False narratives

There are people who believe we create our own reality, or that we somehow attract into our lives the events — even the worst of trauma — that happen to us. Some of that sounds new-agey and off-putting to many Christians, yet a similar ideology has crept into many churches as well. Recently I posted the following to a discussion of some of the impact Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking message has to this day:

Many people have no idea how much Peale’s positive thinking ideas have infiltrated so much of Christianity, and have impacted people who have never even heard of the man. I have a friend who would not even tell me what she had been diagnosed with and — when I insisted on knowing — she whispered the name of her condition as if she was forced to pronounce some horrible obscenity and hoped no one would actually hear it. Her reason? She didn’t want to “come into agreement” or “speak out” anything negative.

…then there are those who refuse to “hear a bad report”. I’m all for not listening to gossip, but I think it’s silly to avoid negative news about someone, and I think it’s dangerous and immoral to silence those who are victimized by someone else. There is nothing righteous about burying one’s head in the sand and refusing to hear anything that might make us uncomfortable, challenge our worldview, or even cause us distress.

I wonder if these people, who claim to be Christians, actually read their Bibles. Thing is, the Bible is full of “bad reports”. The prophetic books of the Old Testament seem to be focused on getting people to wake up and face some hard truths about themselves and about their society. The Psalms are not “happy clappy songs”, but are all too often laments. (I didn’t understand this as a kid: why did God not punish King David for all his complaints, and why on earth were they included in the Bible?)

That’s not to say that those of us who claim to be Christians should be all doom and gloom, and focused on negativity. But I would think that those of us who claim to have an eternal hope, those of us who claim to be in relationship with the God of the Universe, would be able to be capable of facing reality without playing all sorts of mind games, pretending away what we don’t like, and claiming that perception matters more than truth.

Today I was reminded of a flip side of this: negative thinking versus positive thinking. Actually those are not the only two alternatives, contrary to what some people have insisted. “Negative thinking” — focusing on the negative to the exclusion of the positive — is just as much in error as its opposite extreme.

Perception never matters more than truth, even when it is our own perception.

For most of my adult life, I believed a false narrative about God and about myself. That doesn’t mean that everything I believed about God was a lie, or that I was delusional about myself. While most of what I thought and believed was based on truth, the way I lived my life, the way I interacted with people, the way I prayed, the way I interpreted situations — all that was woven together in such a way that was not completely true. I am still unraveling the general narrative I created about life, and holding it up to what I now know and believe to be true.

A big part of therapy for me was what I eventually called “replacing lies with truth”. A wonderful couple that ministered deeply to me preferred to call it “replacing ungodly beliefs with godly beliefs”. Much healing has come to me as a result of pondering the question: Will I allow myself to be defined by my past experiences, traumas, and sins, and by what people tell me about myself, or by the God Who created me, loves me, and knows me best?

For years, the people I was most comfortable with were those who agreed the most with the narrative I’d woven together to make sense of my life. I was filled with self-blame and shame, so it felt familiar to hang out with people who blamed me and shamed me. There were a lot of things about me that I viewed in a negative way, and I thought people were a bit daft if they didn’t agree with me. Now I wasn’t all negative — in fact, I would get quite annoyed at people who didn’t affirm what I thought to be my good points. While I don’t believe in what some call the “Law of Attraction”, I do believe that we tend to choose to associate with people who feel familiar, who agree with us for the most part, and who don’t try to shake up our entire worldview. So, whether it’s intentional or not, we often tend to befriend and even marry people who will reinforce our beliefs about ourselves, about God, and about the way the world works.

I’m reminded of a woman I know who married a man who — even before marriage — described her in rather negative terms, and let her know by word and deed that she wasn’t very important to him. And you married him? several people asked her. Even after the things he said and did to you, the way he insisted that his friends, family, and career would always come before you? She would answer, “I couldn’t blame him. He was right. I’m not that important, and I should be thankful that someone like him would even want to marry me, with my past and all my faults.” She and her husband may have been in agreement, but it was with a lie.

For years, I believed that certain things I had done left me somewhat tainted. Yes, God forgave me, but… Because of that, I surrounded myself with people and with churches and with teachers who agreed with me, who reinforced my narrative about a God who forgives but somehow isn’t quite able to wash every last stain of my sins away. I even allowed someone close to me to repeatedly remind me that I was not “pure”.

And then…well, I realized the lie of that. What upset me most — once the lie was exposed — is not that it was a false accusation against me, but that it was a false accusation against my Savior, as if His blood shed on the cross was not fully capable of cleansing sins as grievous as mind. (I’ve written posts about that, and about the whole “purity culture” thing on this blog, as I’ve worked through much of the false teaching I once eagerly embraced because it made understandable the pervasive sense of shame I carried throughout my teens and most of my adult life.)

Today I’ve been pondering some of that. I feel as if I’m still basking in the wonderful aftermath of receiving the Sacrament of Confession. I am more at peace, and less defensive, about the fact that I am prone to wander and sin — and yet I am more grieved by that propensity than ever. It seems contradictory, but it isn’t. I realize how desperately I rely on my beautiful Savior…and more and more I realize that this doesn’t make me a uniquely flawed and terrible person, but just a human.

Besides, even if I once was all that terribly flawed and horrendously awfully sinful as I once believed, not even the faintest stain of that now remains. Yes, I still sin. Yes, I still have flaws and failings. But the new narrative — the truthful narrative — of my life is that God did not create some cosmic mistake when He formed me together in my mother’s womb. In fact, some of the very things that I thought were flaws and defects, or that others think are flaws and defects, might actually be the way He intended to make me all along. Thank God that He is still working on me and that, as He promised, He will bring that good work to completion.

That’s the narrative worth embracing.

Confession

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

– James 5:16

 

“There is no form of therapy, no technique, no method, that even comes close to being as healing as the simple and courageous act of becoming truly and honestly open with another human being, and then being fully accepted by them in return.”

– Matt Atkinson

During my years of therapy, I eventually spilled everything, all my deepest darkest secrets, all my worst thoughts and deeds. There was much healing in that, far more healing than I had dared hope for. But something was missing…and, as a Baptist Preacher’s kid, what I longed for seemed crazy at times, the result of watching too many old movies, of having an overwrought imagination, of longing for the impossible…

My spiritual journey has been taking me into the Anglican Church. So on two different afternoons I found myself at a coffee shop with the priest, pouring out my story to him. The telling took two installments. It was a confession of sorts — he was even wearing his collar.

But something was missing, and by then I knew what it was.

Our particular flavor of Anglicanism believes in and practices the Sacrament of Confession. So I went last Saturday for my first ever real confession. I’d prepared prayerfully, and I felt an overwhelming grief over the enormity of my sins, even though I’d confessed most of them to God and fully believed myself to be forgiven.

It was not exactly how I’d always imagined from childhood on…I didn’t slip into some beautiful cathedral and find myself in one of those mysteriously beautiful wooden confessional booths, separated from a priest who seemed to always be there, hidden in the shadows, just waiting to hear my confession.

It was more simple…two chairs back to back. I faced the altar in our little church, where I could see the Crucifix.

That broke my heart. My beautiful Savior…

I confessed.

The priest said the perfect words. He stood in the place of Christ for me, because that is what the Church and its ministers are supposed to do and be — we are supposed to be the Body of Christ, His representatives here on earth.

He gave me penance…not punishment, not a “work” to “earn” forgiveness, but ways in which I can better care for my soul.

The whole thing was far more emotional than I expected. And it wasn’t as hugely and immediately transformative as I’d always imagined, when I used to tell people — only halfway joking — that I wouldn’t have needed years of therapy if I’d had a priest to confess to.

But as I was processing the whole thing, after I’d done my first act of penance (which seemed more like a wonderful reward and blew my preconceived notions of penance right out the window) it suddenly struck me that I felt cleaner somehow…lighter…a greater sense of freedom.

Forgiveness was no longer a theological concept. It was real. It had a voice, not just any voice, but a voice that spoke authoritatively. (Yes, I still believe in the priesthood of all believers, but I also believe in…well, in the priesthood.) Forgiveness had emerged from the abstract and from words on a page — even from sacred words on sacred pages — and had become immediate, here and now, part of the physicality and reality of my everyday life.

The next day I had the awesome privilege of doing the reading from the Old Testament and the Epistles during Mass. It’s been years since I’ve read Scripture out loud during a church service; there isn’t as much of a call for that in most protestant evangelical churches. But I remember that, each time before, I approached the responsibility with great fear and trembling, not out of nervousness about reading out loud in front of people, but out of a sense of inadequacy. I am a woman of unclean lips…how dare I read God’s Word in church? Yesterday I still had a sense of reverance and responsibility, but I knew my lips were clean. I felt much joy.

Partaking of the Eucharist was even more precious than ever.

Today I sent a text to my priest, wanting to make sure that he knows that I want to be confirmed in the Anglican Church when our bishop visits us in January. As I was sending the text, I joked to myself, Haha, after hearing my confession, Father Chris is going to tell me that I should wait several years until I’m hopefully less of a vile sinner! but then I remembered:

I’m forgiven.

The Bible says so. My priest says so. The Church says so. The saints and angels say so. Most importantly, God says so. He has always said so, but now…now I know.

Dear “Evangelical” Spokespeople:

This has been perplexing and, to be frank, grieving me for months.

Some years back, you convinced me that “character counts” in a presidential candidate, that our government leaders should demonstrate “family values”, and that a man who could not be trusted to remain faithful to his wife could not be trusted to lead our country. You convinced me that womanizers and immoral men were unfit for the highest office in our land. You convinced me that our president was a role model for our children, and that we should not elect anyone whose conduct and speech we did not want our children to emulate.

You were so convincing that I not only  believed you then, but still do.

Now you you tell me that we are not electing a pastor-in-chief, and that I should ignore everything you insisted upon previously. You accuse me of being a Pharisee for not wanting to vote for Trump, and of being ungodly for still clinging to the old standards.

What made you change your mind? Or were you not truly convinced of those things in the first place? Were you wrong then — or now? And, if you were wrong then, it would help me a lot to hear your sincere apology for misleading me, and your explanation for why you have abandoned what I thought were genuine principles and convictions. You have failed to convince me that I should follow your lead in voting for your favored candidate. Simply calling me a self-righteous, unforgiving legalist isn’t cutting it.

Frankly, I’m confused. What is the new “evangelical” standard supposed to be for supporting a presidential candidate? Hold your nose, go against everything you’ve said and believed, and vote for the Republican no matter what? Never vote for a Clinton? Abandon all previously held principles just because a proven liar makes semi-promises about who he may possibly nominate to the Supreme Court?

And what does any of this have to do with evangelicalism?

God have mercy.

Ugh…politics…

Rarely if ever do I blog about politics but, then again, few things rile me up as much as blasphemy or false messiahs. Since I just posted this on Facebook, I figured I might as well post it here too:

I don’t like to post political stuff, but I feel compelled to speak up. No election in my lifetime has frightened me as much as this one, but today topped it all for me.

Christians I know and like are posting links to a blasphemous, scary article and — rather than denouncing it or getting offended — are actually voicing agreement with it. In the article, the author quotes one of my all-time favorite Scripture passages, which is from Isaiah 40. He quotes verses 30-31 in this manner:

“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” 

Then the author proceeds to claim, “It’s almost like God created this verse for Donald Trump and this moment in history.”

That awful statement alone should horrify any student of Scripture or anyone who claims to believe in the God of the Bible. But it gets worse. 

I have no idea who Wayne Allyn Root, the author of this travesty, is. At the beginning of his article, he identifies himself by writing: “I am a Jew turned evangelical Christian. I am also a passionate supporter of Donald Trump.” I would argue, based on this article, that he is no longer an evangelical Christian but now believes in Trump as his messiah. Mr. Root seems to believe that it is now Trump, and no longer God, who renews our strength, and who enables us to mount up with wings like eagles. 

I wish I was kidding or that Mr. Root had written a tasteless satire, but unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be the case. In his “message for Christians”, he tries to convince us that “Trump is our energy”; “Trump renews our strength”; “With Trump we mount up with wings like eagles”; and, “With Trump we run, we are not weary”.

Sorry, those of my friends who are Trump fans, but that sounds like blasphemy to me. Trump is not God. Isaiah 40:31,32 is not a prophecy that Trump is fulfilling. “The Donald” may think he is America’s savior, and he may have convinced you of that, but he is not our messiah, not our God, not our Savior.

I’m beginning to think that this election is causing people to take absolute leave of their senses. What sort of bizarre hold does Trump have over this misguided and deluded author that he would write something so terrible while claiming to be a Christian — and why are my Christian friends not outraged at what he has written?

You can read the blasphemy in context here: http://m.townhall.com/columnists/wayneallynroot/2016/06/24/a-message-for-christians-about-donald-trump-n2182796

Treasure in the Field, part 3 | Fiction Friday

[Begin with part 1 here.]

Three days later, he heard the king’s voice again, this time early in the morning as he was folding up his simple sleeping pad in the hut where they now stayed. His wife was outside, getting fresh water from the nearby spring and, when she returned, she found him face down on the floor.

“You heard the king’s voice,” she said quietly. He was struck by her calmness as she explained, “I have been hearing him more and more lately. Soon it will be time for me to ride to him.”

“What about me?”

“I don’t know. What did the king say?”

“He just called my name.”

She nodded. “Wait. Wait for his voice.”

So they waited. Their days were filled with mediation, study, vigorous exercise, and hikes through the surrounding countryside. Sometimes his wife would check to make sure her garments and travel supplies were ready. Their evenings were filled with long talks by the fireside, their nights with tenderness.

In the meantime, his mind filled with questions he dared not ask.

Spring came. One morning a beautiful white stallion appeared in the clearing outside their door. His wife greeted it like a long lost friend, throwing her arms around the horse’s neck in an embrace, kissing it between the ears, and then flinging herself on its back before galloping off.

It was the first time he had seen her ride. He didn’t even know if she had ever been on a horse before in her life, but now she looked as if she was finally doing what she had been born to do.

His heart ached.

She returned an hour later, her face radiant and her hair gloriously windswept. When had her grey strands turned to silver? he wondered. Surely not during her ride…

“I leave tomorrow at sunup,” she announced.

He couldn’t answer.

“I have never loved you as much as now, but I love the king more. Besides, he’s the one I serve. I’ve waited my entire life for this. He’s calling me — can you imagine? me! — and I get to go.”

Again, he couldn’t answer.

Later, they both wept. They spent the night in each other’s arms.

After a hurried pre-dawn breakfast the next morning, she put on her travel garments. He had never seen such clothing, and he was filled with wonder. She wore a flowing white dress, far more beautiful than the one she wore at their wedding and, over this extraordinary dress, she wore armor. When he asked her about her armor, shield, and sword, she answered somberly, “I thought you understood. It’s not just a journey. The king will be leading us into battle.”

Finally he couldn’t take it any more. “Do you think the king will ever call for me?” he asked desperately, feeling as if his heart was about to break irrevocably. “I’ve followed your example. I’ve given up everything. I sold our home and my business, and I gave away everything I couldn’t sell. I’ve meditated; I’ve exercised; I’ve walked countless miles through what seemed like endless forests and deserts. I’ve read and studied and learned everything I could. I’ve waited. I’ve listened. I don’t know what else to do!” Putting his hand on her shoulder, he cried, “I’ve given up everything, lost everything — and now I’m losing you too!” He forced himself to choke back the sobs. “I have nothing left.”

“Nothing but the king,” she reminded him gently. “And he’s all that matters anyway. Everything else was futile and worthless compared to him. It’s as if we spent it all to buy the greatest treasure there is. Wasn’t it worth giving it all up just to hear his voice?”

“Yes,” he paused, only to go on, “but now that I’ve heard it, how can I possibly be content staying here? I want to go to him! I want to ride with him!”

They clung to each other and wept yet again. He urged her, “Please give a message to the king. Tell him…tell him that I would consider it the highest honor if he would call me to be his servant.” She wiped his tears, kissed him one last time, and mounted her horse, shouting, “Wait for the king! Listen for his voice!” He watched her ride off, and he knew that he would never behold a more beautiful sight than this fierce warrior bride on her white steed, her banner wafting high above her head in the breeze.

She was gone. He whispered, “Nothing but the king”, fell to his knees, put his face down in the dirt, and wept as he had never wept before. He wondered if he would keep weeping until he died.

And then he heard hoofbeats.

It couldn’t be. Please don’t choose me over the king, he wanted to scream at the same time that he hoped beyond hope that he would see his wife when he lifted his tear-stained face from the dirt.

Unbelievably, she had returned, this time leading another horse. “It seems the king thinks you’re ready,” she said. “He left you this horse with everything you need for the journey.”

The entire time he rushed about washing his face, dressing in his travel garments, putting on his armor, and preparing to leave, words and tears tumbled out of both of them. It was as if two dams had burst suddenly, and everything gushed out everywhere in wild torrents. They sang with exuberant joy, laughed with delight, cried with thanksgiving, and even shouted with excitement.

“Can you believe we get to ride together?”

He was ready. They hugged and kissed, and mounted their horses. Then they heard it together — the voice of their king, calling them both by name, calling them to ride, calling them to the journey, calling them to their great adventure, calling them to battle, calling them to die, calling them to him. They lifted their banners high and shouted, “To the king! Let’s ride!”

And they rode.


 

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44