Finding Peace In a Time of Dread

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a freight train barrelling down on you and all you can do is wait for it to hit before. You’re waiting for the power to be turned off. The doctor to give the terrible diagnosis. For the court date to come, the judgment to be rendered, the relationship to irreparably break. Where you’ve just stood and watched the cracks form as the world starts to fall out from under your feet. Even if you’ve experienced it all before, waiting for the freight train to hit can leave you struggling to breathe from one moment to the next and make each day a long, arduous endeavor to get from morning to night without breaking anything or anyone.

I think a lot of people are in that place – or realizing that they may be headed towards that place right now. Unemployment claims in the US are expected to jump from 250,000 to over 2.5 million this week. Elderly people and those with preexisting health conditions are living in fear. People with no health insurance are thinking through what will be their sign that they have no choice but to seek medical treatment if they get sick. Everywhere there are people making choices between income and protecting their health. Being isolated or risking the health of those they care about. Right now there are people watching the cracks forming under their feet and contemplating whether they even have what it takes to survive the world falling out from under them.

This time 5 years ago, that was me. I was living in a state of constant dread. My husband hadn’t gotten a paycheck in over 6 months and the last bit of consulting work he could drum up had been completed a couple of months back. We hadn’t paid the rent for March and there was little to no hope of being able to cover it in April either. Our one working car was in such dire need of repairs that we didn’t dare even use it for one of us to get a job working for low wages lest it finally breakdown and require a repair bill too large to be covered by a low wage job and thus make it impossible for my husband to get to job interviews much less to his first paycheck large enough to cover the repairs. We had no plan for the inevitable eviction we were facing – no place to go, few people to turn to when the day came that we were forced to load the family into our janky truck and leave. The only positive was that the utility companies were prohibited by the laws of the Northern Tundra from turning off the gas and electricity until Mid-May.

The kind of dread that comes from waiting helplessly for the freight train to hit is like a great suffocating blanket. When the freight train actually hits it creates problems that demand action. The adrenaline hits and you physically have to move. There are plans to execute, solutions to find, calls to make. When the train hits and there’s carnage all over the tracks, you call in help, you move to stop the bleeding, you put aside thoughts for tomorrow while dealing with what’s right in front of you. But when the train’s barreling down on you and the ground under your feet starts to rumble and there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait, there’s just that paralyzing dread.

Back in 2015 when I was walking through long days of dread, I was reminded one day of the sparrow whose fall Jesus says God takes note of. And it hit me that in my mind, the entirety of that bird’s existence was defined by the moment it fell and yet that wasn’t so at all. Prior to the moment it fell, there had been a great many more moments of not falling. Of flying, socializing, singing, eating, resting and just living its bird life. Out of all the moments that the bird existed, the moment of fall was actually the smallest one. I don’t know what it was about this idea that grabbed me that day, but it came to me that if that freight train was going to hit, it made no more sense for me to suffer in advance over it than it would have for the bird to allow the fact of its inevitable fall to steal all enjoyment from the other moments of it existence.

I felt God telling me, “you think constantly about what has happened or what will happen and hardly even notice that right this moment, you are fine. You can breath, you’re not far removed from a meal, you can get something to drink when you need it, you have shelter from the weather and covering for your body. No one is harming your body in this moment and there’s something beautiful closeby for you to see. Right in this very moment, you’re OK.”

After that, when the dread would start to overtake me, I’d stop and repeat to myself, “right now, I have everything I need. I am safe, I am fed and watered, I am sheltered and I have something beautiful to look at. In this moment right now, I am fine.” It sounds trite, but I’d actually think of the last meal I had eaten, take a sip of the cup of tea, coffee or water I had sitting nearby. I would let myself physically feel the creature comforts I was surrounded by. I’d take a moment to look at and appreciate something beautiful and the dread would pass. In its place came almost a sense of awe at my good fortune. There was still a freight train approaching, but until it hit, I was living in a level of luxury and security that many of the humans who have ever existed rarely had. It made no sense not to savor every moment of it for as long as I could.

Over the next couple of months I would regularly discipline myself to engage in this little mental practice whenever my sense of dread would crop up. Simple and trite though it sounds, it transformed the entire way I experience life. After a while, I started to feel unreasonably spoiled. Yeah, all the furniture might wind up on the front lawn come May, but have you felt how soft this couch is? And how many people in history ever got to enjoy both coffee and tea with just the right amount of sweetener and cream on the same day?!? Have you seen the view through the living room window or looked closely at this picture on the wall? And smell the lentil curry cooking on the stove! I live on the great Northern Tundra of the United States of America and there’s a freight train barrelling down on me and yet somehow I have coconut milk and rich spices from the other side of the world! It’s all quite amazing if you really think about it. I mean – lots of people have had the earth open up under their feet, but how many in human history have birthed 5 children who were all in good health and spirits and had never really been hungry? 

The hard reality is that life doesn’t owe us anything and when we enter into human form here on planet earth, there are no promises. Anything can happen. We might get hit by a freight train. In due time, each of us inevitably falls just like that bird. But for most of us the moments of disaster are wildly outnumbered by all the moments in which we are fine. Isn’t it enough to deal with the moments of disaster and the arduous work of recovering from them without also handing all of our moments when we’re actually fine over as well?

If you are one of the many, many people who are suddenly living under the shadow of dread, I would strongly encourage you to start disciplining yourself to stop and be in the moment you are actually in rather than fixating on the train that’s barreling down the track towards you. If the train hits, it’s going to suck – there’s no two ways about it. But there’s no point in suffering in advance. Let the moment you are in – the one in which you are fed and clothed and sitting at a computer or on your phone reading these words nourish you so that in the moment that train does hit, you won’t have already worn yourself out with worry and sacrificed all your moments of fine leading up to disaster to it.

And you never know what’s going to happen anyway. I’ve certainly had freight trains hit me and leave a mess behind but that freight train barreling down on me five years ago? It never did hit. My husband got a good job with the best company he’s ever worked for right in the nick of time. The repair guy we took the car to when the first paycheck came did the most critical repair on the cheap and then arranged to replace our ready to blow tires for less than half price. The bills were eventually paid down and there was even a trip to a resort in Mexico on the company dime the following February. I really am spoiled. And even if you have a freight train barreling down on you, you probably are too. You just have to stop and let yourself feel it for as long as you can.

America’s Dark Night of the Soul

Everything is really dark right now. The forces of evil appear are fighting to maintain the upper hand and are clearly determined to drag us as far down the ugly path of cruelty and hatred as they can with willing support from people who ought to know better but are under the thrall of hate and so don’t care. People have revealed themselves and it is bizarre how rare genuinely good people seem to be. And yet, I do believe there’s a well of untapped goodness lurking under the surface just waiting to be released. There has to be; humans are made in God’s image and we’ve not had nearly as many opportunities to pour out good as evil.

I often think of something John of the cross said in The Dark Night of the Soul. He says that when God invades our innermost being and begins to purify us, it pushes all of the impurities in our hearts to the surface – things we didn’t even know were there or thought we had overcome. We see this darkness rising and think we are worse than we’ve ever been. Hopeless, ugly, evil even. And yet that is the point at which God is working most intensely in us under the surface. As his purifying fire expands out from our innermost being it quickly burns off the darkness on the surface to reveal his presence and our goodness.

I work under the theory that what we go through as individual humans must happen with humanity as a whole. I think (hope) we are at that point where the darkness is right on the surface and we believe ourselves to be worse than ever. Or perhaps there’s still more ugliness that needs to come to the surface to be dealt with. Either way, if that’s true, then we’re not far off from the point where the goodness under the surface burns through the darkness to reveal something much purer and more beautiful than we imagined was possible. Chin up, peeps.

PS Just a reminder, that I pretty much predicted we were heading in this direction back in 2014. Let’s just hope I am also right about the end result!

Hate In a Time of Trump

In the last few years I’ve had numerous people confess to me that they were really struggling with hate towards Trump, his supporters, his enablers and the gang of conmen and criminals who have taken over our government. Given the behavior of these people, their open animosity, disdain and thinly veiled hatred for the rest of us and the harm being done to our government, our allies and some of the world’s most vulnerable people as the result of this administration, hatred is pretty justifiable. But a lot of us for reasons of personal morality, character or mental health have a commitment to rejecting hate. And yet, as many people are discovering, not hating in the face of extreme provocation and rank evil is easier said than done.

At this point, some of you are wondering why this is even a concern. Hate is a valid and one can argue even a morally appropriate response to some kinds of behaviors and harm done. And telling people not to hate is a fairly common way to minimize actual wrongdoing, threats and abuse. Besides, who are we to tell other people what they are and aren’t allowed to feel? And I agree with all of that. However . . . allowing yourself to hate comes at a cost.

First off, maintaining hate requires a lot of energy. Energy that you won’t always have control of, frankly. It’s bad enough that you have to deal with the bullshit that triggers the hate, but when you hate, you can be having a perfectly pleasant day turned sour by seeing or hearing the object of your hate or even just remembering them. Which is WAY too much power to give someone who’s worthy of hate over your life.

Further, when we hate, the part of our brain that primes us for action is activated. Which means we tend to be more impulsive than normal when we hate. Being impulsive leaves us vulnerable to making mistakes (here’s a quick guide for evaluating an outrageous story before you share it on social media, btw?). Maybe it’s me, but I generally try to avoid doing dumb stuff on impulse, so that’s a problem. And hatred tends to go hand in hand with anger which clouds our judgment and tends to prevent us from recognizing when we’re wrong and making appropriate corrections. Which means we end up being both wrong and an asshole at the same time more often and, thanks, I don’t need help with that.

Probably most insidiously, because how you use your brain becomes how your brain works, allowing yourself to hate means that hate becomes a baseline normal state for you which you will compulsively return to over and over again until it’s so ingrained in your wiring that it can take many years and therapy to undo. As a former white supremacist told researchers investigating hate’s addictive qualities:

“I’ve said before that it took me less than two years to learn to hate and it took me nine
years to unlearn it. You don’t just stop hating just like that. There is still a lot of pollution in there.”

Hate’s a dangerous thing. Even if you are completely justified in your hate, your brain can easily become habituated to hating in ways that are hard to undo. Which, again, is WAY too much power for someone worthy of hating to have over you.

Now, there are lots of esoteric and spiritual arguments to be made against hate, but when you really get down to brass tack for me refusing to hate is a matter of being kind to myself and refusing to allow terrible people more power than I have to in my life. I don’t like the way hate feels in my body, I don’t need help making more mistakes and misjudgments in my life, I have worked hard to master my mind and I’m not risking that to indulge hate and I refuse to allow myself to turn into a hateful person over terrible people. So that’s my personal take on why I don’t allow myself to just hate anyone. Including Trump.

Of course, like I said earlier, easier said than done. If want to share how you avoid falling into hate in the comments, maybe you can help out someone who is struggling with it. For me, it’s been a two-part process. First, I refuse to live in denial so I will make time to have a good look at my hate. I have to let myself feel it so I know what it feels like, how it works, what happens when I add self-righteous or empathy into it, I make myself face the truth about when my thoughts, attitudes, and words are driven by hate posing as reason, righteousness or some other excuse. Then once I had a good feel for it, I just started rejecting it mentally every time I experienced it. The feeling didn’t automatically go away when I rejected it, but I set my will over and over against allowing myself to hate. As soon as I recognize it’s presence in me, I pray: “God, please take this hate from me, I do not want it in my life.” Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. So I don’t particularly have a magic bullet to take hate away (it is at root, a natural, God-given emotion, after all). Just a practice of disciplining my heart and my mind to refuse to hate. Terrible people don’t get to infect me and my mind like that.

Rules of Discernment, Rule 2: Boogeymen

As most of us are well aware, the church can be a treacherous place. Unfortunately, many Christians are ill-equipped to navigate it without falling prey to false teachers, bad shepherds, false teachings, lies, manipulation, etc. When Jesus said “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”, he apparently wasn’t kidding. Of course, immediately after telling us that he was sending us out like walking dinner plates at the Fyre Festival, he also said, “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” To that end, I’m sharing my “Rules of Discernment” to help you and your loved ones navigate the treacherous ground we stand on.

Last week, I shared my 1st Rule of Discernment which is, basically, don’t trust anyone who claims authority for themselves rather than directing you back to the Spirit of God in you. Which right there eliminates a big chunk of the very most noxious false teachers, charlatans and cons. However, there are plenty of dangerous snakes who are a bit too savvy to come right out and openly claim the authority of God for themselves. So we need to move on to other obvious as well as telltale signs that you’re dealing with a false teacher or bad shepherd without having to go through the whole process of experiencing the effects of false teachers and bad shepherds yourself. At the top of the list of fairly obvious signs I’d put my 2nd Rule:

If a teacher/pastor/leader views the world as an “us vs them” endeavor with Christians on one side and other people/groups/ideology on the other – RUN!

Quite literally, if you hear a teacher tell you that the gays, the liberals, the trumpists, the atheists, the feminists, witches, warlocks, pagans, communists, nudists, the guy who takes his shoes and socks off on the plane or any other person or group of people is trying to “defeat/eliminate/attack” Christianity somehow, you can very comfortably turn tale and run. There’s a near zero chance that that person has anything to teach you that you can’t find in a bajillion other places.

Properly practiced, one of Christianity’s foundational, primary teaching is love of our enemies. It’s what we, at our best, have been known for from the days of the early church right down to our current time. A teacher who instead teaches fear of enemies can barely even be understood to be a Christian regardless of their theology or other claimed beliefs.

Loving our enemies and responding to evil with good doesn’t come naturally, of course. It’s something we must discipline ourselves to do. It’s something we rely on leaders to model and, well, lead us in doing. With practice, there does come a time when loving our enemies starts to come naturally but along the way we need lots of messages telling us over and over, “I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

One of the jobs of a real Christian teacher – one of the things we NEED from our teachers – is to proclaim that message over and over and over again. To shut down all of the excuses and justifications we use to get out of loving our enemies. And one of the things the world needs from us as Christians is to see us engaged in this discipline, to be on the receiving end of kindness in response to hostility and care in response to harm. If we as Christians aren’t engaging in that most Kingdom of God like practice of enemy love, how will the Kingdom of God ever be made manifest among and around us?!? It’s literally part of how we bear witness to the power of Christ in us and without it; without it our witness has no power and no credibility.

A teacher who encourages their flock to view others as a threat to be resisted, condemned and rejected is failing at being a follower of Jesus. They have absolutely no business teaching about or even representing the Christian faith to anyone. It would be like a Muslim Imam encouraging their followers to worship trees. It’s completely incompatible with the Christian faith. And it’s an abuse of the flock.

The bible says the words “do not fear” (or some variation thereof) over and over and over and over and over again. Like hundreds of times. Yet these “teachers” stand up and exhort their flocks with all kinds of reasons to be afraid. When we are afraid, our rational, thinking brain stops communicating effectively with the reactive, emotional brain. In this state, we’re very vulnerable to manipulation. Triggering our fear provides a durable screen for the con or charlatan to hide behind. Even if you catch on that they’re not on the up and up, you’ll be tempted to take an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” stance so you can continue battling “the good” fight together. It’s quite a neat little trick.

Even worse, once fear brain takes over, it becomes ridiculously difficult to see those you’ve labeled “enemy” clearly. All over the country there are Christians who sincerely believe that their neighbors who are atheists, lgbtq, liberal, Muslim, poor, immigrants or whatever are a very real threat to them, their way of life and the Christian faith. Of course, this isn’t reality. We’re all just people. We all bear the image and likeness of God in our innermost being. We belong together. But if all I can really see when I look at my neighbor is “enemy who is serving the forces of evil with the goal of harming me and all I hold dear”, that’s not what you’re going to see. Unity with mankind (Hebrew – Adam) based on our common humanity is, I believe, our birthright. It was stolen from us by the enemy. And it is kept from us by the immature impulse to view the world as “us vs them”.

Not to mention that the whole idea that a group of people, an ideology or a person could constitute an actual threat to my Christian faith is absurd. My faith is and internal affair can’t be taken from me. And even if I were unable to speak a word of it, God is still plenty capable of revealing himself to people in their innermost being regardless. And how can anything be a threat when Jesus said, flat out, that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. Like, do you actually believe anything Jesus said or not? How serious is a threat that has zero chance of prevailing anyhow? Even if enemies appear to be crushing the church (a reality in places like Pakistan and parts of the Middle East), we’re following a savior who died and rose again and has promised the same to us. Do we believe that or no?

Literally nothing good comes from viewing our neighbors as enemies. It’s alienating. It’s unfaithful. It strengthens the enemy’s kingdom on Earth. It deprives us of the fruits of disciplining ourselves to love our enemies. On the other hand, loving our enemies is revolutionary. It starts to undo the harm humans have done to each other, creates unity among people and forces us to grow and develop as human beings. Do yourself, the body of Christ and the world a favor and refuse to follow any teacher who warns you about boogeymen. Nothing good comes from following a bad shepherd, peeps.

Rules of Discernment, Rule 1: Authority

One of my persistent frustrations with my fellow Christians is a general lack of discernment and good judgment. As the bible makes amply clear, there are false teachers and bad shepherds out there yet everywhere I turn, I meet Christians who have fallen for con artists and cult leaders and false teachings by the boatload. When you see the wreckage of broken families, broken people and corruption wrought in people’s lives, the persistence and ferocity with which scripture condemns false teacher and bad shepherds makes perfect sense.

What I’ve realized in talking with the victims of the charlatans and cons is that no one ever taught them even the most basic rules of discernment. Which makes sense since charlatans and cons are hardly going to start teaching their victims how to sniff them out. But I’m not a charlatan or a con, although you are plenty welcome to go buy my books, so I’m happy to share what I know, starting with rule numero uno:

All authority belongs to God. No one who claims authority for themselves is to be trusted.

It doesn’t matter if the claim to authority comes by way of their education, revelation, natural ability or giftings, their call, the affirmation of others, institutional position or because they were born on a Thursday in July in a magic lightning storm. It doesn’t matter what the reason given is, any teacher who claims authority for themselves (or claims that God has conferred such authority to them) is a false teacher to be rejected out of hand.

A true religious teacher claims no authority for themselves and will direct you to verify anything they say with the Spirit in you rather than just accepting what they say at face value. They know that God is real and that the same God which is teaching them is available to you. If their words are true, the Spirit in you will affirm it. If their words are false or not meant for you, the Spirit will keep you from falling into error. An insistence on directing you back to the Spirit in you for your answers is a hallmark of a true teacher.

Further, a real teacher will show a willingness to accept with a minimum of quarrel or offense if you come back and say that the Spirit in you did not affirm their words. Their impulse will be to go to God for instruction and understanding, not to make you defend yourself. A real religious teacher doesn’t need you to agree with or affirm them. They know that it’s God’s job to grow and teach his children and He will do it with or without the teacher’s help. And they have enough experience listening to and sitting with God to easily receive correction or allow their understanding to be expanded, so your disagreement is an opportunity rather than a threat.

Now, perhaps you are reading this and you’re thinking of the teachers you’ve known and realizing that what I’m describing is assuredly not the sort of behavior you are accustomed seeing among Christian (or other religious) teachers. Which explains right there why the church is in such horrific condition. A disproportionate percentage of Christian teachers can’t even make it past the first rule of discernment. They don’t even pass the sniff test. And yes, that includes the ones with the largest followings and most money. In fact, it especially includes them.

The truth of the matter is that most of the teachers God has trained for the benefit of the body are nowhere near a pulpit. Some are. But not many. Most of the best teachers are just walking among us unrecognized and unheralded by the institutions that claim the label of the church for themselves. They simply speak truth into whatever situation they are in, watering the ground around them with words of life, weeding out falsehoods by the root and scattering seeds of healing and restoration in their wake.

It would be lovely if these were the people leading the church, of course. Maybe you can check with God and see if there’s a plan for that. 😉

Dark Ooze and Webs of Light

Image result for web of lightYears ago while in prayer, I saw the earth in my mind’s eye and there was this thick darkness oozing over the planet like crude oil. It had spread in a solid mass across much of the northern hemisphere and blotches of it popped up and began oozing all around the world. And then I saw spots of light begin to pop up in areas not yet covered under the dark ooze. Threads of light began connecting these spots of light, creating a web of light. It reminded me of those maps of flight paths with connecting nodes. As more and more spots of light and connecting threads formed, they reached around and across the planet. Eventually, the web branched to the places which the dark ooze had covered. In the places where the dark ooze was, the webs of light were not visible at first. But as I watched, the webs of light began to burn through the dark ooze, dissolving it completely. At the end, the planet was covered in a dense web of light.

This is one of those visions that probably doesn’t require too much explanation. But I wanted to share my basic take on it. In my mind’s eye, the dark ooze started around Great Britain and spread out from there. I believe that this represents the powerful old money and corporate interests which rule the world and have spread a sociopathic, amoral ideology across the planet. The dark ooze carries with it the forces of slavery, oppression, the worship of money, a mentality of entitlement for the rich and a disregard for the well-being of the poor. This is a force which has spread using the technology of the day. Ships, planes, machinery, trains. It has been powered by dirty fuels and degrades the planet and human beings alike in order to obtain resources it needs to feed itself. These technologies brought benefits, of course. But the technologies were expensive and those with money controlled them. Unfortunately those with money have often been quite evil.

The light, I believe, represents the internet, strangely enough. Like all new technology, it originated under the control of the darkness. And it has certainly brought darkness right into people’s world in many ways. However, it’s also allowed the good people to speak out and be heard, without having to have great wealth to do it. These would be the spots of light I saw. The lights connect and a whole web of goodness, freedom and truth has been created beyond the reach and control of the forces of the darkness. In fact those who are ensconced in the old, dark ways that have wrecked so much harm on the planet tend to shun the internet. They still make their plans and agreements by flying around the world, meeting face to face. Meanwhile, I have a good friend who is a minister in the slums around Bangalore who I talk to multiple times a week and support as I am able. Neither of us can afford a plane ticket, but with this new technology, we can exchange ideas, strategize and support each other.

In the end, it is this web of goodness which will defeat the darkness. In fact, I think we’re seeing it happen as we speak. We’re probably at the point where the web of light has started spreading under the dark ooze, but before it burns it away. God willing, that part will be happening shortly.

At any rate, I always hesitate to share these kinds of woo-woo signs and visions. Such things being the purvue of shysters and charlatans. And crazy people. But it is what it is. Let’s just hope that this one is true. Or better yet, let’s work hard to make it true.

It’s a Disaster but Everything’s Perfect. I Guess

 

So, two weeks ago today I fell on an icy driveway and broke my ankle. It was classic; my foot started to slip on the ice, hit dry gravel and stopped. I continued my fall, my foot did not. Just like in every other broken ankle story you’ve ever been told, I heard the crunch of breaking bones, screamed and went into shock. There was no safe way to move me and both my oldest son and my husband have their own issues with balance/stability, so an icy pile-up nightmare was a real danger. So there was nothing to do but call an ambulance.

I live outside of town so it took a solid 15-20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. During which time, all I could do is sit there. And try not to think about yet another set of medical bills we can’t afford. (I’ve lost track of how many times the local hospital has sued us.) Definitely try not to think about the implications of being unable to drive and largely immobile for any extended period of time. In a household of 7. Or about how much pain I was going to be in once the shock wore off. I’ve tapped out all my pain tolerance over the last few years.

And as I’m sitting there trying to figure out how to feel and think about all this, I had the strongest sense of God saying to me, “it’s ok. This is exactly where you’re supposed to be. Everything’s perfect and exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” Like the Spirit was pleased that I was sitting in the snow on a hill overlooking the field next to my house on a cold December morning with a broken ankle. I reminded myself that I was in shock. Obviously a broken ankle is pretty incompatible with perfect. But at the same time, I couldn’t seem to muster up any panic, anger or despair over the situation. I felt pretty at peace actually.

The ambulance finally arrived and with some amount of difficulty they got my fat ass into the back. I looked up at the clock above the doors right after they closed them and kind of stared at it, bemused. It was 11:11. I’ve had a weird thing with repeating and sequential numbers going on around me for a while now. It happens so often, in such unexpected ways that it’s become a joke in our family. When I saw that, I kind of laughed and decided that I might as well accept that the universe is in charge and everything’s exactly how it’s supposed to be somehow.

I had surgery on my ankle last Friday to put in a plate and several screws. I don’t know if you know this – but when they screw things into your bones, it hurts. Of course it hurt before surgery too, so it’s been a couple of weeks of pain and pain killers. Neither of which are good for writing. Or moving. Or being nice to stupid people on social media.

Thankfully I am being well cared for, children are still putting on clean, weather appropriate clothing every morning and going to sleep on clean sheets every night. Everyone is being fed. Even if it is an endless stream of dad’s pasta dishes. (I would be perfectly happy to never eat pasta again in my life. It’s just me.) So I have nothing more to complain about. I just wish I had a fast-forward button to skip over the next couple of months.

But I keep coming back to this assurance that everything is exactly how it needs to be, regardless of what it looks like. And I keep thinking that it’s probably a pretty apt analogy for what’s going on in our country right now. I wasn’t nearly as shocked by Trump’s election as everyone else was. I’ve spent too much time around too many different kinds of people not to recognize the power of appealing to people’s most base instincts, peddling ignorance and putting on a good show. I believe that we are all made in God’s own image, but I also know that a lot of people have layered a seriously flawed value system, a stunning lack of self-awareness and a markedly shallow relationship with reality over the top of their true identity. So I was irate at Trump’s win (I still am), but not too shocked.

But the whole time, I’ve also had this sense of peace underneath. Like everything we can see in the material world is about as big a disaster as it can be without tipping over into actual mass violence. But the Spirit keeps saying, “oh, this is perfect. Everything’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.” And just like with my ankle, I don’t think there’s any rescue or miracle coming to fix everything; just a long, hard trudge of doing what needs to be done to deal with the situation. But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that we have what it takes to walk from here in the middle of disaster to the other side of healing and rehabilitation. We’d rather not have to. We’d rather just carry on without the disruption, the pain and the difficulty. But that’s not an option. So we’ll do what we need to do.

I have often said that keeping faith in my fellow man has been the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. I genuinely like people, but I also hold most of us in low regard. Some days I’m down right misanthropic. People are idiots. And stupid to boot. Yet, I do keep faith. Not because of the greatness of humans, but because I know that the same God who created this body of mine with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct itself created human nature as well. And I trust that God also created human beings with a predictable, reliable capacity to heal and reconstruct ourselves at the spiritual and cultural levels as well. Sure, this capacity hasn’t always gotten the job done, but we do learn. 100 years ago, without surgery, my ankle wouldn’t have healed itself to the point of restoration. We do need to pitch in for best results. It’s a co-operative venture between us and God.

In the end, I suspect that Trump’s election will prove to be the societal equivalent of re-breaking an improperly set bone. Right now all we can see is the break with the sharp jagged edge of a bone pushing up against the skin, threatening to break it. But, if those of us who know a broken bone when we see one put one foot in front of the other, fight through the challenges, do what is right and what needs to be done, I think we’ll be OK. Although I still wish that fast-forward button were real. 😉

The Christmas Bird

Instead of doing my Christmas shopping a couple of years ago, I recorded this. It’s perfect for sharing with the kids, if they are the sort who will listen to a recorded story.  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. 🙂

For those of you receiving this via email, here’s the link to the recording on soundcloud.

Let’s Get Something Straight

Praying for someone and being critical of them are not mutually exclusive things. Neither are loving someone and calling out their wrong doing. And, I know this is hard to believe, but speaking out against evil is not the same thing as sowing fear.

Right wing Christians understand all these things when they’re targeting the weak, the vulnerable and the oppressed, but seem to lose site of them entirely when it comes to the mighty and powerful. If one more person tells me that we need to pray for the president love our enemies and not sow fear in response to me criticizing the cheeto dusted Mussolini redux they just elected, I might have to start being rude about it.

(Also, for the record, being rude is not a mortal sin. If you can’t tolerate some rudeness without having a meltdown and withdrawing, you are damn near worthless to the Kingdom of God, anyways. Who’s he supposed to send you to minister to – comatose people? The demand for that isn’t as high as you’d think, I’m afraid.)

Santa, God and the Problem of Certain Belief

I once knew a family that didn’t do Santa Claus with their kids at Christmas. The reason they didn’t do Santa Claus was because they felt it might lead their children to doubt the existence of God. You see, Santa is basically an old man living far away at the top of the world. He gives you what you want because he loves you. But nobody ever gets to see him. And many children think of God as an old man living far away in heaven who answers our prayers (gives you what you want) and you never get to see him either. So their concern was that when the kids discover that Santa isn’t real (sorry if that’s a shock to you), that would sow the seeds of doubt about whether they were being similarly bamboozled when it came to believing in God. No seriously, that’s what the mom told me. I’m not making it up at all.

I actually think that the experience of finding out that Santa isn’t real, when handled decently well, is a good thing for kids. It’s a safe way to teach them that sometimes you believe things that aren’t actually true. And it’s OK. Life doesn’t end. The presents don’t stop coming. Yeah, you lose a little bit of the magic. But it’s not the end of the world. The real fun of Christmas doesn’t come from in believing in magic; it comes from expanding what brings you joy beyond just receiving. Christmas is much bigger and richer than presents that show up by magic if you’ve been good. It’s just like Christianity that way.

Unfortunately, this whole “never allow doubt, never consider that you might be wrong, never question the reality you’ve be taught” mentality is exactly how a good number of people teach their kids to approach the faith. I know that the people who do this and think this way believe they are doing the right thing. But the hubris of it is astonishing.

In order for me to teach my child never to doubt, question or challenge what they have been taught about God, I have to be confident that what I have taught them about God is 100% accurate and complete. I have to be so certain that my faith experience and theology represents the pinnacle of the Christian faith that it would be foolish and dangerous us for them to ever seek anything better than what I’ve got. And if you believe that about your faith, um, well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but, hmmmm . . . how to put this delicately? Maybe if I pet your unicorn while I figure out how to say this without sounding like a jerk? I know they must exist somewhere in your world, because your world clearly doesn’t work the way my world does.

In my world, God is bigger than I can imagine. In my world, we have barely begun to grasp his goodness. In my world, we’re still struggling to live according to his Kingdom ways. In my world, the way we’ve been doing it hasn’t been universally embraced and resulted in the meeting of heaven on earth, so clearly it’s not good enough. In my world, what I know and what I have experienced is the jumping off point, not the end destination.

If you think that what you know about God and how to live according to his Kingdom ways is good enough, well, flowers better be springing up around you everywhere you walk. Because that’s a mighty big claim to be making. Big claims require big proof. If the faith you are passing on is so delicate that learning that Santa’s not real might threaten it, that’s big proof alright. Just not the sort of proof that points to you being right.

It occurred to me this morning that our problem is that we are looking for a once and for all solution to everything. We want to get our theology right once and for all. We want to get our parenting right once and for all. We want to get our governments right once and for all. We want to get our sexuality right once and for all. We want to get our economies right once and for all. We want to get our laws right once and for all.

But this runs utterly contrary to how God created the world to work. There are no once and for all solutions on planet earth. You can’t water a patch of earth once and for all. You can’t grow food once and for all. Everything changes. What was once a jungle is now a desert. What was once a dominant male lion is now a fallen carcus being eating by scavengers. There is no once and for all. There’s only a process.

Then I thought, “but God does promise a once-and-for-all, doesn’t he? He promises salvation and redemption once-and-for-all. Right?”

And then I had one of those ah-ha moments. We want a once-and-for-all, but God gave us a process. There’s a Way of doing things. It’s why Christianity was called The Way very early in its development. It’s a way of doing life. A process for challenging the powers and principalities which rule this world. The process IS the once-and-for-all solution we’ve been looking for.

The process works when we are continually looking for a better way. When we are driven to do better and expect more from ourselves. We can always love better. We can always find better solutions. We can always learn from errors. We can always go deeper into God. We can always become more of who He created us to be. We can always experience our salvation more fully. We can always grow in deeper unity with each other. To embrace this process of continually learning better ways to follow Jesus’ teachings is to embrace God’s once-and-for-all solution.

The moment you insist that your way is THE way, that what you know about Jesus is what there is to know, that your theology is not only good enough, but unable to be challenged, you are cutting yourself off from God’s solution. You are like a child who refuses to mature. It’s not a good look, frankly.

Learning to be wrong is a skill. Most of us weren’t taught it. In fact, the more religious your upbringing, the less skilled you are likely to be at it. But refusing to be wrong doesn’t make you right. When I confront my children about their unwillingness to admit when they are wrong, I sometimes remind them of someone I knew growing up. He would never, ever admit he was wrong. He believed that it was his job to never be wrong and that to admit error meant he was failing at his job.

I ask my kids, “do you think he was ever wrong?” And of course they say yes. Everyone’s wrong sometimes. Then I ask them, “do you think that him never admitting when he was wrong fooled us? Do you think that we actually thought he was never wrong?” And of course they say no. We knew he was wrong even when he wouldn’t admit it. “Do you think you’re going to convince us that you’re never wrong just because you are unwilling to admit it? Do you think it will work better for you than it did for him? Or do you suppose we’ll all just think you’re kind of an idiot for never being able to admit when you’re wrong?,” I ask.

What I don’t tell them is that this person actually did manage to convince some people that he was as perfect as he claimed to be. It was shocking and hurtful to them when they finally had to face the reality that he was just as, if not more, prone to error than the rest of us. Even sadder was that he wasted many years dedicated to never being wrong that he could have been using to learn better ways of living and being.

So, I suppose that all of this is to say, there’s nothing wrong with your kids finding out that Santa isn’t real. And refusing to ever allow for doubt, questioning or error isn’t going to make you right. It’s just going to turn you into the kind of idiot who teaches their kids that God is like Santa Claus in the sky. Which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. But it’s not nearly good enough for me.

*Originally posted May 2014.