This complex issue has recently been the subject of debate in my life. I can’t pretend to have a real answer, but I’m sharing my thought process:
Let’s define Christian, shall we? Because I recognize that my personal definition is shy of the definition most would use. When someone asks me if I am Christian, I usually caveat it to be clear: “Well that depends… What does Christian mean to you?” or “I would characterize myself as holding many Christian beliefs.” For me, “Christian” ONLY means they accept Christ as their savior, that at a bare minimum, a Christian believes Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice and demonstration of God’s Grace. It’s just the belief to me, no action required and I’m actually not really all that concerned if a person who calls themselves a Christian doesn’t subscribe to the full array of Christian doctrine.
Now theoretically, if a person really believes that one main idea, like from the heart, it should have a pretty major impact on his or her values and behavior. I’m certain there are hundreds of people you know who call themselves Christian, but don’t act with integrity, in line with what they believe or say they believe. I’m as disinterested in them as a life partner as I would be in an atheist who believes/says one thing and acts otherwise, unless he is taking accountability and putting the sweat in to realign himself… nobody’s gonna get it perfect but amen to the man in the arena, ya get me?
As someone prone to (over)analysis, and having walked in agnostic shoes ’til the soles were bare, I can at least see why many of the things described by the Bible are doubtful and unbelievable, to the point that I would not go so far as to stake my life on declaring the truth of some of these things… Without my personal experiences of the Lord, I’d still be rowing the agnostic boat, but in all honesty, I view the Bible as the witness of God, not necessarily the word of God… that there’s much to be learned from it, even as a history of how God has tried to coach humanity along the way, but that it is not the end of God’s messages to us or inclusive of all of His messages, which I believe we are ALL free to receive daily through our own personal relationships with Him and each other, Christian or otherwise. I believe an awful lot of God’s messaging might be subject to interpretation by the lens of the recipient at the time, the lens of the author recording the oral tradition, the lens of the translator, and the lens of the reader. As much I love it and cherish it and read it and learn from it, I don’t stake my life on the “historical” truth of the Bible in its entirety I can’t say I would expect my partner to either.
What my heart knows is that Jesus (and others, to be fair) had (and still has) a very very important Divine message to deliver re: how we were Designed to live. It was delivered at a time people were living so far from that ideal (and we still are) that transmission of His message was mission critical. I summarize that as 1) God’s Grace, 2) Others above the self, 3) Love above all else.
I personally at a very deep level recognize Christ as The Savior (of me, of those who believe, AND those who don’t), if not by bearing the burden of our sins as a sacrificial lamb but at least by bearing the burden of bringing us the very most important message the world could receive (why God didn’t wait until Al Gore invented the internet is anyone’s guess). I personally believe the resurrection is the validation of Jesus’ message and divinity as being the real deal… and I feel there is enough “evidence” in the “for” argument to combat the “against” argument… enough that I can bridge the gap with faith, nudged along by my personal relationship with and experience of Him. Other things are less straightforward to me. The point is, I have made peace with the stuff of “what I don’t ‘know’ to be super-for-suresies true” enough to determine how I live my life EVEN if archeologists were to discover a grave of Mary, Jesus, apostles, etc with confessional letters and proved by some crazy state of the art DNA testing that Jesus of Nazareth was not the Son (which some Christians would STILL find a way to argue!).
Getting back to the question, and not to sound sacrilegious, some of the behavioral specifics of Jesus’ “message” are arguable… but how that plays out behaviorally for me has to be at least respected if not shared, celebrated, and echoed by a person with whom I would share my life… What’s far more important to me is that my partner has the integrity to choose the boundaries and guidelines of his behaviors in full exercise of heart and mind and ideally in communication with God if he’s so inclined, but most importantly live and behave in line with those beliefs. To arrive at one’s boundaries while setting aside one’s appetites and inconveniences is no easy task… and I expect to have my conclusions on boundaries tested as he should expect me to test his. At the end of the day, we’re not going to agree on all of these boundaries, but some we’ll simply respect out of love/respect for the other and in choosing that partner, some probably won’t be negotiable.
For example, I can’t imagine myself with anyone who does not value charitable giving or hospitality or doesn’t recognize and appreciate my daughter as a significant piece of who I am. Much the same could be said about a guy who is not supportive and respectful of my resistance to label people or write them off for the mistakes they’ve made, care for the environment, full frontal honesty, relative distaste for materialism, and desire to go to church fairly regularly.
Additionally, to use a friend of a friend’s analogy, Jesus lives IN my house… not in my garage or my closet or on the shelf, not at church, not in my alone/reflection time. The Holy Spirit is part of me… and in many ways foundational to how I live, love, approach conflict, nurture, etc… so I imagine it would be pretty tough (maybe not impossible, but definitely tough) to get to common ground without some of those foundational views that many Christians describe as “Jesus being central to their marriage”… if your partner’s not buyin’ what you’re sellin’ there, that could easily become a big issue and create major gridlock.
I guess the bottom line here is that the root or basis of my partner’s ideally active support of my values (and how they play out in my behaviors and choices) is immaterial in comparison to whether or not he lives and behaves with integrity AND in a way that fits/complements mine… but shared subscription to a certain few beliefs and values would sure make it one heck of a lot more likely that our two lives could effectively and authentically be knit to one.
Last week a friend posted a celebration of her eighth anniversary with her husband. Eight years ago, I stood trembling, microphone in hand, to deliver the very best, most positive, sincere toast I could muster under the circumstances. My marriage had ended just about 5 days before. The dream she would begin inconveniently coincided with the end of mine. I can’t express how happy I am for her and how much I adore her husband for making her such a happy wife… as she is incredibly deserving.
Somehow today I realized it would have been my 10th anniversary. I had to actually calculate it backward including such factors as my daughter’s age, the date our best man died in a car wreck (technically 3 days after), and the fact that I recalled it being a Tuesday. All of this to say for the last 8 years, I haven’t really thought about it. Oddly, I’ve called my friend on my own anniversary, only to hear that I was 5 days late for hers… so when a barrage of emotion came barging through like bulls through the streets of Pamplona, you could say I was a bit surprised… to the point that I found my office intolerably stuffy. After a couple of hours of trying to stuff it, I decided to take off a little early and head to the beach to clear my head.
I didn’t hit my usual beach. I went to the beach with the pier where I married my ex husband. I stared from a bench on the cliff and wondered if I would find more healing on the sand or on the pier. I eventually found my way to the pier and walked along the planks of wood, as my high heels fell heavily with each step. The breeze blew gently. I remembered the little arch we brought, and the small group of friends and family assembled, standing on the pier for this very brief and impromptu wedding I had surprised the groom with… in response to his continued requests to elope. For being arranged in 2 days… it was perfect. Surfers hung out below the pier in the waves, just like they did that day, cheering for us after the ceremony.
I pondered what a huge mistake that marriage was. I mourned the loss of what seemed to be a beautiful, perfect, surreal dream, starting on such a beautiful day, 10 years ago. I allowed the anger of his mistakes that ruined us, and anger at myself for choosing him, for not choosing a better father for my daughter. I prayed to heal, to let go again. I remembered our friend and his joy, and how we mourned losing him just a few days later.
After some deep thoughts and allowing emotion to wash over, here’s where I got…
Today and what happened 10 years ago are kind of insignificant. Whether I had married him or not, the outcome would have been the same… we were not set up to last from the beginning. My actions that day were in line with my heart, even though my heart wasn’t in line with my good sense. There is no more reason to mourn this day than to celebrate the day the divorce was final (and I have celebrated that one a few times). Those days are just anniversaries of ceremony and paperwork.
The truth is, the stuff between us before that day was far more impactful on my life, but a beautiful, life saving, personality altering child came out of that… and the stuff after is water under the bridge (or pier) that I have survived and has made me stronger. I made mistakes, he made mistakes… I’ve paid for both and I’ve been loved and lifted through both.
I remembered there does not need to be any shame in this piece of my story… Just learning and gratitude. It hurts to remember a dream that was shattered, but I don’t have to let it keep me from dreaming. It stings to face the foolishness with which I approached the relationship, but this day, that period of my life, does not define me and it’s not relevant to my worth.
The tide dragged the would-be significance of this day back out to sea, and the warmth of the sun shined Grace before the sunset closed this chapter again, and the breeze carried my whispers of gratitude.
Moments later, the following was posted by a friend… which couldn’t have been more relevant if it tried…
I’ve added it to a picture I took today of the pier, and the perfect day today, which was as perfect as the day 10 years ago… then to begin a new chapter, and today to close it.
(A little “manifesto” I wrote when carefully considering who should/should not be afforded significant air time in my daughter’s life)
Before You Spend Time My Daughter
We must both agree that a relationship with my child is not a lever to pull in order to win my favor, nor that her favor or lack thereof toward you has any bearing on our relationship – friendship or otherwise. It is certainly my job as her mother to teach her manners, yours to manage your boundaries with her, hers to manager her boundaries with you, and mine to support you both.
If I allow you into the life of me-and-my-daughter, to let you in as someone truly significant – romantic, platonic, or otherwise – it means that I trust you with the opportunity to develop a healthy relationship with her that is mostly independent of me.
It means that if the relationship between you and I would ever change for any reason, it would not necessarily dictate a change in the relationship between you and her; that our differences and conflict aside, so long as I deem you safe for her and she wants to spend her time and/or energy on you, I will not stand in the way. In fact, I will support it… because a person that commits to a child the way I expect you to commit to her if we do let you in in this way deserves that level of respect and support and so does my daughter. You will always be free to say goodbye to me without saying goodbye to her.
It means that people in my future will be expected to accept you as a part of her life, and I expect them to put her needs ahead of their own insecurities or preconceptions… that if they cannot, they do not deserve the opportunity to connect with her (nor me) the way you have… and it means that I expect you to have similar expectations of people in your future.
It means that I will not speak ill of you to or in front of my daughter, no matter what happens, so long as her safety (physical or emotional) is not at risk. I will not expect my child to have allegiance to me nor will I take her care for you personally. It means I expect you to treat me, and her, with respect and take accountability for your actions. It means I believe you will have positive influence in her life.
I ask that you respectfully and carefully consider this before you spend significant time with her. If the expectations seem to be too high to be sustainable for you, I would ask that you kindly keep some emotional distance between you and her, and know that I would recognize honest consideration of that as an indication of integrity. Thank you.
I had a good time chatting it up with a guy at a bar this week and we ended up exchanging numbers. It’s all fun and games in those flirty text messages filled with witty banter until suddenly he makes a bold and potentially offensive request. In the old days, before cell phones and email, bold requests of this nature would be met with a slapped face, but today’s guy has a way around that. Today we could text back “no way, creep” and/or never respond again. Some of us have simply obliged. In this case, the guy requested a “hot and steamy pic” but I don’t think what I sent him was what he had in mind…
I considered an electronic face-slap (where is THAT app???) and I considered somewhat more maturely saying “that’s inappropriate and offensive to me” and asking him to lose my number. But at the end of the day, I recognized that both of those lost sight of my attempts to shake judgment, and neither presents the opportunity for two human beings to connect and better understand each other. Both of those sought to exclude a human being I had connected with and shame him for his behavior. My tea kettle was one humorous stall tactic and it was followed by another round (I sent him a picture of BULBS, in response to his request for “B__BS”). Perhaps he got the point, as he mentioned he’d stop asking if it made me uncomfortable… that he didn’t want to seem like “that guy.” Just saying “yes, please stop” didn’t seem to be enough… because his compliance would mean compliance, not understanding. So I felt compelled to work through exactly what I thought about it and why, and sent him an email. An edited-to-protect-the-innocent-and-avoid-explaining-inside-jokes-plus-additional-commentary version is below. Let it stand as an open letter to the bold but misguided gentlemen that make sexual requests of the ladies of long before they’ve committed to them:
1. Your requests don’t make you “that guy”… but they don’t add to what makes you stand apart from being “one of those guys” or “like all the rest” and I believe you are more than that. At the end of the day, you are a dude, dudes are visual, and for whatever reason, what you see before you, you want to see more of. We get it. Requesting sexy pics is a reasonable (well, typical) course of action if interactions of a sexual nature are your main goal/drive – no judgment there, in all sincerity – particularly if you get the impression you’ll receive what you ask for. [By the way, I’m not condoning that should really ever be your main drive when interacting with a fellow human being who happens to be an attractive potential mate, but in the interest of being realistic…]
2. Perhaps [/in case] an apology is warranted here… maybe during the course of our interactions, I gave you the impression that I would be “one of those girls” who would send you sexy pics just for kicks. Let me be clear here to say, in all sincerity, that I respect us both enough not to be. [I’ll add here that under no circumstances do girls generally “ask for” this kind of behavior/request. Your request comes from knowing that a number of girls are willing to oblige, but know that many do this in seek of validation for their “sexiness” and honestly, you’re not helping. Please consider your sisters and future daughters.]
3. I’ll be honest and admit, I have been “that girl” who would occasionally engage in sexy pic swapping outside of a committed relationship. Today, I know that behavior was not aligned with the respect I believe I should expect from myself and others. I don’t claim to be enlightened in the matter, and I don’t think self-respect and sexy pic swapping are mutually exclusive. I have just learned that if I let sexuality drive or ride shot-gun, the rest of me, which is far more valuable, ends up duct taped in the trunk, and it is too easy to let that happen. If I’m to expect my strongest assets to be recognized and respected, I’ve got to be the first to do that.
In our interactions so far, I must have seen something valuable, which led to a willingness to stay connected. I’m certain you too have value beyond sexuality and I believe it would be a shame to cheapen that.
My gut response to your sexy-texty is to question your intent and capability to see beyond the physical, but I am choosing to assume good intent… if your intent was mainly to communicate attraction, message received and I’m probably flattered at some level. Regardless of that you should expect that I won’t actually send a pic of sexual nature or really engage sexually outside of a commitment… please know that’s not judgmental… I’m aware that I’m likely in the minority on this front.
In the interest of full disclosure and sincerity, I’m a deep, complex gal, with deep, complex spiritual beliefs that guide behavioral standards for myself… and while I’m definitely not a fling prospect, and evidence on our relationship prospect is rather inconclusive, I can at least say confidently that I am a great friend and damn good company – and as icing on the cake, I’m a knockout in a cocktail dress when you need a date to the company party or a wedding (and I’m always looking for an excuse to wear that dress, lemme tell ya) – but to enjoy those things in any capacity will require mutual respect.
That’s probably a lot to take in from a girl you barely know, and of far more “serious” tone than you might have expected based on previous jovial interactions. It’s not meant to rain on your parade, or “put you in your place” but it seemed important to reset the expectations if we choose to stay in contact.
If your mind’s totally blown by the audacity of some girl you barely know sending an email like this, that’s cool too… I’d have to agree it’s fairly out of the ordinary. The other option was to ignore you, but I didn’t want to make the choice to reject you before you had a chance to understand me or the impact of your request. The ball is in your court.
I expected the letter would elicit a defensive response and the guy would run for the hills (I might have even hoped for it!). To my pleasant surprise, he’s actually now more engaged in our connection and we are on our way to forming a decent friendship. Sometimes acting like we belong to each other really does work in this world. Cheers.
I have this gift of rational optimism. I can rationalize what’s good or at least ok about a situation and why a situation shouldn’t feel bad. I can turn pains into learning opportunities. I can turn anger into awareness and constructive criticism. I can turn grieving into gratitude. Gosh, it’s almost like turning water into wine sometimes.
Oh and bootstraps? Yeah, I got ’em… and I can pull ’em like no other with my special boot strap pulling gloves… just check out these guns… you can’t keep this down! Up I go via boot.strap.pulling… Oh hell yes I’m a survivor. I was born to overcome adversity, yes sir! Yeah. I do the “be strong” thing well also.
These have been great coping mechanisms for not letting some of life’s woes get me down…
Shattered dreams of getting married just once, til death do us part, raising a sweet little family. Thank goodness I finally caught him in his lies. It was a get out of jail free card!
Then that 5-year relationship I really believed would last forever, until it didn’t. Well, that’s a bummer, but I deserve better and you know what? That long distance thing isn’t for me anyway.
Busted hopes of reconciliation via pictures of newfound happiness on facebook. At the end of the day, this is ok. All I really want is for him to be happy and he looks happier and healthier with her. If there’s someone better out there for him, then there is someone better out there for me. I’ve moved on before and I can move on again… over and over until I get it right.
Frustration over doing the ‘family’ thing, just my daughter and I still, going to my brother’s wedding solo, and sharing lots of thoughts I saw mentioned on this blog and this one as I stumbled upon them today; that fear of not finding someone to share my life with. It’s not a reflection of my value in society or my worth or my character that I’m not with someone. I’m surrounded by great people who love me and who I love. I am thankful for that network. I can be happy without a husband in spite of what society might say. There’s upside to doing this on my own and I’m doing just fine. If He has a match for me, I’m sure I’ll find that person at some point and actually it’s totally fine if I don’t.
Disappointment and strife in family relationships. You know what, it’s really fine that my dad and I don’t have a relationship. What’s important is that he was there for my sister because she needed it more.
Illness and death of loved ones. I’m just glad they’re not suffering anymore; Maybe going through this health situation will change their outlook on life; I’m just thankful I had so many years with him. Etc.
Financial hardships. Professional struggles. That feeling of “I just can’t catch a break.” This too shall pass. Another F’ing Growth Opportunity.
And the prespectives I offer others in their times of trial are usually appreciated as somewhat fresh, uplifting. The ‘strength’ people see when they perceive me ‘beating the odds’ and ‘rising through the ashes’… I guess they find it admirable and maybe they find it serves as an example of being strong in their own lives. Well, if we’re being honest here, and why wouldn’t we… I don’t do it for anybody but me… and of course my little girl. It’s pretty selfish, though… Perhaps I forget that putting that brave face on and taking it all in stride might make others feel like they need to do that too.
I suppose that’s all well and good in some ways… but these days… I think a lot about the drawbacks.
Drawbacks to being strong and optimistic and rational, you ask? Well, friends… there are two sides to every coin. No rainbow comes without rain. The sun only rises after darkness. No benefit comes without its costs. And no strength comes without its complimentary weakness… even an overused strength is often a weakness itself. In my case, i do strong, optimistic, rational so well that sometimes I am really weak at brave and vulnerable and real. You see, none of those responses and rationalizations up there are wrong, per se… but I slap them on over gaping wounds like a bandage and go about my business. How about some antiseptic? Does that wound need stitches? Would this particular wound benefit from aloe vera or even just fresh air? Might we check the surroundings to be sure we don’t inflict these same wounds over and over? Has that wound been opened before and not healed? Is there a systemic issue? I don’t stop to ask questions and in doing so, just feel the situation and validate the feeling and respect the emotion that comes from the situation. I get right to the ‘dealing with the issue’ part, on the double.
On the outside, that might look really efficient. At the end of the day, it’s kind of like cleaning the house 5 minutes before company comes. That stack of mail, books, toys, etc I throw in a box and stuff into the closet today becomes a box of expired opportunities, dusty, broken goods, and “I was wondering where that was” months down the road when I’m doing the real work. And I can’t deny that my eagerness to jump to resolution also makes it pretty tough to remember to just shut up and listen to the people I care about who actually are taking the time to honor their emotions through a situation.
So today, these past couple weeks really, here I sit with a box of stuffed away experiences I find myself tripping over. I find myself frustrated with these issues I thought I had so deftly dealt with months and years ago. Going through a box of stuffed away clutter I might mutter “What? I thought I paid this parking ticket!” “Crap! we missed that birthday party.” “Aw nuts… I never sent this get well card.” “Geez, I was so excited to send this to the new baby and now it’s too small.” In this case, I’m unpacking tidbits of life and can’t deny my irritation when those wounds are reopened… “wait a minute… I’ve already decided this was ok. This is dealt with. It’s not supposed to hurt anymore”… but it does… oh how it does.
Like He always does… I find placed before me agents of healing… some in the form of dreams of things to come. some in the form of friends. some in the form of crazy coincidences that open opportunities and gentle nudges to take steps, to do things just a little bit differently. some in the form of bloggers like her and her, eerily struggling with some of my very same hurts, just a little more bravely and boldly.
And so, I’m gratefully inspired…
Here we are…
Counting down the days, hours, and minutes to our return home. A care-free week of unscheduled flexibility, sand, waves, and loved ones awaits us. We’ve been away for two months, in a city our friends and family worry is dangerous for crime and disaster…
Sure, we’ve missed our beds, our separate rooms, our privacy, and how easy it is to simply hop in the car and go anywhere. I’ve bemoaned the international ATM transaction fees, the way caller ID doesn’t work on my phone, and relying on friends and family back home to start my car once in a while, take care of my home, and send my little girl the funnies on Sunday. I’ve missed fellowship in my church, and growled at slow internet connections. I’ve suffered hip hop and salsa withdrawals.
But my have we had some good times here…
Many mornings we made it downstairs to breakfast… we never seem to grab breakfast together at home. I’d like to take that with me.
We’ve said hello and goodbye to people with whom we spend our time with a hug and a kiss. I’d like to take that with me.
We’ve taken opportunities to get out of the city and see small magical towns, try new things, see new faces… to take it all in – sights, smells, sounds, culture, creativity. We’ll take some of that home too.
I’ve started most workdays with hugs and kisses with coworkers, and ended them that way too… and they have pulled me to lunch when I dared to deprive myself the time… the kind of lunch you sit down to, with a placemat, and a fork, and a glass. And we chatted until all were done and our time was up. Meals started, were interrupted by, and ended with “buen provecho”… wishing each other the enjoyment of such a blessing as a good meal. Wrap that up…. I’d like to take it home with me.
Elevator rides with strangers began and ended with a greeting. Countless passing hellos as we have walked along streets. Strained cross-lingual conversations met not with frustration and impatience, but appreciation of effort and joy in the connecting in any way we can. Sharing of our various colloquialisms. I’ll certainly make room for that.
Adoration of children, by parents, friends, family, and even strangers… cherished angels, loved gently, fully, deeply… sweet interactions and intimate bonding… a new practice of braiding my daughter’s hair, simply for the care and interaction. This too will fit.
A sense of gratefulness for all we have, all we have learned, all we have experienced… a deep understanding of the blessing bestowed upon us and the responsibility to drink it in and give back to this blessing of a community… this is our most precious and prized souvenir. If we brought back nothing more than this, we’d be twice as fortunate as the day we arrived.
Yes, it’s hitting me now… we’re gonna miss this… but we’re taking as much home with us as we can… and these are the kind of souvenirs that always fit.
I receive email/blog posts from a program called “The Energy Project” headed up by Tony Schwartz. I usually appreciate the reading… even when it doesn’t seem like rocket science, I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about how to live better, which is good no matter how your slice it. Today he posted one of his articles featured in NY Times Dealbook: The Antidote to Emptiness
Tony Schwarts is a brilliant guy. He makes a few great points about why some arguably brilliant and powerful people do some fairly unbelievable things… the kind of stuff that makes us shake their heads in dismay and judgement… scandalous skirt chasers, performance enhancement drug users, senseless spending, and so on. He boldy shares his own struggles with the emptiness that comes from a constant search for validation through “the next level of success”… I admire that kind of brave vulnerability! Then he puts 3 antidotes out there for anyone who might struggle:
1) self awareness (of insecurity, etc)
2) acceptance of our deep opposites – the good and the bad, the success and the failure, the whole enchilada
3) serve others
OK Tony, I’m on board… you’re right. People sometimes act-out in emptiness and an addiction to validation, adventure, etc. amidst a canvas of a culture of success worship. Brene Brown (Daring Greatly) has some parallel thoughts on the matter… we live in a “shame culture” where success reigns and failure is shamed. Pride and shame on opposite sides of the same coin. The more our self worth is challenged, the more bizarre are our actions.
We look at would-be heroes who fall from favor with their transgressions. We shake our heads. We judge. we blame victims. We forget that things like that could happen to us. We too could act completely out of character. So maybe Tony’s article is spot-on and just what people need to wake up… to stop believing they are not susceptible.
But maybe there’s more…
Shame culture has cornered the market on the idea of “you must follow these rules in order to be worthy and accepted” and it’s the antithesis of Christ’s message… “You are worthy and accepted, flaws and all… Follow Me and let’s mend this broken world together.”
I’ve noticed since I’ve signed on and recognized the real gift of Grace, the real deal with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that I worry less about what people think about me, about validation and self worth. That’s a new pair of shoes, friends. I was pretty good at shaking off self-consciousness before, but not like this. I’ll admit, I’ll resist checking for feedback on this blog or my wittiest facebook posts… was it liked? how many readers? any ping-backs? And I have witnessed inspirational bloggers recognize when they fall into this feedback frenzy and start to judge their worth by it. Again, I guess what’s important is to remember “it could happen to me” just as it could happen to you. And we have to know that when we get their, we’re going to have to do battle with our deep dark shame and pride monsters.
What strikes me is that even though Tony doesn’t mention accepting God’s Grace and being part of His team as being antidotes, I find myself wondering if God speaks through him a little bit… because really, between self-acceptance, self awareness, and serving others, we’re talking about an antidote sandwich just dying to be wrapped up in some beautiful spiritual paper and tied with God’s ribbon.
If you were to unwrap it, the sandwich might look like this…
1) Be aware: Know the evils and tendencies you’re up against
2) Stop worrying about your self-worth and how you measure up to others. Lean on God’s Grace and know you are good and loved and worthy
3) Live for more than yourself – be part of mending a broken world
Even if Tony does have spiritual or religious beliefs, that’s not the stuff that sells. That doesn’t bring readers back for more hits and higher advertising revenues. And that, I believe, is because of the way pride/shame and shame culture turns our attention toward ourselves, as opposed to toward God and toward each other. What a pity that so many people are so much more interested in furthering their own successes and lives and self-fulfillment than mending the brokenness of the world. How sad that self-development wins out over world-development and the commitment of belonging to each other. I say this not out of judgment… but rather in question and concern. How do we create a world where more people focus on a better world than a better life?
The timing of the bits and bytes that come into my life on any given day is usally pretty extraordinary once I find how the fit togehter. Last night I listened to a sermon from Flood Church about how what’s on our bucket list might not be what’s on God’s. Meanwhile, I am at exactly the midpoint of an international assignemnt and was looking at my bucket list for this trip all week. I found myself reviewing my assignment bucket list with the lens of my accomplishments in the eyes of my company when this article came through. And as what was missing from the article struck me… it occurred to me that among the to-do items, God had a way different bucket list for me than I knew about.
I’ve been here for a coworker who has an opportunity to learn to stretch into grief (another timely blog post I read and shared with her from Deeper Story) and who needed to learn about the choices before her, rather than assume she had none. She would never have shared her delicate situation with me from afar. I’ve had the opportunity to share my testimony with coworkers over lunch… coworkers who have grown up oppressed by catholic churches and a very heavy shame culture. I’m not saying I converted anyone and I’m not claiming victories for His Kingdom, but perhaps I gave them an opportunity to give it a second look. I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships with people who, like coconuts, hide their vulnerability and tenderness and authenticity behind tough shells of bravado, diversions, and sarcasm…and pride. I’ve read about vulnerability and shame resilience and belonging to each other. I’ve considered what I’ve read about how people tend to treat people of service and actively practiced treating them as though we belong to each other. I’ve helped to financially support two families who have been here for us like family for transportation and childcare. I’ve had opportunities to reach people, and find people who reach children in ways I never knew were needed so desperately. I’ve shared a smile and light conversation with a sweet child on the street… and bought handmade straw flowers from her to give to my daughter, a travelling coworker’s daughter, and my driver’s wife… and this child and her mother and baby sister will have another meal. I’ve been inspired. I’ve had time to read a book that has taught me about the Apostle Paul. I’ve reflected. I’ve blogged deep thoughts to share with strangers and found people who think similarly… and I know we’ll all grow from sharing our thoughts and loving each other up. I’ve built memories and a deeper bond with my daughter. I’ve given her an opportunity to expand her world view. And along the way, I’ve built some infrastructure for an office of 25 people to know they are supported by the company they work for.
When the discussion of this assignment came up, I didn’t worry too much about justifying it or whether or not it would happen. I just asked God that I would be sent here if it was His Will and that He would provide me opportunities to do my best to reflect His Image, here or otherwise. I asked him to Lead so that I could follow.
I’m aware that I have begun to ramble… I can always tell because I find myself checking the title to see what this was supposed to be about… and I mention that only because it’s the reason it occurs to me to tie this back to the main idea: Antidotes for Emptiness. I don’t feel emptiness from this trip. I don’t feel like my worth is based on how well I do to master the tasks of the bucket list. And while I’m certainly not immune to emptiness… I know from the depths of my heart the antidote I’m taking in heavy doses along the way… God’s Grace, Love, and Guidance… and my connection with Him that leads me only to follow and bask in the warmth of purpose that is His role for me in a partnership toward mending a broken world.
Over the past few weeks I have reflected on some of the things that pushed me away from faith for a number of years, some of which came to light when thinking about shame culture (see Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly) and getting the Gospel broken down for me in a powerful new way I wish I had seen so many years before. One statement in particular rang through my ears for a long time. Tonight, I’ve got(way more than)5onit…
“You can’t just pick and choose what you believe and call yourself a Christian” he said, as we discussed variouos religious/spirtual beliefs. He was right. Inasmuch as it’s silly to call a sea star a star fish, when it lacks the defining characteristics of a fish, to label oneself as belonging to a group and not believing in the same values as that group is a miss in integrity.
So why does the title of this post include a relatively nasty term in our world… “rhetoric”? Rhetoric isn’t really so nasty… but it’s got that connotation as words thrown around to convince others of a view. My issue with “pick and choose rhetoric” is that it seeks to exclude if the rhetoric is not accepted. It seeks to squash questioning and alternate views. It seeks unchecked faith and blind acceptance. It closes minds. It shames. It is a control device.
Certainly there are some things that must be agreed upon to label oneself, and sometimes I prefer not to for that simple fact, but the rhetoric is damaging and pushes people away… It divides when it should unite…
***I knew 5 minutes wouldn’t be enough!***
I (and millions of others) read a truly beautiful piece from Momastery, where Glennon writes a letter to her young son for the future… just in case he’s gay. That even be that the case, she loves and accepts him and celebrates him, despite what her christian friends might think about it. They might apply what I call pick and choose rhetoric, but she fires back with how they pick and choose what rules from the Bible to follow too.
Sometimes what we believe (or choose to believe) we understand and sense about the world and our situations and what’s Written has the potential to be inaccurate. Can we stop and savor the humility of that for just a moment?
Sometimes what we “know” turns out to be incorrect.
Sometimes someone we “knew” would never betray us, does.
Sometimes “evidence” belies truth.
Sometimes we “prove” someone is guilty, only to find out later they were innocent.
Sometimes we believe the world is flat only to discover it is round.
Sometimes we find out we’re just plain wrong.
Why with our history of fallibility do we still insist with such fierce resoluteness that we “know” God’s will, His messages, His intent for our lives… and to such an extent that we are willing to shame and alienate people who see things differently?
I believe we each need to be able to listen to the depths of our hearts, where His messages for each of us are truly spoken… to ask questions and sometimes even let go of what doesn’t make sense…
But that brings us back to Integrity, doesn’t it…
There’s an awfully big difference between questioning something that doesn’t make sense because it conflicts with what your heart and conscience tell you versus something that just isn’t convenient for you to believe. Deep levels of integrity and humility and self-awareness are needed to tell the difference. If we’re being honest with ourselves, sometimes those things are in short supply. And certainly we have witnessed denial in others and can expect that kind of thing of ourselves, yes? Try as we might to fight it… sometimes an outside perspective, a constructive discussion, bathed in a glow of humility might get us closer to “truth” than we can get on our own.
We have all heard the proverb begging us to “lean not on [our] own understanding.” I have at many times felt this too has been used as rhetoric, empowering churches to proclaim special knowledge and power to guide the masses… to keep people from determining their own beliefs and understandings that challenge the collectively accepted truths and morals and instructions for life and salvation (not the intent of the passage).
Today I ponder a potential different interpretation of those words. Suppose God’s inspired message was to say that under no circumstances is a book of books written by strangers (even with the best of intentions) of another place, time, and culture about a history, an eternity, and a love so vast and unfathomable to be contemplated and understood by one mind on it’s own… that we might unlock more and more of the story and God’s intent and our potential to partner with him to fix this broken world by leaning on each other and sharing what God inspires us to consider and share…
Imagine for just one moment that God has inspired messages of more prophets than just those we hear about in the Bible… Imagine even non-religious inspirational speakers are inspired by God (whether they know and/or believe it or not) to bring us messages. Imagine even people who have brought forth the worst messages in our history actually were inspired by God with messages that they just grossly contorted and misconstrued…
What arrogance to so boldly declare we have interpreted God’s messages as he intended.
What arrogance to so boldy declare we understand the meaning and relevance of God’s messages to men we have never met.
And what arrogance to threaten each other’s belonging based on the truths and beliefs they question… to condemn, to judge, to attempt to control…
With every ounce of my being, I choose to believe that those who cry out against “picking and choosing” what to believe do so with basically good intentions. If we’re all on the same page… what solidarity, unity, and momentum we might have to do God’s work. There are certainly moral virtues the vast vast majority of us (christian or not) agree are not negotiable.
The problem that strikes my heart is the use of rhetoric as a control mechanism over open conversation, sharing, and leaning on our collectively received messages for understanding.
Rhetoric binds us tightly to those we have counted as “in” and creates barriers to belonging that our Father likely never intended.
Rhetoric builds walls and leaves no room for open discussion and sharing of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.
Rhetoric deceives faith and honest thought and defeats love and invitation with arrogance, fear, and exclusion.
By no means do I mean to sound judgemental or appear to condemn anyone who has leaned on rhetoric to make a point… I am surely guilty of it myself. But I propose that we spend some moments purposefully basking in humility and grace… that we look more for ways we agree than disagree… that we lean on each other – and yes, even those with whom we disagree – for understanding, and that we try to catch ourselves using devices like rhetoric and bravely, boldy, and humbly open our hearts that we might invite others in.
I’ll close with a quote I stumbled upon by “coincidence”* as I looked to find the links for this post…
“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ” – Pema Chödrön
Best wishes to you and yours… and that those who are not yours become yours…
I went to Momastery’s page today to find the links to her letter and discovered 2 posts from this week.
Adding to the many reasons I wish she would move into my neighborhood, she chose to write about this: http://momastery.com/blog/2013/07/18/you-do-not-have-to-agree-with-me-to-love-me/ and begged the question of why do we make getting people to agree with us our goal. Great question, isn’t it?
Additionally she posted a goodbye note to her readers as she takes a 40 day hiatus from blogging, social media, and internet in general which included a quote from her new “shero” which led me to google quotes of this shero who may become another of my own. The first quote that came up was “coincidentally” very relevant and hence the closer for this post…
Funny how that works… isn’t it? 🙂
I’ve long cherished my gifts of understanding and forgiveness… an ability to let things slide and move forward or not take things to heart that may have stopped others in their tracks. So as I started to hear and listen about Grace, I thought I understood the concept.
This week, like a fantasticaly orchestrated surprise birthday party, I was met with a symphony of thoughts, passages, articles, and discussions that instead of yelling “Surprise” and throwing confetti, gently took me by the heart and quietly brought me to my knees with the culminated conclusion that forgiveness is earned (or rationalized), but Grace is simply given. Tonight, I Got5onit…
I had been under the impression that God was the only one who really does the Grace bit, and that it was just the christian word for God’s flavor of forgiveness, a forgiveness bigger than what most of us are capable of. A friend blogged her “Grace story” (her testimony she gave in church) that challenged readers to think about to whom they should ask for or give forgiveness, as God forgives our many trespasses through his Grace. Another friend posted a link on forgiving one’s self… and through that, we might find forgiveness for others more freely… I listened to a coworker’s struggle to forgive a neighbor and prayed he’d find a different course of more forgiving action than the legal action he was pursuing (admittedly a rerouted judgment)… and beyond these and a few other tips, a close friend and I got into a deep discussion leading to a discussion about something we did at the age of 19, that we now find rather unforgiveable. And this unforgiveable moment and action was directed at another close friend, who has somehow freely forgiven me, when I truly haven’t earned it. And then it dawned on me… she has given me… Grace.
Grace isn’t when you say “it’s ok, we were kids” or forgiveness that follows mental olympics to understand what happened. Grace is loving and letting go outside of the “facts.” Grace is embracing someone even though they haven’t acknowledged their true accountability for your hurt. If you truly think about it, it’s a lot harder to give Grace than it is to find a way to forgive.
***And time… but I can’t help but close below…***
I drink a brand of tea whose bags include a tag with a phrase (like a fortune cookie). My favorite this week was “Strength does not lie in what you have; It lies in what you can give.” When I read it, I pondered it, wondering how one would have to be strong in order to give and what giving would show strength, beyond the obvious strength to give of yourself through time and/or money. It is so clear to me now, that we are our strongest when we learn to give Grace… the most precious resource of all. And now, thanks to that symphony of thoughts, passages, articles, and discussions, and the example of a very dear friend (and other examples I have recognized since) I recognize that we actually all have that ability to learn to apply Grace, especially when forgiveness seems so difficult to achieve… and in doing so, grow one step nearer to living in his His image.
We are theoretically unworthy sinners but through Christ we are worthy beyond measure. Our worthiness and salvation comes through our faith in what Christ sacrificed for us (his life!), not through rigid following of laws… how freeing! Not freeing to do whatever we please, but free to live in the sunshine, rather than in a shadow of shame. Our “shame culture” as Brene Brown calls it in her book “Daring Greatly” is what I believe is at the core of so many of our heart wrenching issues… It eats away at our perception of our worthiness. And upon listening to her and reading from her, I’ve been taking steps to be shame resilient, and recognized that as a child of God, I am worthy, flaws and all… and with that, I strive to live more and more in His image and be part of a growing body of Christ determined to help God mend a broken world… Dear reader… you too are worthy, flaws and all, of God’s Grace… and so is everyone around you. I challenge you today to deeply consider the gift of Grace that has been given to you and how you might give that gift to others!
So thankful for the opportunity to interact with these ideas and grow personally and spiritually, with new appreciation for several people in my life, and in particular the two wonderful women who are part of that story and are so close and dear to me, and with new strengths to strive for. all the glory to God, as it would be difficult to call this symphony a collection of “coincidences” as usual.
A few of the resources that came through this week:
and comments in response I learned from …
“Grace–from Greek “charis”–GIFT!”
“Forgiveness is “letting go” or “leaving it behind” or a liberation and this acronym: Leaving It Behind, Ever Reaching Ahead Toward Incredible Opportunities Now.”
Dear friend’s blog post: http://mylifeaslori.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/my-grace-story-aka-what-is-a-testimony/
And what is truly my favorite Bible passage (so far) and so relevant…
Galatians 2:19-21 (NIV)
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[