Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The power of platonic touch for men

Two articles and a story.  It is funny watching him try to hold the baby.  He is so awkward.  He did not grow up babysitting or helping out in nursery all the time.  He holds the child too far away, at uncomfortable angles, but the baby is a smiler, and the baby smiles at him and loves him and wants to be held, and you watch him just melt before this beaming beacon of love, trust, and genial good cheer.  This is why some babies are adorable: because they adore you unconditionally. 

He is not married, has no children.  Some of his friends are having children, but, like most young marrieds with small children, their lives change so radically that they no longer really intersect his, and they don't stop to think that he might like to learn about caring for children that aren't his.

It's not like he can offer to babysit to try to stay part of their lives; he doesn't have the experience and isn't comfortable with it (he might be if someone could teach him, but most parents have so little energy to spare for that).

It's not like he even knew how rewarding (and challenging) the simple act of playing with children can be because when does he even get to do it?  Now that he does know, I wonder if he will be less afraid to help.  He will certainly be more sympathetic about how much work it is.  Maybe he'll realize how kind it is to volunteer to clean or cook or do the dishes or tag-team with a person with more child-caring experience to give weary parents some time off.

Maybe he'll become indispensable to his friends with small children because he will sometimes help them shoulder the burden and reap the rewards.  Or maybe he'll never get the chance to play with babies again until/if he has his own.

She Must and Shall Go Free, Part 3

I went to see Derek Webb perform a 10th Anniversary concert for his first solo album.  Here are some notes.  (Part 3)

After the request and new song time, it's back to SMASGF.

7 Awake My Soul
I always think of this one as "No One Is Good Enough."  Webb is starting to have increasing trouble with short high notes (his voice must be really getting tired/strained), but I'm amazed by how complex a sound two guitars can produce.

8 Saint and Sinner
People start getting clappy, which surprises me.  A lot.  Not sure why they picked this song to try, but God bless 'em, they tried.   Anyway, we're all complex moral beings, and just because we're saved doesn't mean our relationships with others only involve our sanctified parts.  We have to accept the saint and the sinner in each other. 
"I'm not a half a man./ A saint and a sinner/ is what I am."
9 Beloved
This song always gets me a little choked up.  He sings it with such sad, understanding warmth about the ways we enslave ourselves. 
"And now you would rather be/ a slave again than free from the law." 
"And don't you ever let anyone tell you/ that there's anything that you need/ but Me."

10 Crooked Deep Down
It's one of the most chipper songs about total depravity you will ever encounter.  Webb says it's one of the oldest songs, one he played with Caedmon's Call but never recorded.  He says it was "a song I wrote about Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Manson, and Me."  He also confides that he's glad he didn't try to record it before he meet Meeks, who brings an excellent, almost hillbilly sensibility to the song.  Pretty much all of the lyrics are funny and thought-provoking.
"My life looks good, I do confess./ You can ask anyone./ Just don't ask my real good friends/ 'cause they will lie to you./ Or, worse, they'll tell the truth."
"Good Lord, I am crooked deep down;/ everyone is crooked deep down."
11 The Church
The final song is one that's painful for me to listen to.  When I was really feeling pushed away from my white, upper middle class, suburban church and its lack of concern for the things God says he cares for in His word, when I was really feeling like I didn't want to be around his people--because most of the ones at my church service were all broken and desperately refusing to do anything but desperately hide their brokenness behind fake smiles and casual relationships--this song gently but very firmly reminded me that I am not able to have a relationship with him without them.  We are all the church, all his bride in all our broken, jagged-edged body.  If we love God, we must love the people He loves, and He loves His bride so much we really can't even comprehend it.  This truth didn't make it any easier to attend services on Sunday, but it made it harder for me to just give up completely.  God knows how bad church people are, really, and He still tells us to love them the way he loves us, despite how bad we individually are.  I cry whenever I hear this song because it is so lovely and thoughtful and true, and it is a struggle for me that hasn't gone away.
"'Cause I haven't come for only you,/ but for my people to pursue./  And you cannot care for me with no regard for her./ If you love me, you will love the Church./"

It's later than I expected.  As much as I would like to take him up on his offer to talk after the concert, to ask the questions about the things I'm not sure I understand, I instead get up stiffly and walk off into the cold night, carefully not slipping on the patchy ice, thinking about too many things, and humming quietly.

She Must and Shall Go Free, Part 2

I went to see Derek Webb perform a 10th Anniversary concert for his first solo album.  Here are some notes.  (Part 2)

Kenny Meeks plays 4 songs, and they are all different, but there is something blues-y and wistful and full of longing and soothing at the same time about his work.  Real Long Day was about the day his oldest daughter got married.  Shining as Stars took its inspiration from Philippians 2.  We're Gonna' Rise, "written and recorded in the way of old time street parades," actually got some heads bobbing and some off-beat clapping for a bit, which is really saying a lot from people in this undemonstrative state.

There are refreshments and restroom runs during the intermission, where they advertise gluten-free snacks and jokingly say they will also be serving extra gluten with a side of MSG and wonder if someone will get rich by finding a use for all that excess gluten.  I am in a place unfamiliar to me, a place where they ruin perfectly good water by putting cucumbers in it.  I do not belong here, or maybe I should say I don't fit in with the hipsters and the cool 30-somethings of the church.  That has never really bothered me.  I'm not here for them, I'm here for the music and to find out that Derek Webb is thoughtful and hopeful and not cynical. But cucumber-free water shouldn't be too much to ask for, should it?

The second half starts with requested songs.  There are several I want to hear (especially "This, Too, Shall Be Made Right"), but I can be quite the coward in group situations these days. 

A  I want a broken heart
This song is from his second (and apparently worst-selling album). 
"faith in the bank and money in my heart"
"the cattle on a thousand hills were not enough to pay my bills"

B  I repent
Also from his second album.  He agrees to it and then realizes he isn't sure he remembers it.  He refers to it as the anti-song to the one he ranted about last year.  Not sure what he means because Stockholm Syndrome was more than a year ago, and his most recent album was instrumental.

C Mockingbird
He calls this the thesis statement on his third record, and it is a powerful and slightly tongue-in-cheek song about cliches in the church.
"I'm like a mockingbird:/ I've got no new song to sing./  I'm like an amplifier:/ I just tell you what I've heard./ "

D Everything Will Change
This  is from his new album that has yet to be released (I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, I Love You).  He talks a bit about his process as a lead up.  In his life, songs only show up for a reason, and he says that folks who have been following him from the beginning have heard every song he's ever written.  For this record, the songs that started showing up were about questions he wanted to ask the church and issues he sees in her now, 10 years after his first album about her.

He considers it a sister album, a later follow-up to the first album (the reason we are all here at this concert tonight).  He said earlier that he could still stand behind everything on his first album and that he considered this fact important.  He now adds, "If I agree completely with everything I said 10 years ago, there's something wrong with me."

And then he says some important things about cynicism.  He says that this song will "put to rest the idea that I'm providing proof texts for cynicism."  He defines cynicism as believing there's no way this thing is ever going to change, there is no hope, deal with it.  "If I really believe in a day when all sad things will become untrue, then there is nothing that my hope is wasted on."

He says, "Cynicism is the opposite of the telling of the story of the kingdom."  And this song tells the story of the Kingdom in a way that makes me think a bit about his Jesus autobiography song ("Lover") from earlier in this album. 

She Must and Shall Go Free, Part 1

I went to see Derek Webb perform a 10th Anniversary concert for his first solo album.  Here are some notes.  (Part 1)

The concert is in a tiny church repurposed as a concert venue with a stained glass taking up half the back wall, 3 shaded chandeliers, and 5 windows along the north wall with an interesting fish scale shimmery iridescence to them; great for diffusing the candle light from tables around the edges.  Two fans spin up high in the ridge line of the vaulted ceiling.  There are these huge, dark wooden sliding/folding doors block off the fellowship hall and make me curious.  Sara Groves and her husband own this venue, and they introduce Webb.

What he thinks people are coming to the show for: "He can talk about politics and vent about the church, and maybe he'll swear!"  He calls the songs on the album "songs without certainty."

The stage is small even though it pretty much takes up the entire short wall.  Even so, Webb seems small standing up there.  He's a tiny man, compact and fine-boned with his shaved head gleaming.  Kenny Meeks is with him, a tall, sort of rawboned and rangy looking fellow who plays bass now and did the same on the record (along with producing it and providing the background vocals back in the day).  This guy is kind of a legend in Christian music.  I feel like I may have seen him at Alive '88 or something years ago. 

They are making things up a little.  This is the first stop on the limited tour, and they've never actually practiced together.  You might not know this if they didn't tell everyone.  You wouldn't likely care whether you noticed or not.

1 Nobody Loves Me
"I'm really glad I have a record from 10 years ago that I can still sing all of today."
"I don't disagree with a word of it."
"The truth is never sexy/ So it's not an easy sell."
"So I'll do whatever it takes/to squeeze us into this wedding gown./  I'll say words that rattle your nerves/ words like sin and faith alone, now/"
"Lord knows I've got something to say about every one of these, but I'm going to try not to," he says.  And I think, "Are you kidding?!  That's what we're here for.  If we just wanted to hear the album, we could do that any time.  Talk a lot!"  But his voice is a little rough, and he needs a lot of water, so I'll understand if he has to talk less as the night goes on.

2 She Must and Shall Go Free
He says this is an orphaned hymn, one where no melody was ever written for the words, so they just used one of the 4 basic tunes.  He decided to give it a tune.

3 Take to the World
 It's based on an Episcopal benediction and is the third song on the album . . .  He points out he might arrange the album a little differently with his current knowledge.
"Take to the world this rare, relentless grace."
"Know you must become what you want to save/ 'Cause that's still the way that He takes to the world."
"If you know Caedmon's Call from the radio, you never heard any of my songs."
"When Kenny Meeks makes a mistake, it's called a new revelation."

4 Nothing (Without You)
The pews are going to make my hip limping sore tomorrow.
"Kenny plays one note better than I play 10."

5 Beloved
"The word 'Christian,' when applied to anything except a person, is a marketing term, a term used to lead consumers to the thing they want to consume.  It can't mean what they want it to mean."
"This song originally had about 12 verses" because he was trying to do a song about the life of Jesus.  He edited it down to 5 verses, in the end, and I want to hear the other 7, too.  "How do you edit the life of Jesus?" he asks rhetorically.

6 Wedding Dress
The first single he wrote for this first record (but at the time, he thought it was a Caedmon's Call song). 
"Once you write it, there's no going back."
"It is still an offensive song for me to sing. "
"It's based on some of the most offensive parts of the Bible, which are there to offend us."
"Ezekiel and Hosea are designed to make people uncomfortable."
"I knew there would be some blushing."
"If I got up to read Ezekiel 16, I could clear the room."
"The comfort I got was that the most offensive parts were from the Bible."
"This was the song that got the album banned."
"They have every right to censor what they sell.. . .  I'm comforted by the thought that the last thing to go would be the Bibles, so the offensive content is there in every store."

He talks about how some people write to him as if he is angry and bitter and cynical.  And I'm surprised by how very much I need for him to not be bitter or cynical.  And he's not.  Maybe it's just his stage persona, but I really needed it anyway.  He says that cynicism is what happens when you give up hope.  And he hasn't given up.  He still has hope.  He still believes we can be better than we are, and he still believes God loves us even when we aren't.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Being Christ to the Creeper, Part II

Perhaps it boils down to this: What would Christ have me do here and now?  This poor dude has fallen in my path, and I am supposed to be a good neighbor and love extravagantly.  I'm supposed to meet his needs somehow because I am, as they say, the man on the ground at this moment.  This strikes me as a tad absurd because, frankly, I would say this kid does NOT need ME to try to teach him to be SOCIAL. 

I am an introverted, lonerish, antisocial person by inclination.  I LIKE being this way.  I suppose I could teach him how to repel people less obnoxiously, but obviously, he doesn't need my help overall with that.  He needs friends his own age to help him understand what is appropriate and what is not.  But let's be serious: how many 18-year-olds  at anime clubs do you know who have the sensitivity to notice this situation and the ability to do something to improve it? 

I'm not saying they're non-existent, but when I was in college as an upperclassman leading orientation groups, I had to reach out to some of my freshman to give them people to hang out with because their own peers couldn't do so.  I tried approaching the leadership of the club to ask them to take on this responsibility (I figure it's theirs), and that . . . didn't really work.  Maybe they need someone to teach them how.  : )  But I was a completely different person back then in a different place, and I had that to offer.  Now I don't. 

So we circle back to the question again: what would Jesus have me do besides pray for someone else to intervene?  Lacking any clear messages in 30-foot letters of fire, I turn to the gallery.  Your thoughts on what it means to love my neighbor in this case?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Being Christ to the Creeper

Once upon a time when I was younger and less physically broken, one of my jobs was befriending the lonely ones, the ones left outside the circle, the ones no one wanted.  I would protect them, the pasty and overweight ones, the socially awkward, the prickly, the unattractive.  Since I did not need friends or popularity or fitting in, I was free to be friends with those who needed friends but, for whatever reason, couldn't seem to make it with the regular people.  I felt like it was some sort of gifting or calling, a way to use my comfortable introversion to love people like Christ commands us to.  Now I am older, more physically broken and exhausted, and I don't have the energy to use this freedom any more, which is unfortunate because there's a guy at the anime club this semester who is starting to really creep me out.

In the anime club, I have always been there for the anime.  I have never been there to make friends, be part of the community, or fit in.  I don't live on campus; I'm not a student.  I do not need any friends in the club to have a nice time.  This has always worked out well (once the super-friendly folks have learned to leave me alone each semester) because it's good for these kids to make friends with their peers.  I have not needed to actually reach out and show kindness to an outcast when I have pretty much nothing to give.  With one notable exception, I have made no friends there, and it has been lovely.

Many of the folks in the anime club are a bit socially awkward.  This stereotype exists because it is based in observable fact.  Many of them are bad at eye contact and reading body language and understanding personal space, but they usually figure things out by the time they graduate.  Most of them find their tribes, even the ones who are incredibly annoying and awkward.  As a sort of maiden aunt, I watch all of this at a distance and am glad things work out, even if I am sometimes mystified. 

This semester has been different.  This semester has been incredibly uncomfortable.  This semester there is a guy who hasn't found his tribe, and he seems to want me to be his tribe because all the other natives flee screaming at his approach.

I have never met anyone so terrible at understanding body language and personal space.  He seems to take me scrunching up, leaning and moving away, refusing eye contact, and reluctantly talking brusquely in short answers when absolutely necessary as amazing encouragement to sit down, move cloers, be friends and talk and talk and talk about the same things 4 over and over and over again.  (At least he hasn't used the words "scrotum" and "anus" since the first time he opened his mouth to talk to me several weeks ago.)  He talks about his anime that he will make some day and its badass, junior-high-school-boy-humor-liking female main character and what he doesn't like about X, Y, and Z anime and about why he likes the Devil May Cry anime but hates Black Lagoon, etc., ad nauseum.  (If you're an anime fan, this will seem even more annoying to you than if you aren't.)  He does this to anyone who has a pulse and doesn't actually get up and just walk away.

Recently, because no one else will even talk to him, he has taken to following me out to my car, chattering all the way, and ignoring my LEAVE ME ALONE PLEASE body language and really fast pace because he is that desperate to connect.

I know that if I want him to leave me alone, I need to just completely ignore him and not respond at all.  However, he is so lonely and sad that my old reflexes kick in, and I talk sometimes, un-encouragingly and grudgingly, because I don't want him to be completely alone in silence.  He is so young and so awkward, and I think he may not ever find any friends if he doesn't come across the college student equivalent of the old me soon.

I probably don't have to tell you that the following me to my car thing makes me really nervous.  Men I don't know in general make me wary and having to be trailed by one as I walk half a mile away to my car where there might not be anyone else around does not help.  I think that I probably need to just have the creeper talk with him or ask the club admins to intervene, but maybe I've been living in Minnesota too long (land of 10,000 ways to passive-aggressively indicate things instead of just saying them) or maybe I'm trying in a sort of half-assed way to be Jesus to this poor kid.  I mean, everyone avoids him, and that's really sad (even if I totally understand why they avoid him).  I was hoping someone would take him under their wing and help him understand the basics of body language, but they haven't even this far in to the semester. 

As maybe one of the few believers who attend the club, do I have some sort of responsibility toward him?  Because I'm sure acting like I do.  And as long as I sub-consciously feel responsible, I won't be able to just tell him leave me alone or ask the folks in charge of the club to intervene.  Thus far, the best I've been able to do is drag my poor friend to the club to try to act as a buffer and escort to my car, and that's not fair to him.

So, Christians, your thoughts?  Everyone, your strategies?

Notes to a college student soliciting alumni donations

  • Do not ask the stupid questions trying to get the alumni to remember the wonders and joys of their time at Cedarville.  Our time of wonder and joy is gone, and it's been pretty well stomped on by successive administrations lacking integrity.  Can there be a button to press to forward through that part of the conversation and automatically be connected to a responsible adult, so we can be really honest about why we're not supporting the school any more?  Does the administration even care why alumni are not supporting them anymore, or do they just consider that the cost of doing (their view of) good kingdom business?  Yes, those were good old days, and I'm sad they're gone and you won't really get to experience them.  Then again, maybe you will.  For all I know the same shenanigans were happening when I was a blithely ignorant student, and I managed to have an awesome time . . . 
  • Do have glib explanations ready!  I suppose they might work on, um, timid and uninformed people who didn't think and debate and research for 50 hours before coming to the decision to stop donating to the institution.  I was a little sad that you only had a glib explanation for the destruction of the philosophy department, but, really, it's not fair for me to expect you to know/care about the other high-level institutional shenanigans, and I can't see the alumni office expecting the alumni to know about it, so why would they prepare glib explanations for those?  I know I had no idea what was going on at that level until my senior year, and I'm pretty sure you sound like, what, a sophomore?
  • Don't play the pity card.  Does it ever work?  "Just think of the poor students you are hurting (by your rigid desire to only support ministries with integrity)" kind of just makes me mad.  See the next point for a better way to handle the disappointment when I say I'm not going to give you money.
  • Do explain that the money you're soliciting only goes to students and not to the administration.  That's pretty important.  I do have to think about that a bit.  I do want to bring the incredibly high tuition you current students are paying down to something slightly less ridiculous.  I'd also give to a fund for the faculty who have to buffer you from all this crap.  Do you know if such a fund exists?  And can I separate my donations to that degree?  I might need to do more research on the financials, but the administrations shenanigans DO trickle down to the students, meaning you do get influenced in ways that are not quite, in my opinion, above-board.  But.  I didn't choose the school because it was perfect and I agreed with everything.  I chose it because it was Christian, had a good academic reputation, and was also the cheapest with the financial aid I could muster.  Maybe the students who made their decisions to attend for the same reasons do deserve my financial support.  But the administration decides how to use the funds, so . . .  Gah.  Back and forth.  It's good to make people think and start going back and forth.  Good for you.
  • Do not play the breezy, administrations change all the time card.  This has been a concerted effort to move things in a particular direction through multiple administrators, and mowing down a lot of good administrators and educators in its path, and it's been going on for over a decade.  I'm not sure that refusing to give my money will make the situation worse.  Although now I wonder if that's why the tuition has gotten so high . . .
Thanks for your time.  Have a wonderful Saturday earning minimum wage.  You poor schmuck.

P.S.  I appreciate how you didn't lie and write down that I made a pledge (which is what the guy two years ago did).

Losing your life to gain what

When she started to follow Jesus seriously, she gave up the thing she was best at and loved most: writing about music.  Recently, as we were studying Luke 9, she wondered if that counted as laying down her life to save it.  At the time, she thought it was.  She couldn't see any way that her writing about secular music could lead anyone to Jesus, so she left it behind.  (Oh, hyper-evangelicalism, you make me so sad.)  As far as I can tell, she didn't really replace it with anything.  So now she is not doing what she loves and not necessarily leading anyone to Jesus that she can see, and she is miserable (for this and many additional reasons). 

It seems like she is more miserable because a couple of people in the group ARE writers and see that as part of who they are in Christ.  And it kindles this longing inside her that she isn't sure she shouldn't smother. 

I had to resist the urge to respond right away, though several things came to mind.
  • The Bible doesn't necessarily indicate that we need to leave behind anything that isn't directly related to leading souls to the kingdom or whatever evangelical, Christianese phrase you prefer.
  • Jesus didn't tell soldiers or tax collectors to stop what they did, drop everything, and go become full-time preachers.
  • The Bible does say we should work heartily as unto the Lord, not for men or praise. 
  • The Bible doesn't really indicate that vocation and avocation must be the same and anything that is not avocation must be abandoned.
  • God loves beauty and beautiful things, and good art is beautiful.
  • God sees beauty in broken things/people other people think are worthless and dirty.
  • It's okay to work hard at a craft and create beautiful things; we serve a creator God.
  • What exactly did stopping writing about what you love do to help you gain abundant life?

I shut my mouth firmly and resisted the urge to say anything or even follow up because she was Not Making Eye Contact in that skittish way she has of offhandedly revealing truths about her life that she is deathly afraid will get her judged in some way.   Normally, I would not have the presence of mind to notice the body language and think thoughts and stop myself from saying them.  Perhaps this gluten-free thing my doctor is having me do is a good idea.  Or maybe the Holy Spirit hit the brakes for me?

I really need to ask a lot of follow-up questions to get a better understanding of the situation before I start throwing out statements that she could take as judgments.  (She can twist almost any statement into something she perceives as a judgment. : )  If I understand the situation better, maybe I can ease things slowly into a direction where she can think things through and make a different decision now.

Things I want to know
  • What did she write? 
  • Who was her audience? 
  • When did she make this decision? 
  • Why, exactly did she give it up (there had to be multiple reasons beyond the simple one she tossed out there)? 
  • Does she feel the same way about these reasons now? 
  • Can she see a way she might be able to use her writing for a purpose she feels is more redemptive? 

Any other questions you can think of that I can try to slowly and slyly trot out there so as not to scare this fragile honesty away?

Home for the Holidays: STRESS for spouses edition

So there's this person who grew up in a fairly toxic evangelical environment.  Her mother is pretty much horrible and seems to relish making her child stressed out and angry because it is a form of power she doesn't plan on giving up any time soon.  Holidays are, naturally, really awful for this person.  Her husband grew up in a happy haze of lalala and adores his family to pieces (it's really sweet and adorable).  Recently, he raised the white flag because the holidays are coming, her stress is skyrocketing, and he has absolutely no idea how to help make things better.  Spending time with his family makes him deliriously happy, and he simply has no frame of reference for a world where seeing one's parents causes rage, grief, and debilitating self-consciousness.

He is desperate for any advice from folks who may have tips and tricks about how to deal with stress-inducing family members and the holidays.  He would especially like any advice on how to cope as a spouse and help his wife cope.  Anyone out there from a FUNCTIONAL family married to a spouse from a dysfunctional family?  How do you make the holidays better (even marginally)?  How do you help your spouse cope?

I don't know how to love her and other situations that make for tragic musicals

There's this person in this church group I am nominally in charge of.  If I say she sometimes seems to be made of glass, I don't mean that she is beautiful and delicate.  I mean that it's like she got scraped raw by life and then rolled in broken glass, which stuck to the blood, and when she lets the cloak she covers herself with fall, no one can figure out how to comfort her in a way that will not damage both.  There was a really bad meeting which ended with a lot of us trying to hold back tears because how on God's green earth do you show someone that wounded and broken and jagged that she is loved and liked and wanted?  I knew things were bad when I found myself humming Nancy's song from Oliver.  It's a good thing I only really know that first line, or I likely would have had the blasted song stuck in my head whole for weeks.

I got out the only available version of the Five Love Languages from my library (The 5 Love Languages for Children), but it wasn't really much help because it's aimed at parents and is about dealing with children.  This person holds down a job she hates because it provides benefits, a paycheck, and a cushion to allow her beloved to do the less lucrative and somewhat seasonal work he loves.  She is an adult.

When it was just occasional grumblings and the beginnings of a tendency to tell the same painful stories on endless repeat and hijack the conversation, I was able to redirect things, sometimes with subtlety and panache and sometimes with inartistic but effective bluntness.  But when she said that she dreaded coming every week because it made her even more miserable and she only came because she knew her husband wouldn't want to come without her even though he adores the group, we were all at a loss.  Most of us kind of enjoy the group and the time we spend together.  We like her and her husband.  We have no idea what to say to that kind of explosion of broken glass.  We mostly just duck and cover to avoid the shrapnel. 

We want to hug her and tell her we love her except she hates and loathes begin hugged and doesn't believe anyone saying they love her (with the possible exception of her husband, though I'm not sure).  She gets even more savage when she thinks people are saying things to make her feel better, whether they are true or not.  Sometimes I'm not sure she know how to feel not-miserable.  I don't know if she ever did.

When I say I am the "leader," I mean I'm the secretary.  I report back to the church, pass out the feedback surveys (when I remember), attend meetings for small group leaders, and pass info on to the small group from the church.  Our church still isn't very good at this discipleship thing, and the role of small group leader is a voluntary one that carries no authority or spiritual responsibility.

I think probably this lady needs some really good spiritual counseling, but I think it would take a miracle for her to find someone who could be effective working with her the way she is now, trapped in negative thinking and stress and incapable of letting herself be loved.  She and her husband have a close relationship with the counseling pastor and the social pastor at our church (a married couple), which is actually not a good thing because I'm pretty sure she couldn't bear being honest with those people in case it made them think less of her.

The psychologist in our group says we're in a tough spot, because we aren't treating her (and can't because that's not our relationship), so all we can do is redirect when she starts to hijack, ignore the negative outbursts as we have been--so she doesn't get attention for them--and encourage her on the super-rare occasions when she says positive things (even though that makes her prickly).  Maybe next time she explodes, we'll have to be direct and tell her that it really hurts us when she says things like that, but we love her anyway.  We may also have to ask what we can do to make her dread the meetings less or find out what it is about them that she dreads.  I'm not sure she knows how to explain it, and I'm not convinced that scrutiny wouldn't drive her away.  It's all so very fraught.

Any suggestions?

Bully for you

Once upon a time when I worked for TSA, there weren't really any supervisors.  We were all new, and we all took turns, so they could figure out who to promote later.  Whenever I was in charge of the assignments, I ended up working at the busiest counter, the one no one wanted to work at, and I always assigned Mr. Bully to work there, too.  Mr. Bully was a big man, a veteran built like a tank.  He was gruff and mean and had a chip on his shoulder, and his method of "winning" an argument was to shout the other party down. 

I didn't really like Mr. Bully.  And I hated that in order to keep his grumbling to a minimum, I always had to work the busy airline, too.  But I just couldn't let the injustice of him never having to work the busy counter pass, so I put up with it.  When he asked me why I picked on him, I told him I wasn't picking on him; I was just trying to be fair and make sure that everyone rotated the duty we didn't like, so certain people didn't always end up getting stuck with it.  He still grumbled.

It was just another brick in my "I never want to be a manager/in charge" wall.  I do not deal well with difficult people.  They require finesse and communication skills and concentration and careful handling.  These are things I lack even more since I started to deal with chronic pain and insomnia. 

And now I have a difficult person in a group I'm in charge of, and I'm afraid it's going to be Mr. Bully all over again.  I'm the one who almost always has to step in and interrupt the story I've heard several times (she doesn't want help fixing the problem; she just wants to complain about it) or steer things back to the topic we're there to discuss.  She acts very defensively a lot of the time and makes passive aggressive comments about feeling like I'm judging her.  (I'm actually not.)  I'm sort of anticipating a "Why are you picking on me?" 

Only this time, I don't really have an answer, at least not one that is calm and logical and polite and firm and non-threatening.  I just don't have the bandwidth. 

If she asks, I will probably tell her the truth, "I'm not picking on you.  I'm just trying to redirect things, so your troubles (and they are real and significant) don't take over this group of people who hate confrontation and won't stop you.  I'm technically the leader, and this is my job."  I cringe about this confrontation and the growing passive-aggressive grumblings.  I am concerned about how these perceived clashes might hurt the group.  I do not have the bandwidth for this.  I don't want to be the "leader."

Then again, it's not like this has to end in tears.  Mr. Bully turned out to be a lot more bluster than bite.  I found that out when he surprised me by being the only one who stepped in to help when I was being sexually harassed by a female co-worker.  Not the casual friends I got along with, not the nice older ladies, but the bully I thought hated and resented me.  There's a lesson in there, I think.  I'm just not sure what it is . . .

Any suggestions?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Doctors don't really understand chronic pain

Most doctors don't really understand chronic pain.  

People who have it for a long time are used to hiding it.  So doctors who are looking for "signs of visible discomfort" are not going to find it, and this is going to make them think you are a hypochondriac and not an excellent, well-practiced actor.  It's a good idea to establish some way to communicate with each provider when you're in discomfort.  If nothing else, this will save you the frustration of having to read the puzzled phrase "no signs of visible discomfort" so many times in your records. : )

Since they don't understand it (its causes and especially its effects), doctors will really just not be able to factor it into your overall situation.  It's frustrating, but if you set that bar low, you will be less frustrated.  It can also be a gate you use when meeting new potential providers.  How much do they know about chronic pain and what do they understand about its effects?  Can they factor this knowledge and understanding into the puzzle that is your symptoms?  If so, they may be better able to help you. 

At the very least, they won't frustrate you as much by throwing their hands up in the air and getting mad at you when nothing they try seems to help and they get pulled up short by their own limited knowledge and understanding.  Not all doctors do this, but some do.  Try to avoid them, if you can.  : )  But also try not to hold it against them.  No one likes to be reminded sharply of one's finitude.

Your health care providers don't really understand that your information is yours

Your health care providers (and their billers) do not really always understand that your information is yours and should be easily accessible, so you will have to go on the offensive mission and gather it even if they treat you like an annoying fraudulant fraudster (or like they think you're a hypochondriac and not a responsible adult trying to be organized). 

Cut them some slack because, in theory, they make it this hard in order to protect you and your information from unsavory types who might want to steal it.  It's just a rather unfortunate side effect that all this protection makes it a hassle for you to obtain it, as well.  (And judging by the amount of it that gets stolen every year, not that much of a hassle for the unsavory types to obtain.)

Frankly, you know you're working with good providers if they send you a copy of it (or post it online) automatically after your visit. If they do this, then you know that they believe that you should be a participant in your own care and not simply a consumer.  However, this isn't common, so be ready for arcane rules, regulations, and hurdles not clearly posted anywhere.  Be ready to make lots of phone calls and follow-up calls and records of the names of the people you talked to, their phone numbers, job titles, dates and times of conversations.  I wish it weren't like this, and maybe things will get better soon, but for now, you will have to hustle to get what is rightfully yours.

Request your medical records at least annually, while they are free

Request your medical records at least annually, while they are free (by law the first copy is free if requested within a calendar year, I think). 

If you've been tracking them with your PHR, this should actually be a piece of cake.  At a set point every year, you can look through your list of visits and know exactly who you saw and when and what kinds of records you need to request from which group and which records you already requested (if any).  You can create a form letter and then fill in all the information clearly and in an organized fashion.  The records retrieval people will love you and maybe even be nice to you and not need to be called 6 times for follow up.  They will especially love you for not needing this done ASAP right now or you will be in a bad place because that is when people usually contact them, needing it done next week when their standard response time is 8 weeks or whatever. 

Make sure you know each organization's standard response time, so you don't panic and start calling to follow up prematurely.  You could record this information on the provider page or your PHR!

Once you have your last year's records, scan those suckers into your electronic file, so you can print out the pages you need when you need them.  Then pat yourself on the back for having it together.

You need to take control of your personal health record now (before it gets complicated), pt. 2

You need to take control of your personal health record now (before it gets complicated), pt. 2.

Seriously.  If you wait to even find out about PHRs until you are on the other side of the mountain, putting one together will be prohibitively difficult for one or more of the following reasons:
  • Destroyed. They will have been disposed of (usually after 7 years) and no longer available.  
  • Prohibitively expensive in one go.  They will cost money.  $1.27 a page or more.  And they will print out and charge you for every page, including the ones that say nothing but "Page 2 of 2."  
  • Lost.  They will be impossible to obtain because they were lost in the move/merger/buyout/closing of the clinic.  
  • Overwhelming.  There will be so many of them that you won't be able to organize them in a meaningful way.
  • Useless.  Some of them will be comprised solely of doctor or PT speak, and they will mean nothing to you (OR OTHER DOCTORS) and will thus be worthless.  Better to find this out early, maybe while the doc or PT remembers well enough to actually produce a coherent 1-page summary if asked nicely.  And before you pay $1.27/page for 30 pages of useless gibberish.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

You need to take control of your personal health record now

You need to take control of your personal health record now (before it gets/especially if it's complicated).

Yes, it is a total pain to track down records from providers, and some of them won't have the records you need because they moved and lost them or there was a fire or they just toss them after a certain period of time.  And if you don't have any chronic medical problems, you may not really need to, but if you do have some chronic medical problems or a history of injuries and illnesses, it might really be good to gather things while you are still relatively healthy.  (Age will likely not make you healthier.)  If you do have chronic conditions or a long history, it will be even more nightmarish to track down and organize all this information, but it is such a good idea to have it collected and tabbed and available electronically.  In case of emergency, you don't want to be given a med you have a bad reaction to.  In case of regular life happening unexpectedly, you don't want to have to be hunting this stuff down when you are hurting and not at your mental best. 

My advice: Just bite the bullet and do it now.  It can't hurt, and it CAN help.

Your medical records are wrong

Your medical records are wrong, and you can('t) change them.

This is a sad truth.  And a frustrating one especially if you are dealing with any kind of Worker's Compensation claim because then the lies are embedded, and zealous adjudicators will haul them out and use them against you, but I should stop now).  It's also only partially true.  In theory, you can change your medical records.  You just have to do the following:
  1. see the records (why it's important to get the records).
  2. notice the problem.
  3. bring the problem to the attention of your provider within the time limit and in the manner your provider requires (why it's important to get the records quickly).
  4. follow up politely, fervently, and regularly even if you can tell they think you are a huge pain (because they don't have to deal with the fallout from the incorrect records, but you do, and it could be worse than just having some medical records people get huffy with you).
  5. have that response be approved/agreed with.
  6. follow up to make sure the change gets made (and pay any fees associated with getting another copy of the records). 
Correcting records is (understandably?) not something your provider prioritizes.  It's hard to appeal because the time limit can expire, and it is a huge hassle to follow up over and over and over again to be sure it's moving.  And the whole process can even tick your medical provider off, frankly.  I mean, you are challenging their records, and some of them take it personally because they think it is a slur on their competence as wise doctors, when really it's just a reminder of something they may have written down wrong or something you didn't have time to fully cover in the short appointment you are usually granted, a gentle acknowledgement that we know our doctors are not omniscient, and we don't hold that against them, as long as they correct their mistakes.  We just want the records left behind to be correct since they are, technically, our records.

But it really is a hassle, so you may only want to address the potentially life-threatening mistakes, especially if this provider is the one linked to the hospital system you would most likely get admitted to.  If the hospital system and associated docs use the same health information system, the emergency room docs can see that cortisone allergy in the records.  If you end up at a totally different hospital, they have no records at all since the health information systems are all designed as silos that don't play well with other health information systems because standardization in this realm prevents them from making any money.

(That was cynical.  Sorry.  But also true.  Standardization of electronic health records would save hospitals, clinics, the government, and patients tons of money at the expense of the health information system development companies, so you can see that it is unlikely to ever occur.)

My advice: If your doctor is not afraid of you providing paperwork, try to hand over copies of what you say during the appointment (much easier with your handy PHR binder!).  This could increase their chances of typing up accurate notes and save everybody time.  Otherwise, just request the records a week later, and determine if it's worth the hassle to correct the mistakes.  (If this is a worker's comp claim, IT IS ALWAYS WORTH THE HASSLE NOW TO CORRECT THE ERRORS TO SAVE YOURSELF SO MUCH STRESS, TIME, AND RAGE LATER, EVEN IF YOU JUST DON'T HAVE THE ENERGY TO DO ANYTHING RIGHT NOW.)

What your doctor tells you

What your doctor tells you and what s/he means to tell you are often not the same thing.

The most fascinating lessons I've learned have been about what doctors tell you in the office and what they put in their notes.  Sometimes these things are . . . at least similar.  Sometimes they are not.  Not even vaguely.  And I'm not just talking about all the times when they get basic information wrong (my job, my exercise frequency, other medical conditions, allergies, medical history).  I mean like when they tell me: "if PT makes this flare up, we'll do a steroid injection; there's no need for an MRI" and their notes say the next step is definitely an MRI.  (This is one of the reasons it's a good idea to get copies of your medical records every year, though it won't help you in the shorter term.)

I don't think they're being willfully deceptive or anything.  They just have such a limited time with you in the office, and they can't review everything, and they don't always cover everything, and maybe they just don't realize that we patients don't automatically get the benefit of the more thorough notes they write up afterward.  I suspect it never occurs to them that there is a difference.

My recommendation?  A week after the appointment, call and ask to have the doctor's notes from the visit sent to you.  Not all the time, just any time they tell you anything about next steps, medications, treatments, or what they think might be wrong with you.

I have now been to one clinic where they do this automatically. (!!!!)  And when I compliment them for this genius way for them to make sure patients heard what they really meant to say (patient compliance is much easier this way, docs), they tell me, "If we ever forget, just call and remind us."  Needless to say, I am liking this clinic.

I am a spreadsheet nerd

I am a spreadsheet nerd.  And I like it.  

Love it, actually.  Practical application of skills!  I looked at PHR templates and options.  (Not for long, because I didn't have time for that.)  I saved and printed some out to look at.  I wanted something electronic and easily printable.  I ended up finding these two things to be mutually exclusive.  I wanted something flexible, and nothing I found really met my needs as a not-actually-elderly person.  So I made my own.

Lots of trial and error.  Some combining and recombining, a few views, and voila!  After only 60+ hours I had gathered and boiled down a box full of medical records into something convenient, filterable, sortable, printable, copyable, and able to be shaded and updated at my whim.  Not that anyone has really wanted to look at it, but that's not its fault . . .

My advice: Make a PHR and commit to keeping it updated.  Do it using whatever programs, pre-existing forms, and storage methods make the most sense to you.  Do it now, before your life and the lives of your loved ones get complicated.  It's kind of a spiritual exercise to get it ready.  And you probably won't have as many records to deal with, so it won't take you as long as it took me . . .

If you'd like a blank version of the one I use, let me know.  I can certainly send it to you if you use Microsoft Excel or compatible things.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Where was I in May and June? Making a PHR

Sorry, I've been on a bit of a blog hiatus the last couple of months.  I was putting together a personal health record (PHR) by trying to pull together all the information from my various health care providers over the recent  (sometimes nightmarish) years.  (How did I survive 2009?  Seriously.)  It's been . . . challenging to say the least.  It's also been educational.  Some things I've learned:
  • I am a spreadsheet nerd.  And I like it.
  • What your doctor tells you and what s/he means to tell you are often not the same thing.  
  • Your medical records are wrong. (And you can't change them, but you should try anyway.)
  • You need to take control of your personal health record now (before it gets/especially if it's complicated).
  • Your health care providers do not really understand that this information is yours and should be easily accessible, so you will have to go on the offensive mission and gather it even if they treat you like crap (or like they think you're a hypochondriac and not a responsible adult).
  • Request your medical records annually, while they are free.  If you've been tracking them with your PHR, this should actually be a piece of cake.  You will know exactly who you saw and when and what kinds of records you need to request.
  • Doctors don't really understand chronic pain.  People who have it for a long time are used to hiding it.  So doctors who are looking for "signs of visible discomfort" are not going to find it, and this is going to make them think you are a hypochondriac and not an excellent actor.
I will try to post a little bit about each of these lessons I've learned in the hopes that I can prevent others from running up against the problems that have bruised me so and maybe to also help you from having to reinvent the wheel by telling you about some of the research I did and some of the resources I created.  Once I do, I'll link them to this post and maybe set up some chain linking, as well.  The 4th of July weekend is coming!  Maybe then  I will finally be able to catch up and polish and post all the things I've been writing about.  : )

Folks are not living their lives AT YOU

This is a great article to read, whether you have kids or not.  I am not a parent, but I fall into this trap sometimes, as well, and it was great to feel convicted when reading this.  I mean, it doesn't make me feel happy, but it is important to be reminded to watch out for this tendency.  And it does feel weird when I'm in the middle of it and have to take that step back and realize I'm being self-conscious in this particularly sad and dumb way.  I guess I prefer to avoid the error instead of have to deal with it when I'm in pretty deep.  Most of the time, nobody is judging you but yourself, and nobody is really motivated to better behavior in order to make you feel bad: I guess that's the message I got.
"I felt as if this woman had materialized for the sole reason of making me look bad. I am telling you that I decided right then and there that this mother was feeding her child avocados AT ME. And that also she had matched her child’s clothes that morning AT ME. And also that she had likely disciplined her child effectively for years AT ME. And that as icing on her (likely homemade and gluten-free) cake she was enjoying a lovely, peaceful, well-planned, healthy lunch AT ME. I felt judged. I felt like her approach to parenting was maybe developed solely to shine a big old spotlight on my “not good enough” parenting.  She was parenting AT ME, I tell you!
For years I lived in world in which people lived AT ME. For example:
  • Craig worked out AT ME while I tried to enjoy the couch. So aggressive.
  • People discussed natural child birth AT ME because they could sense my previous sixty epidurals.
  • People attempted ATTACHMENT PARENTING AT ME. ( I still don’t know what that really is but it certainly doesn’t sound like something behind which I’d rally.)
  • People threw Pinterest parties AT ME.
  • People trained for triathalons AT ME.
  • People refused to eat carbs after 8 pm AT ME.. . ."
"Feeling judged by other people’s decisions is an insanely ego-centric way to live. Like my dad always says, “Glennon, nobody is thinking about you as much as you think they are.” Everybody’s just doing the best she can, mostly.'  - Glennon Doyle Melton

A House Hunting We Will Go? (2013 edition)

So here's the situation. My rent already went up once this year. And now it's going up again. It'll have gone up 6.5% after this. (I did the math.  Twice.) What with all the medical issues and student loan payments, that's, frankly, too much for my budget and attempts to get out of non-mortgage debt, especially if it's going to happen every year. Below are the options.  Do you have any suggestions about things I've missed or opinions on what seems like the best idea or time frame?

I'd really appreciate your advice . . .

    What I Dream About
    SITUATION: A good friend will get a full time job and she and her family will be able to buy a big house (duplex or apartment building or mother-in-law suite or whatever), and I'll move in and help them pay off their mortgage faster ($500 a month) while being able to pay off other loans faster (by not having rent keep going up crazy, unexpected  amounts all the time)
    DIFFICULTIES: To be frank, my friend might not be able to get solid, full-time employment.  The job market just isn't terrific for her field in this area.  It definitely won't be in place before my rent spikes for the second time this year.
    ONE MORE THING: If I do find another place, some corollary to Murphy's Law guarantees that my friend will soon land a great, full-time job.  But I'm willing to take that one for the team.  : )  Also, I may end up increasing my commute time and end up even further away from PT.
    The Next Best Thing
    SITUATION: Buy a condo or townhouse.  Still living in a community for safety but with fewer neighbors than an apartment (and hopefully less having to overhear raging domestic arguments)
    DIFFICULTIES: Finding one of these that is single level in the price range I'm looking is sort of impossible.  I really only need a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen on one of those levels (possible surgery concerns).  Also, these have association dues, and those can go up randomly year to year just like rent can.
    ONE MORE THING: To avoid ending up with double payments, I'd have to give notice ASAP that I'll be vacating my apartment; if I don't find a house and close on it in that time, I'll be stuck in a big way.  I could end up being allergic to some hidden thing in the house I won't know about until I start living there, and I may not have the money to get it fixed.
    The Next, Next Best Thing
    SITUATION: Buy a house.  It's easier to find single-level houses with all the rooms on the ground floor, and there are no association dues to pay. 
    DIFFICULTIES: I would be living alone.  That can be dangerous for a number of reasons (and my mother would worry ridiculous amounts).  Also, I have to shovel snow and mow the lawn, something I am not really physically capable of doing, so I'd have to pay someone else to do it and be concerned about someone getting hurt or getting trapped in my house if the snow removal people get tied up.
    ONE MORE THING: Hiring a snow removal service and some kid in the neighborhood to mow the lawn is an expense that can also go up suddenly. 
    The Status Quo
    SITUATION: Stay here for now (and pray the dream comes true [SOON, DEAR GOD, PLEASE]). 
    DIFFICULTIES: Deal with the rent hikes and the extra money I have to blow running my AC all four seasons because I live on the third floor and nobody in this building pays for heat, and so they waste it insanely, baking those on the third floor.  And all the screaming and the strangers my fellow tenants casually let into the building.  And the added trouble sleeping because of the light and noise from the rigged up AC in the bedroom.
    ONE MORE THING: At least I wouldn't have to pack and inflict moving on my friends.  Again.  In summer.  And if something did come up (sudden job loss or something else), I am still probably more easily mobile in this situation.
    The Least Best Thing
    SITUATION: Move to another apartment.  It could be better.  It would have to be more expensive to be this size but better quality.
    DIFFICULTIES: Seriously?  Pack and inflict moving on my friends when I will just have to move again and when I can't know if the rent will be more stable or if the situation will be improved.
    ONE MORE THING: Just don't have the energy to do the research on this for some place knowingly  temporary. 

"Trying to change unfair behavior with submissive niceness"

"The problem is that trying to change unfair behavior with submissive niceness is like trying to smother a fire with gunpowder. It isn't the high road; it's the grim, well-trod path that leads from aggressive to passive, through long, horrible stretches of passive-aggressive. The real high road requires something quite different: the courage to know and follow your own truth. If anyone in your life is exploiting your courtesy and goodwill, it's time you learned how all of this works." - Martha Beck 

So.  Thoughts on the intersection of this and Christianity?  (Especially the bits of common wisdom in the evangelical culture today?)

In my experience, this quote is correct.  I worked with some amazingly terrible and toxic bosses at my last job.  I did try the old Christian standby of being humbly submissive.  It didn't work.  I went down that crappy path and in the end found myself loathing the schadenfreude I felt when my bosses' incompetence caused them additional problems (and no only because their problems caused more problems for my beleaguered co-workers).  It was a very bad place to be in.  I don't recommend it.  But how do we reconcile our desire to stand up for the oppressed (ourselves and our co-workers) with the command to turn the other cheek?  It's a tough balance to try to figure out. 

Any thoughts or experiences you've had that you can share?

Friday, April 26, 2013

A good thought to keep in mind

Sexual promiscuity is not the unforgiveable sin. Let's not forget those featured in Jesus' genealogy (Judah, the man who slept with his daughter-in-law, mistaking her for a prostitute; David, the king who murdered the husband of his mistress), nor those winning mention in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith (Rahab, the prostitute who sheltered the Israelite spies, and Samson, the man with a weakness for beautiful women). The Bible, in weaving its long history of redemption, is not a storybook of heroes. Failure, even sexual mistakes, has not once tied God's hands. He accomplishes what he wills through the worst of us.
. . .
Virginity is not a moral merit badge. Whether or not we have had sex before marriage, we are all lawbreakers (James 2:10). None can feel superior, not even the virgins among us.

- Jen Pollack Michel
I like the title of this article.  (And the article, which you should read.)  And the author's exasperation.  Because I share it.  Lately, I've been running into numerous articles where it is obvious that to some Christians, virginity (at least in women) IS considered something akin to our Holy Grail.  It's the thing that gives us worth, the most important thing to protect!  We can be ignorant or mean or liars or gossips, but heaven forbid we fornicate because there is NO GOING BACK. 

Seriously?  Is that really, truly what church leaders think, or are they just going overboard trying to get their point across (badly)?  I do understand that sexual sin is slightly different (the only one a person can commit against their own body, I believe is sort of how it was described), but why do we glorify it like this?  Come on, people.

Yeah, I know, odd coming from someone who hasn't fornicated or even wanted to, but I really feel that some of the messages we are giving are really twisted all out of biblical proportion.  And we are really hurting people by our ignorance and cruelty here.  How should we deal with it?  Good question.  Any good answers?

Friday, April 19, 2013

even in the dark

"At the heart of the good news is a call to suffer with others. To take the time to listen and struggle and wait and love others. Hope is not always cheery it is the conistent, authentic expectation of light even in the dark."
 - Kevin Williams in a comment on Addie Zierman's blog How to Talk Evangelical

Frequently, hope is grim, gallows humor, one soldier in the trenches to another.  Sometimes it's calm, knowledgeable assurance that has seen the darkness and the light on the other side.  Rarely is it really 100% chipper cheerfulness.  At least, this has been true in my experience.  Yours?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Easter Saturday 2013

This year, I am wearing shades of blue because they are beautiful, and sometimes you need to wear beautiful colors so that every time you look down you are lifted up.  I have no idea if this is an appropriate seasonal color liturgically.  It's probably not secularly, either, because I am not wearing spring-y pastel blues, weak and watered down.  I am wearing dark, rich jewel tones: peacock, teal, turquoise.

I am celebrating Easter by going to church on Saturday at a place that is not my local church.  It is more than half an hour away, and the drive was crowded, the roads oddly packed.  The day started out wet and sloppy, but by now it is bright with sun and 10 degrees warmer than the professional weather guessers predicted.  Water from the thaw runs in the gutters, pools around the grates, rages onto convergence points, carries away trash and newly uncovered  flower clusters hidden for this day when I am celebrating resurrection and new life. 

One year, I wrote a poem about Saturday and how wretched the day before Easter must have seemed to all of the people who loved Jesus.  Today, I doubt I could be in that same somber, sober place.  There is too much light and warmth and the stink of new life everywhere.

Tomorrow, the weather guessers tell us, it will be cold and miserable and dark and snowy.  This sanctuary will still be bright with all of its windows, and early service attendees will be blinded if there is sun.  I hope there is sun because I think we all need a good spring blinding to remind us it's not all winter.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Do what you know

“We’re all dying because of chronic disease because of bad behavior. It’s not enough to go see the doctor once a year and have him tell you what to do. It’s not that people don’t know what to do, it’s that they don’t do what they know,” says Lavoie, co-director of the Montreal Behavioural Medicine Centre in Canada.

When I read the above article (part of keeping up on current med-tech trends for work), I found myself struck by the above statement.  And how much it made me think of a Bible passage where the writer talks about how the one who believes will keep Christ's commandments, not just talk about them.  And that passage in the Bible where the writer talks about how frustrating it is that we don't do the things we want to/should do (but instead do the things we don't want to do because we are trapped in this body of death).

To paraphrase: It's not enough to go to church every Sunday (even a doctrinally solid church) and be told what to do.  We know what to do, really.  We just don't do it.  Do we not really believe it?  Are we being lazy?  I think that one passage about doing what we don't want to do and who can save us from this body of death ends with one of those long, rolling, buoying passages about how Christ saved us, will save us, is saving us, and all praise to Him.  Amen.  But we're also told to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  We are told to do what He commanded.  We are told our actions should reflect where are hearts are, what we really, truly believe.  Sometimes, our actions mostly reflect laziness and sloppy thinking.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the health research and study results.  Today, They definitely conclude that this behavior Will Kill You.  In two years, They will proclaim that this behavior is The Best Ever.  It's hard to know what's really healthy sometimes.

But we all know the basics.
  • eat more unprocessed foods, especially whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
  • move more (get up and walk around, challenge your muscles and your cardiovascular system).
  • don't stress yourself out over things you can't control.
  • do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
  • be a good steward.
  • love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
  • love your neighbor as yourself.

We know the basics, but do we do them?

If we really believe they are important, won't our actions and behaviors change to reflect what we really believe?  I pray it may be so for me.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Renting as a spiritual discipline

I miss living in a house.  I miss the sound the furnace makes when it turns on as I sprawl on the floor under a blanket above one of the vents.  I miss knowing the temperature is not controlled by the people below me blasting their heat they don't have to pay for until I'm in shorts and a t-shirt with all my windows open enjoying a balmy 83 degrees indoors as the snow falls outside.  I miss not having to turn up a DVD or music to block out the raging domestic arguments around me at night when I'm trying to unwind.  I miss control, silence, solitude, ownership of space.

House prices are decent right now.  My credit is excellent.  I could find a good place if I wanted.  I could have my control, silence, solitude, and ownership of space.  But the economy is still a little rocky.  Layoffs are happening; there is no job security, and I'm crippled and exhausted and in debt from being crippled and retraining myself to get a job despite being crippled.  It's probably not a good time to purchase a home.

But when will be a good time?  When will I be safe enough?  When will I be comfortable enough?

Maybe it's better to rent because it means I am not comfortable, not safe, not in control, not "owning" a place.  Maybe that reality can be seen as a reflection of the one where we are strangers, aliens, pilgrims passing through, peregrinating, as St. Augustine called it.  Every mortal life is but a breath, and all that, but we are to be even less attached because we know this place isn't home.  It's not our destination; it's our journey, etc. 

I long for rest, but I won't find it here, won't find it in the control, silence, solitude, and ownership of space here.  That's all an illusion. 

As a renter on a month-to-month lease, I am in an enviable situation.  I am flexible; I can be mobile should I be needed or should I find a more stable job elsewhere.  Wherever I am, I should be content.

Maybe until I am, I need to keep renting to remind myself that I don't belong here, that my real home is where my heart is, and my heart is with God even if I'm in this crappy apartment building listening to her yell at the toddler again and again as I have the AC on because it's warm enough for my allergies to prohibit opening the windows, but folks still have their heat on below me.  Some days it's a really good thing to know that this is not my home.

What to do when you find out

Someone in my small group was talking about how he's not sure what to do when he finds out about the brokenness in other people that he's never encountered before.  He's a sunny soul, and he's a bit slammed upside the head when he discovers others have had so many clouds and so much bad weather, and the things he says can hurt them without him even knowing it.  And that this is considered insensitive and makes other people angry, as if they can realistically expect everyone else to know all about all their triggers and never accidentally press them.  What is he supposed to do, never open his mouth because anything he says can and will be used against him by the other people he is trying to interact with?  This could paralyze him, but he is a sunny soul, so he just kind of keeps going.  Not a bad plan, actually.  Sometimes that sun is what attracts the souls covered in freezing rain.  And sometimes it's not.

A friend of an old classmate recently posted this piece about what Christians should know about interacting with those who have suffered from "religious abuse".  At its heart, it is really a kind (but angry) explanation of how what Christians often say (usually knee-jerk statements usually unfiltered by a fully thinking brain) can be disrespectful and hurtful to those who've been injured by religion in the past.  Know these things, don't be that person, respect me and my negative experiences by engaging me with your whole being, not just your Christianese platitudes meant to dismiss me or make it all better: that's what this piece is about.

I'm glad I had the chance to read this article.  It brings up a lot of questions.  I'm curious about the working definition of psychological religious abuse, in particular, because the line between abuse and growing up in a family that had religious beliefs you didn't agree with and now repudiate is really blurry to me.  What is abusive and what is merely insensitivity or well-meaning religious dedication?  (These questions interest me because I've been reading so many other articles in the past few years about how parents should stop stressing about ruining their kids and just do their best to love them.)

I guess this article doesn't change the answer I would give this person in my small group or the way I live: know that this is true and others are broken and jagged in ways you don't know, and go on, trying always to understand, to think before speaking, and to speak thoughtfully in love.  I prefer avoiding people anyway, so I don't talk to them much, and I tend to just keep my mouth shut around people I don't know (leaving the awkward foot-in-mouth times to happen around those I'm more familiar with), but for those who like to interact with people, your chances of offending them by being ignorant are higher.  Be conscious of body language, ask for clarification, ask for forgiveness, learn from each mistake. Just keep going and loving people, even when you inevitably hurt them.  And pray for them.  (Just don't tell them about it because that's a communication stopper. :)  And pray for you, too, that God will help you be sensitive and fully engaged with each person you encounter, that He will give you wisdom.

How do you cope with the fact of other people's hidden triggers?  How do you live knowing that your edges can cut other people without you knowing it?

Church as body

church as body

wholeness waits
on the other side of
destruction, redemption,

Not a new idea, but I find myself really understanding it in a very personal way lately.  Body as one unit made up of many parts, sometimes all doing their own thing.
  • I can't stretch my hamstrings because my joints are too loose, so to go far enough to get a stretch, I have to strain the tear in my hip, which hurts.  
  • I need to loosen the overworked muscles in my leg that have been kindly keeping my hip in place despite the tear, but to stretch them, I strain the hip tear, which makes the muscles tighter and angrier in the end.  
  • I need to strengthen my upper body to help stabilize the tear in my shoulder, but when I do yoga, core work, or anything beneficial to my upper body, the injuries in my wrist, elbow, and shoulders protest vociferously.

and so I seek
equilibrium of some kind
strengthening without
damaging pain because
movement without pain
may not be possible.

Perhaps this is why the church seems wearily familiar to me when I see it as conflicting ideas and opinions clashing against each other, accomplishing nothing worthwhile, a noisy gong and clanging cymbals, a sound and fury signifying nothing.

When I started writing this piece, I was thinking it would end more positively, like,
our bodies are broken like this,
and the church is called the Body of Christ,
so of course it will be broken like this, too,
so it should be familiar, and I can't blame it for being what it is, right?

But I can't fix my body and haven't really had much luck improving the overall health of the Body, and I
am tired of being broken
in a broken world
surrounded only
by broken people
just like me.  Familiarity
breeds, well, you know
how the saying goes (and that it's not positive).

The thing that gives me hope is that I haven't given up on either body.  Sometimes I just get discouraged when I am forced to face that fact that I cannot make either body healthy, perfect, and pain free.  And sometimes my individual body is so loud, I have no coping to spare for the bigger Body.  Avoidance can be a reasonable strategy.  At times like these, I'm glad for my small group. They are
my tiny connection
to the Body, the place
where I can use my gifts
(even if imperfectly) to bless
others and be blessed.  A smaller group of broken people, a manageable number to care too much for.  And for now, that will have to be enough.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

a small semantic revelation

We are called to act as if we love everyone.  Not act (emphasis theater/performance/fakery/hypocrisy) but act as in commit acts/take actions that show we love even if we do not feel like it, a sort of Christ-follower's professionalism instead of actor's professionalism.

We are called to be not those who act but those who take actions.

This ends my epiphany for the day.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Losing a friend

It was at the beginning of a comment, the offhanded phrase that left me stunned at its unexpectedness from that quarter: I don't believe in God any more.  I was off balance all day, literally; I kept catching myself on walls and desk corners.  Whenever there was a quiet moment, I was melancholy, more deeply saddened than I would have thought, at this loss.  We will remain casual friends who knew each other better once, but something is different now, like a missing tooth.

I asked what led her to that decision, and the answer was reason.  She found herself with some new premises and realized that if she believed them, logically she couldn't believe in God.  This seemed weird to me because it's not really how I'm set up, but when I thought about it in relation to her, to how she operates, it made sense.  She has always been a person of fact over emotion and logic over experience.  It makes sense that thinking logically led her away from the God of the Old Testament who surely seems a being of emotions (many of them negative).

I am reading Ezekiel right now, and there are definitely times where I feel the cultural gulf and the discomfort of an alien way of thinking.  I read certain passages and think, well, this part probably really offends this group of people.  I wonder, how do I reconcile this?  Then I go to bed and pray for people. 

Perhaps this means I am an intellectual coward, someone too afraid to dig in mentally because I think my faith will be lost on the path of reason.  Perhaps it means something else entirely.  Perhaps it means that I am able to see the Old Testament as story told by man about God in a different way than she does.  Perhaps it means I can divorce what the New Testament God says from what He says in the Old Testament (which took place in very different times).  Perhaps I don't really know what it means but am glad for it anyway.

I find myself wondering what she thinks of the God of the New Testament.  I understand how people read these two collections and think there must be two different beings involved because the one in the Old Testament doesn't seem much like the one in the New Testament at all.  In the New Testament, He is embodied, walking among us, teaching different things about how we are to live our lives, and then there are letters from those who knew Him and/or those who followed his teachings.  And then there's Revelation (equally as mind-blowing as Ezekiel).

Anyway, I found myself thinking about how we refer to people who no longer believe in God.  They have "strayed from the path" or "lost their faith."  At first I thought I didn't like these phrases; they are Christian cliches, almost devoid of meaning.  A former classmate of mine has refused to ditch Christian cliches as worthless and has chosen instead to study them and remake them into meaningful communication again, to find and redeem them.  In the interest of following her example, I decided to do the same, and I realized that even though people usually say these cliches as an end (as if once you are lost or strayed, you are as good as dead), I think they really could be seen and used as hopeful.  If they have been on the path, there is a possibility they could find their ways back; if they are lost, they can be found. 

I pray it may be so.

Monday, February 18, 2013

There is no going back, only forward

There's a man in my small group who is older than me and is one of those sunny, happy, jolly, slightly oblivious people very much like good-natured, adolescent puppies.  When some of us begin talking honestly about the flaws in our church, it makes him sad.  His wife says that before he met us, he was unaware that our church had any warts.  And that is okay.  I think it is just fine for him to see and praise the positive things in the church, to be so focused on what he can do to help that he doesn't notice that things aren't even close to perfect.  People that see the church like he does are necessary to keep the church body from exploding under the forces of cynicism and discontent (or continue to splinter until every building was its own denomination).  Frankly, I sort of envy him his way of looking at the church.  I wish I could go back to the time when I was that positive about the church.  I liked myself and the church better back then.

I want to go back before I thought that my church was too big to be a family, too wealthy and suburban to give a crap and organize to help hurting and broken people in need inside the body and in the surrounding community.

I want to go back to the time before I tried to make a difference and got involved and became a member and tried to fit into the communion of the saints even though it was more like the brunch at the country club, before I tried to improve things and got stonewalled or tried to participate but couldn't stand the crappy Baptist choir CCM after all that glorious Latin in the mini-cathedral at my previous doctrinally unsound church, before I joined a small group of very nice young ladies who were single and very nice and as bland as a Scandinavian casserole and so shy and slow about saying anything real or honest that I just couldn't take it anymore, before I gave up on attending Sunday services at all, before I despaired of ever being able to minister in any biblical way in my local body and accepted that "leading" a small group of quirky, interesting people was all I was going to get from this fellowship. 

I want to go back to the time before I picked my current church because the doctrine they preached was acceptable to me and would pass muster with my alma mater in case I got the chance to try to teach there and because it was so big that no one would bother me when I snuck into the back always late and dressed shabbily and no one even noticed me because there were just so many people who attended and because it didn't demand anything of me when I had absolutely nothing left to give from the bottom of my well of chronic pain, exhaustion, and discouragement. 

I want to go back to before I had to leave the beautiful neo-Gothic church with the amazing organ and the outstanding chancel choir, before the organist got booted even though she was incredibly talented and passionate because she was "too high-church" for the powers-that-be, too invested in beauty and the meaning of rituals to let things slide, before I realized that I couldn't stay in a place where they preached doctrine that just didn't jive with the Bible as I interpreted it. 

I want to go back to before college, where the church choices were limited and terrible for shy folks without vehicles, before it became somewhere I went because I didn't want demerits, before it became a soul-sucking experience you survived, so you could go to Sunday lunch in the cafeteria, which was always excellent. 

I want to go back to how I saw my church before all those crazy, passionate, Jesus freak college kids got older, before they took down all the lovely and rough art created by congregation members, before they redecorated so things looked expensive and fancy (including the chairs), before everyone grew up and moved away, and there were only strangers there. 

I want to go back to the time before I had to avoid my best friend because she didn't want anyone else to know we hung around a lot outside of school and church, before our pastor committed adultery, before I realized that the other churches in our town treated ours with derision because it was founded by a bunch of fumbling college kids who got saved in the Jesus movement and tried to follow the Bible by making a church, man, because they were so in love with Jesus and His people. 

I wish I were back in that time before I knew too much, back when church was just a good and safe place full of adopted, extended family who loved to sing and praise the Lord for hours and pray for my mom for years while she was dying and make terrible pasta dishes for us when she was in the hospital and just generally generously help each other. 

I want to go back. 

But the only way out is forward and through. 

And I was not called to be successful, just to try, to keep trying, to keep going and never completely lose hope in this beautiful, messy, too-human, flawed, filthy, in-the-process-of-redemption body of which I am part whether I really like them or not.  (Family is always like that.)  Sometimes, it's just really hard. 

Maybe it's a good thing that I am pathologically incapable of quitting forever.  Maybe that just means I grind myself down faster against the rough edges of the folks around me. 

Maybe it means I long for heaven, for future perfection, for complete redemption that much more.  Some day.  Hope.  Keep walking forward, one foot in front of the other.  Be glad when when people walk beside me.  Be gracious when they fall and trip me and send me sprawling (and pray they do the same when Ifall).  Don't spend too much time looking back.  Walk on.

When church membership is more like country club membership

When I became a member of this church (so I could work at my alma mater if I ever had the chance), the folks interviewing me seemed very anxious to tell me that they didn't have any expectations that I would serve within the church just because I was a member.  Most people spent their time supporting ministries outside of the church, and that was just fine with the church, they assured me anxiously, like they thought I would leave if I was actually expected to DO SOMETHING (in addition to all the work I had to do to get to that point).  They sold it like a benefit to get a candidate to take a job when there was another comparable offer being made elsewhere.  It made me pretty uncomfortable, to be honest.  What church lets people join and says, "We don't expect you to take your membership seriously or, like, do anything biblical or anything"?

After I expressed my frustration about this recently, a friend who has had lots of struggles with church people said maybe the church wasn't where my ministry would be.  I had pretty much reached that conclusion myself.  I've got two really attractive options I've been looking at for a while.  I made one last try at my church, and apparently there are no orphans, widows, or single parent families (which frankly seems to be the modern equivalent) in my church who need my gifts.  You know what?  That's a lie.  I call shenanigans.  I know there are people who could use my help, my gifts, my talents.  I just have no way of connecting with them, and the church leadership apparently does not consider them a priority.  (No lie, the leadership decided that they wanted to put all their efforts and money into nuclear family ministries, so tough noogies for singles, couples with no children, poor people, single-parent families, and everyone else outside of that particular group.)

Is it really so wild for me to feel like my church should be doing things for the orphans and widows who attend?  Like actively seeking out the members and knowing them and knowing their needs and doing something to help since the Bible is pretty clear about our responsibilities to these groups of people in our midst as the church.  I mean, is it really outrageous to think it should be standard for a church to do biblically commanded things like take care of their orphans and widows?  Or am I being silly and stubborn and unrealistic by demanding this happen in/through the church when I could just as easily go to a place where these needs are addressed by civil bodies?

I want to do the right thing, but it seems like my church just isn't interested.  Obviously, this means I'm in the wrong church.  (I'm looking for other options.)  I'm just so disappointed that these fallible humans have failed me again.  : )  Is this like the fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, or is that really too cynical?  I know we are strangers and pilgrims not of this world, people just passing through, but it hurts when the church only intensifies that feeling.

Maybe I just need to think of it as getting side-tracked on a quest and needing to get back out on the road in search of other opportunities.  Maybe that can keep me going for a while.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Breaking up is hard to do

I'm trying to compose a break-up letter to my school to explain why I won't be making any more charitable donations to them, but it's surprisingly hard.  I don't want to sound petty or unreasonable.  This might be difficult because I'm still not convinced I'm not being petty and unreasonable.  Am I acting like the child who feels betrayed because he has discovered that adults are fallible humans or am I behaving like an adult who has looked at things rationally and decided she would rather give her money to organizations that aren't behaving (in her opinion) shamefully.  Am I being like my mother and being more concerned about appearances (the school's behavior is embarrassing me, and this is how I can punish them) or more like myself (taking a principled stand against unprincipled behavior)?  Am I being reasonable, or am I carping about the Emperor's New Clothes in the middle of a nudist colony?

Who knew I was such a coward about breaking up?  It's been three weeks since I made the decision.  I'm tired of putting this off, trying to think up the perfect way to explain, avoiding the internet because I don't want to read any more about these disasters and their aftermaths.  I think maybe I will just tell them I'm discontinuing my financial support.  If they want reasons, maybe then I will write up my list.  Maybe.