Spirituality · Uncategorized

What difference does it make?

Some time back, someone whom I love and respect whose spiritual views are very different from mine asked me what difference my faith made to me. I gave her an inadequate and inarticulate answer about hope. Once in a while that conversation comes to mind and irritates me. I’m not promising a magical answer here, either, but I want to address a few things that I failed to convey then.

A lot of people claim that God makes their life better without qualifying the statement. Others seem to work really hard to qualify it, pointing to his supernatural influence as the thing that got them a new job, perhaps, or a clean bill of health after an illness. I am not here to disagree with them; I’m not in their shoes. Usually, though, that’s not how I feel about my interactions with the divine.

So, how does my faith enrich my life?

  • The most important thing I can say is that it doesn’t fix my life in the short term. I can’t objectively judge what God has effected in my life because his hand is not always visible to me. So maybe he has made my life easier and better in ways I’m not aware of, but I still struggle to not let depression get the better of me, to motivate myself to do the stuff of daily living, to build relationships and show love. Bad things happen and will continue to happen. But you know that desperate feeling that life is not as it should be? That restless, almost angry stirring that says you should be feeling another way that you try really hard to suppress with worldly distractions? I still have that feeling a lot and still occasionally try to buy or exercise or plan or volunteer my way out of it. But I know that it won’t work. And this is where I find comfort: I believe that I DO know where that feeling comes from and what will ultimately fix it. I will continue to experience it here, but I don’t seek its resolution in the same unhealthy ways I might if I didn’t believe the way I do. I’m also not destroyed when I recognize the futility of those efforts because I already knew they were futile, but I believe that the thing I’m missing IS obtainable after death. Waiting still stinks, though. 🙂
  • This seems off-subject, but to relate the meaning that faith holds for me, I need to address two things about Christianity which often concern people: the biblical assertion that Christ is the only way and the related concept of Hell. I understand why these topics upset people – they absolutely ARE upsetting. My view of faith is dependent on God’s goodness and I don’t believe these apparent hang-ups are obstacles to that goodness. These views likely won’t sway people who don’t already have Christian sympathies and they aren’t unique or revolutionary, but maybe they will be another perspective for someone struggling to reconcile these facets of the religion with their faith. To be clear, though, I may be way off-base. I am not the one who defines goodness, so while I seek truth and have feelings on the matter, I’m no authority.
    • Many of my more conservative friends will passionately disagree with me, but while I believe Christ is the only way, I don’t believe that looks the same to all people. I think it entirely probable that acknowledgment and acceptance of Christ can even happen when the person doesn’t know him by that name. This is not a post-modern or universalist assertion. But I think Christ affects us all individually, quite outside of human religious constructs. I think it is presumptuous to assume that Christ couldn’t reveal himself in a completely different way to someone whose life experience and soul is different from mine. Bottom line: I don’t know, but I do trust God’s goodness.
    • Hell is one of those things that is still largely mysterious to me. I haven’t read anything in the Bible that gives me a solid grasp. What I do believe is that God created humanity and the world we live in. I believe that he cares about that creation and hates what hurts it. I trust that if my soul is so polluted that it would threaten the goodness of his creation, he won’t allow me to continue beyond this life. I also believe that separation from God would be unbearably painful.

Thank you for letting me define the fruits of my faith in a small way. Feel free to weigh in, disagree, agree, whatever floats your boat – as long as you keep it kind. Happy Tuesday!

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Joshua

Today I feel a strong and persistent call to write about my big brother, Joshua. What limited knowledge I have of him comes primarily from early childhood memories, so much of this will be written in the past-tense. My parents tell me he isn’t doing well. He may rally, but he may not. The thought that he might not be long for this world made me surprisingly emotional. I know that sounds… hardened, but it isn’t; perhaps pragmatic. Josh is blind, doesn’t speak, is self-abusive and deeply autistic. It is very difficult to comfort him, to treat his pain. I believe that when he goes home, it will be incredibly joyful for him. But I will mourn his loss. His contribution to my life has been worth more than I can say, but I’ll try anyway.

Josh helped teach me about compassion. It would be easy to pity him. My parents had compassion for him. In my mind there is a vital difference. Pity has no hands or feet. It is counterproductive, even demeaning; not that I’m immune. I pity people sometimes. It is a helpless feeling. Compassion recognizes humanity. It inspires us to show humanity. Of course my folks saw his limitations, but they saw his personality and capacities, too. They loved and included him and taught us to do the same.

More importantly, Joshua taught me about the value of people. Though he could not speak to me, see me, respond in typical ways; though his behaviors were odd and never socially acceptable, I felt his soul. I know that sounds terribly melodramatic, but truly – he had gentleness. I always thought he was special. I love him.

Josh also reminds me that death need not be a fearful thing. He may feel miserable and unhappy here; it’s easy to look at him and feel that something better awaits, but sometimes I forget that I am, more or less, in the same position. We all are. While our lives here can be very precious and beautiful to us, fear, confusion, misery and brokenness are also parts of our realities. I can’t imagine much greater contrast than that between those feelings and pure, uninhibited joy and peace.

And so I thank God for my brother. Thank you for reading about someone who is probably a stranger to you. If you feel so moved, prayers for his peace and comfort would be wonderful.

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Raisins of the Spirit

A week or so ago, I heard a passage that never fails to provoke in me simultaneous feelings of peace and longing. Acts 2:44-46: And those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread together with gladness and sincerity of heart.

“…with gladness and sincerity of heart” grabbed me that day, because my own heart was feeling neither. I was tired, irritable and didn’t want to be there. Unfortunately, this has been a common theme for me of late. I’ve been aware for some time that I am not bearing fruit for Christ; raisins, maybe. While I haven’t felt particularly called to a new undertaking, I have absolutely been called to serve in other, perhaps humbler ways, like showing my family and friends love and generosity. They know that I love them, and while I still go through most of the motions of serving them, my heart hasn’t been in it. It feels like a gargantuan effort.

My husband and I are expecting a baby and I’ve recently transitioned to full-time stay-at-home momhood. These are both incredibly joyful things, but I do recognize the part that these major physical and emotional changes probably play in my current feelings. Nonetheless, I stubbornly refuse to relinquish these things to God. I don’t WANT to serve. Well, no; that’s not entirely true: I want to serve me. While I know that serving Him is infinitely more rewarding, it often feels difficult. What I’ve been mulling over is why it feels that way.

I know that I can’t manage gladness and sincerity of heart through plain old willpower. Fruit of the spirit flows from my connection with God. And it does take work to maintain or reestablish relationship. I’ve never been particularly good at that, even in my people relationships. Over and over again, I fall short. I pray often, but seldom with the kind of abandon necessary. What do I mean by that? If you’ve been there, you know. I hold back from God. Get down on my knees and commit to repentance? Hmmm… maybe tomorrow. The passage above is a perfect example. I read about the disciples of the early church selling all their possessions and giving to others and I think, that sounds incredible. I mean, I don’t know that I want to sell everything I own, but I’d like to have that. Honestly, it sounds more like wishful idealism than a real possibility. How sad! Like the rich man who couldn’t quite bring himself to give everything (Luke 18-30), I hoard my demons. Neither have I been stimulating reflection through Bible study or any other study. It is time to put these things right.

God, please forgive me for stumbling again and again. Please grant me the love, humility and courage to seek your will instead of my own. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Spirituality

1 Corinthians 15:58:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Another new year. Like most years, scads of possibilities for personal improvement and greater good have surfaced in my brain and, like most years, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of opportunities. This is also a time of year that typically ushers in, for me, lower mood and energy. This is not a pity party; I am not powerless to take action against this negativity, but I do feel like many people can relate to these feelings and might appreciate the acknowledgment amidst all the Facebook posts detailing the number of miles their friends have run (even though it’s eight degrees outside) and the new healthy eating plans they’ve implemented. There. Now I’ve acknowledged the crappy feelings and pray that my sympathizers and I can move on to being inspired by other people’s successes instead. 🙂

Before the new year started, my fellow-blogger and inspirational friend, Crystal, suggested that we try an adapted form of the 60/60 Experiment. We aren’t reading Soul Revolution, but we are using the idea to stop once an hour to honor, incorporate, remember God in our lives. After a rough start, I downloaded a customizable timer app that helps me remember, although I’m still not perfectly observant. I find that what happens when that timer sounds is a sort of accountability exercise. Because I get caught up in daily life and I’m not expecting to communicate with God at those moments, I wind up examining whether whatever is happening in my head or whatever action I might be taking is good and pleasing to Him. It’s been valuable and interesting. I’m planning to maintain this practice for the foreseeable future.

Now for the worst part. I decided to couple this experiment with a resolution to stop looking at my Facebook feed 1,800 times a day. I am not commenting on the evils or merits of Facebook, but for me, it was turning into a bad habit. I prayed about it and told God my intention to check it only once a day. I failed to honor my commitment. I am ashamed of my lack of discipline. This sin is not limited to this single, self-imposed thing. I struggle with laziness. While it might not appear that way to those who know me, I know myself well enough to make that assertion with no hesitation. Therefore, my “resolution” is to avoid idleness. I will continue to value R&R, but I have been lazy even in that, failing to take from it rejuvenation and joy. To my intention stated here, I add prayers for forgiveness and guidance.

Happy January, folks!

Spirituality

Words Fail Me

I talk… a lot. So much, in fact, that I get tired of hearing my own voice; even in my head. In that rare quiet moment – when I’m not praising, scolding, cajoling, singing to or explaining something to my three-year-old, she is downright confused. “Mommy,” she’ll say, “Why are you not talking?” So when Crystal suggested that we blog on the nature of words, I was game. It’s a subject I think about frequently, but never with very much direction.

I have a difficult time separating my thoughts and feelings from the words I use to express them; but I know they are separate because I often find that the words don’t accurately represent my thoughts and feelings.

I love words. I love to write and read and speak. Sometimes, though, I wonder if there isn’t a better way. They can make us so lazy! Babies can’t speak, but parents know to hold them tightly when they cry, to soothe, feed, change. We become attuned to those needs. But I miss (or ignore) those cues in my adult interactions. I might know something is bothering my husband, but if he says nothing is wrong, I leave it alone. I don’t attend to him as I should.

And of course, while words can build people up, show our hearts and be wonderful tools, they can also get us into loads of trouble. We don’t have great impulse control, we humans. The Bible is full of admonitions against idle or evil talk. James 3:1-12 is quite a passionate disparagement of such talk. And Romans 8:26: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words…” (Forgive me if I overuse this verse. It always speaks to me. So to speak. :))

But another story also came to mind. Genesis 11 gives us the confusing account of the Tower of Babel, wherein God recognizes that the people have united and are creating incredible things.

Genesis 11:6-8: And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

Huh. Seems awfully anti-progress. I don’t believe that God fears any threat from us, or even that we can pose a threat (other than perhaps grieving or angering him), so was He in fact protecting people from the detrimental actions they might take? Was it to keep us from hurting ourselves? How many scifi movies are there about very, very smart people making decisions that are ethically questionable or just downright scary? God’s unwillingness for Adam and Eve to know and understand certain things seems like it might stem from a similar concern. I know this isn’t exactly the same thing, but I wonder if our inability to communicate effectively with language could make us a lesser threat to ourselves. It seems counterintuitive that good communication could be a bad thing, but it is an interesting idea to explore. I know that I want the Spirit to continue to “intercede” for me. I never want be so cocky about my skill and sufficiency and mental clarity that I no longer seek His help.

Even if our confused brains and words are somehow a good thing, I don’t think incorporating a little more silence would cancel out any of that positivity :). In fact, I think it could augment it, giving us greater opportunity to notice His presence and seek His will.

Sigh. I’ve just reread this, and I’m arguing my own points. Ah, well. What do you think?

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Fruit and Good Judgment

Both the New and Old Testaments include sobering, no-nonsense warnings about false prophets and how to avoid them. The one that I suppose I’ve read most often is Matthew 7:15-20.

15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

I may be absolutely wrong, but I’m not aware of any passage that addresses judging a teaching by its fruit; rather, the teacher is to be judged this way. Is that just semantics, or is this an important distinction?

I’ve recently started reading a book called “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines. Matthew is a gay man who shares the results of his journey to understand scripture as it relates to homosexuality. This is an issue I’ve avoided, because, quite frankly, I’m not sure I like what the Bible says about it. This is not the kind of Christian I want to be, so it’s time to try to understand it better. I’m not sure where this particular book will take me but I want to be open to and objective about both the conservative and liberal arguments.

One of Vine’s opening arguments in favor of homosexuality in a Christian context is that the teachings against homosexual practice have yielded bad fruit. He goes on to address specific passages, but this initial idea intrigued me and I feel like it applies to more than just this issue. I’m trying to test it and having a difficult time. I don’t want to over-paraphrase, but I think it would be fair to say that Vines believes that trying to change or repress homosexuality in an effort to live a faithful Christian life often yields bad fruit: a tortured soul and body. He supports this argument in much greater detail, but I’m going to leave it at that for this post. So… does this hold water?

First, I tried to compare it to other teachings that might yield similar fruit. I think most people can feel pushed to the brink and even over the edge by repressing desires. The question, though, is whether the desire is good. Most would agree that feeling suicidal because you’re desperately trying to resist the urge to hurt another person doesn’t mean you should go ahead and give in. On the other hand, repressing the desire to reach out and help someone in need can drive us crazy, too, and for the most part, we should seek opportunities to do that. The problem is that it seems to me a teaching can yield lots of different fruit, depending on the student and the implementation. But when I looked at passages about fruit, as I mentioned above, it isn’t the teaching at issue, but the teacher: Matthew 7:20: “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” But what are those fruits? Are the fruits of a prophet the teachings themselves or the fruits of those teachings? We know, for example, that a prophet should confess Christ (1 John 4:2) and that the things they say should come to pass (Deut 18:22). Those things alone could be fruits. So could the prophets’ personal traits. Galations 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Presumably, a teacher can be God-honoring and exhibit the fruits of the spirit, but also occasionally perpetuate a bad teaching. We are all sinful.

So, if you made it this far, I would really like to know what you think. Can we judge a teaching by its fruit? Does Vine’s argument work?

Happy Sunday!