• Let’s Talk About the Scary Atheists

    Atheists

    (Some) American Christians are well know for their fear of various boogeymen. Muslims, feminists, the anti-Christ, abortion rights supporters, black thugs, homosexuals, evolutionists, liberals, atheists, President Obama. (Some) American Christians have been faithfully loud and predictable in their incessant warnings, condemnations and obsessive fear of all these terrible, frightful boogeymen.

    It is rather odd, given that Jesus said his followers would be known by their good deeds and Paul said that perfect love casts out fear. But we’re a work in progress. And apparently you can make a lot of money and gain a lot of followers by fighting boogeymen. So it goes on.

    At any rate, today I’d like to put in a good word for atheist boogeymen. Yes, yes, I know; a fool says in his heart there is no God. Dawkins and other “new-atheist” types are obnoxious tools. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it.

    But here’s the thing; I have been engaging in discussions regarding religion on the internet for over 15 years now. And although they are still relatively rare (2-7% of Americans), atheists have played a disproportionate role in growing my faith through those conversations.

    I have always worked from the assumption that if my faith is true, then it holds the answers to even the most difficult challenges. So when I have encountered atheists asking honest questions and pointing to real challenges, rather than vilifying them for not believing in God, I would dig in to figure out what my faith had to answer in response.

    We Christians argue with each other over all sorts of things, but atheists, because they have no loyalty to the “cause” see and point out the sorts of contradictions, fallacies and illogical conclusions that we Christians generally avoid. And, as is so often the case, those difficult questions which we’d rather gloss over or ignore are exactly where some of the best gems are found.

    Of course, the answers I have found to the questions and challenges posed by atheists have not often satisfied the atheists. Although my willingness to take my faith seriously enough to allow it to be challenged has frequently impressed the atheists I have dealt with enough that it changed their understanding of what being religious means. So that’s not nothing. But the answers I have found while in discussion with certain atheists have made my faith deeper, more solid and more real than it otherwise would be.

    It is for this reason that I have long viewed atheists as God’s quality control department. Without them, it would be all too easy for us to stick to shallow, unsatisfying answers and remain spiritually immature. I am grateful for my faith and would that all people would know God in a way that is life-giving and healing. But seeing as we’re a work in progress, I am quite grateful to those who have forgone the benefits of a living faith in order to serve in quality control positions. ;)

  • Scales-in-court-room-470x260

    Me and That Judging Thing

    I’ve written a couple of times about what I call “the hardest, best spiritual discipline I’ve ever tried” – that being not judging. Now, this is not something that came naturally to me, to say the least. I’ve always been pretty tolerant and laid-back, but let’s face it; some people are idiots. Some situations are so ridiculous that you pretty much have to be in a permanently drug-addled state not to look at them and say, “really? WTF is wrong with you people?” There’s a reason that, despite Jesus’ rather point-blank instructions, even the most devoted Christians equivocate when it comes to not judging others.

    But, as I explained before, I decided a couple of years ago to treat Jesus’ instruction as a spiritual discipline – something I do out of faithfulness, whether I want to or not, even when I have every reason not to and when it seems pointless. Far from the claims of those who think that not judging is easy, not judging is extraordinarily hard. Most of us can’t even manage it while sitting in traffic.

    So it’s been a real struggle to let go of my urge to judge and just be open to learning and loving instead. Often it’s something that I have to turn to God in prayer in order to accomplish. But slowly and surely, God has used my willingness to withhold judgment to teach me about his judgment.

    You see, our judgment is easy. It comes automatically and is so obvious that any fool can learn it. Some things are right and some things are wrong. My 5 year old knows it. Our judgment and our ability to point out right and wrong hardly need to be taught, they come so easily to us. As attached as we are to our human judgments, they really are no more useful or impressive than being able to stick out your tongue and spit.

    By withholding judgment, I open the door to allowing God to show me how his judgment works. And his judgment is a much more complicated affair than mine, it turns out. As God says to Samuel, “people look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God knows what a heart has been through better than the owner of that heart does. God also knows the role that a person has to play in the grand scheme of things. We do not. God knows both the harm done and the unexpected opportunities created by even the worst actions.

    We are told not to judge, it turns out, because we simply are not capable of it. No matter how easy, obvious and even necessary our judgment seems to us. It turns out that the sheer volume of information and complexity that God knows and understands simply boggles the mind. These days, when the urge to judge hits me, I find myself almost afraid. I still have my own opinions and feelings about things, but I no longer have any desire to turn them into declarations about another person that ought to carry any weight beyond the confines of my own skull.

    And when God does judge, it is a mighty and a frightful thing. To stand before the one who made the universe and be faced with the reality of both the good and evil of one’s life and being carries with it such weight that I am astounded now that I ever even tried to do it.  The task of judging is so far beyond us and our limited abilities that if we understood just how inadequate we are to the task, we would feel like a person pulled off the street being asked to perform a life saving operation on an infant. Some things are too big even for me.

    Except when it comes to this one person . . .

    There is one person who I have held as exempt from my little “don’t judge” spiritual discipline. Who I have felt free to judge as good or bad and whose very life story I have been continually passing judgment on with abandon. And further, I have discovered that my ongoing judgment of this person and her life is very deeply entwined with my ongoing struggle to trust God and live fully in the fruits of the Spirit, as is my right and inheritance as a child of God.

    It turns out that as much as I have learned by refraining from judging others, it really matters very little because all the while, I have continued to judge myself. I continue to look at my own life and declare it broken and in need of fixing. I am forever taking each event, each action, each need or pain or achievement and putting them on the little scales of my own mind to weigh in order to understand myself and my own life as either good or bad. Damaged beyond repair or a work in process. Irretrievably broken or inspirationally triumphant. And it’s been killing me.

    Like a lot of us, I have this tendency to absorb the negative voices around me and other people’s negative judgments of my life. So in order to combat those voices, I developed a habit of creating a counter-narrative that highlights what is good about me and my life. The negative voices say that I am lazy, so I keep track of what I accomplish in order to prove to myself that it’s not true. Someone told me that I am indulgently wasting my life raising my kids rather than having a career, so I have a litany of reasons why simply being mom is enough. Someone told me that my life is a tragic, pitiful waste and, well, I’m still working out my defense against that one. But back and forth it goes. Sometimes the positive view wins for a moment, but it’s a continual battle. It never stops.

    Recently I was talking to a friend and I had lapsed into my habitual defense of myself, against myself and my friend stopped me and said, “you don’t have to prove yourself.” And like truth sometimes does, it got through my defenses and hit me square in the heart. Because something very deep in me does feel like I have to prove myself. Like I do have to mount a defense against the accusations and judgments that come my way and get nurtured in my own head.

    I mean, I know in my head that I am justified and don’t have to justify myself. I know that I don’t need to defend myself. But I want to. I want to prove that I am good enough. I want to prove that I am worthy. I want to prove that those who stand in judgment of me are wrong. Because I think I can. I think that if I don’t, I might get a technical pass because Jesus died for my sins, but really, we all know that it’s just a technicality. A pretty gloss covering what I’m afraid looks like an ugly reality. I don’t just want a pretty gloss; I want a beautiful reality. And I’m going to figure out a way to prove to myself, if not to anyone else, that me and my life are good enough. I am trying to do for myself what Jesus has already done for me. And unsurprisingly, my way has brought nothing but death to my spirit.

    So now God is telling me to lay down my defenses. To stop trying to prove that I and my life are good and worthy enough – even to myself. To accept that even though it’s my own life and my own being, I really don’t have the ability or the right to make such a judgment. I do not know what God knows. I cannot see the full breath or meaning of my life anymore than I can see the full breath and meaning of someone else’s life.

    What I am realizing, as I try to let go of my judgment of myself, is that when I am engaging in my back-and-forth accusation and defense of myself, is that I am denying what God has already said about me and my life. By continually judging myself, I am giving power to the lies and accusations the enemy has cast at me, no matter how often I raise a defense and convince myself that I am OK.

    That’s why the battle never ends. I am viewing the value and worth of my life as an open question that I am responsible for answering. And it’s just not so. It wasn’t an open question on the day I was born and it’s not an open question today. As has so often been the case with me, I could see this in other people long before it even dawned on me to see it in myself. So now, I hope and pray and trust, that God will help me apply what I have learned from not judging others to myself.

  • The Story I Tell Myself

    One day a man was out and about, minding his own business, tending to his own affairs. when life showed up in a foul mood, with obviously ill intentions. The man ducked into the nearest doorway, hoping to lay low until life passed by and took its wrath out on some other unfortunate soul. To his horror, instead of passing by, life pulled open the door and started bearing down on the man.

    Quickly, the man retreated further into the building he had tried to take refuge in, hoping that perhaps life had other business there and would not train its sights on him. But it quickly became clear that life had indeed trained its sights on this one man and was not about to let him off easily. The man attempted to find an escape, to return to what he had been doing before life, in its unfathomable wisdom or malice, had turned on him. But life is not so easily out-maneuvered.

    Finally, life had the man trapped down a hallway, many floors up, with all exits cut off. As life bore down on the man, he quickly dove into the door to his left, slamming the door in life’s face. He locked the door and quickly began moving whatever furniture he could in front of the door, hoping to at least slow life down while he regrouped and came up with his escape plan.

    To his surprise, it worked. He could hear life banging on the door, yelling, but it seemed unable to breach the barrier he had erected against it. Quickly, the man began calling through the contacts in his phone for help. To his dismay, none of those closest to him answered. He left frantic messages, assuming they would call right back with plans, supplies, swat teams – whatever it took to get him out safely. When no one returned his calls quickly, he began calling his other contacts to explain that life had him trapped. Most said with a weary tone, “yeah – that’s life alright.”

    Meanwhile, he could hear life breathing heavily right outside the door. Sometimes it would growl and the man would despair of ever escaping. Finally, the man stopped and looked around the room he was in. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that the room was comfortable, well appointed and had everything someone in a siege situation might need while waiting for rescue. While the man would much rather have be allowed to carry on with his day instead of getting trapped by life, if he was going to be trapped, this place was as good as one could hope for.

    At first he kept waiting for rescue. Some days passed and his near-and-dear finally returned his messages, but far from being willing to mount a rescue effort, they too responded to his plight with “yeah – that’s life”. Only they felt the need to then castigate the man for all of his supposed failures which had caused him to become captive to life. And, as if things weren’t bad enough, they proceeded to explain why the comfortable, well appointed room the man had found himself in was no better than a hovel and how he was now doomed to misery and pity. Soon enough, he began blocking their calls. Continue reading

  • I Think I Can Do This

    I have got to be one of the worst bloggers out there. I post a lot, I post a little, I post irregularly, repeat posts, post so often you can’t keep up, post so infrequently you wonder if they’ve finely put me in a corner with a straight jacket. But, much like toe fungus, I do keep coming back. And I think I’m finally ready to come back from my latest bought of silence. Maybe. Ask me again in a week – I might change my mind again.

    So, call your friends, notify the media, sit by your inbox in anxious anticipation, The Upside Down World is back in business. In the meantime, if you haven’t visited the site in a while, there are somewhere in the range of 700 old blog posts just waiting for you to explore. Odds are good that you’ve missed a few. Maybe you’d like to review Theological Concepts, Spiritual Parenting, Women and Christianity, Christians and Evolution, Hell, The Book of Job or perhaps just read a bit more about me. I’ve heard some good stuff about all of them. And I just updated the Spiritual Parenting and Christians and Evolution pages for the first time in eva.

    Also, quite a lot of you have downloaded or bought copies of The Upside Down World ~ A Book of Wisdom in Progress and The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life, but not many reviews have been left. If you have read either of these books and would be willing to leave a review, I’d be mighty appreciative. If you haven’t read them, well, what are you waiting for?

    So, that’s it. I think I’m actually back for real and I’ll be blabbing at y’all again soon!

    -Rebecca

  • Patience, According to Da Vinci

    da-vinci-profile“Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.”

    Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
    Artist, architect and engineer

  • The Mystery of Faith

    “Go that way! Towards the sun.”

    I always wondered about faith.  Evangelicals say that you have to choose to have it.  Calvinists say that you are predestined to either have it or not.  It’s a free gift that you cannot earn.  But you have to nurture and hang onto it.  Catholics and Orthodox Christians practice it with rituals.  So many contradictory ideas.

    What I have learned is that faith is the little voice that pops up when you are discouraged or even despairing and points you back to God.  It tells you something true. sometimes what is true is not what you want to hear.  But it’s true and you can choose to embrace it and continue walking by faith or you can reject it and try to find your own way forward.   When times are hard, you have to really listen for it.  You have to really hold onto what you hear.  Because soon enough something will come and wash that little piece of comfort away.

    Why do I say that these words and their amazing power to sustain us are faith?  Scriptures describe Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  In the beginning there was the word and the word was God and the word was with God.  Listen and you will hear words pointing you back to God.

    A couple of months ago, I read in a devotional: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?”  And regularly when I have been ready to consign myself to a life of permanent misery, those words: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?” would drift into my mind.  And I had a choice.  I could believe these words pointing me back towards God or would I continue embracing the darkness.  The darkness seems so reasonable and safe.  It’s real.  I can think of 100 reasons to just let go of what I have put my faith in until now and give myself up to misery and call it my fate.  But every time I am quiet, every time I cannot hold onto being miserable anymore, the words of faith keep coming back.

    For years I heard them, read them, sang them, prayed them, studied them – these words that are truth pointing me back to truth.  And now, they come back to me.  They are songs running through my head when I wake up in the morning.  They are words I have planted in my children repeated in their own voices for their own reasons.  They are the words that come to the surface every time I pause my recital of the litany of reasons I just cannot and will not continue.  And consistently they point me back to God when hitchhiking to Vegas starts to seem like my only hope for survival.

    This is how faith works: what you allow in, will come back to you when you need it. It’s not magic; it’s a free gift we all have thanks to these amazing brains we have been given.  Our brains will take the smallest good thing we give it and when we most need it, spit it back out at us.  I cannot tell you how often when I have been quiet and just listened, something so tiny, so seemingly insignificant will come to mind and that’s just the little boost I need for the moment.

    This is God teaching me to see and be nourished by even the tiniest things and the smallest drops of water so that I can survive in a desert place.  This is Jesus authoring the words which point me in the direction I need to go on the path that leads to God.  Faith is a tiny mustard seed sprouting and pointing towards the sun, however dim and distant it may be.  Go that way.  Towards the son.  There’s love there.  S o you hope that God is as good as he says he is and hold onto the light for as long as you can, letting it strengthen you to endure the darkness from the next wave threatening to rip this little bit of comfort away.  And somehow, it’s always enough.

    *First published 12/2011

  • The New Year’s Resolution That Will Actually Make Your Life Better

    calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsI hate New Year’s resolutions.  Hate them.  The worst New Year’s days for me were always the ones when my husband would pull out a piece of paper and write “Trotter Family Resolutions” across the top.  So we could “pull them out at the end of the year and see how we did”.  Great, another completely unrealistic standard to feel bad about not meeting.  Just what I need!

    The other day I read an article which advised that the key to keeping this year’s resolutions was to set up specific targets.  Like “I will exercise 3 times a week and lose 25 lbs by April 1.”  Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!  Seriously.  That’s what it said.  Like the two are related.

    Let me tell you how this really works. I’m not thin.  But I do have standards: my belly must not poke out past my boobs.  Having and nursing 5 kids has given me some wiggle room to work with, but a couple of years ago, the belly was threatening to overtake the girls upstairs so I decided it was time to get serious about hitting the gym.  I worked out 4-5 times a week for an hour.  Heavy, sweating, gasping for air aerobic sessions.  Nothing.  2 months in I think I had lost 0″ and 3 lbs.  That’s a lot of sweating for no results.  So I did the obvious; I bought a nice push-up bra.  Problem solved!  Now that’s a New Year’s resolution I can get behind: buy undergarments that will make me look thinner. Continue reading

  • The Christmas Bird

    Instead of doing my Christmas shopping, I made this for y’all. Grab a cuppa whatever suits you best and listen to the dulcet sound of my voice sharing a heartwarming Christmas story about a farmer, a bird and a little boy. It will be the best 11 minutes of your day. :)

  • On Treading Water

    Once upon a time, a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  Although it was night and she could see nothing, she couldn’t tolerate just waiting.  So she took off swimming in the direction she thought land was.  She swam though the night until she was so exhausted that she could barely tread water.  As the sun rose, she thought she could see land in the distance, but now that her energy was spent, her survival depended on staying afloat until someone happened to spot her and rescue her.

     * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

     Once upon a time a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  But it was night and she could see nothing to guide her way.  So she decided to just tread water until morning came up.  As the sun came up, she was tired, but not spent.  She spotted land in the distance and started swimming in that direction.  Her survival now depended on whether she had the stamina to swim close enough to shore to be spotted by a rescuer or pull herself onshore.

    This is one of the essays found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life. You should go order a copy before you forget!

     

  • Does Forgiving Demand Restoring Relationship?

    Over the years I’ve forgiven some rather unforgivable things. I hope you have as well. . . Wait – that didn’t come out right. Hopefully you’re one of those rare birds who have never had anything particularly unforgivable happen to you. But if you have had someone do something unforgivable, I hope that you have been able to forgive them.*

    One of the problems that people commonly struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is the issue of the restoration of relationships. Can you really say you’ve forgiven someone if you are unwilling to be in relationship with them? Does forgiveness demand that your relationship be restored? Or can you forgive but refuse to engage in relationship with the person who wronged you?

    Part of why I am such a big fan of forgiveness is that it’s a very empowering act. I cannot often control the way other people behave towards me, but I can control how I respond to it. Forgiving allows me to take back my power from someone who has injected pain, suffering and turmoil into my life against my will. I get to declare in the heavenlies when a person is bound or loosed from their sins. And forgiveness also props opens the door to healing from harm done.

    On the other hand, insisting that forgiveness must be accompanied by restoration of a relationship is just the opposite; it’s dis-empowering. It doesn’t allow for choice. It doesn’t allow for self-love or self-protection. It makes my own pain and struggle and needs completely irrelevant. And all too often, this insistence that forgiveness must go hand in hand with restoration of relationship is a tool of control which gets used against people who are already in a weak position.

    Being in relationship with other people always opens us up to being hurt. And if we refuse relationship with anyone who is dysfunctional or hurtful, we will be lonely indeed. Most acts of forgiveness should not be accompanied by a reconsideration of the relationship as a whole. Generally, we ought to forgive and move on freely. But there are those times when what is being forgiven does call the entire relationship into question. So how can we maintain our default openness for relationship while also being realistic about which relationships are simply too dangerous, unhealthy or dysfunctional to continue? Continue reading