Things to Say to Someone Who Is Suffering

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It makes me sad/angry to see what you’re going through. You deserve better. It won’t always be like this. It’s OK to be broken sometimes. Not everyone could handle this with as much grace/bravery/whatever as you. Sometimes all you can do is get through the day and that’s enough. I know it’s overwhelming right now, but I believe … Continue reading Things to Say to Someone Who Is Suffering

I See Rich People. They Talk to Me. . .

The mouse on my computer broke. So now I’m back to writing on my kindle. Which is a marvelous bit of technology, but it has all sorts of quirks which can easily double the time it takes for me to do a post. And the spacebar for the keyboard is gimpy. But since I don’t even have money to replace the mouse, I’ll just have to limp along the best I can.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately that when I finally break free of all these obstacles, I’ll astound everyone. It’s like I’ve been trying to play the game wearing weights. If I could just get free and have a fully functioning computer, a good internet connection and a few hours a day without children, well, you just won’t believe what I can do.

As I was contemplating the rather unpleasant task of writing on my kindle (something I did exclusively for at least six months), it occurred to me that this is why we hear so much more from rich people than anyone else. If you’re rich, you can grab a few hours which you would otherwise have spent playing Sugar Crush and write something thoughtful on your nice computer without any real delays or impediments. Or maybe you’re more of a take my Macbook to Starbucks to write sort of writer.

But when you’re not rich, you have to type out the word six because the six key doesn’t work any more. And putting in a hyperlink requires the sort of planning skills normally reserved for major military operations. It’s like driving one of those cars that you have to roll down the window to open the door. Everything’s just much more work when you don’t have access to resources.

And having crappy, unreliable technology is a first world problem. Imagine what it took for those women in Nigeria to get the world’s attention when their girls were taken! It’s really no mystery as to why people who are powerful and influential are usually white American men. It’s not that every white American man has resources. It’s just that nearly everyone who has resources is a white American man. Having resources removes so many obstacles that what is impossible for other people is possible for them. And that is a big part of our problem.

Having resources doesn’t necessarily make the path to sucess a clear and easy one. You still have to work harder and be smarter and overcome more than everyone else in order to acheive great things. I mean, Paris Hilton’s family says she works very hard and I believe them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she puts in sixty hour work weeks. The thing is that my husband has put in sixty hour work weeks pretty routinely for nearly 20 years. And we can’t even afford to buy a mouse.

(The first person to ask why I don’t get a job wins the chance to find me a job with hours that work for our family, arrange the care of our kids by someone who is able to provide high caliber, on demand tutoring, counseling, and training in the ways of the world customized to each child’s needs, obtain transportation, clothing, housekeeping, cooking and taxi services to make that all happen. Good luck. Let me know when you get that all worked out.)

Aside from being bullshit, the connection between who has the existing resources and who gets seen and heard and rewarded is more sinister than we realize. You know the proverbial “they” we always hear about? The ones who tell us what other people think of us and what’s normal and what’s a problem and what’s expected of us and what failure looks like? Sometimes people will joke and say, “who is this ‘they’ you keep talking about?” Well, the answer to that is simple. Continue reading “I See Rich People. They Talk to Me. . .”

Churches Don’t Like You When You’re Suffering

Now, I’m not sure if I agree with what this person thinks that the church should be doing for people. I’m actually kind of a fan of doctors, safety nets and mental health services. But this really does capture the way the church deals with the suffering.

I haven’t been involved in a church for a few years for a number of reasons. But probably the biggest obstacle for me was that I dread what happens once I can’t hide just how screwed up my life is. Just the thought of having to deal with the church’s reaction to suffering is exhausting.

All of the “well why don’t you just go get help so you can get yourself fixed” questions that feel like accusations. The way that if I try to explain that I’m already doing what I can, I’ll just get bombarded with more suggestions and challenges and more questions about why I haven’t gotten myself fixed yet. Contrary to what people seem to think, I don’t really need an extra voice telling me that the reason my life is a mess because I’m screwing it up. If fixing my life were easy enough for you to find the solution off the top of your head, it would be fixed by now. Don’t you think?

Churches tend to do pretty OK with an immediate, specific need or crisis. If you need meals made after the baby comes or while someone is hospitalized. If you need help moving. If you’re a single mom and your house needs paint. Things like that many churches do well. But if the problem is long term, perhaps permanent, churches tend to be bad places to be. There are only so many times you can call about your piece of crap car on the side of the road again. There are only so many times you can explain the details of your budget and why you don’t qualify for certain government programs.

Usually what people really need is a $20,000 cash infusion. Or if that’s not possible, just a supportive shoulder to cry on now and again will do. But churches are really bad at that. If you are bold enough to make your need known, you may find a kind soul willing to listen. But the burden is on you to keep seeking out that kind shoulder when you need it. Which gets really wearing. And it just highlights the extent to which the relationship is not between equals. The person who is listening to you cry is not going to call you when they have a problem. They aren’t going to miss you if you don’t reach out to them. It’s like starvation rations for a relationship starved suffering person. It may be enough to keep you from dying outright, but it’s not nearly enough to help you recover. Continue reading “Churches Don’t Like You When You’re Suffering”

New Age Stuff Drives Me Nuts

Since the 80s at least, brave Christians have been noticing that there is some syncronicity between the mystical practices and teachings of Christianity and New Age theories. Being a fairly adventurous sort of mystically inclined Christian, I understand the allure. But in the end, I would strongly warn people against delving in too deep.

Many Christians warn against New Age teaching primarily because getting involved with New Age teachings is so frequently associated with leaving Christianity altogether or morphing it into some sort of strange hybrid. I very intentionally made a commitment to remaining an orthodox Christian (the historical version of orthodox, not any of these new fangled post-Constantine versions these kids these days are into) before delving into any New Age materials. Which I’m glad I did because some of it is just right there on the split edge of truth. It’s very easy to see why people who start down that path so often follow it. But I just kept coming back to the fact that at its core is a very shaming message. 

At the core of New Age teaching are a lot of ideas which are really shaming to people who are struggling. No matter how gently they try to put it, the basic message is that there is something at the root of your suffering which must be addressed or corrected before you can reach enlightenment and end your suffering. I think even Christians like Richard Rohr get caught in this idea of the root of our suffering being about what we need to fix. 

I know it’s meant to be empowering and hopeful, but when you’re six feet under and ready to die from pain, being told that your ego is at the root of all your suffering is not helpful. I mean, go tell that to the little girl who just got sold into slavery. Or the woman who did it. I call bullshit. 

Then there’s the “name it and claim it” theology of The Secret. I also have a hard time with any practice which requires you to spend money on crystals and oils and classes. That chakra balancing Thai Yoga massage would probably do wonders for me, but not at $80 a pop.

New Age teachings very consistently fail to serve the needs of those who are poor, oppressed and suffering. Which means that they are not and cannot be the road to humanity’s freedom and enlightenment.

Among New Agers, what may need fixing is your ego or false self or energy balance or whatever. And none of it may be bad in and of itself. I’ve been thinking I have a blocked throat chakra for a while myself. But for a desperate person to be told “here are the answers” only to discover that the answer is “it’s all your fault for doing it wrong” is cruel. It’s no different than what Job’s friends did to him, except there’s a marketing arm involved. 

I think Christianity is the only faith which offers a real answer to people who are suffering. It basically tells the suffering person that  Continue reading “New Age Stuff Drives Me Nuts”

When the Cost is Too High

I knew a Christian man who had an employee who did something dumb and illegal without his knowledge. She was caught and arrested at his place of business. The woman had small children at home, a drug addicted ex and her kids would end up in foster care if she went to jail. He had seen what can happen to kids in foster care up close and was sick at the thought of them going through that because of something foolish their mother did. So he prayed over it and decided to take the fall for her. He told the police that the crime was his doing. He plead guilty to an offense he did not commit for the sake of her and her children.

Guess what happened next? Well, I met the woman involved and she had stayed out of legal trouble and was grateful for what this man had done for her. So that was good. And he got involved in a ministry helping people coming out of prison put themselves on the straight an narrow. Which was good. But really, the decision to do something heroic for someone else destroyed this man’s life.

He lost his business, of course. His reputation was trash. Twice he was run out of towns where he tried to restart his business after people found out about his criminal record. He had a hard time even getting employees because all it took was a google search to turn up his past. People would leave reviews for his business online warning others to stay away from this sick criminal, complete with links to the state’s database of criminal records. A couple of individuals took it upon themselves to stalk and harass him to the point of having to get the police involved.

He told me privately that if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn’t have protected his employee. The price had been unbearably high and had negatively affected many other people he cared about. He took some comfort in helping others, but the truth was that all the good which had come out of his action benefited others at his expense. Perhaps there was a great reward for him in the afterlife, but he had to get through the rest of this life first.

This man’s story is pretty extreme, but it illustrates an uncomfortable fact about following Jesus and/or going above and beyond to do the right thing. You see, we all want to think that when we stick our necks out to do something good, the heavens should break open for us and blessings, rewards and praise should shower down upon us. But the truth is that it’s more likely that the world will crush you instead. Continue reading “When the Cost is Too High”

All About Pain: The Toughness Fallacy

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but it’s cold, rainy and windy here by me so I’ll use that as my excuse for being a Debbie Downer here. Cuz we’re going to talk about pain today. Then again, if you are the sort of person who only wants to read about unicorns making skittles droppings, you probably aren’t reading my blog. So just another day here in The Upside Down World.

It seems to me that when Christians talk about pain they talk about it either very existentially, “why does God allow suffering?”, or we talk about it very personally, “let me tell you my story about being in pain”. We start from the assumption that pain is a valid, important topic, but even our most sincere efforts to address pain from either an existential or personal perspective tend to fall short. When they do, we almost always turn to attempting to minimize or dismiss other people’s pain. And let’s not even talk about the nonsense that comes out of our mouths when we try to moralize about pain or the behavior of people in pain!

In order to do better, we need a better understanding of what pain is, how it works, why it matters. Which includes getting rid of several dangerous misconceptions about pain. Even people who are personally familiar with suffering tend to believe a lot of false, unhelpful things about pain. Nearly all of us internalize our culture’s prejudices, erroneous assumption and ignorance about suffering and when life goes south, these internalized ideas just make things worse.

Obviously, this is a subject which could be a book, but you’ll just have to make do with a few blog posts. And I’m not even going to put them in the right order, so nya!

Anyhow, I wanted to start today by addressing probably the most common misconception about pain. That is once you’ve been in serious pain, additional pain will not affect you as much. You will have gotten used to it. Continue reading “All About Pain: The Toughness Fallacy”

Sticky post

When Complaining Is Ministry

I’m one of those people who you should only bring your ideas, plans and dreams to if you’re looking for a solid critique of them. Otherwise I’ll probably give you a seemingly unenthusiastic word of support. Not that I won’t support you, just that I’ll be using all of my self-control biting my tongue because I know you need my support and not my advice. … Continue reading When Complaining Is Ministry

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People Are People

This week we’ve been looking at common reasons that God doesn’t answer our prayers. Today we’ll look at the problem of people. As in other people. When people refuse to cooperate, refuse to change or follow God’s leading, prayers tend to go unanswered. Sometimes it can be a matter of people who God would have serve as answers to your prayers not taking up the … Continue reading People Are People

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

Recently one of my friends on facebook did a 10 day juice cleanse. Now, I’m always a bit sceptical about this whole concept of a cleanse because I want to believe that I can eat all the chemical food I want, in moderation and be just fine. Plus I’m really, really bad at fasting so it  must be unnecessary and probably bad for you, right? … Continue reading How the Dark Night of the Soul Is Like a Juice Cleanse