Christianity

What if…?

Yesterday’s guest speaker spoke about sabbath, rest. She and I had talked earlier in the week about the subject, since I was the one leading last night’s discussion. Our conversation has been on my mind ever since.

After our conversation, I went to my R.E.S.T. group therapy class. I don’t actually know what that acronym stands for. I just know it’s a class about Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I find it coincidentally interesting that immediately after a discussion of “rest” as part of faith practice I would attend a class titled “REST.”

In class we talked about seeking happiness inducing experiences as part of managing our mental health issues. I think the two go hand in hand: rest and pleasure.

Rest means different things to different people and things which bring pleasure to one person are not the same as what brings pleasure to another.

What we, as Christians do know is that the Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath, at least according to Mark 2:27.

Another name for The Most High, The Almighty, The Lord, God is Abba or Father.

Now, if you’ve experienced the trauma of religious abuse or an abusive or neglectful relationship with your own father, this will be difficult, painful, or impossible to relate to, which is totally understandable and reasonable. I’m not trying to force feed my beliefs or faith on anyone. I’m simply saying what it means to me. You have free will and get to decide for yourself. No judgment. All are welcome here.

I never had a relationship with my own father. Nor has my life ever afforded me much of a sense of safety, an ability to rest, or experiences of delight. I didn’t grow up attending church, and I have had religion used against me and to manipulate me. It’s taken me a long time and a LOT of mental health healing to get here.

So, I find myself contemplating what it means to be a child of God, resting in his arms, and taking delight in him.

What if our hearts’ true desires are to be known completely and loved unconditionally? What if being fully known and wholly loved is our refuge and our shelter? What if what allows us to rest and let go of the tension, worry, and fear is a sense of safety? What if being rested opens our senses to be able to experience delight? What if this is what it means to become “as a little child?”

What if we could believe that God lives in us? What if we believed God is love? What if we believed God encompasses time and eternity?

Would all of this mean that we have constant access to God, who can fill us with love, offer safety, shelter, and rest, who can enable us to experience delight in the eternity of each moment in time…even in the midst of all the trials and pain?

What if…?

Writing Prompt: August Scrawls Day 5

Faith Exploration

The shopkeeper looked up from the book she’d been perusing, The Christian Witch’s Handbook: Solitary Practitioner’s Edition by H. Fuller Hutchinson. It was a familiar sight she beheld: A younger woman, perhaps in her late 20’s or early 30’s, with a furtive demeanor and brightly curious eyes.

Having decades of experience, she innately understood that the young woman wanted the shopkeeper to be aware of her presence, but didn’t want direct attention.

“Welcome. Feel free to explore. I’ll be here if you have any questions.”

The young woman flashed an uncomfortable smile of acknowledgement. Then meandered down a wall aisle of books the shopkeeper knew to be for the curious and those seeking to learn about the various paths and practices. This aisle also contained all the basic ritual items one would need or want if they were just starting out.

She observed the young woman thumb through a couple of books, then put them back. Next she looked at the tools for ritual and practice. Her confusion was clear as she picked up both a dual edged dagger and a single edged knife seemingly more suited to using in the kitchen. She grabbed one of each and approached the counter where the shopkeeper stood.

“Will you help me understand the difference between these two knives?” She pleaded, overwhelm evident on her face and in her voice, as she carefully rested both blades on the counter.

“Certainly dear, I’m quite pleased to do so. The smaller blade has sharp a edge on each side and ends in a sharp point. The handle is has a hand guard between the handle, called a hilt, and the blade. It’s commonly known as a dagger. It is always used as a ceremonial or ritual tool and never actually cuts anything physical, it is strictly used for ritual. It is called an athame.

The second one here is a bolline. It’s also ceremonial, however, it’s also more of a practical tool, much like a kitchen knife. Notice the single edge blade and lack of a hilt.

Do you have any other questions?” the shopkeeper inquired.

The young woman tentatively replied, “Well, you see, I’m a Christian and even though I know church tradition considers witchcraft and paganism sins and heresy, I’ve come to believe some of the practices actually honor and serve God’s purpose of loving the world.”

Suddenly the shopkeeper understood there had been a divine and mystical reason for her to have chosen the book she’d been perusing just before the young woman came in.

“You know,” she began to explain, “There are Christian Witches. Here, perhaps this book can help you on your path.”

“Thank you sooo much,” the young woman exclaimed. “I was so confused and kind of scared when I came in today. You have been so kind and helpful. I’ll take the book and wait to decide which blade I’ll need. How much do I owe you?”

“I am always happy to help. Let me know how else I can help once you’ve read the book. That will be $15.”

As she placed the book in a bag, she grabbed her business card, inserted it in the front cover. Then handed it to the young woman, who left the shop with a more confident and purposeful demeanor than she had entered with.

The shopkeeper smiled to herself, mentally saying a prayer of gratitude for the encounter and that the young woman finds the path for her.

Desolation’s Lament

When passion has turned to ash,

Motivation has withered,

Desire overtaken by death,

Where is there hope to be seen . . .

When the darkness inside has slithered out,

Grasping, squeezing, choking,

The spark of life extinguished

Where is the glimmer of light . . .

When time has been lost,

Minutes, hours, days

Melting away into empty weeks and months

Where is the strength . . .

When the atrophy of apathy

Fatigues the very soul,

Draining all that is left,

Where is the being . . .

In the resurrection of the One

Who sacrificed mortality for Love

That none shall remain in darkness

Lives hope, light, strength, and being.


(c) LEM 10/27/2015

Reversing the polarity: The blessing of burden

I read a HuffPost Good News article this morning, written by Scott Dannemiller, who is a writer, blogger, worship leader and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church, according to his byline. I love the title: The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.

It’s a topic I’ve wrestled with for a long time; Blessing vs Burden

What do those of us who identify ourselves as Christ followers consider blessing and what do we see as burden? In the world and society I live in, material abundance, prosperity, and self-satisfaction are promoted as “blessing.” When the situations and circumstances of life consist of smooth sailing, happy relationships, financial security, satisfying vocation, and material wealth, even the non-religious may refer to themselves as “blessed.” Conversely, poverty, loss, and lack of upward mobility are stigmatized and judged negatively. Those who experience the painful, disappointing, unjust experiences of generational or situational poverty, addiction, loss of loved ones, homelessness, illness, broken relationships, and the like are considered to be burdened. The “chronically burdened” are frequently written off as “burdens on society.” Do those of us who call ourselves Christians think, act, and live with this understanding of blessing and burden?

I think, in many cases, the answer is a resounding, “YES!” As a matter of fact, if it hadn’t already been obvious from many of my posts in the past, it is pretty evident that this is how I have viewed and reacted to many of the things I’ve experienced in my life.

God’s economy reverses those two things: what we often think of as blessing bears a burden of stewardship and “charity,” while the things we’ve been taught to consider “why me, woe is me” events and circumstances as burdens, are actually things which CAN open us up to truly be blessed.

I especially related to the following:

“Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day. You read that right. Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day.

During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor.”

I grew up, and continue to live, in the American brand of poverty. I experience Bipolar II Disorder and PTSD, which went unidentified and misdiagnosed for over two decades. These things led to actions and choices that were destructive to self and others. Broken relationships, chaos, and instability have been the consistent things in my life.

I was “saved” when I was eight years old. I have had an on again, off again relationship with God, through many different congregations and denominations over the past 37 years. Countless times I’ve gotten the message that my pain, my depression, my toxic relationships, my physical health, and my poverty were the result of my lack of faith in and relationship with God. I was repeatedly told to study and memorize scripture more, pray more, serve more, trust God more, etc. This was an oversimplification based on skewed understanding and beliefs.

I would cycle into unrecognized hypomanic highs and “catch on fire.” God’s was with me and in me in nearly tangible ways. I was “on track” and “in tune” with Him. Then the bipolar pendulum would swing me into depression. Emotional, intellectual, and spiritual static, interference, and disconnection ensued. The panic and anxiety from the PTSD I was unaware of was continually broadcasting a background signal. It would be low and subliminal, then something would happen and, before I knew it, my own personal Emergency Broadcast Alert was in full effect. My roller coaster brain took me on a wild and scary ride, sweeping innocent and not so innocent bystanders along.

Over and over again, the people of faith who were in ministry and had chosen a life of “service” and who I looked to for leadership, mentorship, guidance, and nurture talked about vacations, promotions, personal and professional rewards, recognition for achievements, new cars, new houses, savings, weddings, happily bonded familial relationships, and so on,as blessings, or manifestations of God’s favor.Conversely, their times of difficulty, pain, and loss were hidden, downplayed, and sometimes treated as if they were a consequence of losing faith and walking away from God.

When your life is overflowing with the latter and the former has a negligible presence, the message received and internalized is often, “I’m not blessed, I’m cursed, and it’s because of my lack of effort, lack of faith, and just, plain lack as a person/” This perception and viewpoint pulls the blinds, shuts the curtains, and locks the door against seeing, being open to, and receiving the blessings which can be experienced. This sounds a lot like I’m still putting the onus of being blessed on the receiver. I’m not, really. Those metaphors only go so far before they break down. What I am really trying to say is this: anything can be a blessing or burden, depending on how it is perceived and understood.

I know I have spent a significant part of my life, including 2014, viewing the challenges, difficulties, and hardships in my life as burdens. I’ve had a strong tendency to devolve into “victimized” thinking and reacting. I absolutely need to practice reframing my thinking and reversing the polarity of my perceptions.

Thoughts? What are things you have thought of as burdens which may have turned out to be “blessings in disguise?” Are there any “blessings” you received which created “burdens” for you or others?

Why it’s hard to be a Christian online

My friend and spiritual teacher, Marc Alan Schelske, posted this blog post by Jon Acuff from Jon’s site, Stuff Christians Like,

There was a lot of stuff this Christian liked about the article:

The ideas I share are received with more grace, acceptance and discussion in the business world than they are in the Christian world.

When Christians disagree with your idea, they critique your soul.

dropping a fake money tract on the ground is an incredibly effective use of my time. That saves me all that hassle of actually having a relationship with someone and telling them about God in that context. Relationships take forever, ugh.

Well, perhaps “liked” isn’t the correct word. Maybe related to or identified with would be more accurate. This is probably the one that hit closest to home for me:

But when we as Christians attack each other’s souls we forever lose the ability to get better. When we can’t debate without it turning into a soul attack, we can’t grow. 

In this post, Jon referred to an incident where other publicly known Christians had chosen to openly criticize and misrepresent something he’d written.

My fear is that we’re missing something pretty powerful in this type of situation. My fear is that no one in the history of mankind has ever said, “I saw two Christians on twitter attacking each other and that made me want a lifelong relationship with their Christ.”

So often I see posts from my fellow Christians which contain critical, mean-spirited, hatefulness towards other believers, as well as non-believers, or followers of other faiths. Attacks on the people and their very souls and identities – the very souls and identities that the God we share and claim is a God of love, compassion, grace, and forgiveness created and cares for as much as we are cared for and loved. It saddens me and sickens me.

I want to protest, publicly and loudly against these people. My instinct is to judge and criticize them for being so hypercritical and judgmental. Then, I realize what is happening within me. I understand that I’m afraid of being judged and criticized by association with them and that my identity and being will suffer an attack and backlash because of their words and actions.

My identity is not in my association with them. It is in who God has made me to be and the love, grace, mercy, and compassion I have received from Him. This is available to all who are able to receive it. Since I have received compassion instead of condemnation, compassion is what I offer to others, whether I agree with them or not, whether they have hurt me or not, whether they deserve it or not. I have received compassion, forgiveness, grace, and mercy though I have not been deserving or worthy, but because I am loved regardless.

So, it is not my place or position to decry and denounce my fellow believers, no matter how misguided or misplaced I believe their attitudes, words, and actions to be. It is not even my plac to publicly name, shame, and blame them if their words and actions have caused myself or others I may care about to experience pain or suffering, as counterintuitive as that may seem.

Romans 12:19 ~ Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

I’m not in control of them or their journeys. Instead, wherever I encounter those who have been wounded by my spiritual siblings, I am to offer whatever aid and comfort I am able, without justifying or rationalizing or criticizing those who came before.20130709-173104.jpg

Outraged and sad. We’ve GOT to be better than this! An appeal to my co-citizen’s of the USA who claim the name of Jesus

I feel absolutely sick with outrage and grief! A dear, sweet friend of mine just shared something that was such complete, racist, political propaganda. It made me think of all the various things that have been perpetuated in the name of nationalism and religion which have combined to separate, segregate, distract, destroy, and manipulate us throughout our country’s short and volatile history; especially since the beginning of the 20th century and advancements in media technology.

The United States of America is the only nation on our planet whose political, religious, and ideological foundations were established with human equality, religious freedom, and social justice at the core. Any person whose genetic material is anything other than 100% Native American, is the product of immigration – forced or voluntary. The economic and material infrastructure from the founding of the colonies to the Declaration of Independence through the Western Expansion on forward, has come from the industry, innovation, and inspiration of people who originated from other continents and countries with varied and diverse religious beliefs and political ideologies.

The propaganda machines have always been hard at work, from before the onset of the printing press and have yet to stop.

WW I & WW II brought the vilification and demonization of Germanic, Eastern European, and Asiatic people. All of these prejudices pre-dated those “Great Wars” and have never gone away. Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War were evidence of that. We expanded our prejudices into the Middle East nations and peoples through the Iran Hostage Crisis through Iran-Contra into the Gulf Wars on up to this present day.

Now, on the basis of land of origin, the shades of skin melatonin, and linguistic differences in names we have become like a rabid animal turning on itself and we perpetuate prejudice without rational thought or reason based in actual facts.

The following list of people is being passed around and being called “foxes in the henhouse” because of their political positions and affiliations with the Obama Administration and the facts of their national and religious heritage and systems being “other” than North American, Western Judeo-Christian.

Arif Alikhan – Assistant Secretary for Policy Development
for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Mohammed Elibiary – Homeland Security Adviser
Rashad Hussain – Special Envoy to the
Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
Salam al-Marayati – Obama Adviser and
founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council
and is its current executive director
Imam Mohamed Magid – Obama’s Sharia Czar from
the Islamic Society of North America
Eboo Patel – Advisory Council on Faith-Based
Neighborhood Partnerships

I don’t know that none of these people are without hidden agendas to eradicate and subsume The American Way. However, the propaganda document containing the list fails to offer any facts or evidence of wrong doing and sinister intention beyond names, titles, and affiliations. It rings of 21st Century McCarthyism. Furthermore, it uses language which objectifies and dismisses anyone not in immediate agreement in judgmentally broad strokes by characterizing them as uncaring, unconcerned, and unconscious idiots.

It is essentially a call to action for us villagers to storm Frankenstein’s castle in fury based in fear to do away with the monster and his creator. It is an appeal designed to bypass the rational mind of reasoned thought and activate the animalistic fight or flight instinct of fear-based action.

The worse problem, in my estimation, is that the very people who promote and pass this along are the same people who profess to believe in an empathetic and compassionate God of grace, mercy, and sacrificial love. They share inspirational images, quotes, and words espousing the fruits, gifts, and virtues of the spirit in the our Christian belief system:

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FRUITS
Love
Joy
Peace
Forbearance
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness
Gentleness
Self-control

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GIFTS
Wisdom
Understanding
Counsel (right judgment)
Fortitude (courage)
Knowledge
Piety (reverence)
Fear (wonder and awe) of The Lord

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VIRTUES
Chastity
Temperance
Charity
Diligence
Patience
Kindness
Humility

These messages are negated and diminished when interspersed with propaganda spreading fear, mistrust, prejudice, and hate.

It saddens me to see good-hearted, sincere, caring, and loving people who whole-heartedly believe in and desire to live according to these beliefs and values unwittingly allow themselves to be used to do what they consider the work of the enemy of God and goodness.

What IS the Good News?

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For my readers who do not share my belief system, a note: this is another post where I am processing and clarifying, for myself more than for anyone else. It isn’t a sneaky effort to preach, proselytize, or convince you my religion is better, truer, or has validity over yours.

I have been engaged in the reconciliation process lately. Let me tell you, it has been miraculously, almost ridiculously, angst-free, not “easy,” but natural and free-flowing, instead of “forced.”

Back in June, for a brief moment, it seemed as if my relationship with my son was heading in a constructive direction. Then, without warning, it rubber banded and snapped. Painful emotions, on both sides, were drawn to the surface and a rupture occurred. Some may instinctively seek to place blame and either pile on guilt and shame or deny and repress, the victimized martyr – helpless. I’ve been them all.

My response, this time was different, in part because I now understand my attachment issues and how they’ve impacted my children. I understood the painful and difficult reality that he needed the emotional space from me to process his feelings and experiences with me. I resolved to give him whatever space he needed to reach his own healing enough, to reach back out to me. In the meantime, I would continue my own process and journey, so that I would be as receptive as possible when he did reach out.

It happened about a month later, quite a bit sooner than I had expected. He called me and apologized for what he had said and how he had done it, but not for doing it. I could easily accept it, because I understood it. However, I was still a little wary of how secure and lasting this repair would be.

A couple of days passed. I was experiencing a lot of pain and I was in a minor depressive episode when I was informed he was on his way over to visit. A very strong urge to run and hide from him came over me. I was afraid to have him see me like that and experience another break in our relationship this soon. However, I stuck around. I’m glad I did. In the five or so hours he was here, we processed and worked through quite a bit of our joint past. I’ve talked to him a couple of times, since then, and we’ve gotten together, just the two of us and talked.

A large part of our conversations have been spiritual in nature. Talking about religion, in general is a potentially explosive conversation. Discussing Christianity, even between Christians, can lead to rifts. He’s more “out loud” with his beliefs and understanding than I am; partially because his passion is so present and profound and partially because my beliefs and understanding have changed and evolved in ways that might be considered somewhat heretical. I also haven’t taken the time to clearly define what my beliefs are. So, when he asked me where I stood regarding Jesus, salvation, and forgiveness, I wasn’t prepared. I told the core truth, but dissembled a little bit and didn’t fully explain or disclose my understanding.

That’s partially where my post regarding a Christian Systems Check came from. Since writing that post, I’ve had a friend, who is also a pastor of mine, ask me what I see as The Gospel, The Good News. Again, I wasn’t prepared to answer. It is apparent that I need to do the work to clarify my beliefs, for myself, so that I will be prepared with a clear, honest response to questions about my beliefs.

Yeah, I know it is expected that I would have, should have, and could have done so already. Then, I realized, in some ways I already have.

November, 2010, I wrote, “A Picture of Sin.” I believe that all of us are born into imperfect, sometimes critically damaged, family, cultural, societal, and religious systems. Depending on the degree and type of dysfunction, in combination with our individual personalities and capacities, we become wounded and, eventually, cause wounds to others. This is part of understanding of “sin.” As a result of this sin, we are separated from God’s love, as well as our fellow human beings. As far as I know, we don’t ask to be born. We don’t ask to be born into a world full of wounded people who abuse, neglect, and manipulate one another; a world ruled by governmental systems that became distorted and turned into other than what was originally intended; a world where, all too often the corrupt, greedy, and power-mad seem to prosper while the rest of us struggle to just make it through the day.

Into this world, we are born, we are born pre-programmed for love, attachment, and belonging. We are born with the capacity of learning, experiencing, and growing in these things. We are born equipped with intellects and emotions to direct and inform the exercise of free-will.

However, we are and adaptive species. What we are born into and raised in shapes the development of what we are born with. If love, attachment, security, and belonging needs are met, we grow and expand into shape of loving and constructive beings. If those needs aren’t met, our shape becomes different and things like anger and fear grow into protective layers, separating us from ourselves, each other, and – in our perception – God.

I believe that God is the creative and cohesive force that created everything we know and all we have not discovered. I believe that God exists outside the boundaries of time and space. I believe God encompasses time and space. therefore, I also believe God exists, simultaneously in all of time and space. This means that God is always present.

I believe that humanity is the product and offspring of God. I believe we were created out of love and intended to be loved and to love God, ourselves and others. From the moment of conception we are loved, wanted and known. Because of God’s omnipresence in all of space and time, He (for lack of a gender neutral personal pronoun) has always known us, our lives, and our experiences – the triumphs, the tragedies, and everything in between. With that knowledge is the understanding that we see ourselves as separate from God instead of recognizing that God is part of our very beings and not just present in the world around us.

Knowing we separate and segregate ourselves in this way, God, chooses to make Himself as we are, mortal and bound by mortal limitations and boundaries of flesh, time, and space. Knowing we can’t lift ourselves up to Gods’s level, regardless of our efforts, God meets us where we are, as a human being. Not just as an example to show us how it’s done or to buy us off and appease us, but to show us that He goes through all the pain and suffering and experiences everything we do, and loves us through it all.

We get to choose whether to believe, trust, and act on that ever present love and empathy or not. When we do, circumstances may not change, but healing happens. As healing happens we can make choices that better reflect the love and care we are connecting to.

The Good News, in my understanding is that I am loved, and so is everyone around me. I can choose to believe and trust in that love and be connected to it in the here and now, thereby receiving healing and growing in my capacity to share that love with others. I can choose to share my feelings and thoughts, letting God carry me though the painful, confusing, and difficult things. I don’t have to do it on my own.

There’s more to what I believe. This is the foundation and core of it, the basis for the rest of what I’m figuring out how to articulate.

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