Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spiritual Thoughts Are Provoked In . . .

Spiritual thoughts are provoked in interesting places, such as watching Dirty Sexy Money. Without going into the details of the show, I'll high-light the relevant part. There is a character who is angry, bitter, lost, resentful, frustrated and a Reverend. He has these paradoxical moments where he shares beautiful and insightful thoughts on faith and spirituality that are mixed with moments of violent disdain and meanness.

The quote below is said when his life is in a state of crisis: career, family, everything is upside down. He is in a church and he asks (his otherwise life long rival - the good guy in the show)to sit next to him in this pew. He says:

"This is what church is for. Dragging the ruined past, through the messy present, into the perfect future... And then ruining it, together."

Initially I loved the first part but the second part ("ruining it")seemed unnecessary; but then I listened to it again. The second time I thought about the importance of the word "together" being added at the end.

A moment, even shared between rivals, when a person opens their heart and utter vulnerability and recognizes that in our brief human existences all we have is this concept of past, present, future - and we are there, together in the mess yet with hope for a perfect future - is a powerful moment.

Together we face the reality that the ugly parts of our past will have to be brought to a forefront - hopefully as a part of forgiveness, love, and healing - and we will wade through that mess but we will not wade alone. And then, because we are human and imperfect, we will likely ruin the next beautiful and hopeful future together. But ruining isn't necessarily ruining it in the ugly way, but stumbling through like we always do.

If that is what church is for, to stumble through life together, to confront our scars, and rejoice in even the messiest of times, then that's a beautiful thing.

So there it was, inspiration in a show called Dirty Sexy Money. I guess God can happen anywhere - but that is not news.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Me or The Other?

Lately I have had a lot of anger about religion. For so long I battled with how to reconcile my life with how I used to experience religion, not faith really, but the church. The people. I have been part of amazing and loving communities, but I have also seen a serious deficit of grace in my experiences with what I consider, “the church.”

When I set out to write this my thoughts were in a different place, but putting my thoughts to pen (or keyboard) brings up a different side of the story. I cannot help but think of the amazing people who acted as shepherds in my life. The beauty I saw in their hearts and actions. I knew there were exceptions to the un-named and general mass of people to whom I have assigned my anger, but I had not thought of how many. I guess this is to the faceless, the generic crowds that I have encountered, some specifics, but more to the experience with groups of congregants.

Perhaps my anger is also at myself.

I was judgmental. Perhaps it was having to defend myself for simply not agreeing with others who often "defended" themselves by saying that I must be judgmental and narrow minded. It was a ridiculous circle. And all I wanted was for it to be simple, black & white. Good & bad. I wanted life to make sense. I knew it wouldn’t always and it was messy (hence the name of this blog), but I needed some semblance of order to function in this crazy world.

Now I could go on forever so I will narrow my focus here: Anger at how people change in the church. Anger at how it was me who did it first.

1. When I was 19 I had not gone to church in a while, but when I went back I asked a friend for a favor and I expressly remember what it was. I asked my friend Kat to tell me if I became someone else. I knew that I had the habit of disappearing into a church. I knew that I loved being connected so much that I would leave behind my friends (who did not seem to fit), even though I loved them. I think she tried to tell me, but I wasn’t listening and at the time she was changing too. She was busy falling in love. I was busy jumping head first into a culture in which I felt I really fit; I spoke the language, I got the concept and I had things in common with people on a deep and fundamental level.

But over the years I changed. My life took dramatic changes that were not always good and up until 2005 God and I always seemed to work it out. But then we didn't. Well I didn't. The girl who had judged person after person with the goal of loving them could no longer look herself in the mirror without shame and self loathing. And even when I got passed that, I no longer felt that I could "fit" within a church community because I no longer put "right" & "wrong" in clearly labeled boxes. Now logically I knew that wasn’t “required” but I could not connect. I did not know how to live within that world.

2. Other people. I know I am not the only person who has done this. I have watched countless people come to the church and leave behind perfectly healthy friendships because it is so hard to maintain what felt like multiple lives. And while there is so much beauty in faith and it is wonderful to become part of a community, is it any wonder that people dislike Christians? People who get cast aside because they don't fit? Yet as I am watching someone else do this - or believing that this is what is going on - I wonder if it is anger towards "other people" or anger towards what I have done to other people that is gnawing away at me.

A friend became a Christian not too long ago, well, got involved with someone who is Christian and now is actively involved in a church. I feel awkward and in many ways horrible for not being anything but happy for them. But my unhappiness is not a lack of support for their new found faith, but in their changes and their leaving behind people they have been great friends with for well over a decade.

The worst part of the whole thing though, for me, is that they are living up to my judgments.

As many people know I am very protective of people I love and often get angry on their behalf, even if they don't want me to. In my protective nature I become kind of mean and very judgmental and while it comes from a very good place it turns ugly pretty fast. And apparently when it connects to religion it is bad.

My friend's partner did not make bids at an actual relationship, even though I had. Which is generally fine. But then they both began to invite us to church, continually. No relationship building or maintenance, just church; which frustrated me. The friend started cancelling plans, over and over. My judgment and some deep seeded frustrations with Christian communities set in. I said that the sad reality was that as this person became more involved with church that they would leave behind their non-Christian friends. That even if they had been friends for years and years it wouldn't matter because I have seen it happen and I have done it myself.

And then it happened. I was right. Or think I am. And I don't want to be right. I have spouted on and on about my frustration that they were trying to convert me but that if they were my friend, they would know that I do not need conversion.

This sounds convoluted. I guess it is a question of who I am angry at, rather legitimately angry at. Myself? Them? Their church? This is of the type of church that I do not want to attend and have what are apparently very negative feelings about. Am I angry at God? For letting us be such a closed people? At “the church” which I cannot fundamentally agree with in so many ways? At my sentiments that I have become some sort of religious pluralist because I cannot reconcile so much?

I don’t know. I just know that I am sad. I have seen my own bitterness grow, I have felt the call to return to being connected to a church community (one specific Episcopalian one - the denomination with which my heart and beliefs seems to align with most), and my anger at “the other.” The other that I am not supposed to judge but so harshly do. Based on my own feelings of exclusion and disagreement?

What do I do? Do I pray? Do I go to church? Do I confront the friends with whom I am not that close but someone else I care about is? Do I just let go? Do I find a way to breathe out the anger? I do not like how angry I have become at “the church” or how distant I have become from my own faith. And yet I do not feel that I am committed enough to change anything. It feels futile and selfish. That was what I wanted to do for lent, to be a less selfish being. To connect to God. To open my heart. But I didn’t. I haven’t.

I feel stuck and in my own way.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Willow Tree

It looks like sun, I can see it through the hanging branches of the willow tree. Lighting up the softest, sweetest greens. Yet the water taps my windows and moves the newly formed pond around the apparently broken drain in the parking lot below.

It was pouring this morning when I left my doctor. I was pouring, the sky was pouring, we were in a synchronized dance - we struck a perfect balance. And then it let the sun out. Is it trying to tell me something?

I look into my spreadsheets and documents. I review work samples and folders. I think of writing letters to my students, but instead know I need to prep a presentation, and apply for a job. A job so that I can pay rent next month. And then rent makes me think of bills. Bills that are late.

The world is heavy and burdensome. But I am eerily calm. Empty? It is hard to say what I am. I am moving forward through the stacks of homework, but not making the needed calls to get the bills paid and stop the threat of collection. Is there a threat if nothing in red has arrived? Is that how I should be seeing my world?

And the bank. And the kitchen sink. All things in need of attention. But I write, and stare at willow trees and passing birds, and at my sleeping cat. I feel the knots in my stomach tingle, and the joints in my hand contract and pull into themselves. Straining my neck to crack I try to release its pain. And it makes that sharp sound, and I feel my tendons reject the pull on the shoulder, but the spot inside my neck is happy, if just for a minute or two. I stretch back and hear the popping through my hips, feel the aching in my shoulders. And I think, "Lately, I feel so old."

I turn to the pile of orange folders to my left, and think I should put them in a traveling cabinet of sorts, make my class more organized. I turn my head to the living room and debate an episode of television with lunch, knowing it is a very bad idea.

But my hands hurt and I don't want to type. And I don't want to think of the pain or to-dos, for just a little while. And I want to not feel, physically, and to feel motivated mentally. And I want my doctor to be wrong, because I want a cup of coffee. And her theory of no sugar and no coffee is unacceptable. Can I follow the rest and leave those out? That may be my only choice.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I am furious. All of a sudden it came clear. I started yelling at my ceiling. But really the sky. Really at God. Yelling this: Why did YOU make me broken?

Because that is what he did. He made me wrong. He made me broken. He made my brain incorrectly.

So I yelled. I mean I can be rational. I can think of all the things that are sad in the world. All the injustices. And those ran through as well. I thought of how selfish I am being, being so mad about myself and my broken brain - and then I was so upset at God for letting all those things happen.

And then I just gave up. I need passion steered towards productivity. My deadlines are looming! But I just can't get to them.

I just keep feeling so broken.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Way of Prayer

"Incluso si para lo que espero no es lo que va a ser, pase lo que pase, amaré a Dios que me creó" -una interpretación de las palabras de John de la Cruz

This is something to meditate on. I think it will be helpful to meditate on something in a different tongue, if for no reason beyond it will maintain my concentration better. And Lord knows I need that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"I am a Christian"

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting "I'm clean livin."
I'm whispering "I was lost,"
Now I'm found and forgiven.

When I say..."I am a Christian"
I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble
and need CHRIST to be my guide.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak
and need HIS strength to carry on.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed
and need God to clean my mess.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
but, God believes I am worth it.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain,
I have my share of heartaches
So I call upon His name.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not holier than thou,
I'm just a simple sinner
who received God's good grace, somehow.

 ~Maya Angelou~

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cast them Out

Yesterday the Reverend at church spoke of the demons inside us and how, though we often think the idea of demons being cast out is archaic and irrelevant, we are failing to see that demons are something other than a "demonic presence." Demons can be anything that consume us - things that take over from the inside out. Like this cavernous space within me that is filled with jealousy, shame and aloneness. She spoke of the need for "the other" which is not a new concept to me. It is one we spent much time focusing on last Fall when reading Volf's, Exclusion & Embrace. But for me, the concept of the demon inside me was made crystal clear as was my exclusion of the other. My closed arms that do not embrace the other and the clarity of what my demons look like for me is still slowly sinking in.

Today I sat in class and listened about pathology, listened about mental health quandaries, realities and diagnoses. I listened and I slipped away. The cloak I often place around me, not of protection but of vulnerability, engulfed me. As I imagine most do, I try to be completely invested in my classes, but today I was so distant. So lost within my head. Oddly after hearing the sermon yesterday and feeling that clarity I was feeling the steps towards freedom were before me - the demons could be exercised - but today there it was, this silent girl who looked like me but held none of my spirit sat there in my place in class.

Was I not once such a spirited girl? How do I reclaim her? How do I open my arms and embrace the other? How do I invest in this world that causes so much ache? Where my mother needs surgery? My sister is given not a child but a struggle? Where loss seems to out weigh, to win? I don't normally feel the weight of a dismal world. That isn't how I view things, but perhaps the pain of others is what is weakening my spirit, distracting my brain. Perhaps the overwhelming nature of knowing my goals feel so far away; graduation, my career, marriage, children. Perhaps the many pieces of the world and my choice to consume them all at once is holding me down.

Yesterday the Reverend also spoke of how sometimes we are summonsed unexpectedly to wake up, to act. She spoke of Martin Buber and while I cannot recall the precise quote she used it reminded me of this one: “The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.” That we need to live a life that is addressed - a life that is lived.

I wonder then, should I act and step out from this cloak, release these fears I hold so tightly, cast out the demons, answer the call that I have been summonsed to, would it change? If I were to TRUST in the truest nature of things - the ones that in the deepest corners of my mind and heart to be true - in the Thou, the very being that cradles the world, would I see? Thou who can wash out the scars, the stains, the hurt and open my eyes to the adventures ahead - the pains ahead, would it be real? The ugliness, the beauty, the believable and the unbelievable. The brokeness, the healed. The things scariest in the world to me. If I set down my guard, could the cloak truly go? Could I be set free? And could I live a life addressed?

That may sound big and convoluted, and as if I am talking about absolutes, which I'm not, but I am talking about trust. About freedom. About letting go and reclaiming my own spirit. About leaving the aloneness. Like what Buber wrote:

"The narrow ridge is the meeting place of the We. This is where man can meet man in community. Any only men who are capable of truly saying 'Thou' to one another can truly say 'We' with one another. If each guards the narrow ridge within himself and keeps it intact, this meeting can take place."

Can the demons be cast out - or will I refuse to let them go?

Martin Buber: "I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man's life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience."