Archive for the Faith Category

New blog series #NaBloPoMo

I am considering a series for November for National Blog Posting Month (NoBloPoMo). Every November for the past few years I have said I’m going to blog every day in November and I never get beyond 5 days. This would also be the perfect time to work on my fiction that I just left hanging. But life happened, and then school happened. Now I’ve got bunch of papers and projects to do between now and semester’s end, so what better time than now to commit to something I probably won’t finish. Haha!

I’ve probably mentioned this before (possibly more than once), but over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time revisiting all the Christian doctrine I was taught. I was taught some contradictory stuff, though it wasn’t much and most of that was my parents teaching something different than the official doctrinal statement with the caveat, “It’s not a hill to die on.” I still find it out of character for my dad to have a point to argue about, but to not find it important enough to argue. Because he seemed to love to argue. But I digress. My point is, I had to own my faith as an adult by reevaluating what I believed by asking myself, “Do I believe this just because it’s what I was taught, or is this really what the bible teaches.”

But this series isn’t going to be me picking apart denominational doctrine. It’s going to be more cultural and political, but that many American Christians have conflated with the Gospel. I’m going to look at some issues from the standpoint of, “Where is Jesus in that.”

And maybe this will turn out to be more than just one post.

Why do you go to church?

“Why do you go to church? What is your main purpose of showing up? (not collectively, you personally)

I was asked this question sometime before Christmas, and my initial reply was, “Way to ask me a question I’m not sure I want to answer.” This was following a discussion where I vomited out my distrust of Baptist churches, megachurches, and celebrity pastors (and other celebrity Christian leaders ie James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr, Franklin Graham, Mike Huckabee, etc).

So why do I?

“But I know if I don’t go, I’m going to drift back out into the wilderness riding on my self-righteousness. Still, if I wasn’t serving, I don’t know if I would go. Even though I don’t ever regret going.”

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

I went to church during the Christmas season even though I wasn’t serving. But in full disclosure, it was largely because my friend Stacey was singing again and I was NOT going to miss her first Sunday back with the worship team. And our campus pastor was preaching, so it was like a double bonus. And I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience from arrival to departure. Pastor Trent mentioned early in his sermon about our campus feeling like home, which the sermon series wass “Home for Christmas,” so it stands to reason. But as I thought of it, I thought, “Yeah, this church has always felt like coming home.” I have always felt welcomed. I have always felt “a part of.” I have made many friends there, some very close.

Through the course of the sermon on the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, Trent pointed out that we can do all the right things, but if we are doing it for the wrong reasons, it’s just as much of a sin as the “obvious” sins. (I greatly paraphrased that.) I can attest personally to that as the “good little Baptist girl.” Though I was just really good at hiding the “obvious” sins. Anyway, as he wrapped up he said, “If the only place Jesus has led you is to church, you might be following religion and not Jesus.” That didn’t complicate my attempt to answer why I go to church at all. (That was sarcasm which doesn’t always come through in written form.)

When I was a kid, I went to church because I had to. My parents’ rule was, “As long as you live under our roof, you will go to church.” Because they did not further qualify that statement at the time, and because I was already a master at finding loopholes (when I began writing this, I had just had a convo about that with one of my blunt friends), this good little Baptist girl went to Roman Catholic mass with her best friend for several months. Granted, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to church, I just decided I didn’t want to go to the one I thought I wanted to go to when we moved to town. (That’s a whole story in itself that I’ve probably written about before.) But I eventually found a Baptist church where I felt “a part of,” and that’s where my relationship with church started going wonky.

I loved that church. I went on my own without coercion, though a lot of that was because I had a couple of good friends there. But I felt “at home” beyond that. There was no “air” in the air there. Just a bunch of ordinary folks. Until we moved into the new building. I don’t know if there is a correlation. That’s been many years ago, and I was just a teen. But it was after we moved that I heard the thing that caused me to leave. I don’t remember how long it was after we had moved to the new building, but I vividly remember the openly racist sermon. That was the Sunday that church was no longer home because if ALL of my friends were not welcome there – white AND black – then neither was I. I walked away for many years. When I started going back to church it was for a lot of wrong reasons. But I found a church that felt like family, that wasn’t lily-white, and was Baptist. I got burned again because there was so much dysfunction due to factions with control issues. And when a faction tries to control a control freak who hasn’t yet learned that a controlling nature is a character defect, there’s going to be acting out. And I acted out. And then I quit. And I think I have been to a certain degree shunned.

I went into the next church search leery. However, it wasn’t a long search before I found another church that felt like home, and I went all in. I did it because despite all the issues at the previous church, I had a fresh encounter with Jesus, and it changed everything. Slowly though, because I still have a lot of issues.

I still have a lot of religious resentment. I don’t know for sure if that is why I am having such a hard time answering that question. I’m not entirely certain of my motives. I love my church. I love serving there. But sometimes I question if I made the right decision in choosing my church. I know I don’t have to go to church to worship God. I can worship Him anytime because He isn’t confined to a gathering of believers nor a building (and a church is the people, not the building). I have believing friends outside of church who are blunt and have no problem calling me out for my self-righteousness, so I don’t need church for accountability. I can listen to sermon podcasts anytime. Every “good” reason I can think of for why I would go to church can be accomplished outside of church.

So at this point, I have pretty much talked myself out of going period. I mean, why go at all when I don’t have to go? I occurred to me that there is something that I can only participate in at church. Communion. Generally all Christians believe that there are only 2 sacraments that are instituted by a “local, visible” body of believers, and that is baptism and the Lord’s Supper (communion). I could argue the baptism with the accounts of Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, but it is not relevant. Besides, I’ve already been baptized – twice. But communion was always done in a context among a group of believers gathered together to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice as the once for all Passover lamb. Yeah, I could show up at a church just for that (and I’m not going to go into the whole open/closed communion debate), but from Jesus instituting the practice at Passover before his crucifixion to throughout the epistles, communion was done among a group of believers who knew each other. While I just popped off with the argument for closed communion, I don’t think the point of commemorating the Lord’s Supper with a local church you are a member of was to be implemented as a legalistic requirement. Because my dad and I are living proof that you can go to the same church every time the doors open and still be covering up sin. But I digress. I believe the point of doing it local with folks you know is for the community aspect of it. Communing with fellow believers in commemoration of the one thing we all share in common: Jesus, and Him crucified.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 19-20, 24-28

If I make going to church about what I get from it, I make it all about me. This is not what Christ calls us to. Following Him is not a self-centered, self-focused endeavor. If we are to be followers of Christ, if we are being remade into the image of Jesus, then our lives should reflect a desire to serve others. And since I am a member of the body of Christ, it stands to reason that I have a role to play that benefits the entire body. I have been uniquely gifted, just like my brothers and sisters, to serve the body. This is perhaps why I love to serve in the capacity I do. And so I guess ultimately, this is why I go to church.

“…on a break”

I didn’t intend to go on a 3 month hiatus. However, I probably should have started that hiatus intentionally about 3 months or more before I stopped writing. Or I should have just stuck with fiction. Because I was not well.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

I was in a funk for a while. Okay, to a certain extent I still am, but I am no longer the “batshit crazy” I was. And it was one of those things I saw coming, but not entirely clearly. I let a couple close friends in on what was going on with me to the extent I knew because there was a certain aspect of it that I have been through before. I know that after a period of high stress, when I start coming down, I’m going to have panic attacks followed by depression. I have not ever been through that cycle since getting sober. So when I started having the anxiety, I started reaching out. It didn’t seem as bad as the panic attacks of the past, but I have not forgotten how bad that depressive period I had 5 years ago was. Never before nor since has life been that dark. Thank goodness.

In the meantime, I just wasn’t snapping back. One of my friends told me that we didn’t necessarily have to search real deep to find the cause, and I told her, “I’m not afraid of going deep, but I don’t know where to start digging.” Granted, this was my first holiday season since my mom died. Naturally some of the funk was grief, and I was on a heavy stress cycle for several months following her death. I got emotionally involved in the election, feeding on fear and outrage and what I viewed as hypocrisy that I felt was my duty to expose. (It’s not.) And then the election did not turn out as I expected leaving me to eat a lot of the words I was saying.

I sat down and tried to write just after the New Year. I have no idea what prompted me to write the following, but I am sure it was to point out something I saw in someone else rather than taking care of my own side of the street.

I can abstain from drinking, but if I am miserable, desiring the escape that drinking gave me, I’m not sober. Without the “spiritual awakening,” I am just a dry drunk going through the motions and never finding peace. With that attitude I can never do the 12th step because I can’t carry a message I haven’t really received.

Ironically, I got a call the following day from a friend who was checking on me, and she asked me if I thought I might be on a dry drunk. I answered that the thought had crossed my mind, because that was about the point the light start to flicker as if it was about to come on. After we hung up, I texted one friend and asked for prayer for the digging I was about to do, and another to see if she noticed anything glaring from my behavior that might indicate a blind spot. Within a day or 2, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was indeed on a dry drunk and had been for quite some time.

Dry drunk is a slang expression infamously known in the sober community. It describes a person who no longer drinks or abuses drugs, but continues to behave in dysfunctional ways.

I’ve been known to spout out the statement, “I’d rather do hard stuff now than to do the work of figuring out why I drank again after the fact.” I still stand by that statement, but I was so far off track with my program that I went right back to Step 1. I looked at what happened, and I had stopped doing most of the things I did at the very beginning. Not all at once, but one thing here, another thing there, until I was barely working a program at all. I went back and started doing the basics again, and it’s getting better. I still backtracked the progression, and identified the first cause: I decided that I got it. I thought I had the program figured out, I had my alcoholism defeated, and I could chill and coast. Well, once I think I’ve got it is when I’ve lost it. And it happened not long after I had a year’s sobriety. It became complicated when life started happening and hitting me with major life changes like a separation and death of a parent. Because I wasn’t doing the everyday basics, I started running out of steam because I was no longer operating on a firm foundation with the help of my Higher Power. I was white-knuckling and had more than once incident where I was just about to drink.

I’ve looked at those instances where that obsession to drink returned, and I’ve wondered how I was able to not drink. Like that last Thanksgiving with Mom when she was in the hospital. If I’d had to drive by Petit Jean Liquor one more time, I was going to stop. I had already planned it out and knew I could pull it off without no one knowing. No one would have known. But the thought occurred to me, “I’ll know.” Despite the fact that I called no one under such “noble auspices” as not wanting to interrupt anyone’s Thanksgiving, I didn’t drink. Note: I should have called someone. About a week and a half before this past Christmas, I was on my way to work on a Friday morning when I recognized that feeling I used to get when I was drinking and I knew I was going to drink that day if I didn’t do something. I made a call that day and answered the greeting with “I want to drink.” But I didn’t. I know that may or may not make sense. I didn’t want to drink more than I wanted to drink, but I was craving that escape. That numbness. I didn’t drink, and I made it to my 3 year anniversary a couple of weeks ago, if by the skin of my teeth.

Just this week I was telling a friend about my first drink. How I was given that “way of escape” in the verse I quoted at the beginning. A big, wide door that I could have walked through without drinking, and without losing a friendship. To this day I don’t know why I decided to participate. I don’t know why I kept drinking when that first drink tasted so bad. I eventually came to love the effect of alcohol more that I cared about any moral implication of drinking the way I drank. What I do know, though, is why over those months when I wasn’t putting forth much effort towards working my program is how I kept from drinking in spite of myself.

God’s mercy and grace.

There is no other explanation for why I didn’t drink. Because I was half-assing the program (if that much), I had no mental defense against that first drink. I’m a firm believer in free will. I don’t believe that God forces anyone to do anything against their will even if it is in their best interest. But at the same time, I have no doubt that when I took that 3rd step the first time, surrendering without reservation, turning my will and my life over to the care of God, that even when I tried to take my will back, He kept me sober by doing for me what I could not do for myself. Or perhaps the better way of saying that is that he kept me dry while my life got more and more unmanageable knowing that the unmanageability would eventually hurt enough to take action to get the serenity back.

What is your motivation? #nablopomo

Several times over the past couple of days I’ve heard someone talking about motives behind our behavior. I know that I have to be on constant guard with regards to my own motives because as a people pleaser and a comfort seeker, I tend towards self-centered actions and self-gratification. I want what I want, I want it now, and I want to feel “good” and “normal.” For the most part, I don’t like change which most recently has manifested itself in my disgruntled attitude with my iPhone after upgrading to iOS 10. I hate it. “Get off my lawn!” But like Windows 10, I will eventually get used to it and gradually forget why I liked Windows 7 so much better. (Though not while I am still using Windows 7 at work.)

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:1-3 ESV

It’s a scary thing to question one’s own motives with the willingness to see where they are self-centered. It’s easy to look at someone else and question their motives because that does not involve looking in the mirror and taking the necessary steps to clean up your own side of the street. If I focus on you, I don’t have to work on me.

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I look at my motivation for my actions from a Christian perspective. I’m not just talking about looking at my motives when I do something wrong. Most of the time when I do something wrong, my motive is self-centered. Sometimes it’s just not being attentive, but even that is just an excuse for not taking the time to be intentional about thinking through my actions. Of course, it is impossible in this life for me to be 100% attentive to others and to always do the right thing. Still, it is my responsibility to own it and make appropriate amends.

I also have to look at my motives for doing the right thing. That reveals where I am putting my faith and my trust. Am I acting out of fear or out of love? If I am acting out of fear of judgement, then my actions – even if good and beneficial to others – are self-centered. If I am doing something out of fear of God’s wrath, then I am effectually living out a belief in works-based salvation regardless of whether I profess to believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. I’m trying to earn God’s favor, and that is anti-Christ.

However, if I am absolutely certain that my salvation is secure in Christ, I am free to do good works from a motive of love due to gratitude for the mercy and grace I have been shown. Not for my security, not for my comfort, but because I have been given an opportunity to give aid or comfort to someone else just as I have been given aid and comfort from others. And I can do it without expecting a reward because Jesus is my reward.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:8-11 ESV

So I want to say to my fellow Christians, why do you fear? What do you fear? Where is your faith? We live in a fallen world as all of humanity since the Fall. If we are followers of Jesus, then we are first of all citizens in His kingdom, His kingdom is not of this world, and he won the battle on the Cross. We don’t have to act out of fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19 ESV

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2 ESV

“Fear is the enemy of spiritual progress.” – Kerry Egan, NPR, Fresh Air. “Hospice chaplain reflects on life, death and the ‘Strength of the human soul'”

Religion and politics make strange bedfellows

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When I was a high school senior, I was pretty involved in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club in my high school. I didn’t necessarily care anything about being a business leader (I wanted to be a pharmacist at the time), but I absolutely adored the FBLA sponsor, Mrs. Alveretta Lynch. One day I remember asking her, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” I have no idea why I was even going there, except that it was 1987, and I was going to be turning 18 soon. Her answer to me was not at all expected, and made a huge impact on me. She told me she was neither. “I vote for candidates, not political parties.” She went on to explain her decision-making process for choosing a candidate, and I took it all in because I not only loved her, but I respected her. I still do.

I’ve dabbled in politics over the years, though if anyone were to dig up my political posts from my original blog instance, it would seem more than dabbling. I was full on pundit, and staunchly conservative. When I turned 18, I went as soon as possible and registered to vote. I registered as a Democrat because the county I grew up in was majority Democrat to the point that if you weren’t a registered Democrat, you didn’t vote for local officials because only Democrats were running. Therefore, the local elections were decided in the primary. A couple of years before, I had worked on a campaign for an Independent candidate. After I was registered, there was a shortage of primary poll workers in our ward, and one of my friends recruited me to work along with her. 2 just-turned 18-year-olds working as poll workers for the Democratic primary. We still had paper ballots back then. That made for a LONG night of counting ballots. But I loved it. I was part of the process, and not only did I work the primary for the Democrats, but I ended up working for the county in the general election for 2 or 3 years. And while I was a registered Democrat, I voted nearly exclusively Republican. It was the 80s, and I loved me some Reagan. I also disliked me some Clinton.

While in the Air Force, whenever I came across a voting rep, I would get an absentee ballot. I still largely voted Republican, but the Republicans’ treatment of Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky affair (pun intended) felt so over the top. Yes, he was a dog and flat out lied about it, but prosecution over a blow job is overkill. I’m sure many of the Republicans pushing that were just as guilty of infidelity. (I’m looking at you, Newt Gingrich.) It was just enough taint on the “party of values,” that when I became an NC resident, I left my voter registration as “Undeclared.” I haven’t voted in most of the primaries, but the ones I have, I’ve picked the Democrat primary ballot. Mainly because I live in a largely Democratic county, and local candidates have a much greater impact on me personally than state or national. And I must say, the Democrats who have stopped by our house campaigning for local commissioners have been much more reasonable and pleasant than the one Republican who came across as angry and paranoid.

And I was also an angry and paranoid conservative.

Something happened when I started going to church again a few years ago. What happened when I started back to church was that I had a fresh encounter with God. I can state with certainty, and I think the scriptures back this up, that once you have had an encounter with the risen Jesus, you are never the same. I was devouring the Bible, religious non-fiction, religious blogs, and podcasts. I started praying real prayers instead of my previous prayer life of largely “foxhole prayers.” I threw myself into service at church. Meanwhile, my life was slowly falling apart. Work was awful. My marriage was deteriorating. I covered all my issues up by becoming a self-righteous Pharisee (and drinking a lot). Or maybe I always was a self-righteous Pharisee, and was just letting it out. Perhaps I still am to some degree.

At some point I became a single-issue voter. Because I am pro-life, I picked pro-life candidates, and that left me with just the Republican candidates. But this former Tea Party conservative finally started hearing the right wing and beginning to see so much nastiness towards others. I increasingly saw a major disconnect between my faith the politics of the right wing. I had seen how the left wing demonized and dehumanized the right, but suddenly I could see that the right was doing the exact same thing to the left. I started seeing people as people instead of nameless, faceless groups who were a threat to my freedom, and by freedom I really mean comfort. Eventually I realized that being pro-life is much more than being merely anti-abortion.

When I started reading the Bible (and I’ve read the entire Bible, cover to cover, more than once and more than one translation), I began to see things I had never seen, and certainly never heard in the conservative/fundamentalist/patriarchal/complementarian churches I grew up in and later attended. For instance, I have heard my entire life that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah over homosexuality. But in actually reading the account, that is not the issue particularly when the Bible elsewhere largely refers to their self-centeredness as the reason for their destruction.(1) Sodom and Gomorrah were full of rapists, and that is central to the reason for destruction.

I also started noticing that individual verses have a greater context, and that the books in the Bible weren’t written with chapters and verses, and defintely without subject headers added by publishers. “The Bible clearly says” rarely follows with a clear-cut black and white statement. I learned nuance, and that most circumstances are not clearly black and white. The Apostle Paul spoke about liberty as Christians, and I started to see what that really meant. Finally, decades after memorizing the verses as a child, I started to grasp “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 NASB. So when I finally came to the end of myself, I was able to wholeheartedly surrender EVERYTHING: possessions, job, status, marriage, children, Mom, extended family. Even my freedom and my very life. Because either Jesus is enough, or the foundation of my faith is built on sand.

With my newfound enlightenment (I say that tongue-in-cheek), I discovered that there is a huge lack of discernment among American Christians. We place our pastors and elders on pedestals where they don’t belong because we have somehow gotten the notion that they are more spiritual than us. I think we have also decided that they have special insight into politics, and so we make our political decisions based on our pastors’ and other religious leaders’ opinions. We say our hearty “A-MEN”s when they decry the world’s sin, and thereby feed our own self-righteousness by comparing ourselves to the world. Then we set about to fight culture wars wherein we demonize and dehumanize the sinners while thanking God we are not like them. (Luke 18:9-14) We fret and stew that if we do not win, God is going to smite us with his terrible wrath. So we have to work harder and harder to win control – to rule.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1 KJV

But, Jesus did not die so we could rule over others. Jesus set aside his divinity, and his ruling authority with it, to set us free from the bondage of self-serving. If we are to follow Christ – to walk in His ways – we should be laying aside our privilege and desire to control in order to server others as salt and light in a dark and broken world. Since the 4th Century, we have plenty of evidence to show that whenever Christendom is ruling, oppression and tyranny soon follow – from the ruling Christians. Jesus didn’t command us to rule, and he certainly didn’t tell us to seek out personal comfort and pleasure.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus did not die to set us free so we can live the American Dream. He died to set us free FROM the American Dream.

According to the American Dream, our individual success and happiness are dependent upon our individual effort. Hence our happiness is dependent upon our own hard work and opportunity. And when we don’t have the opportunity for our subjective happiness/prosperity, we run the risk at best for resenting whoever is blocking that. Therefore, without the perfect opportunity to match our hard work, we are going to be disappointed in other people/systems, then angry, then make them our enemy. We become self-absorbed and self-centered in our pursuit of happiness which we think we are going to find in something (or someone) external to us. That is what Jesus sets us free from by becoming the one who gives us our sense of worth and brings us into his family through His work alone.Then we are truly free to love and serve others – friends and enemies alike.

The flaw in the pursuit of the American Dream is in it’s individualism. “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The pursuit of happiness by humans, by our very nature, becomes a self-centered pursuit. We end up with a class/culture conflict because those with less opportunity want more, while those with more don’t want to give up anything (and often want more). This brings us to an “us vs them” mentality by both sides wherein each has to resort to dehumanizing the other side in order to maintain the resentments/fear against the other. Our politicians then play on that resentment and fear, and we all dig in deeper in our trenches because we are laying up our treasure here on earth. Our materialistic pursuits never ever satisfy us and always become divisive. That’s what Jesus sets us free from. Endless pursuit of temporary treasure. He alone can satisfy our pursuit of happiness because he did all the work, and we who believe in Him reap the reward of true worth and contentment independent of our national heritage.

You cannot simultaneously say “America First” while saying that this country needs Jesus. The message of Jesus is always others first. This is why we are in danger when we follow the Franklin Grahams, Wayne Grudems, James Dobsons, Jerry Falwells (Sr & Jr), and Pat Robertsons. They have been deceived by their fear and the human desire for power that we all possess. This is the only reason I can see that at least 3 of them have endorsed a candidate for President of the United States that has such appallingly bad character as to make the Clintons look like saints in comparison. This is the only explanation for why so many Christians would resort to spiritual abuse to try to guilt other Christians into voting for Donald Trump.

Jesus already won, and he didn’t do it with swords or guns or ballots. He did it on the cross. When we believe this, we will be able to vote for character rather than charisma, and we can vote with a clear conscious for a candidate with little to no chance of winning because we will not fear whomever is elected, yet will not vote for someone with terrible character. And we can stand up to the bullies who peddle fear to coerce us into voting the way they want, and tell them that our vote is not being wasted when we vote our conscious with complete liberty. Just like Mrs. Lynch taught me to vote for candidates, not parties.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36 KJV

(1) “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done.” Ezekiel 16:49-51 NIV. Only Jude 7 refers to the sexual immorality. All other references beyond the account of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction are either references to the destruction, or comparison to how much worse the people of Israel became.

The edge of insanity

“Very few people could stay sane in your home. You are not a failure.”

Drews, Toby Rice (2011-03-30). “Getting Them Sober, volume one — You CAN help!” (“Getting Them Sober” Book 1) (Kindle Location 1445). Recovery Communications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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“I was standing on the precipice. Something had to give or else I was going to have to numb more often.” I was standing in a friend’s kitchen when I had that epiphany. Granted she had said something that flipped the switch so that light could come on. But at that moment, I realized just how close I came to losing it – completely.

Truth is, I had already lost it. It just hadn’t become apparent to anyone else. My bubble of control of my carefully crafted public persona had burst and I couldn’t get it back together. It’s probably safe to say that bubble was cracked and extremely fragile from the get-go. Lord knows I was sick before I ever took that first drink.

Lately I’ve been pondering why. Why when I hit that wall and fell apart did I reach out for help instead of turning to my old standby of numbing and escaping? I mean, I did, but not what I would have done had I not sought out therapy and group support. Why was I able to get that honest with my doctor?

I think back a few years to a periodic reinvestigation I went through for work. It was by far the worst one I’ve gone through. It occurred to me during that process just how isolated I was. I didn’t look at it that way exactly. I just looked at it as a red flag that I didn’t have any kind of a social life outside of work. And since I had been considering going back to church anyway, I decided that going to church would keep me from looking so isolated. Because I had an appearance to maintain. We found a church we liked, and I was able to make enough friends that I could list a few for my next reinvestigation and wouldn’t look like such a loner.

I always laugh when I think about that one. I listed Petra as a reference, and then I turned around and told her my junk. Of course at that point in time, I didn’t dare tell her everything, but a lot. I hadn’t set out to make “real” friends. My goal was my typical not-too-deep friends. (Which I differentiate from shallow.) Molly and Karyn got all up in that inner circle too. Actually, Molly is the root of that whole circle. She is the one who wouldn’t let me sit quietly on the sidelines observing. This might seem like I am digressing, but those ladies, Sarah, and Jessica (whom I don’t know quite as well as the others) played a key role in the beginning of my journey back to sanity.

Although I still had to hit bottom.

But it became real easy to get real with Petra and Karyn. Not surface-level, but “Hey guys, here’s my junk! I’m depressed and my marriage is a wreck!” I couldn’t train for 2 half marathons with Karyn and not end up in some deep conversation. I still say it was all Molly’s doing. She “forced” me to help set up for VBS with Petra and Brittany. Heck, she somehow managed to talk me into being the music leader for that VBS. She got me running by talking me into joining a newly formed local running club. She wouldn’t have asked me to lead the music if I hadn’t managed to become one of the worship leaders on Sundays. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t joined the worship team due to an intense prodding in my gut. The girl who quit the youth choir in high school because she wasn’t going to do a solo ending up leading worship? That’s doesn’t compute.

None of it computes.

I was just thinking the other day about how several people I know who grew up in similar legalistic Baptist environments as I, and walked away wanting nothing to do with Christianity. Sure, I walked away, too, but I always felt called back.

I’ve been through a lot of doubt and blaming God, and the doubts and blame have always boiled down to wrong beliefs about His character based on wrong teaching. I’m even no longer willing to go so far as to call it false teaching because I am less inclined to attribute malicious intent and instead give the benefit of the doubt that it’s just lack of discernment because we naturally expect our pastors and teachers to be humbly teaching us truth.

So why was I drawn back? Why didn’t I lose faith and hope? Why, when my carefully constructed and controlled world fell apart, did I not give up, give in, and self-medicate myself into oblivion?

Grace.

Grace blows my mind. There is no reason whatsoever I should have been delivered from my self-destructive attitude and behaviors. Nothing I did to deserve deliverance.

Just grace.

Laws do no transform hearts. Legalism doesn’t provide any protection from temptation. Rules don’t heal broken hearts nor do they sooth deep crushing pain.

Oh, but grace.

Grace will turn a heart of stone into living flesh. Grace will turn self-centeredness into love – genuine love – for “the least of these,” and not because of what the “least” can give them.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

And grace will restore you to sanity even when you are sure you have passed the point of no return.

No magic formulas

When I have a problem, I want a simple, clear-cut solution. I want it fixed, and I want a simple plan to do so. I also want immediate results, but that’s another matter.

Being the self-sufficient perfectionist I am, I am all about some self-help. Ah, yes, give me a blog post with 3-10 steps on how to fix what’s wrong. Give me a book that explains the real reason that whatever it is is broken, along with the steps I need to take to fix them. Oh, it’s a Christian blog or book? Score! It’s gonna do the trick!

That is, as long as I believe that God moves according to the works I do or behaviors I do not do. Which is to say, I have to do certain things and avoid other things in order to earn God’s favor.

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What I found from the vast majority of the Christian “self-help” books is that they are largely written as prescriptive when they are actually experiential. They also tend to be upper-middle class, suburbanites who have “traditional households” where the husband works as the breadwinner, and the wife is a stay-at-home mom. Sure, the wife might write and speak at conferences, but the entire family dynamic is still “traditional.” (And I’m not saying nor wish to imply that there is anything wrong with the “traditional” family model.)

I fully believed that if I did the things in those books, that things would get better. Our marriage would be better. Our finances would be better. Our kids would be model students. Yet, the harder I worked, the worse things got. “I’m doing all the right things! Why isn’t this working?!”

The number one reason following the directions/suggestions in those books and blogs doesn’t work is this:

All that crap falls apart when active alcoholism, drug addiction, and/or abuse are involved.

And that’s when you are left with “you reap what you sow.”

You made the choice to take that first drink.

You made the choice to marry an alcoholic/addict.

“Submit to your husband and pray for him.”

Guess what? That doesn’t necessarily work. Especially if you both came from dysfunctional families and neither of you have dealt with those issues. Though you absolutely should be praying for him, and he for you.

I want to make perfectly clear that I am not saying the typical Christian self-help book is not useful or helpful. Like any other type of non-fiction, some are great, some are fluff, and some just stink to high heaven. Often even the fluff has really good nuggets.

What I am saying is that there is no quick-fix, easy step-by-step method – Christian or otherwise – that is a magic formula for fixing a marriage or getting out of debt or beating an addiction. There is no “Do this and everything is going to turn out great just the way you want it” system that can guarantee you are going to get what you want (or more honestly, what you think you want).

A marriage doesn’t get fixed by one spouse doing all of (or even most of) the work.

You don’t get out of debt by subscribing to a get-rich-quick scheme, and this includes the “magic tithe.” (Malachi 3:10)

Repercussions from abuse do not go away by submitting to the abuse nor by forgiving (voluntarily and certainly not coercively) the abuser.

Children raised in a dysfunctional home are not necessarily going to be model students no matter how intelligent they are.

Life is hard and takes a lot of work. Don’t let anyone sell you an easy path to happiness. There isn’t one, and this is particularly true for followers of Jesus. Odd are, when things get particularly rough, you will find yourself screaming at God, “I did all the right things! Why am I the one being punished?!?!” And you know what? He won’t strike you down. But in that moment, you will be left with a choice.

“Do I really believe?”

My answer to that question became the guide to how I look at my circumstances. Because ultimately that determines whether I will be grateful for what I have, or bitter at what I don’t have.

It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld–one attitude or the other becomes a way of life. – Elisabeth Elliot

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

I used to think ___ but now i think ___. #OutofSortsBook

Sarah Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts, released last week. She is doing a synchroblog with a writing prompt about how and why we have evolved in our beliefs over the years. I’m all about a writing prompt, even if it takes 3 days to write. Ha!

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I think so differently about so many things now, I don’t even know where to begin.

I always felt torn between 2 extremes. I either felt so utterly broken that I was beyond hope, or I felt like I had all the answers and was in the fast lane with the saints on the stairway to heaven. I think the self-righteous arrogance was a coping mechanism to deal with the massive inferiority I felt. I would find people whom I was “better than” in order to feel better about myself. Of course that was only when I was sober.

Truly, underneath any bravado I put up, I always felt less than. Not good enough. As I wrote about not too long ago, “If I couldn’t ever measure up to my dad’s standards with my behavior, how could I ever hope to measure up to God’s standard of absolute holy perfection?”

I thought I knew who God was, but I really never saw Him for who He really is.

For many years I did not consistently have someone in my life speaking truth to me about the character and nature of God. That means I definitely did not have someone reminding me of the Good News – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I forgot that I couldn’t earn my way to God.

I had neither a dramatic falling away, nor did I have a dramatic return. I had a gradual descent into a breakdown where something had to give. Things started to change from the time I realized I was having a breakdown.

I changed when I realized I needed help.

It began with a medical doctor appointment where I walked out with an antidepressant and a couple of recommendations/referrals for therapists. Then I not only picked a therapist, but started attending Al-Anon. While I was largely silent in Al-Anon for a while, I sat in that first session with my therapist and verbally vomited on her. I told her things that I had never ever said out loud. To anyone.

I learned first in my therapist’s office to be honest about both my present and my past. To talk about what happened, what was happening, and how I felt. And nothing would ever be the same, especially once one of my close friends told me I needed to quit drinking. And that’s when I had to get really honest.

When you grow up in a fundamentalist culture with an abusive father, you learn things about God that just aren’t true. Sure, I believed Jesus saved me, but I didn’t fully believe I could be and was forgiven. I had to revisit everything I thought I knew about God, and tear down a lot of false teaching of legalism. I had to work through a lot of resentment not just with the religion of my youth, but with God himself.

I used to think that God was just waiting for people to do the wrong thing in order to enact a swift and thorough punishment for the least little infraction. Therefore, I had to be on guard all the time to not mess up, and when I did (because we all do), I lived in bondage to shame and fear. For many years, my only relief came from a bottle.

But having been delivered from the compulsion to self-medicate, I now know that God is kind and loving and merciful. I now know without a doubt that Jesus is enough, and because of Him, I don’t have to try to earn my way into the Father’s good graces. I am fully known and fully loved. The Holy Spirit wasn’t the one filling me with fear and shame. Oh, no. It’s the Holy Spirit that reminds me who I really am – a beloved daughter of the Father.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (NIV)

“and he will rule over you”

I loved the TV show Maude when I was a kid. I remember my mom telling me she could not stand Maude. I either didn’t ask her why or didn’t listen to the answer. I can watch Maude now and I understand why Mom didn’t like Maude. Since I was way too young to understand any of what was happening on the show at the time, clearly I just liked Bea Arthur. Still, Mom worked really hard to keep me from becoming a “feminist.”

I remember once in my late teens being at church (I’m pretty sure it was a business meeting) when there was a discussion about a stove. While I don’t remember the details, I do remember that it was a men’s committee that decided on the stove to purchase and then it was brought before the church for vote. It irked me that the men made the decision on a stove despite the fact it was the women who would be cooking on it. (Irony isn’t always lost on me.) I bitched to Mom (and yes, it was bitching) who gently declared that the men are to make the decisions for the church. Or something to that effect. Which, really, why even bring anything up for a vote in front of the entire congregation if only the men get a say?

Clearly I’m still a bit perturbed about that.

I had a chat with a coworker where she stated that the major religions treat women poorly, to include Christianity. That is absolutely what you are going to get in Christianity when the men pick out the verses about women submitting and being quiet and ignore the ones where husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it. The women must obey, but the men don’t have to practice sacrificial love. As I was making my coffee (before I got into any more discussions of any kind), it occurred to me why this might be such an issue.

To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” – Genesis 3:16, NIV

Could it be that the male dominance packaged as “Biblical headship” is really just part of the curse? Because that’s what Genesis 3:16 seems to say pretty plainly. “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Note that it does not say “Your desire will be to rule over your husband,” or “Your desire will be for your husband’s role.” No, it says “Your desire will be for your husband.” The same desire that wants Cain in Chapter 4. I think that desire is the one where we want our husband to be completely and utterly devoted to us above all else. To be our god.

“and he will rule over you.” Guess what. He will be a god. Just not a good one. Because there is a side-effect to being taught that the man the head over his household without being taught what that really entails. He will anoint himself supreme ruler. He will start (or just continue) to believe that it’s his way or the highway. He will not take any direction because he is the man and he is in charge and therefore he knows what’s best. Without good counsel teaching him how to lead through service, he will become effectually a slave master who believes his wife exists to serve him.

I believe that is why abuse perpetuates and thrives in the more fundamentalist circles.

Paul speaks of marriage metaphorically as symbolizing the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Hence wives submit to their husbands as the Church to Jesus, and husbands love their wives even as Christ loves the Church and gave himself up for it. But I think we are missing a piece when we just leave it at that.

if we endure,
we will also reign with him. – 2 Timothy 2:12a

If we believe that Jesus is coming back for his bride, the Church, as he says, and that we will reign with him, then why wouldn’t husbands and wives not jointly rule their household? After all, in marriage, two become one, not two become master and servant. And Jesus doesn’t force his rule over his bride.

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Freedom

You would think that growing up in the United States this concept wouldn’t be such an issue for me to grasp. Of course, growing up as a kid in the U.S., and in the Bible Belt South no less, I took a certain aspect of freedom for granted. Serving in the Air Force took care of most of that entitlement mentality. Actually, serving one short deployment in the Middle East took care of that though not at the time. But even still, I did not understand freedom because I didn’t know what it was like to not be free.

Or so I thought.

I was never a slave so I couldn’t understand what it’s like to be a slave. I was never in jail so I couldn’t understand what it’s like to be a prisoner. I am predominantly European Caucasian so I couldn’t relate to ethnic oppression. And I grew up as a Christian in the U.S. in the Bible Belt in the 70’s and 80’s where being a church-going Christian was just normative and therefore, couldn’t relate to religious oppression.

What I finally came to realize (thanks to some outside intervention) was that I was a slave to alcohol and a prisoner of my past. I was oppressed by a domineering father and a rigid religion as a child. I became so weighted down with guilt and shame as a child, and the only thing that was alleviating that pain was alcohol. I didn’t feel the pain of not being good enough while I was drunk. I felt confident. I felt free.

The freedom I thought I had while drunk was a lie.

You are never free when you are spending all of your time and energy on trying to be “good enough” particularly when deep down you know you can never be perfect. Perfection as the standard will always leave you feeling inadequate. Eventually, you will realize the futility of trying and will throw your hands up in surrender because your life is unmanageable.

There are 2 ways you can surrender. You can throw your hands up and say “Screw this!” or some variation of that thought, and proceed to do whatever you think is going to make you feel good. This is the path I took initially. Outwardly, it worked. I appeared to have everything together, but I was not working through my problems. I was just numbing and escaping. Therefore, life just kept becoming more unmanageable until it got to a point I couldn’t cover it with a facade.

The other way to surrender is to throw your hands up and say, “I can’t do this anymore and I need help!” This is the point I eventually came to. My life had gotten so unmanageable that I was coming apart at the seams. It is taken a lot of therapy and a couple of 12 Step groups to sort through and work through my issues. But they couldn’t really resolve my religion issues.

I had God issues because of my Daddy issues.

If I couldn’t ever measure up to my dad’s standards with my behavior, how could I ever hope to measure up to God’s standard of absolute holy perfection? Plus since my dad had so many issues that he never addressed, I had contradictory information on what good behavior was. Because of his abuse, he abused, and I projected onto God’s character that abuse was normal. And you know what abuse does to the abused? It makes them feel less than. Shamed. Not good enough. And it was rigid religion that allowed that abuse, because wives submit absolutely to their husbands, children cannot ever question their parents’ behavior, and daddy’s are the absolute boss and never wrong. This was God’s way and so God must be like my daddy.

Except He isn’t.

There wasn’t really one event that opened my eyes. It was several things. Sessions with my therapist. Chats with my sponsor. Chats with friends. Blog posts. Books. Sermons. But one thing that stood out from a sermon, and I think it was one Pastor Jared preached, where he said, “Don’t forget who you are, and don’t forget whose you are.” And it really started sinking in who I am in Jesus. What that really means. That God the Father’s love for me is not contingent on my behavior. It never was. It’s dependent on what Jesus did.

I can quit trying to earn God’s love because grace is given out of love.

That’s when I realized I was free. That’s when I understood what freedom really is. Because that’s when I finally understood what it means to rest in Christ; to “Be still and know that I am God.” Jesus did all the work for me. I’m not ever going to be Mary Poppins, “perfect in every way.” Freedom comes from knowing I don’t have to be perfect because Jesus was perfect. As Pastor Benji said last Sunday in his sermon,

We’re cleansed from the Stains of Sin & freed from the Chains of Sin!”

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