• idiots

    Why Have Lunatics Taken Over?

    Sometimes people come to me and say, “Rebecca, you are amazing, wise, funny and smell like flowers and lemon Pledge. Why are you not recognized as the wonder you are by all of humanity near and far?”

    To which I can only answer, “this is a great mystery to me as well.”

    The other questions I get asked a lot are “has everyone lost their ever-loving-minds?”, “Why are the lunatics in charge of everything?” and “Is there any hope for humanity left?”

    As fate would have it, I happen to have answers to these questions. They are, respectively:

    Pretty much.

    Because lunatics appeal to all of our worst impulses.

    Yes. The lunatics’ days are numbered.

    Now, perhaps you too have noticed that the world seems, well, a bit unbalanced lately. The most violent, most hateful, most greedy, most dishonest actors in our world appear to be ascendant, if not triumphant. Families are in shambles, communities are shells and compassion seems to have gone MIA. Injustices which have festered for decades, if not centuries, are not even attempting to hide themselves, but are right out into the open, secure in the knowledge that few will object. The technological innovations that not so long ago were making humanity safer, healthier, more prosperous and comfortable seem to be reaching their limits and are threatening to turn on us. It’s very easy and tempting to be pessimistic and lose faith in the whole human project.

    To a certain extent, this is an illusion. With the internet, global communication and 24 hour media, we can see things we were not previously aware of (or were in denial about). It used to be that if something awful was happening in another part of the world, we wouldn’t know it for months or years, if at all. If an atrocity was committed, we might read a news story about it and wonder what in the world was wrong with those people. Today we can watch videos in real time and get instant news from far and wide.

    Since we all have front row seats to what’s wrong in the world, it’s easy to think that this is because there’s more wrong in the world. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. In America, the crime rate has dwindled down to rates not seen since the Eisenhower administration. Around the world crime has fallen, poverty has decreased dramatically, armed conflicts are less common and life spans are increasing. It’s not perfect, but we’re on a very positive trajectory.

    However, it does seem that large portions of humanity are refusing to let go of their allegiance to the very worst tendencies that the human race are prone to. While the world and our understanding of it and ourselves has changed dramatically and brought massive improvements at every level, not everyone’s on board. It’s not that we’re any worse than in the past. People in the past were just as, if not more, prone to obnoxious, hateful, violent, ignorant, greedy, oppressive behavior and words as anyone alive today. What has changed, really, is that increasing numbers of us are openly and loudly refusing to accept those behaviors and attitudes as normal or acceptable – for any reason.

    This has opened up a gap which is fueling both conflict and insecurity. The questions I get asked about what in the world is going on tend to come from those who want to see humanity turn its back on our hateful, oppressive, greedy, violent tendencies once and for all. They listen to the rhetoric coming from churches, politicians, individuals and governments and wonder if those who view the past as something to go back to rather than run from are going to win. And the answer is no. They will not. But it’s probably going to be ugly for a while.

    I have two related reasons for saying this. The first has to do with the way God deals with sin and those who will not repent of it:

    And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. ~ Romans 1:28-32

    Essentially, Paul says that when people refuse to repent of their sins and continually reject God’s call to love, mercy, peace, service and forgiveness, God will allow them to follow the desires of their heart to their own destruction. As they do so, their sin, error and the darkness of their hearts becomes more and more apparent. The longer they refuse to accept correction, the more outrageous their words and behaviors will become. Eventually, such people will become object lessons that others point to as warnings. And this is exactly what we are watching happen all around us.

    When we see people, institutions and governments speaking and behaving in outrageous ways, we are being shown exactly what it looks like when a depraved mind is allowed free reign. So, while I understand people’s alarm at what they see going on in the world, and I do not in any way mean to discount the very real suffering of those who are on the receiving end of those who have been given over to their depraved minds, I tend to see these people as serving a useful purpose. Basically, they are exhibits in humanity’s world-wide asshole identification training program.

    As I’ve mentioned before, one of the unique things about the time in which we live is that what happens in the dark is being brought into the light. For most of human history, the worst actors have been able to gain and hold power through a combination of force and deception. It has generally only been after the fact that people were able to recognize the evil being perpetrated for what it was. In the moment, wars, slavery, feudalism, inequality and injustice seemed like reasonable ways to go about organizing the world. And there were always theologians and clergy willing and able to explain how these things were part of God’s will, just to make sure it all went down as smoothly as possible.

    Dragging what was done in darkness into the light is of course a good, necessary step. But now we need to learn to recognize what we are looking at. Enter in the lunatics who are, if not fully in charge, making a good run for it. These people and their supporters are showing us, out in the open, what a depraved mind looks like. Our job is to learn to recognize them for what and who they are. It’s a painful and frightening, but necessary part of the process.

    The next time you encounter someone or see a news story of someone advocating violence, hatred, greed, oppression and lies, imagine that you’re watching a wild life documentary with a narrator in the background intoning:

    “Here we see the asshole in his native habitat. Observe how he lies and distorts reality in order to shore up his position in the group. Notice the tendency to advocate for the rich over the poor, the denigration of peace and glorification of violence and the various excuses utilized to oppress and dismiss those who threaten the diabolical system he relies on for sustenance. The asshole lives in a symbiotic relationship with those who value his willingness to be the voice of the asshole in order to maintain their illusions and avoid the pain of being wrong or having to give heed to other people’s humanity. If you encounter an asshole in the wild, approach with caution. The asshole is driven by a depraved mind and should be considered dumb and dangerous.”

    That being said, no one’s perfect, and the accusation of a depraved mind is easy enough to throw around as a weapon to discredit and defame others, of course. So what makes me so sure that the lunatics are being put on display for educational purposes and will not maintain their power forever? Well, part of it is because God has promised his ultimate triumph. The depraved mind cannot sustain itself in the presence of the glory of God and his ways, and so is doomed to ultimate failure.

    The other reason for my confidence comes from the fact that I have had several different people bring me the same message explaining what we see happening around us right now. In fact, one of my readers who had made a commitment to pray for me and my family sent me a “word” that she felt God had lead her to convey to me. Much of the message was for me personally, but there was one part which spoke to the wider goings on in the world (the bold is the message, the parts in parenthesis comments from the person who sent it to me):

    (At this point I saw the world, the earth from outer space)

    It is like a cauldron, boiling and bubbling, the scum is rising to the top, and I will take it away and bring new life.

    (it would seem more appropriate that he is talking about your world and life circumstances, but the feeling I actually had when writing this was that he was describing the world, that it was time to bring stuff up, like something is stirring)                                                                                   

     

    Now, as a general rule, any claim of having received a “word” or message need to be taken pretty lightly. There’s a great deal of self-serving and deception that tends to surround such things. However, aside from the good character and faith of the person who sent this to me, this is a message I have heard from multiple sources which, to me, lends it credibility.

    God is in the process of refining humanity. In Isaiah 1:25, God says: “I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.” This refers to the process of refining gold and silver by melting down, adding lye which binds to the impurities in it and causes them to rise to the surface in order to be skimmed off and removed. These people who are advocating for violence, greed, hatred, oppression and the like are bringing humanity’s dross to the surface. The dross is removed as more and more people turn from the enemy’s ways and towards’ God’s rule of love, peace, mercy, service and forgiveness. The more outrageous the lunatics are, the more people will learn to recognize an asshole when they see one and turn away.

    Of course, refining gold and silver is a process that must be done repeatedly in order to bring it to the highest levels of purity. Neither I nor anyone else can say how long this will go on or how many times we will have to see the assholes in action before humanity at large turns their hearts towards love. But ultimately, the time of the lunatics will pass. And in the meantime, hang onto your hats and your sense of humor. It’s bound to be a bumpy ride!

  • The Holy Spirit Doesn’t Much Care For Rules

    Back in college, I was involved in a prison ministry program that put on retreat weekends for boys in a nearby juvenile prison. Which, much as I loved it, seems not to have been especially appealing to most of the other college students on campus. We always struggled to keep our numbers up and eventually reached out to nearby Wheaton College for help. It turns out that putting on retreats for juvenile delinquents wasn’t anymore appealing to college students at Wheaton either. (Wheaton College is a well regarded traditionally white, evangelical Christian college, for those of ya who aren’t familiar with the Christian college scene.)

    The only thing I really knew about Wheaton was that the kids who went there were freaks. The whole place was a freakshow, really. I attended a Rich Mullins concert there and they had people patrolling the aisles making sure no one was dancing. Seriously. Because apparently there was always a concern that some kids would get carried away and start twerking to “Awesome God” and “God, You Are My God”. So, really the anti-dance patrol wasn’t weird, it was protecting us from a whole other realm of uncomfortable that the human mind cannot comprehend.

    I never got all the details, but it turned out that everyone who was enrolled or employed at Wheaton had to sign a morality pledge which included agreeing not to dance. I think there was some exception that was made for married couples who wanted to waltz together off campus or something. Otherwise, no dancing, on campus or off, for any reason, in any season, if you were affiliated with Wheaton.

    Fortunately, the Wheaton College kids never said a word or looked particularly uncomfortable when we swore and made dirty jokes and sat all leaned up against each other and danced like fiends to “Blister in the Sun” at the end of a long day on retreat. Although they may have decided to go find a quiet room to pray in once they listened to the lyrics.

    Then, one night back at the church where we roomed while doing the retreat, one of the young Wheaton women bopped a little too deliberately to the music. Shook her tushy a little back and forth while snapping her fingers even. And a young man from Wheaton looked at her in shock. She was violating their pledge. He was required to report her come Monday morning. And she knew it. Not only was she dancing, but she was putting him in the position of having to choose what to do about it. You could almost see his world starting to come unhinged.

    “Uh, what are you doing?” he asked her, trying not to look as uncomfortable as he clearly felt. Continue reading

  • Remembering What It’s Like To Worship

    There’s a bible verse from the ever popular prophet Joel which I turn to sometimes when I have sorrow over things I had lost. It says:

    “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . . ” Joel 2:25

    I have long believed that there is nothing I can lose that God will not return to me with interest. And that when it was returned to me, I would know it more truly and more deeply for having to do without it. Which may or may not actually be true, but I choose to believe it because life is better when I believe it than when I don’t. It helped me let go a little more gracefully, as I knew that I would receive it back in time. Sometimes it was cold comfort, but this verse gave me hope that life would eventually get better when I needed something to remind me.

    Over the last month, I’ve started having the oddest sensation of being given back my good memories. It’s as if I’d completely forgotten that I really had been happy once. It wasn’t just something I told myself when I needed to shore up my confidence. I really was very happy once. I really did have a happy family once. I really did have an amazing marriage once. I really did have a good, although never perfect or easy, life once.

    It’s like I’m coming out of this place where only the darkness existed and emerging back into the light. I can’t quite trust any of it and none of it makes much difference to my present circumstances, but it’s rather wonderful to be rediscovering the things that made my life good. It’s been like coming home and finding a box full of old pictures that had been lost in a move years ago.

    One of the things I had lost was music. I wrote a post a while ago about realizing that I had forgotten how to sing nearly every song I knew a couple of years ago. The only songs I could remember were songs about God that I had learned while doing prison ministry. I would be singing my baby daughter to sleep and all I could remember were the same 4 or 5 songs attached to a time I would just as soon forget. Sometimes I choked on the words.

    Eventually my daughter no longer needed to be sung to sleep and I stopped singing altogether. Which is something I’d done before, as you will remember if you have read my first book like a good little Upside Down World minion. ;) But there’s a reason that shamans will ask the sick and depressed, “when did you stop singing?” Sickness of the heart and a lack of music go hand in hand.

    So, for whatever reason, lately I’ve been rediscovering songs that I used to love that I had nearly forgotten. Yesterday, I happened to hear the song Gloria by the Christian duo Watermark and I remembered what it was like to worship. My heart used to sing this song, once upon a time. (My mouth has a harder time.)

    A while back, I started a post by saying that one day I want to be able to write a post that’s all “God is great! He healed my wounds and lifted me from the pit!” But I gave up lying a while back. So, this isn’t that post yet. But I finally remember what it is like to be able to do that. And it is so good. Enjoy!

    Gloria

    I wish I could crash like the waves
    Or turn like the autumn leaves
    In effort to praise You
    I wish I could smell like the forest
    The fragrance lifting a mighty chorus
    In effort to praise You, in effort to praise You

    But I’m such a limited creature
    And my words can only paint so many pictures
    But somewhere I think I read that I am
    Treasured over all creation
    So I know that I must try

    I wish I could roll like the thunder
    To leave the earth below in wonder
    In effort to praise You
    I wish I could fall like the summer rain
    And every drop would sing Your name
    In effort to praise You, in effort to praise You

    But I’m such a limited creature
    And my words can only paint so many pictures
    But somewhere I’m sure I read that I am
    Treasured over all creation
    So I know that I must try, I must try

    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee
    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee

    Every breath that I breathe
    Every moment in my history
    Is an effort to praise You
    An effort to praise You

    Gloria, glory in the highest
    Forever I will hide myself in Thee
    Oh, Gloria
    Glory in Excelsis Deo
    Gloria, Gloria
    Gloria
    Gloria, Gloria, Gloria

    -L & C Nockles

  • Allow Me to Share the Holy Grail of Parenting

    209750_1846076945281_1961977_oAfter 5 kids and 19 years of parenting, I have finally discovered the Holy Grail of parenting. The one thing you need to know in order to lighten your load and teach them to be responsible, thinking, healthy people with good judgment. As early and as often as is safe and feasible, start repeating these words to yourself: “meh. I’m sure they’ll figure it out eventually.”

    Seriously. Try it. It’s a long term strategy, but it works. And it’s much, much, much easier than continually forcing your will on another human being who is clearly lacking in judgment. I know it’s hard to believe, but kids are capable of learning on their own. They do think about things. And it’s much easier for them to admit when they are wrong when they don’t have someone standing over them demanding that they do so.

    If there’s one mistake I made as a mother, it’s that I have a tendency to over-teach. I’m a good teacher and I know a lot, so I mostly missed the downside to this habit. While me providing in-depth, detailed instructions on everything makes it easy for my kids to learn, it also means that they view me as a walking instruction/information dispenser and so have no responsibility to figure anything out on their own. If I’m not available to provide the required instructions, might as well just wait until I am available to deal with the issue.

    Shockingly, the one thing they did figure out for themselves was how to use my teacherly impulses to manipulate me. They all know that I have a Pavlovian response to the sound of a question being asked and will automatically launch into a long-winded (but interesting) answer or story when asked one. Which comes in handy at bedtime, chore time or whenever they want attention from me. It’s entertainment and a diversion tactic all in one! But in the meantime, my 16 year old would claim that the kitchen was a mess because he wasn’t sure where anything went and the world will fall apart if he puts the cake pan in the wrong cabinet.

    I’m still susceptible to “ask mom a question” tactic, but I figure that at worst they’ll end up being good listeners and there aren’t nearly enough of those. However the one thing I wish I would have understood better 19 years ago is how to use a lighter touch in instructing my kids. If I had it to do over again, I would leave more room for my kids to reach their own conclusions, do dumb things and take time to learn some of life’s lessons for themselves.

    I think we underestimate how competent our kids actually are at this process learning how to be human. We forget that they think about what we say and they want to be good so long as it doesn’t mean giving up on having fun. They are capable of self-correction. Maybe not in the moment, but over time. They want to find solutions to their problems. And if you can learn to refrain from stepping in to correct and direct them at every turn, they will figure it out . . . eventually.

    Seriously. My teen even started wearing a jacket to the bus stop. Eventually.

  • fall apart

    Falling Together

    Everyone I know is at least a little worried about me. And I can understand why. I have long moments when I am completely certain that I have lost my mind. I am continually sick and am in pain on a daily basis. I can barely keep up with my minimum standards that I rely on to keep my children from showing up at school looking and smelling like they might have spent the night in a homeless shelter.

    At least the money situation’s looking up. My husband was laid off – again. So he’s using the severance package he got to pay the bills while he gets a new business he was asked to be CEO of off the ground. And without the costs of a daily commute, we’re even paying the utility’s down! Yay us!

    Anyhow, I suppose I can understand why people are a bit worried about me. But I have the very distinct feeling of having just fallen together. Which really looks an awful lot like falling apart and is at least as scary.

    Those of you who have been reading my writing for a while may have noticed an ongoing theme that I touch on from time to time which I believe the technical term for is “abject misery”. Or maybe you were fooled by the occasional off colored joke. I can be pretty good at hiding my true feelings sometimes. But you know, I may have given off a few telltale signs.

    Anyhow, the truth is that what is alarming about me and my life right now are the same things that are letting me know that I’m coming together rather than apart. I’m finally safe enough to let go of the last threads of my sanity so that the mess that my life is can finally be redeemed. I’ve never been (or felt) this safe before. I’m finally able let myself fall apart, confident that God has placed people around me that I needed to survive and come out the other side as something other than a crazy bag lady and drug addict.

    (Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

    (Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

    I’m sure that as time goes on, I’ll be able to share more about the process, which I learned a great deal from. But that’s like a book and I’m ready to tap out at about the 400 word mark here. However, I did discover what’s behind my super amazing ability to write with a child on my shoulders. It’s not nearly as amusing as that picture of Olivia sitting on my shoulders, unfortunately. It turns out that along with depression and a history of PTSD, I have a dissociative disorder that dates back to before I could talk.

    Which is yet another reason I’m making the people around me nervous. Unlike other mental health problems, dissociative disorders don’t have any genetic basis. They are always the result of trauma and are almost certainly much more widespread than is commonly thought. Many people who have them are completely unaware of the fact that they are having problems.

    The most severe type of dissociative disorder is dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder. You know – 1 woman, 69 personalities. The very definition of shockingly crazy. Fortunately, I don’t have that. My various personalities all know they aren’t real and are serving in a strictly advisory capacity.

    Looking back, I can see that I have a history of overcoming the problem and making it work somehow. Like being able to write with a kid on my shoulders. For me, the biggest problem is the way it affects my memory and attention when I am not in control of it. Like when I have to ask my kids to repeat themselves 4 or 5 times because Mommy can’t focus on what they are saying at all. Or when I send out a post without a title again.

    A dissociative disorder is always alarming because of it’s roots in severe trauma and the fact that it’s associated with a lot of negative life outcomes, some of which I have experienced. But mostly, when I learned that I have a dissociative disorder, I felt like I was being given permission to own my cool super power.

    Well, that’s what I feel like in between the times when I think I’ve lost my grip on reality and have to go to my husband for reassurances that our children aren’t in any danger of being removed from our care because of me. Which is progress. I spent most of July and August asking him how he can be so sure that none of the kids is laying in bed at night wishing they were dead. Which might alarm some people, I suppose. But it’s just part of the process. It’s an ugly process, but at least now I understand what’s happening.

    At any rate, as I mentioned above, I was showing signs of this problem at an age when I could barely talk. Between the ages of 1 and 3, I frequently displayed signs of having withdrawn entirely from my surroundings and sometimes from my main caregiver for extended periods. This is usually considered the worst case scenario for a child who has experienced trauma – that he or she would withdraw so completely that they would come to find their own internal reality much more interesting and engaging than the world around them. (And yes, I know for a fact that some of you just thought, “well, it is!” And you’re right. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to get there. Severe childhood trauma is the wrong way.)

    As it turns out, I seem to have withdrawn deep enough to find God in my inner most being. And he led me back out again. Then when I was ready, he lead me back into the abyss so I could take back all those bits and pieces of my heart that got left behind along the way. But I’ve shared about as much as I have time and energy for today.

    So yes, I know that I am alarming people. I know that I’ve alarmed some of you readers as I occasionally hear from a few of you expressing concern. And I’m so glad for that. It lets me know that I am seen. That I’m no longer buried so deep that I feel invisible. And it reminds me that there are plenty of people who can respond to someone in pain with compassion. Which can be easy to lose sight of in this world. But I’m still here. And so are you.

    And now let’s listen to a pretty song about how it’s all going to be alright. Because it is. And now I know it. Praise God.

    If you’re falling together, these are for you, btw:

    For When You Can’t Function

    Getting By On Manna

    How the Dark Night of the Soul Is Like a Juice Cleanse

    Can God Do What He Says He Will Do?

    You’re So Sensitive!

    The Gift of Delayed Grief

  • Power and Love On the Cross

    One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” ~ Luke 39-43

    Over the years I have heard this interaction between Jesus and the thief on the cross explained mostly as a demonstration of power. Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Jesus has the power to defeat death. Jesus has the power to secure salvation from hell fires to those who recognize him. Even as he was dying on the cross, I have been told, Jesus was demonstrating his great power!

    And I suppose there’s some truth to all of that, so far as it goes. But I can’t help thinking that most of those who point to this interaction as a display of power are missing what actually happened here. Jesus’ didn’t tell the thief who defended him that he was going to be with him in paradise that day in order to demonstrate his power. At least not in the way we often think of it.

    What Jesus really did was give a man facing an inevitable, excruciating death the only comfort anyone could give to someone in that situation. “It won’t last too long,” he says, “and it will be OK when it’s done.” As the man suffered his trial of crucifixion, how many times did he repeat Jesus’ assurances to himself? How much easier was that man’s death because of Jesus’ words to him? And I can’t help but wonder if as the thief on his other side suffered, if he did not turn his hope towards Jesus’ words as well.

    When all you can do is endure pain and suffering, this is really the only comfort anyone can offer: it’s not going to last forever and everything will be wonderful when it’s done. The power Jesus displayed was the willingness and ability to show love and offer comfort, even in the midst of his own suffering. May we all strive to be so powerful.

  • fatalism_large1

    Free Will and Its Discontents

    fatalism_large1OK, so let’s talk about free will. I’ve had several people ask me to explain my understanding of it lately, so apparently it’s a subject of interest. As the conversation usually breaks out, you have free will on one side and determinism on the other. Free will says we make our own choices. Determinism says that everything is decided for us. Free will is a mental illusion and nothing more.

    Now, to be frank, I’ve never had much interest in the subject of free will. The reason being that it makes no real difference in how we live our lives. If the reality is that I have no actual free will, then either choice I make will be the inevitable which is more confusing than helpful when faced with a decision. How do you pick the “right” path when whatever I choose is inevitable. It’s a supremely unhelpful concept when you have to make some decision.

    As a practical matter, I must chart my course as if I had free will. Even if predestination is true, the illusion of free will is such a powerful internal sensation that for all practical purposes, it’s my reality. That being the case, what difference does it make is from some cosmic perspective everything is predestined?

    Now, my personal understanding is that we have incomplete free will. There are simply too many factors which can take away our ability to choose freely to say that we have unfettered free will. Like I can’t stick my elbow in my ear. Seriously, I’ve tried and I just can’t do it, not matter how much I freely choose to. Or take someone who is facing extreme poverty, war, crime, sickness, oppression, etc. People’s options can become so circumscribed by circumstances that free will loses any real meaning.

    However, within the limits we are working under, I think we have complete free will. More than people even realize, in fact. I believe strongly that we are always free to choose to do anything we want, so long as we are willing to live with the consequences. Not only do I believe that, but I  believe that this attitude is key to living a life of freedom, wisdom and power.

    The problem I have with free will enthusiasts is the often unstated assumption that having free will means we are all captain of our own ships and masters of our domain. If life is directed not by outside forces, but by the direction of our free choices, then clearly we are all responsible for those choices and the consequences of them. It is my opinion that this is why the idea of free will is so popular in American Christianity. We like to judge. We feel that it is our duty to judge. When we refuse to judge, we end up with reality TV shows featuring Flavorflav in hot tub filled with erotic dancers. If we have free will, then people are culpable for their own choices and our job of warning people away from such things is both simple and a moral imperative.

    Now, if you are fairly privileged; if you are not impoverished, under-educated, disabled, living under oppression, haven’t suffered significant trauma, don’t have a chronic illness, aren’t being held hostage by stoned pirates, etc., then free will is very appealing. It means that a fairly direct line can be drawn between what is good in your life and the good choices you made and the bad choices you turned away from. You can take responsibility for both your poor choices and the good choices you made which allowed you to overcome them. You are free, wise and powerful.

    However, what I know from experience is that for someone who is not so privileged, the teaching of free will becomes a trap of condemnation. If you made a bad choice, it was because you freely made a bad choice and therefor can be held accountable for the consequences. It doesn’t really matter if you were so stressed and overwhelmed by circumstances that you couldn’t think straight. It doesn’t matter if you were in so much pain that your judgment was compromised. It doesn’t matter if you were trying to escape a dangerous, untenable situation by any means possible. It doesn’t matter if you made your choices without the sort of maturity or information that would have allowed you to make a good choice. You made your choice. It was a bad choice. It’s all your fault, so don’t expect any coddling or sympathy from the good people who knew better than to choose so poorly.

    In fact, so deeply ingrained in a lot of Christians’ thinking is the idea of free will that the church is well known for resisting psychology, many social justice concerns and calls to display greater compassion towards society’s undesirables. Frequently such things are seen as excuse making by and for those who are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. The fact that the average church goer is better educated, happier and wealthier than the rest of the population means that a lot of white Christians, in particular, haven’t ever spent years on end being pushed past the limits of their ability to cope and so have no real idea what life is like for those they see as excuse making failures.

    If we admit that things like trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance remove at least some culpability for people’s poor choices, then the answer is to do something about the sources of trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance.  And really, it’s much easier to tell people to buck up and get their acts together. In practice, free will enthusiasm is frequently an excuse for eschewing any responsibility for lifting burdens, ending oppression and righting injustices.

    Of course, I am writing this as a child of western culture which is excessively married to the idea of free will. There are plenty of people who come from cultures that are excessively married to the idea of fate. I suspect that for a person who has been told that life is all up to God and fate, the idea of free will is exactly what it should be – a source of freedom, wisdom and power. But for someone like myself, the idea that fate has its say is a comfort to me. It’s a bit of reprieve from a harsh, judging and demanding world that blames me for all of my own suffering.

    In the end, only God really knows the extent to which life is and isn’t in our control. It is foolish arrogance to claim to have such knowledge ourselves. The best we can do is accept that even if it’s not our own experience, for most people, life is continually circumscribed by circumstances beyond their control. Not every obstacle can be overcome through force of will. Sometimes we are completely powerless and just going along the best way we can figure out how. Yet, when an option presents itself, we do have the right to choose, so far as we are able. And frankly, many people do not take full advantage of the free will they do have because they do not consider the full range of options available to us. As usual, the best answer seems to be both/and rather than either/or.

  • riddikulus

    Laughing At Inappropriate Things

    Now, this may come as a shock to some of my long time readers, but sometimes I make jokes that people thing are inappropriate. Like maybe I throw out an animal sex joke in the middle of a discussion of scripture. Which I don’t think anyone should be offended at; animal sex jokes and scripture go waaaaaay back. But you know, there’s just no pleasing some people.

    The thing is that this isn’t a problem that’s confined to my writing. I frequently laugh at things other people don’t think are funny. For example, I was once telling a couple of women the unbelievably hilarious story about my wedding. As I got to the part where my uncle got set on fire, I looked at one of the women and realized that she had started crying. Which both made me feel bad and made me laugh even harder. 

    Conversely, I’ve been known to laugh at things people say, thinking they were joking only to discover that they were perfectly serious. And, you may not realize this if you have better social skills than I do, but that’s uncomfortable. Yeah.  Continue reading