Sunday, August 28, 2011

Shame, Shame, Go Away

shame: [noun] a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior

Revelation is a funny thing. It can be some huge and dawning realization but--for me, anyway--it's more often the little things. The shades of meaning, the nuances and subtleties of words. And looking into those nuances can cause a totally new perspective on the world.

I was at a worship service last night, and I have been trying to figure out how to put that in context for people who don't participate in a faith body. I'm sure it would seem the craziest thing--call the cops or the men in white coats--to be seen from the outside. The best explanation, as usual, is the simplest: it's the provision of environment for expression. Music is typically central, but different people respond in different ways, just as in everything else. Expression has to be individual for it to be authentic. And while similar expressors will tend to find themselves together, there's a certain beauty in the cacophony of each person finding their own means of communicating the cry of their hearts.

In this worship service last night, one of the lead singers stopped at one point and encouraged the audience (a strange and inaccurate term) to seek a new revelation from God, a new experience. Not for the sake of experience itself, but to understand, on a real and emotional level, something new about God. And while I agreed with her that this would be good, if I was honest I would admit that I didn't really ask for this for myself, because if I'm not careful, I find myself in a I Know All This Already default setting.

But revelation doesn't always wait for an engraved invitation.

The new subtlety that divinely arrived in the brain last night--it could be dismissed as me just dipping deeper within myself, but I know I'm not that deep, so that ain't it--was fairly simple, but it has not let me go for, what, 26 hours or so: In addition to sin and death, God--Jesus--has taken away my shame. This is a phrase I'm familiar with, and have used often, but I registered last night that I have been thinking of it, using it, incorrectly. Because I looked up the definition of the word, and it's not actually what I've been thinking it was.

Here's how I saw it: Shame is an actual, perceivable thing, potentially outwardly so. Like Hester's scarlet letter, it is a sign and a remnant of what caused and came before it. And so the sacrifice of Christ--His taking on what would otherwise separate us from God--takes that away, cutting through the threads that would mark us as shamed. In a different metaphor, our sin leaves a scar, and the sacrifice is the balm that brings full healing.

But shame is not a scar, it's a feeling. Just look at the definition. It's what lingers, even after the letter is torn away, even when the scar is gone. And this is what the big deal is, to me. It would be enough--too much, in fact, even so--for Christ to have taken our sin, and its resultant death. How much more absurdly kind of Him to take away the outward appearance of it? But He doesn't stop there: He wants my shame, too. Not just the outward, but the inward. He wants the piece in me that still knows, that growls of what I am capable of. He can take that, too, because what good is a clean thing that acts as though it is not? It makes both absolute sense and absolute lunacy, and maybe that's why it's occupied my thoughts so much. Jesus Christ died so that I wouldn't feel bad about myself?? Are you kidding?

And yet, true. And I think this is where the acceptance aspect comes in. Christ can pay for my sins, can rebuild the broken connection between God and me, but until I act like that is true--until I accept that He didn't patch me up or give me a quick fix-up, but completely restored and remade me as new and unblemished by this Old Thing--it's useless. I found myself wrapped up in mental images last night: The first, of me being cleaned out, like scraping mildew from an old tub. You scrape and scratch until everything is cleaned off; but as the image faded in my mind, I realized that wasn't good enough. Being cleaned out isn't any good if it just leaves you empty.

And in the same way, our sin and shame aren't taken away so we can be vacuums. If I am truly freed in Christ, if I really am set free from the trap of thinking of myself all the time, what could I be at liberty to do? Because I'd still be thinking about something. I'm sorry, but I can't get behind an idea that perfection is nothing. And so if I'm no longer thinking about myself, I'm focused on God, right? And focusing on God would lead me to love others through Him. Because a vacuum isn't good enough. A vacuum will just fill up with whatever crap is lying around. But a scraped, cleaned out self, refilled with the grace of a perfect God? That could be a self worth driving around the world.

...Again, I'm afraid I haven't spun an entirely sensical narrative. But again, that's why it's a blog. Leave your thoughts, if you would...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Red Rover, Red Rover

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this—no guaranties of a beginning, middle, and end—but I guess that’s the upswing of a blog: no editorial process. This ain’t no Great American Novel.
I have spent pieces of the morning in an email conversation with a friend, wherein both of us have been thoroughly vulnerable and transparent about past and present emotional and psychological issues. And this isn’t a close friend, either—just someone I know, but the topic came up and in we went. Nothing huge and earth-shattering, and it started as a bit of a joke, but we’ve been plumbing deep waters now for the past couple hours. And I started wondering at how natural—that’s not the right word—how instinctual, maybe—it is to go deep with someone. (And for the record, this is coming from someone who puts up plenty of walls and holds plenty back, due to the myriad issues I have.)
We’ve come to identify our culture as one of self-reliance and self-dependence, of guardedness and the understanding that trust is no longer an issue because truth is no longer expected. And while I think those are on-point descriptors of what we believe we are, I don’t know that they are truly accurate of who we are. My brain is wired not to depend on other people, particularly men, because when I was 3 I learned my first lesson in that school, and I learned that lesson well. I spent much of my life crafting a version of myself that I thought would be most acceptable to people, and I could shift that self to accommodate different audiences. And while I’ve sought and found healing for a great many of my issues, they are still in there, the default settings on synapses tucked deep between my ears. So why is it that it takes two emails and half an hour for me to pour out a list of what makes me tick (or, more to the point, what jars and messes up my ticks)?
The vaguely new-agey, self-helpy psychology we know and love seems to send a message of self-discovery and self-containment; share your energy with the world but don’t let anything in to affect you, reject anything that tries to put itself on your perfect-already self. A gospel of glass walls, perhaps. But I don’t see how that meshes with a people who seem to have something in them that wants to meld and merge, give and take. You can’t do that through, over, or around a wall, glass or otherwise. (Some would argue that some people just aren’t wired like that, and I understand having major issues with closeness, but—please correct me if I’m wrong—I think it’s still a basic human drive, to be understood and accepted and taken in by someone else. And I don’t think that’s limited to a romantic, soul-mate sort of relationship; I think it extends to even basic, relatively momentary encounters.) There remains a need to cry across the distance, to issue an invitation to run into someone's arms--Red Rover, on an emotional level.
I am resisting the urge to write some sort of conclusive, summarizing thought, in part because I don’t know that there is one. Fiction Family, my greatest musical love these days, sings, “There’s war in my blood / I’ve still got wars to be won,” and maybe that’s my only conclusion—that I am at war with myself. That part of me craves to muddle into other people, to let my guard down and love and be accepted, to eradicate any walls I see; and the other part thrashes against the embrace, struggles out and into the open where I don’t need to depend on anyone, where I can assure myself that I am fine on my own, just me and my bricks and mortar.
One of my issues I mentioned with my friend today was my need to be consistently funny, because if people keep laughing they won’t stop to wonder if I’m worth the trouble (that’s a harsh, but not inaccurate, phrasing), and so I suppose it’s fitting that I end with a comic. When I mused about these thoughts on Facebook today, my brother posted yesterday's Pearls Before Swine comic:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Allergies & Stupidity

The dichotomy of two phrases I've come across tonight (one I wrote, the other I read from a friend) have got me thinking, and even though part of me wants to be snuggled in bed finishing my Stephen King book, the rest of me wants to write. (Okay, most of the rest of me wants to write; the rest of me wants to post a blog entry so I can maintain regularity.)

The first is the idea of what I've come to think of as spiritual allergies--things our souls are allergic to. Death tops the list, but any semblance of it counts, too: friends who move away, a relationship that breaks and goes unrepaired, feelings (real or imagined) of abandonment. We were not designed for a world where these things are the norm, and so they slap us in the face every time. Even those of us whose lives have been marked by these allergies don't go numb to the feeling. It hurts anew every time, and this is perhaps, in part, why the idea of heaven is so desirable: a place to breathe freely. Like a clean house to someone with an allergy to dust, or the end of pollen season.

A friend of mine is moving hundreds of miles away, and even in an age where Facetime is an app away, this is still a hurtful, unnatural thing. It feels all wrong: a friendship shouldn't be summarized in a greeting card; one hug can't hold someone over indefinitely. We are allergic to this.

Another friend is in his seventh month of watching a broken relationship stay broken, and he's exhausted. "I know it's stupid, but I am so upset right now," his text message reads. I am immediate in my contradiction, because when did we decide it was stupid to feel hurt, to become emotionally involved in other people? (I'm aware that this is touching into my post from earlier this week, but bear with me.) I'm writing to myself here, because I do this as much as anyone. I allow myself anger or resentment, but in a private corner apart from my faith, and when I come out of it, I leave it behind (or, perhaps more accurately, brush it under the rug). But there is a place within faith for feelings of defeat, of exhaustion, of frustration, of anger. " 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing'" (Luke 13:34). If it's good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

If I asked you how long it's been since you genuinely, fully reacted to something--I don't mean you punched someone out (though maybe you did), I just mean didn't immediately put half a mask on, or call yourself stupid or naive--would you know how long it's been?

Have you remembered now, a sentence later?


Again, I'm not saying we're supposed to be crazed emotion-driven Neanderthals, crashing through the world because we feel like it. But this whole business of masking and redirecting and pretending isn't working, and it's convincing a world that my faith isn't real. And that's something else I'm allergic to.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A God of Moods

In one of her Bible studies, Beth Moore made a brief statement that has stuck with me since (though I consistently forget it when it's most applicable): "God can not only change your life, He can change your day; and God can not only change your day, He can change your mood." So often I take my moods as part of myself, some unavoidable, unchangeable, just-deal-with it part of life. And while emotions can certainly spin us all over the map, why do we assume that this is out of the jurisdiction of the one who made us, complete with those very emotions?

I was very excited--stoked, psyched, elated, on fire--about something a couple months ago; a new direction God was very clearly paving out for me. But for various practical reasons, it's had to be put on the backburner. And in the last week or two, I've been having serious doubts, wondering why I'm so non-excited about it--did I misunderstand? Have I made the wrong decision? etc. etc. But I was talking to a friend yesterday, and something just slipped out of my mouth: "It's like God has turned down the fire, knowing I wouldn't be able to contain myself, keeping it under wraps all this time."

In the immortal words of Keanu Reeves, "Woah."

How crazy would it be that I don't necessarily have to ask God to control my emotions? And how ridiculous that I spend weeks in uncertainty, rather than going to the God who gave me this and every other calling, to see what the deal was?

I find myself wondering if I sometimes under-feel God; if I assume that feelings and emotions are (and should be) separate from what God is doing with and around me. I don't mean that I should let emotions set the tone for everything, but discrediting them entirely limits the might of my Creator, at least in my own head. And this whole thing--this faith, this walk, this relationship with Christ--should be based on fact and truth, but also love and gratitude and joy, and sometimes pain and hurt and brokenheartedness. For truth to be real in me, it has to make it to my emotions, to my instinctive reactions; otherwise, it's just a book.

As a favorite song of mine says,
"I need more than a truth to believe,
I need a truth that moves, lives and breathes
To sweep me off my feet.
It's got to be more like falling in love
Than something to believe in;
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance."
(You should probably just listen to the whole thing here.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Misnomer of "Chapter One"

I am (for the most part) resisting the urge to wax poetical about starting a blog--namely how the surfeit of color, font, layout, and background choices leave you no longer remembering how you were going to wittily yet soulfully justify your new blog's existence.

I've started blogs before, and the creation of a new one should tell you how successful I've been at the upkeep. But I used to call myself a writer, and I miss it (whether I miss the writing or the identity is anyone's guess). And while the grand plans of bestsellers and book signings are (largely) behind me, I still crave the feel of words finding their way from my mind and out through my fingers, because Facebook statuses and work emails just aren't cutting it.

I tried to procrastinate further by pulling several books (my Bible, Mere Christianity, half my Donald Miller collection) from the shelf in the search for a title; and, amusingly, found it on the first page I turned to: in the intro blurbs of Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I had underlined it when I'd first read the book, and all manner of paging through the others I'd pulled didn't draw me away from it. After some lovely words about Don, Steve Duin of The Oregonian writes, "His premise will haunt you until you set out to discover if memorable lives, like unforgettable books, often require several drafts and a loving editor."

And I suppose that's the justification; that while there's nothing huge and momentous about today, I do have the feeling of going through a change of drafts; like a pretty serious copyedit has just been returned to me, with some things question-marked and others highlighted, and I wanted somewhere to write about it.

So here goes.