hostility, and it would take a very special woman not to be hostile in that situation.  I wish that he finds that kind of woman for his sake.

Not that this will happen immediately.  My friend is in school and working full time and his main hobby that might result in meeting new people is one that is not over-full with eligible young ladies.  There are a few, but he does not wish to pursue relationships with them because he has had past relationships that started in shared hobbies and ended up in him having to drop the hobbies after a breakup. 

The end is hardly looming right now, but it will come.  I will enjoy the time we have until then.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Who Should Speak

The suggestion from Derek Webb: "What changes people's minds and changes people's language is relationships. I personally don't think that any Christian who doesn't have a friend -- not just a token friend, but someone they love and care about -- who is gay should speak out about the gay issue. I think that should almost be a requirement to publicly voice your opinion, because I can't tell you how it changes your posture and your language when you're not just talking about a "behavior" or a "faithless" group of people, but a family member or loved one -- someone who, when you're done saying what you're going to say, you'll have to deal with.

"I'm not saying that we should change our positions on things we think are absolutely true, but it should bear some weight on what we say and how we say it. Everything would change if we actually knew each other. That's really what it's going to take."

I don't think Webb means we shouldn't discuss issues we don't have a personal connection with; I think he just means we shouldn't wave our ignorance around for all to see in the public sphere.  We shouldn't go making ultimatums and declamations and speeches when we know not what we do, when we don't really understand the consequences of the stances we are taking.

(Of course, a problem is that it's a short slope from "don't talk about it in public if you're ignorant" to "you can believe whatever you want to believe in private as long as you never tell people in public because that would infringe on their right to believe what they want without being challenged by others who believe differently.") 

"Don't talk about this in public unless you know what you're talking about" might be a good strategy in general for people in our culture.  Our culture encourages us to speak out and let our voices be heard.  It encourages us to say what we feel, to speak before we think.  Sometimes I get headaches that we live in a culture where we're told in many ways that an uninformed and ignorant opinion has just as much weight as a thoughtful, well-supported one.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Blue Like Jazz

I've been seeing some movie adaptations lately and have concluded I enjoy the movie better if I haven't ever read the book.  Part of what led me to this conclusion was seeing Blue Like Jazz.  I went to the movie knowing it was not going to really be what most people traditionally think of when they think of a movie adaptation of a book.  Not only did I have the hints and trailer from Donald Miller's blog, I had his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which tells the story of the creation of the story for the movie that eventually became BLJ (and is generally pretty great), and anyone who reads about how they wrestled with the nonfiction story to craft a fictional story with a more traditional plot had to know the movie would not be the book made into a film.  I would hazard to say that anyone who read the book would know that it wasn't really suitable to be made into a movie as is.

I read reviews that varied really wildly (the kind that make you wonder if they saw the same movie).  They were not bad reviews because they identified exactly what they liked/disliked clearly enough that potential viewers might be able to tell if this movie was something they should see.  I went in really not knowing what to expect.

It wasn't a bad movie.  It was well-produced/filmed.  The music was fitting.  The acting was sometimes uneven, but the cringe-worthy moments were pretty rare.

The big problem for me was not the overall story/character arc in the details of the plot.  I irked myself by being irritated with the plot.  They worked so hard on the thing, and I read about it in A Million Miles, and I guess I expected there wouldn't be any smoking guns/loose ends.  They had to re-make it from scratch, basically, so it wasn't like they had to make agonizing decisions about which plot threads to leave in and which to excise, as is often the case with books adapted into movies.  So why were there still these things included that were not vitally necessary? 

Example: the best friend thread served no real purpose.  There was a great setup, and I kept waiting for the resolution, and they just abandoned it, leaving the gun sitting there, feeling sheepish.  You don't keep stuff like this in your movie if you want it to be really excellent.  Was it Flannery O'Connor who talked about killing the darlings during editing?  Best friend, you had a couple of funny moments in the beginning, but they were not actually vital/related to the real story.  Being crude and funny was not enough to justify your existence.  When you came back later, you were used to show us things the movie had already clearly shown us about the main character, and then you set up something that never panned out.  I hate to say it, but you were redundant and useless.  Best friend, you should have been on the cutting room floor, not because of your acting but because of your lack of relevance to the overall story.  Don and the guys should have known this!

It is, of course, easy to point fingers.  They were not my darlings.  It's a movie that is still worth seeing for reasons similar to reasons why the book is worth reading: these stories start conversations people should be having.  Do I maybe wish for something more like a dramatized documentary based on the book?  Well, yes.  But that's not what they were trying to do, so my expectations on that score are irrelevant.

Does this adaptation succeed in the end?  Well, maybe.  If it managed to somehow rope in a wider audience who had not read the book and made them go out and read the book or have conversations, then it did.  I just don't know if that's what happened.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kind of the last straw . . .

I was helping with a project at my church to make finger puppets for orphans in Eastern Europe.  The group members going told us they'd recently found out that the orphanages they would be visiting will actually have kids up to age 15.  After that they get kicked out into the street to join gangs, end up in prostitution, or maybe get low paying work and live in poverty for the rest of their lives.

(From bits and pieces of other things the trip participants said, it sounds like the churches our group will visit don't actually interact with the orphanages unless American short-term missions trip people are coming.  They know the Americans like this visiting orphans thing, so they do it because we're their guests.  There is no mentorship program, not financial help, no ongoing relationship between the church and the orphanages.) 

The craft was planned before the group knew their audience would be broader than the under 10-ish set.  We made lion finger puppets out of felt because the orphans will be told the story of Daniel in the lion's den.  The storyteller will end the story by saying, "Whenever you're in trouble, you can call out to God, and He will rescue you!"

I was stunned.  I was not sure whether I wanted to weep or leave.  The audacity of relatively rich foreigners traveling to another country to wave their ignorance around while telling that untrue platitude to kids--especially girls who will likely grow up to be raped or sell themselves to strangers or gang members to survive--makes me rage.  These kids have it hard enough.  Why lie about this?  Maybe the kids old enough to know what their futures likely hold won't care; maybe they're already too cynical to buy this falseness; maybe the little ones will forget by the time reality smacks them hard.  (How sad that I'm actually praying for that.)

What we should be saying to these kids is the real, true good news of the gospel, things like "you are never alone (God is with you)" and "you are loved (God suffered and died for you)" and "this broken world is not all there is for you (God offers hope and redemption and grace)."  The church should be working with them on an ongoing basis, showing them the truth and love of God.

I have decided to go visit a church that I've heard is good at being a family and serving others even if it's a bit mushy on doctrine.  If they're living out the faith in service to Christ and others, I can probably stomach some mushy doctrine.  This last episode at my church makes my stomach hurt bitterly enough that mush sounds almost tasty.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I guess it's more like this

I wanted to teach college since high school.  It was a sort of public dream.  I also had a dream to study abroad at Oxford, but I didn't even know it until the opportunity presented itself.  So maybe I should be out looking for opportunities in case there are other hidden dreams I won't know about until I go out and find them.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Truth and Imperfection in the Church

"Unfortunately, though, the ramifications of telling the truth shouldn’t be considered. The only thing that should be considered is obedience to God. And He wants us to tell the truth." - Donald Miller
"Paul criticized the church, as did John and Christ Himself. We want to deify the church, or, more honestly, market the church. We shouldn’t. We should confess our sins and be open and honest about our depravity, both individually and collectively. Those who walk in the light have more, not less of their sins exposed. The very idea that those who make up the church pretend to be perfect indicates they do not walk in the light."  - Donald Miller
My small group at church is wending its way through Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.  Next week we'll be talking about chapter 12, which is about how Miller, who dislikes organizations, came to stop disliking church.  Blue Like Jazz was published in 2003, so it's probably been ten years, and I found it interesting to read the above post on what Miller thinks of the church now.  The post also identified some of the reasons why I was feeling so enraged when my alma mater was trying to have it both ways (get away with things the church gets away with while simultaneously pretending it's a business and thus can't be held accountable like a church).

I also find it interesting (and sad and maybe a bit ironic) that this is yet another post that got yanked after being published.  Maybe he just realized he wanted to use it in a book.  Maybe the comments got out of hand.  Maybe his publisher made him pull it down because of pressure from the church.  I should remember to copy the entire contents of his posts and save them somewhere for later use in case I try to refer to them, and they are gone.

In chapter 12 of Blue Like Jazz, Miller talks about a pastor he knew who basically restored his faith in the church as the church he was going to wounded that faith simultaneously.  This pastor was doing really great loving and acts of service, but Miller's church friends were telling him to avoid the guy because this pastor swore.  This pastor was doing God's will in terms of loving his neighbor. Meanwhile, Miller's neighbors were stumbling over cusswords and missing the truth coming out of the cussing pastor's mouth.

I want to be someone who values truth over superficial conformity, reality over appearance, actions over words.  I think Jesus wants me to do this.  I think He was pretty clear about this during His life in both His words and actions.  This belief alienates me from some people in the church, and that breaks my heart a little (but not that much since I am not a big people person).  I think my philosophy that God puts you around all sorts of people who need you and can teach you if you just look around applies here.  The ones I'm here for aren't the ones who are "healthy."  They can keep themselves company.  I'm okay offending them by doing God's will.  But it sure makes it hard to really feel like part of my current local church.

I've found a church I'm going to try on recommendation.  Honestly, I'm pretty iffy on them because their "doctrinal statement" is pretty mushy, and that's somewhat important to me.  I guess the question may be whether a church with true but very basic doctrine will be where I can fit and be needed or whether it will make me a little crazy like the bad doctrine at my previous church did.

I'm game to find out because I think I agree with Derek Webb's song that says, "If you love Me, you will love the church."  I'm trying, God, but right now, love is feeling a lot like duty, and my duty muscles are severely strained . . . 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Challenging Horizons and Stuff, Part II

So people might be watching me, and they might potentially do what I do without thinking it is sin--even if they think it's wrong--just because I'm doing it, and that would mean they are sinning.  (If you missed Part I, be sure to read that first.)  How am I supposed to live with that in mind?

Should I stop doing anything that might cause anyone to stumble?  No more art museums, no more science fiction and fantasy, no more theater, no more anime or manga, no more Monty Python, no more gay friends, no more poetry, no more drinking (root beer because alcohol smells gross and is expensive) at bars with classmates after a reading, no more music, no more MPR, no more movies, no more trousers . . . ? 

It gets ridiculous fast. If I'm not allowed to engage with anything or anyone for fear of it causing someone else to sin, then I really need to go to a monastery.  In fact, we all do.  Except there will be people there, and people are sinful and . . .  Solitary confinement for life seems the only way to go.

My contention that if someone thinks something is wrong, s/he should voice that they are not comfortable with it and then not participate is shot down by those who are or know those who are incapable of such standing up for their beliefs/personal convictions.  I respect people who take that stand and say, "This is not appropriate for me.  I'll see you later."  I've seen it happen, and I've told people who did it how much I respect them whether I personally find the thing they object to sinful or not. I think it's maybe part of being salt and light if it's done right.

When people make a big, public deal about it and deny the challenging, learning, and growing that could have belonged to others sans sin, I get angry and sad.  Why do others have to get dragged down to the lowest common denominator?  Just because it is your struggle does not mean it is everyone's struggle.  Just because it is sin to you does not mean it is sin to everyone.  This sounds postmodern, but it's biblical.

The arts always get a lot of flak for this, especially in conservative Christian circles.  Often the assumption seems to be that all artists are liberals (unless they're propaganda artists or PR folks).  Some artists are about pushing boundaries and making people uncomfortable and trying to force them to think in unfamiliar ways; that's certainly true.  But really, what is so inherently wrong with wrestling critically with ideas?

I look back on who I was in college and how (yes) liberal I must appear now.  I remember how I used to organize and sponsor these critical thinking and engagement forums where the honors student organization would partner with another organization and bring speakers from different perspectives on an issue to campus and invite students to listen and bring questions (faith and politics, faith and Harry Potter, ect.).  One of these events was a failure in terms of turnout because our location kept getting moved around and then we were forced to change the date at the last minute due to scheduling problems with the rooms, and the new date was right before a break or midterms/finals or something.  That was the forum on faith and art. 

One professor and a working actor he knew were all we could get in terms of speakers, and only a handful of students showed up.  Technically it was a failure, but it was incredibly valuable to me.  I spent a lot of time talking to that actor.  One thing I still remember is how he said that if a role came up that he liked and thought said something important, he wouldn't care if that role was a homosexual one, and that blew my mind.  I still lived in a subculture where the underlying assumption seemed to be that depiction = endorsement, and the fact that a thinking Christian could believe otherwise had never come over my horizon. 

I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with that depiction = endorsement equation because if this assumption were true, it meant that, as an artist, it wouldn't be okay for me to wrestle with important ideas and questions or have characters who were realistic.  And I wanted to challenge people (including myself) to think critically no matter what I did.

One of my writing professors said my work at the time was too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals.  I think that's still true.  But since I'm not writing for the liberals or conservatives, it doesn't really matter to me. 

I guess I'll end this ramble with a paraphrase of the words of a wise man (found in Matthew 15 and Mark 7): What you take in isn't what makes you unclean; it's what you do with it, how you act on it.  As a teacher and a writer, I encourage people (including me) to think about the hard stuff and then do right things, so that what we do matches what we say we believe.  Good luck with that.

Any thoughts on the whole depiction = endorsement thing or how you practically deal with the catering to the weaker brother out of love or any of the other myriad topics brought up here? : )

Challenging Horizons and Stuff, Part I

"It seems as well that students are hearing from the media and their parents about the supposed liberal indoctrination going on in the academy, and they are thus more likely to view unfamiliar topics and somewhat uncomfortable feelings not as signs that they are being challenged to learn and expand their horizons but as the intrusion of ideology in the classroom."- tsylvain
I came across this comment about an article.  It stopped me and made me think even more than the article did.  I remember this one kid at my conservative Christian college who pitched a fit every time our honors art history class watched a movie about art that showed paintings of nudes or discussed nude sculptures.  He complained so strenuously about the book we were required to read for one portion of that class that the professor was told he couldn't have us read that book. 

The book in question was The Intellectuals by Paul Johnson.  It was about how brilliant and revolutionary thinkers often lived lives full of personal depravity and immorality, and if actions are motivated by beliefs, what do the actions of their lives say about what they really believed?  I think one of the lessons in question was supposed to be that we can't dismiss great ideas just because flawed people came up with/promoted them, but we also have to be careful that we don't get caught up in charisma and ideas with no substance.  The idea behind reading the book was probably to encourage critical thinking so we wouldn't grow up to be anti-intellectuals who dismiss good arguments due to distracting but simple ad hominem and straw man attacks. 

I don't know for sure what the point of the assignment was because we never got to read or discuss the book with our professor.  The reason this student complained so stridently about the book was because it took great pains to clearly depict the depravity in question, and the student thought it was liberal indoctrination, and he wasn't going to put up with it.  At least I think that was it; they didn't really tell us, so I only know what I heard.

Another student told me that maybe lust was an area this student really struggled with, and he just had to get out of any situation where he might be encouraged to lust or think about things that would encourage lust.  If so, that's fair.  If you struggle with a sin to the point where even getting close to it seriously messes you up, then of course you should avoid any similar situations.  But just because something causes you to stumble/leads you toward sin does not mean the same is true for everyone else. 

Romans 14 gets into this in verses 12-23.  I find it easier to sling around verse 14 (which says that if you think something is a sin, then you shouldn't do it because if you do it believing it is a sin, then to you it is a sin) than to figure out how to apply the rest of the verses about catering to the weaker brother.  This is complicated stuff, made more complicated by living in a community made up of people at different places in life with different struggles. 

Frankly, what makes this whole concept/dynamic hard for me to understand is the fact that I have never been much of a herd animal; giving in to peer pressure was never a problem.  Half the time I was so oblivious that I didn't even know it was there, so the idea that people might do something they think is wrong just because others are is kind of a foreign concept to me.  Why would someone do that? 

But while I'm living in verse 14, maybe others watching me are stumbling over my behavior because to them it is sin, but they are following me, so they do it.  I would like to think this is not true because I am antisocial by nature; I do not have many close friends who could watch my behavior in the first place, but the possibility exists.

How shall I then live?  (Look for more on that in part II.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Yes, once again trying to decide important things, part III

Well, now that I've had a positive performance review at work, I have more to think about.  I mean, when I say that I focus on the job I have now, I don't mean in a corporate ladder climbing sort of way.  I have no interest in that. 

It's funny to think back.  When I graduated from college, I would have been the go-getter whose work-life balance was way out of whack.  I would have been interested in everything and tried to do too much and kind of been a know-it-all out of sheer curiosity. 

That is not what I want or need or can do now, so I spent the first year trying to make sure to set managements' bar of expectations low for me.  I didn't want them to expect more from me than I was capable of giving, so I used my slacker voice, dressed really casually, made sure they knew about my disability and diminished capacities. 

And they still liked what I did (even if I was slow at it or got sick at bad times), which makes me happy.  After years of ridiculous and pointless and terrible (below my expectations) reviews at RetailEstablishment, it felt nice to get a raise (even a "small" one) and kind feedback from peers and managers.


I can't throw teaching over the side of the boat based on a good performance review.  My first two reviews at RetailEstablishment were good before they started bringing in terribly incompetent managers, changing their policies to be more misguided and inefficient, and generally making increasingly terrible management decisions.  These are things that could happen at any business, including my current employers.  I have to remember my new policy of keeping my expectations low, remembering my increasing limitations, not taking on too much and grinding myself down. 

What will I do if I give up on teaching now and find myself 5 or 10 years down the road hating my job and unable to get back into teaching because I don't have any recent experience?  But what will I do if I try to do too much now (teaching and full time work) and resent teaching for all it's taken away from me in 5 or 10 years?

Any suggestions of angles I'm not considering?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Yes, once again trying to decide important things, part II

The promised expansion of the choices.  Again, if you can think of other options that I am missing, let me know.  : ) 

Option 1: Focus on the job and life I have now.  Stop looking for teaching jobs, researching teaching, and teaching a class or two every year.  Read more, write more, be in a choir, be less exhausted, find a new church, find some more volunteer work with a church.

Option 2: Focus on the job I may get in the future.  Sing less.  Be more exhausted.  Read less.  Write less.  Try to get published.  Keep researching and teaching.  Build up enough experience and/or publications over the next ten years that I might be able to get a teaching job once I have my loans paid off.  Work a couple jobs some of the time.  Have less time to do volunteer work and in my church. 

Don't worry, I think I'll hold off on making any momentous decisions until after my performance review at work and maybe late spring when I'll have absorbed so much sunlight, I can't possibly be the least bit SADD (if I even am now, which I doubt).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Yes, once again trying to decide important things, part I

I am trying to decide if I suffer from some form of SADD or whether late winter/early spring is just the time when things line up, and I end up re-examing my life, dreams, and priorities and trying to figure out whether/when quitting is the right thing to do.  I've gotten more sun this winter than ever since it's been so mild, and I've spent mornings bathing in the sun coming through my window, so chances are that it's just an issue of timing.  Right now I'm not working two jobs, and I'm starting to catch up on the things I had to put off during the time I was doing two jobs.  And so.  Choices again.
  1. Stop teaching and focus on other things I can do now.
  2. Keep teaching for possible/unlikely future dream job and don't participate in other things I can do now.
If you can think of an option 3 or 4, let me know.  I do want to consider them all.  Stay tuned for a rehash/expansion of the options in future posts.

We, the church

So I've been a bit down on the church lately but trying not to be.  There are, in fact, good things happening at my country club church.  In fact, many of the things we were agitating for in our rebel small group have come to pass.  These are good things, and I am glad.

I ran across this post about community by Addie Zierman.  Since I am church hunting now, I think it's a good reminder that the perfect church does not exist and some of the forces it's fighting against in American culture.
"But there is a natural gravity to the American life, and if we don’t make an effort, we find ourselves pulled inward to our own nuclear families, circling our own rhythms and routines. We say “we” and what we mean is the four people who live and move and breath in our single-family homes, not that larger we, the more complex we, the one that we must choose to love."

"And you can go to every church in a fifteen-mile radius and still never find that whole thing, that unbroken thing, that ready-made community who takes you all the way in. If you are tired and delicate enough, this can feel like a reason to give up."
I can't let myself give up, no matter how tired or delicate I'm feeling these days.  Even (especially) when it's hard.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Something to ponder

So there's a person where I work who is mostly known for incompetence.  This person has had some serious health problems, as well, which seems to be why our kindhearted bosses don't want to simply fire this person for being bad at a job despite having it for a good number of years.  The rest of us are competent enough to get around this person's incompetence, but it's annoying sometimes to have to do this person's job in addition to our own.

Lo and behold, I discovered that this person attends a Bible study some days over lunch.  And I thought, "Does knowing that this person may be a Christian change my opinion of this person?"  And I thought, "Should it?"  And I thought, "If so, why and how?"  And, "If not, why not?"

Your thoughts?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

6 years and sneaking cynicism, part 2

Anyway, I guess it's reactions like that that contribute to the thing that made me the most sad when I listened to his most recent album.  The thoughtfulness and reflection are still there, but so is a ton of bitterness.  I'm not sure it's cynicism (which is related to hopelessness)  yet, but gone is the encouraging undercurrent in She Must and Shall Go Free.  These songs are often angry in music and words.  It's a very good album, but it isn't sweet or uplifting. 

One reviewer explained the album this way, "[T]his album turns its focus on the decisions we make living in a fallen world. Specifically, how we often fall in love with things that do us harm."  Another described the theme as the way "our culture is infatuated with everything that will destroy us."

This album got a lot of hate.  I think it's probably another case of incorrect expectations on the part of listeners.  I think the album does what it sets out to do: lyrics and music match and amplify each other, and the result is powerful and thought-provoking.  However, if this isn't what you're looking for, you will be disappointed.  If so, don't blame it on the CD . . .

Webb got nominated for a Dove Award for his most recent album (an instrumental effort based on the Lord's Prayer), and his reaction seemed pretty surly (he seems like an honest person, so I can't really fault him for telling the truth about his feelings).  He said he wouldn't go to the ceremony and that he doesn't even really believe in the Dove Awards.  Some of his fans got mad and wrote some nasty comments (something he's not unfamiliar with).  I came across a good post where someone stepped up to point out something I think we often forget in the church: sometimes the best thing to do if you don't agree with a brother/sister in Christ (or anyone for that matter) is not to start screaming and attacking.  I know, call me crazy.

My favorite comment from that article: "But if people don’t tell him how ‘wrong’ he is how will they accomplish Christ’s call to go into all the world and make judgements against all nations?"

Ouch.  Webb kind of nailed it here, as well.  Truth behind the veil of sharp sarcasm.  It's true, but it also shows his hurt and frustration and bitterness.  Really, who wouldn't be bitter when facing this kind of thing?

And that brings me to a question:  how do you keep from becoming bitter or cynical when slammed again and again by the sheer weight of the behavior of sinful humanity inside the church?  The more one tries to engage with and love the church, as Webb correctly says is necessary in He Must and Shall Go Free, the more one can't help but see that the church seems to be made up of seriously sinful people who often seem incapable even thinking about and trying to figure out what a right thing to do is, let alone doing a right thing.  It's hard to admit I'm one of them.  Sigh.  But distancing myself doesn't make it any less true.