Why I write (art, fear, and Picasso on lies that tell the truth)

 

Copy of 45yLast week, I wrote about struggling with fear about submitting an application for a part time, volunteer job. I was afraid of failing. But it was more than that. I was also afraid of succeeding, because what if I got the job and then blew it? I’d feel stripped bare, revealed to the world as an incompetent person who didn’t know her own limitations. It’d be like trying out to be a Victoria’s Secret model, certain that I had the body the VS people wanted, only to strip down to my undies and have them laugh at me. Humiliating.

So I was struggling even after I sweated blood for two hours and wrote the cover letter, stressed out for a few more hours and tidied up my resume, and swallowed hard and clicked “submit.”

At some point, I stopped myself. Why was I doing this? I thought. Outwardly, I was fixing dinner or doing laundry, but I was thinking and muttering to myself, why?

It wasn’t just the question “why do you want to have this position?” There are several answers for that one: wanting to connect with the gifted writers of this journal, wanting to use my skills, wanting to help this journal in its mission, wanting to read great writing and learn from it. But those are on the surface. The real question digs deeper.

Why do I write?

In novelist-talk, it’s the inner conflict, the heart of the story, rather than the outward conflict in the plot. Why do I write? Why tell stories? Why create art?

It’s rather like the question I frequently heard in college. I’d be talking to someone (usually an engineer or computer person), and they would ask, “What’s your major?”

“English.”

“Eww. I hated English.” (As if I’d asked for his opinion.) “Have you ever heard the joke about what an English major asks an engineer?” (As if I was simply dying to hear it.) “‘Would you like fries with that order?’” He cracked up.

I stayed silent; what was there to say? I had no definite plans for using my English degree or art history minor. I knew this wasn’t practical, but I couldn’t force myself to major in some other, practical field that I had no aptitude for learning and no desire to learn. By that point in college, I was trying to survive my depression and sickness.

The stories in my textbooks were a lifeline to hope. Somewhere, at some time, there was a person who wrote this, I would think, and that person lived long enough to write it down on paper: expressed his thoughts, her dreams, revealed the world as they understood it, and even when they got everything else wrong in their view of the world, many still revealed truth.

“Art is the lie that tells the truth.” Picasso

I’ve always been intrigued by this Picasso quote. It’s taken years of mulling over it to find out what he was saying and how it applies to novel writing.

Novelists traffic in lies. It’s our currency, what we exchange as we create stories that tap the truth beneath the story. Not all novels do, of course; some are fluff or smut or propaganda pieces for the author’s pet issues. They’re just lies, but they don’t tell the truth; they aren’t art.

A truly excellent novel tells the truth, just as a good sermon does, but in the guise of fiction. The fictional people are just like us (if only we lived on paper and not on a planet) and whose problems are like ours. Through their story, we are put in their place, their shoes cover our feet, their problems are ours while we read.

And at the end of the very best novels, we are changed: thinking deeply, mulling continually, perceiving other people differently in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Maybe, just maybe, other people benefit—

the enslaved are unchained, given dignity and respect . . .

the grieved are comforted, knowing they aren’t alone . . .

the despairing are given hope, pointed toward life when their circumstances point to death . . .

They benefit because we perceive others in the light of our changed selves. The truth does that, even when it wears the clothes of story and slips on the shoes of various characters and accessorizes with heart-stopping suspense or romance or witty dialogue. A lie, but one that tells the truth.

That’s what I search for as I write. That’s why I tell stories. That’s why I am passionate about literature and its ability to change the world, one person at a time, as I have been changed.

 

Question for you, my readers: If you’re a writer or artist (or create anything), why do you do it? 

Categories: attitude, fiction, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Dickens on the two classes of charitable people

“We observed that the wind always changed when Mrs. Pardiggle became the subject of conversation: and it invariably interrupted Mr. Jarndyce, and prevented his going any farther, when he had remarked that there were two classes of charitable people; one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.” 

Charles Dickens, Bleak House.

Two questions for you: 

One, what type of charitable person are you, and is that the type you want to be?

Two, doesn’t Mrs. Pardiggle’s name tell you what type she is?!

 

Categories: attitude, relationships | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The magical math of success and failure

“The math is magical: you can pile up lots of failures and still keep rolling, but you only need one juicy success to build a career.

The killer is the category called ‘neither.’ If you spend your days avoiding failure by doing not much worth criticizing, you’ll never have a shot at success. Avoiding the thing that’s easy to survive keeps you from encountering the very thing you’re after.

And yet we market and work and connect and create as if just one failure might be the end of us.”

–Seth Godin

This morning, I remembered this quote from Godin as I read my email. Among the stacks of school-related information, spam-nonsense, and advertisements for stores I rarely visit, there lurked an email of interest. A volunteer position was open at a literary journal, and I can apply online.

I want to connect with writers.

I adore literature and writing.

I’m qualified, as best as I can tell.

So why am I hesitant to apply?

Fear of failure.

It’s the same fear that’s kept me from submitting query letters or manuscripts. The same fear that keeps me from hitting “publish” on some blog posts. The same fear that kept me from writing for years, starving my hunger for storytelling until the gnawing hunger in my heart was too great, and I had to write or die.

The fear is still there.

Years ago, in an off-topic conversation, my nutritionist commented that a guy who didn’t ask a girl out was 100% likely not to go out with her. (You can reverse the genders, if you wish.) In a sense, he’s rejecting her: in not taking the risk of rejection, he’s implying that she isn’t worth it. She’s not valuable to him. Because, he argued, if you truly value something, you consider the benefits of having it (whatever “it” is) worth the risk of failing to obtain it.  

So why am I hesitating over applying for a volunteer job? What’s the worst thing that can happen? They say no.

It’s not like the powers-that-be at this journal are going to trash me on Facebook or diss me on Twitter or even send me a nasty email rejection. Even if they did, I’ve survived worse things.

The math is magical: I only need one “yes” to counterbalance every other “no.” The equation balances.

Bring on the application.

Categories: attitude, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

The day apologetics saved my life

Laura Martin, over at her excellent blog Enough Light, posted today about being cautious with apologetics. She quotes Austin Farrer:

Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. –Austin Farrer, writing on CS Lewis

This brought a memory to my mind of a time in my life when this principle proved true. It’s a bit of a painful one, as many of the ones from my college days are, but I think it might be worth sharing here.

(Trigger warning, though. Don’t read if you’re vulnerable. I’m going to write this as honestly as I can, and that means talking about eating disorders and depression.)

All throughout my elementary and high school years, I went to Christian schools. There was a great deal of emphasis on apologetics. My mother was very “into” apologetics as well, so I was surrounded (almost overwhelmed) by rational arguments for the Christian faith. This was heightened at the Christian college I attended my freshman and sophomore years. We analyzed worldviews, critiqued pop culture movies and music and books, and generally filled our minds with this simple equation:

Christianity = right, Everything else = wrong.

No ifs, ands, or buts; we had the rational arguments on our side.

At the same time, though, my moods were darkening. I had wrestled with a nameless beast of darkness for years until stumbling on its true name, depression. Even then, I didn’t realize the full extent of what was happening. (It took years before anyone diagnosed my bipolar disorder.) All I knew was that this horrible depression had covered me and I was powerless.

I sat in Biblical worldview class, listening to students debate the origins of the universe, and fantasized about cutting myself.

I sat in French lab, listening to unintelligible French babble, and scribbled hate mail to myself in the margins of my notes.

I looked in my medicine cabinet and wondered if someone could overdose on Tylenol.

I hid my binges and purges and darkness and mental chaos from everyone as best as I could.

And all the while, I wondered if Christianity was really real.

After all, if God loved me, then why the pain? And if Christians were supposed to have the corner on the truth and be love and all that, then why were the Christians surrounding me so awful? Not all the time, of course. But why all the gossip? Backstabbing? Pettiness? Hypocrisy? Why had my childhood church split? If Jesus came and made us all equal, then why was there a double standard of behavior for men and women in this subculture? Why didn’t I feel the joy that everyone else claimed that they felt?

What if—I swallowed back fear—what if this whole Christianity-thing wasn’t true? What if it was a big game that everyone else was playing? What if God wasn’t real at all?

I didn’t dare tell anyone.

Looking back, I’m certain there were people I could’ve told. (Two particular professors come to mind.) But I didn’t. My fears were overwhelming, my depression was crippling, and, worse, I felt things come into my head. They weren’t voices. Not audible ones, at least. But I seemed to feel them in my head, taking over and leaving little room for rational thought.

One day my sophomore year, the pain felt especially intolerable. I was anorexic, bulimic, and hearing voices whispering, jump out the window. I lived on the fourth floor of the dorm; below was pavement. Jump . . .

I had a choice. Kill myself or live. (Like Hamlet, soliloquizing to be or not to be, minus the poetic brilliance and a ghost for a father.) Death looked preferable to life. I wasn’t trying to play God, I only wanted the pain to end. But what would happen afterwards?

I reasoned like this: If there’s a god, then there’s a heaven. If there’s a heaven, then there’s a hell.

At that time, I believed that everyone died by their own hand went to hell. (I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve wrestled with that issue too, and John Piper was a big help in forming my current thoughts.) I didn’t want to go to hell. Obviously, that would not improve matters.

But—here came that fear again—if there wasn’t a god, then there was no heaven. And if there’s no heaven, then there’s no hell. I wouldn’t go anywhere. I would cease to exist. I could kill myself, no worries about hellfires or consequences.

I had to figure out if there was a god.

(I didn’t care if he was good or evil or indifferent. I just needed to know if he existed.)

I sat around all day, writing in my journal and arguing with myself. Keep in mind that I was a born again Christian; I had belief, but I didn’t feel anything but pain. I certainly didn’t feel joy or certainty about my beliefs. So I wrote and argued, argued and wrote.

In the darkened auditorium before chapel.

In the corners of the library between classes.

In empty classrooms while everyone was at lunch.

In my dorm room when my roommate was socializing after dinner.

I thought I was searching for a reason not to believe, to prove that this god-person wasn’t there. Really, though, I was searching for some reason to believe and live, even when I believed that I didn’t want to live.

All the apologetics I’d ever read or discussed or reasoned through crowded in my confused mind. Those arguments were there, acting like pesky mosquitoes, sucking the blood from my arguments against the existence of God.

Were they solid philosophical arguments? No.

Would my reasoning have stood up to any and every assault against them? No.

Would C.S. Lewis & Co. have been proud of them? No. (Though Lewis would have sympathy and compassion for me, I think.)

They were immature, shaky, tangled-up messes in the dark mind of a half-starved, desperate, mentally ill girl. But they were enough to keep me alive that day.

I survived.

Years later, I sat in a women’s Bible study and had several women argue with me that “apologetics never saved anyone.” True, in the sense that they meant it; apologetics has no power to grant salvation to anyone.

But reasoning can bolster the faith of those whose faith needs bolstering. That day, God used it to save my life.

Categories: Christianity, hope, mental illness | Tags: | 10 Comments

Open your eyes (a lesson learned at Walmart)

After hearing about Robin Williams’ death and reading several blog posts about depression, I decided to reach into my blog archive and share this story again. It’s not directly dealing with depression, but rather with being the person who accidentally overlooks someone else’s pain.

(This isn’t a guilt trip. None of us controls another person; we can influence them and point them toward life. Sometimes, though, despite all the help and love and care we give that person, they will still choose to end their lives. It’s heartbreaking. My sincerest sympathies for those who have survived a loved one’s suicide.) 

But we can still make a difference. We can still reach out and try to help, even if it breaks our hearts.

The big issue is, will we? Will we be aware enough to help? Or are we so busy that we overlook the obvious?

This story is about one time I remained oblivious to another person’s pain. I hope it helps you to think about your life and when you need to open your eyes and see the needy person in front of you.

(Repost from 2010)

It was a typical Saturday morning at Super Wal-Mart. I pushed my shopping cart through the aisles, my emotions near the breaking point as my then-six-week-old baby screamed and my preschooler whined. We’d completely run out of formula and the baby was hungry (hence the incessant crying) and my older daughter was tired (hence the whining) and I was sleep deprived, emotional and hating every moment spent grocery shopping among the throngs of equally grumpy Saturday shoppers.

We turned on to the soft drink aisle. A worker was loading soft drinks onto the shelves. A family pushed their shopping cart by us. The mother caught a glimpse of my baby and the entire family—father, mother and children—had to stop and gush over her. She immediately calmed down, basking in the attention that diverted her from her rumbling tummy.

“How old is she?”

“Six weeks.”

“Oh how precious. Look at those little toes. . . .”

The family moved on. The worker looked at my daughter as we passed him.

 “My wife and I had a two-week-old,” he said quietly. “She died a month ago.”

His last words were so low that I barely caught them. My stressed-out, tired mind didn’t comprehend at first; and while I saw the darkness on his face, it didn’t register with me. What did I do?

I walked on.

It didn’t sink into me what he had said until we were almost on the next aisle. He and his wife had a child that, had she lived, would’ve been the same age as my baby. Had he been looking at my daughter’s plump cheeks, tiny toes, kissable lips, and remembering how his child’s face had looked when she died? Had he wondered what she would have looked like now? Was he near the breaking point, his grief overwhelming him?

I could’ve turned back at that point, expressed my sympathy, patted him on the back, said how sorry I was that they had lost their child. But in my fatigue and agitation, my eyes were closed to his pain.

‎”Make yourself a blessing to someone. Your kind smile or pat on the back just might pull someone back from the edge.” – Carmelia Elliott

A Facebook friend posted this yesterday, and I think it is so true. Our response to others can either yank them back from the edge of despair or fill them with longing to jump off the ledge. A smile brightens; a scowl darkens. A hug comforts; walking past feels like a slap in the face.

The problem I see is that we: A) don’t remember this truth, and B) don’t see the condition of someone else’s heart.

On my own, I’m a self-centered, self-serving creature. My fatigue and depression and to-do lists are urgent; my desire to make it through Super Wal-mart without a meltdown in the cereal aisle is a tyrant that demands full attention. So most of the time, I’m blind to what’s truly important. I don’t see others as God sees them—I’m too busy looking in the mirror to look through the windows into someone else’s soul.

Brandon Heath has a great song that expresses his desire to see others from God’s perspective:

Give me your eyes, Lord, just one second

Give me your eyes that I can see

Everything that I keep missing

Give me your love for humanity

Opening our eyes takes an intentional effort. Honestly, it’s hard to want to be intentional. It takes emotional energy, time and a willingness to put aside my selfishness; sometimes I’m on the edge myself, I’m the one needing hope, and I’m not quite capable of even smiling. I think that’s okay. There’s a time to be comforted:

  •  A couple who has lost a child.
  • A man receiving a pink slip.
  • A woman just released from the psychiatric ward.
  • Even the person who’s having a bummer of a day where she hit the trashcan with her SUV, had the toilet back up, found out she’s got a mouthful of cavities, and realized she forgot to pay the electric bill.

Sometimes life overwhelms us. There’s nothing wrong with focusing energy on grieving—it’s healthy.

 But there’s a time to be the comforter, too. I don’t have to take on the grief of the world; it would overwhelm me to be the shoulder that everyone cries on. Other times, there isn’t the emotional intimacy or even a relationship between us; others closer to the hurting person need to carry more of the burden.

But there’s really no excuse for a reasonably stable person not to extend some sympathy when I see a person in pain. It doesn’t take hours to hug someone, whisper a prayer, smile at a person who looks stressed at how badly his day is going. A mere smile lets others know they aren’t alone in the world and that someone finds them worthwhile to smile at.

I don’t always see others’ pain as blatantly as I did that day in Wal-Mart. But if I open my eyes, let God give me his eyes, I will see opportunities to give hope to another person.

So let’s open our eyes. We might just pull someone back from the edge.

 

Categories: attitude, Christianity, hope, mental illness, relationships | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

What a married woman learned from visiting churches alone

Recently, I realized something that I’d known intellectually but had never experienced:

It’s hard to visit a church as a single Christian.

I got married straight out of college. I’d always visited churches with my parents or my friends or my husband and kids, never alone. We’d settled into one church for a year before we decided it was time to move on. But to maintain continuity for the kids, my husband was taking them to the old church until I found a suitable congregation. So I was visiting churches. Alone.

Solo. One. Alone.

And I definitely felt alone, sitting in the pew (or chair), watching couples and families and groups of friends wander into the sanctuary/worship center/gathering place. Aside from one teeny-tiny church and the slightly bigger one we chose, I was ignored. Very little eye contact, few smiles, no interest or acknowledgement of me as a person.

Forget the word alone. Try lonely. It stinks.

“Duh.”
—my husband’s response to my profound realization that being single in church is hard

He was 31 when we got married, so he’d spent plenty of time in the church singles group and knew how singles were treated at our old church. I’d been a part of the group, too, albeit as a college student who lived with my parents.

They were “separate but equal” church members. (As we all know, separate but equal is anything but equal.) It wasn’t official, and no one in authority would’ve acknowledged this, but it was still there.

They held Sunday school at a building down the street, off the main church campus. They had their own Bible study, their own church parties, and there wasn’t a lot of mixing between singles and marrieds. The ladies’ Bible studies were rarely held at a time that accommodated working women.

Unless they were otherwise visible, like soloists, a lot of other members didn’t know them. I knew a lot of young couples because I taught 3- and 4- year old Sunday school, and if I’d mentioned one particular single to one of the parents, I’d get a blank stare. “I don’t know them.”

And if I mentioned one of the couples to a single, I’d get the same response. “I don’t know them.”

Wait a minute, I’d yell mentally. You’re roughly the same age, you’ve gone to the same church for ten years, you sing the same worship songs and listen to the same sermons and sit in the same sanctuary. And you’ve never heard of each other? The church isn’t that big, for crying out loud!

Then there’s the general attitude toward singles. I’ve met more than one person who seems wary, almost suspicious of non-married Christians:

What’s wrong with those singles? Because, obviously, if they were normal, they’d be married. There must be something wrong!

(At which I roll my eyes or gag or flip my hair over my shoulder in my best valley girl style and say, “Like, whatever.”)

But the more prevailing problem, I think, is that churches are geared toward married people with kids, and so every program, every conference, everything revolves around the twin topics of marriage and parenting.

Many sermon illustrations use parent/marriage topics, too. (I’d guess that’s because most ministers are married and they draw on their life experiences for illustrations.)

Also, at least where I live, many women are too accustomed to discussing marriage and/or children and cannot talk about any other topic, which alienates those who don’t relate to those experiences.

Several years ago, I ran into a woman I knew from the singles group. She told me a sad story about a mutual acquaintance (another forty-ish single woman) who’d attended a women’s dinner at our church. The friend found that the other women seemed uncomfortable with her presence, as if they didn’t know how to talk to her. My friend said, “It’s not that difficult! Surely they remember being single.”

I didn’t have a reply. But now, after eleven years of hanging around other moms, I think I do. These women really didn’t remember being single. They’d been married for so long that their single years were a distant memory. (That is, if they’d ever been single beyond young adulthood. Being single at 20 is different from being single at 30 or 50.)

For many of these women, their married life had revolved around their children. Heck, their entire world revolved around the kids. (I’ve met women who can’t talk about anything other than their children. Literally. I’d raise a different topic and watch their eyes go blank.)

When many women meet another woman, their standard opening line is child-related. Not always, but often. It’s a short cut, the obvious topic. I’ve done it myself. And when faced with someone who doesn’t have that in common with me, small talk can seem daunting. What do we have in common?

Well, for Christians, the answer is Jesus. Duh.

So there’s no excuse for ignoring people because of their marital status.

Or treating them as defective, second class Christians.

Or ignoring their needs.

No excuse.

Overall, churches are uncertain how to handle people who don’t fit their usual demographic of married with kids. I’ve seen this; I’ve read about it; I’ve heard complaints and comments. I just hadn’t experienced it.

I still haven’t, of course, not really. When asked, I always explain the solo-church-visiting situation: yes, I am married, yes, I have children, but we don’t want to drag them from church to church to church, so he’s going to one church and— blah, blah, blah. I take refuge behind my wedding band. I take comfort in knowing there are people waiting at home for me. But lots of other people can’t do that.

Here’s what I want and need to know. What can a church do to make single Christians feel welcome as visitors? What can I personally do to help singles feel welcome and cared about?

Categories: Christianity, relationships | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

Hello, John Piper (why I accept you even when I don’t approve of your actions)

 

Dear Pastor John,

Please forgive the greeting if it’s too personal from a total stranger. I don’t know you, but you’ve influenced my life through your writings; Don’t Waste Your Life was inspiring, and the final chapter of When I Don’t Desire God gave me hope during the dark wasteland of yet another depressive episode. I feel rather fond of you. Fond, but bewildered, too, and frustrated.

A few days ago, you tweeted,

“Good-bye, Burger King. (If you wonder why, watch the last five seconds of the video and weep,”

along with a link to the current BK video featuring their new “pride burger.”

They’re plain ‘ol BK burgers with rainbow-striped wrappers. “We’re all the same inside” appears on the inside of the wrapper. The video shows the reaction of various whopper-eaters, who are overcome with emotion at the realization of this truth. (Homosexuals are people, too? What a profound thought.)

At the end, a little girl, no more than three or four years old, stands between two women and tells the camera, “I love my two mommies.” So this is what made you weep? That a child has two women who love her, and who she loves in return? That’s more than many other children have.

It called to mind another of your tweets, where you said “good-bye” to Rob Bell and linked to a blog post about Bell’s book Love Wins. It wasn’t a favorable post. What made it odd, though, is that the book hadn’t been published yet, and the blogger (apparently) hadn’t read the book. It was all based on rumors that Bell was proclaiming universalism. Odd.

Okay, so I think I understand your position. You don’t want the homosexual lifestyle to be normalized in America. You don’t want universalism proclaimed as truth. I understand that. But are these “good-bye tweets” the best way to state your position?

In the case of Bell’s book, that tweet publicized it better than any publisher-funded campaign ever could. (I would never have heard Love Wins if not for the controversy. I read it; not because I cared what Rob Bell had to say, but because I wondered what everybody had gotten their dander up about.)

In the case of the BK video, the tweet sends a message to the LGBT community and others who love those within it: Good-bye. I will no longer associate with you because I disapprove of your lifestyle.

That hurts.

It doesn’t hurt me because I’m a lesbian; I’m not. But it hurts because it makes me wonder, deep inside, if you’d find ME so sinful and corrupt that you wouldn’t associate with me if we ever met. I have sin in my life. Persistent, nasty, vile sins, some of which I’ve flaunted and been praised for, others that I’ve hidden so deeply inside that nobody but God sees it. So would you say, “Good-bye, Laura Droege” or accept me as a human being?

What’s strange is that you are not a man who is careless with words. I’ve read your books; at last count, there’s eight of them on my shelves. You take exegesis of Scripture seriously. You are precise, deliberate with your thoughts. Even when I disagree with your conclusions, I can’t think that you didn’t put thought into your expression of those conclusions. You know the power of words.

So why do you use such dismissive words in a tweet? Surely you realize that this phrase will be interpreted as shutting the door on an entire segment of the population.

And why the dismissive attitude? Why cut ties with a corporation (Burger King) or person (Rob Bell) because you don’t agree with them? Surely you don’t do this offline.

If a friend or family member came to you and announced that he believed in universal salvation or that she was marrying a same sex partner, would you say, “So long, farewell, goodbye. I can’t talk to you anymore because of this theological difference”?

No. You’d reason with them. You’d pray for them. You’d weep over their sin, and try to win them to Christ. You’d use the Bible and prayer, compassion and empathy born from the knowledge that we are all sinners, all prone to fall into temptation and believe false doctrines, all in need of a Savior. BK’s “pride burgers” got it right: we ARE all the same inside.

The one thing you wouldn’t do, I think, is tweet a public farewell to this person. At least, I hope not.

Why not view this video or this book as an opportunity to dialogue with others and love them? It’s an open door, a place where we can say “Hello, it’s good to meet you!” and walk into someone’s life. I can’t learn about someone or from someone if I slam the door in her face. I miss an opportunity to grow as a person or have a new friend or reach out from my normal self-absorbed lifestyle and love someone else just as he is.

In Frozen, Anna and Hans sing, “Love is an open door,” and it’s true (even if Hans is a dastardly heart-breaker). I can’t love a person without accepting him or her.

I accept the person, even if I don’t approve of the behavior. I do this all the time with myself: love Laura, but recognize that Laura-behavior isn’t always that great. Why not extend this same courtesy to others?

And that acceptance includes you. I accept you as my brother in Christ, even when I cannot approve of your tweets. I’d really like to know your motivations. I’d like to understand your opinions and why you interpret things the way that you do.

But I can’t do that if I slam the door shut and sing “So Long, Farewell” like an eighth, notably tone deaf member of the von Trapp family. So,

Hello, Pastor John.

You are welcomed.

You are loved.

And you are accepted, because Christ first accepted me.

Your sister in Christ,

Laura

 

Categories: Christianity, letters, relationships | 17 Comments

Worship service or patriotic rally? (why I left church angry)

This past Sunday, I left the worship service, steaming mad. It’s an emotion I’ve felt frequently at the church we’re currently attending. (Mother’s Day sermon on the Proverbs 31 woman, for example.) But this service in particular left me furious.  It also left me wondering:

What were they thinking? 

The church wanted to honor American service members and vets for the Fourth of July, so they invited a veteran to speak at the service. I have no issue with that. His sermon was very good; he has a powerful testimony about his time in Iraq and linked it with the Bible.  It was the rest of the service that made me angry.

It started when we walked into the sanctuary and I saw two American flags flanking the cross at the front of the sanctuary. They were lower than the cross, but dominant, and with the vivid red-white-blue color scheme, they overshadowed the dark cross above the baptistry.

I started to feel queasy. I’ve always felt that the church sanctuary was no place for a flag, because the church should be the one place where our earthly country doesn’t matter, that people of every nationality should be welcome, and we should focus on the unity of the universal church and not on the differences between countries (which inevitably divide us).  But there it was, lifted high in the place where we should be lifting high the name of Jesus.

What were they thinking?

The worship minister opened with the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a song that always unsettles me. It’s so militant. But (I thought) we’ll move to a more traditional hymn. No. We continued with another patriotically-inclined song. One, I might understand.  But two?

There was a pause. Then the worship minister and his small choral group turned to the flag and began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The congregation joined in. I stood there, dumbfounded. The pledge, in church–really?

What were they thinking?

When the opening chords of the National Anthem played, I sat down. This was not a church worship service. It was something else entirely, and I could not bear to participate and pretend that I was okay with this patriotic rally disguised as a worship service.

Then the leader had us sit. He announced that they wanted to honor all our service members and veterans with a musical tribute. “When you hear your division’s song, please stand,” he urged them. Then the choral group started singing the Army theme song. And the Navy’s. And the Air Force’s song and the Coast Guard’s song.

At one point, one of the chorus members, an older man, raised his hand to indicate that he was a veteran of that particular division. Did he realize that he looked like a worshiper lifting hands high toward heaven?

What was he thinking?

Then a prayer. “We love you, God,” the leader intoned, “and we want to come before you and continue on praising you . . .”

But you haven’t been, I wanted to shout. You’ve been praising men, not God.

When my husband and I were alone in a few minutes before Sunday school, he asked, rhetorically, “How is singing a bunch of patriotic songs praising God?”

“It isn’t,” I spat out. “Don’t tell me that you’re honoring God when all you’ve done is honor men. Don’t give me that kind of bullshit.”

It felt like someone had shoved my face in manure and told me that I smelled roses. There’s no comparison between the two smells, just like there’s no comparison between a patriotic rally and a God-centered worship service.

At this point, I should probably say that I have no issue with the troops being honored. None. Political convictions aside, I think people who are willing to put their lives on the line should be respected and thanked and honored. But it needs to be in the proper venue.

A church service is not the proper venue.

It’s too easy to confuse patriotism and worship. It’s too easy to assume that all Christians are American (or America-lovers). It’s too easy to mistake that surge of patriotic pride welling up inside for the emotions of worshiping the God of the universe. It’s not.

Even a noble thing like pride of country can become an idol if it is placed before God in our lives. And I’m afraid that’s exactly what happened this past Sunday.

Categories: Uncategorized | 37 Comments

Talking about rape with my daughter

It wasn’t a conversation I’d planned to have right at that particular moment, but it was a conversation I knew would need to happen sooner rather than later. The topic? Rape.

My eleven-year-old daughter is an avid reader, and my mom had given her a memoir about an American girl in Nazi Germany. My mom must’ve assumed that it was a children’s book, given the narrator’s young age, but I wondered how graphic the content was. I flipped through the book, and sure enough, the narrator tells about some of the atrocities of the war, particularly during the Soviet occupation of Germany. Violence. Looting. Rape.

When the narrator finally returned to school, her classmates were full of news about what had happened to them, to their family members, to neighbors.

“Heidi was raped sixteen times, she’s not right in the head anymore.”

“My grandmother was raped thirty-six times. She killed herself.”

“I think I might be pregnant with a Russian’s baby!”

It was heartbreaking. I wondered what my daughter thought of it, and whether she even understood what was meant. I questioned her, she admitted she didn’t understand, and I explained.

I’ve never shied away from discussing touchy subjects with her or her younger sister. I’ve told her that she can ask me anything and I’ll answer honestly, in age-appropriate terms. I started the birds-and-bees conversation when they were potty-training, and let the information develop and expand as they grow older. Here’s my reasons:

  1. I’d rather they get information from me than uninformed classmates or any media outlet.
  2. I want this to be an ongoing conversation rather than a one time event.
  3. I wanted to present sex in a positive light, so they didn’t get a negative first impression from whoever told them. Too many people make sex sound dirty or shameful or evil, when sex is a good, God-designed thing within the proper context.
  4. I didn’t want to keep her ignorant and then—wham!—overwhelm her with all the facts, all at once. I think making sex, etc., a secret turns it into this huge, mysterious, almost frightening thing that it really doesn’t have to be.
  5. Also, I know (from experience with friends) that sexual abuse happens. I want both of them to know that if a friend ever tells them about being abused, they need to tell me or another trusted adult. If I keep them ignorant of the basic facts about human sexuality, they might hear about abuse and not realize what that friend means.

So I’ve never shied away from awkward questions. I recently explained what an STD is to both my daughters, and I’ve explained what is meant by “homosexuality” and “transgender” to my older child, and I’ve explained why the f-word is objectionable, as well as several other derogatory terms. (I’ve usually added that they don’t need to share this information with their friends; a lot of parents have a different view of sex education than I do, and I respect that. I also don’t want a phone call from my daughters’ Christian school about how “Little C.C. decided to tell her kindergarten class about syphilis today.”)

I knew this conversation was coming, but it was a tough thing to discuss. I walked away with mixed emotions:

Thankful, because I and my daughters have never experienced rape.

Sad, because this conversation was necessary.

Fearful, because my children aren’t completely safe, no matter how much I want them to be. There are no guarantees.

Heartbroken, because too many people, even children younger than mine, have been exploited and mistreated by another person’s perverted desires.

Hopeful, because I believe in a God who can heal even the most broken of hearts and comfort the deepest of wounds. It’s a process; a lot of times, it’s a lifelong process, and one that isn’t fully completed until heaven. But there is a God who cares, and people who care, and people who want to help those affected by abuse and assault.

If you have been personally affected by rape or abuse, please get help. I cannot stress this enough: it is NOT your fault. No matter how you feel or what other people say, you are valuable in the eyes of God. 

Here’s a link to a list of 10 online resources for rape survivors:

Ten resources to help rape survivors

 

 

 

 

Categories: parenthood | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Jonah, eating disorders, and technical obedience

 

As she handed over my bagel, the clerk at Bruegger’s asked me if I was okay. “Are you eating enough? You aren’t starving yourself, are you?”

Thankfully, I can be honest. “No.” I eat. Trust me, I eat. I’ve been there with the starve-binge-purge cycle, and I do not want to return. It’s endless: a whirlpool that sucks you deeper and deeper until you think you’ll drown (and want to drown, just to end the feeling of being drowned).

And when you’re finally spit out—splat!—like Jonah from his fish, you feel relief—never going to Tarshish again!—and yet an uneasy dread, lest you swim too close and get sucked back into those same attitudes, like Jonah moaning in bitterness, post merciful-God-intervention in Ninevah.

I’m healthy now. My weight is stable. But I find myself being hypervigilant whenever I sense that I’m slipping back into that whirlpool of diet-or-die attitudes: tallying calories, deprivation, post-dessert guilt. The triggers are everywhere, though. Our society is obsessed with bodies and food, and completely misses the point of why we have both.

Our bodies were created by God as a means to glorify him and to show us how dependent we are on him for our very lives. After all, without him, we wouldn’t be chewing and swallowing and digesting and getting nutrients from food. And it was a perfectly delightful idea on God’s part to make food delicious, as well as nutritious, and to create the concept of eating meals with other people in community. He didn’t have to, but I think we’d miss so much if food was tasteless and eaten in isolation.

But for people with eating disorders (or body image issues), it’s hard to remember that. It’s easy for me to get sucked into the oh-my-body-is-horrible-and-food-is-the-enemy attitude.

Hanging out with women whining about their weight.

Reading about female bodybuilders’ eating/exercise routines.

Browsing an article about reduction of pore size or fifty ways to cut fifty calories or other such nonsense.

The attitude is so common that it’s hard to avoid completely.

Even something like reading a blog post can trigger memories that I think I’ve dealt with. A while ago, I read a blog post titled something along the lines of “I hate being fat.” It was supposed to be a funny post.

I knew I shouldn’t read it.

I read it.

Bam! Trigger.

For days, I was obsessing over my appearance. I didn’t start starving or binging or purging; no, technically, I was perfectly fine. Normal. But I stared into the mirror, searching out flaws. I got teary-eyed over my pores. I cried to my mother about stretch marks. She gave me a good shake of the shoulders—metaphorically, as we were talking on the phone—and the cells in my brain clunked together and I realized why I was obsessing over my looks.

I’d read a blog post that I knew I shouldn’t read, opening myself up to that world of discontent. Then I became like Jonah again, grumbling in the face of God’s grace, having an attitude of disobedience even while technically obedient. He’s more concerned about a dead vine than the people of Ninevah; I was more concerned about stretch marks from pregnancy than grateful to have a functional, strong body that bore children.

Every time I read that book, I wonder what happened after God talks to Jonah. Does the grumbling prophet repent? Does he realize that God’s mercy to the city of Ninevah is a beautiful thing? Does he realize that he, too, is in need of God’s mercy?

Just as importantly, do I repent of my ingratitude toward God’s mercy in my life? Do I reject technical obedience, fall on God’s grace, and change my attitude?

(We’re in the process of moving to a new house, so I’m not sure when my internet connection there will be up and running. I’ll read and respond to comments as soon as I can!)

 

 

Categories: attitude | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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