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.