Paranoia

Gentle Reader,

He must grow greater and greater and I less and less.

– John 3:30 (Phillip’s)

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t listening.

Carl, the FBI agent who lives inside our Echo Dot, told me that this morning.

That’s the joke in our uber-connected and wired society: Someone is always listening. Or watching. Or selling your information to Cambridge Analytica. Nothing on the internet is private, no matter what we like to tell ourselves. We’ve structured our lives, from work to relationships, around this convenience that zips through the ether, so complete disconnection isn’t really an option, unless you go ahead and plop the tin-foil on your head, purchase a compound in the woods and go full Mountain Person.

Me, I get the paranoia. It’s a not-so-lovely companion to the fear that’s constantly buzzing in my veins. Is this person truly kind, or is it an act? Am I safe right now? Who can I trust? Where can I go?

You’ve read this here before but I’ll write it again: I came so, so close to deleting this blog. As in, my finger was hovering over the button as recently as three-and-a-half weeks ago. It seemed a natural, logical choice to make. After all, I had already deleted all of my social media posts, including photos and memories that I will never be able to access again. Why not do the same here? Anything to make the anguish of past months cease.

Make myself small. Keep quiet. Don’t rock the proverbial boat.

This is a far, far cry from what my favorite camel-suit sporting Baptist meant. John didn’t quit doing what God had designed him to do when Jesus came on the scene. He wasn’t saying, “Well, they like him better. Guess I’ll go back to the desert and eat some locusts.” Did his work culminate in the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry? Yes. We do see him gradually fade, eventually dying at the hands of a weak king.

But John didn’t quit.

He didn’t stop being John.

His job was to point the way to the Messiah. In so doing, he made a lot of people angry. You can’t call people a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7) and not make some enemies. There was probably a lot of gossip about John. A lot of vicious rumors. A lot of people trying to block what he was doing.

He just kept going. Not as a superhuman, devoid of emotion or struggle. As John sat in prison, surely knowing that his execution was immanent, he sent some friends to ask Jesus if He really was the Messiah (Luke 7:18-23). Jesus didn’t seem to mind the question. He sent John’s friends back to him with comforting assurances. Scripture doesn’t tell us how John responded to this, but I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to imagine a relieved smile stretching across his tanned face as peace washed over his soul.

Smallness before God is completely different than smallness before people. One is the position of a servant, devoted to carrying out the mission of the Master. Sometimes carrying out that mission involves wrestling with our weaknesses, the things that God is kind and gentle enough to have compassion for. The other is the position of fear and sorrow, allowing someone other than the Master to rule. And that, we call idolatry.

The right response to the feeling of paranoia is to bow before God. We don’t need make ourselves huge so we can squash others before they squash us. We need to sprint to the Throne of Grace, prostrating ourselves at His feet, asking Him to remind us of the proper order of things. Truly, what can anyone do to you if you are wrapped in the arms of the King? In the grand scheme, very little.

You’ll hurt. You’ll cry. You’ll want to rage at people and make them feel as bad as you do. You’ll be tempted to check out and give up. That’s all normal. That’s all part of being a human. Thankfully, blessedly, we have Someone ever-ready to encourage and uplift us.

All we have to do is bow before Him and nobody else.

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Xanax, Please

Trust

Gentle Reader,

The United States is engulfed in a collective panic attack, leaving few, if any, members of the population untouched. Hearts racing, fists clenched, eyes darting to-and-fro, sweat pouring down our faces, the awful sense of dread and death. We consume the news (that changes every minute), wondering if we’ll ever be able to keep up with or figure out what is going on. What is this place? Who are these people?

In our anxiety, we allow our desires greater freedom. Not the desires we usually think of – food, sex, shopping, sleep – although they are certainly tempting coping mechanisms. Instead, we indulge in the desire to label. To draw lines. To cast others as the villains of the story. To rationalize, justify and defend our preferences, to the death if need be, even if those preferences are wildly out of line with the ethics and worldview laid out in Scripture.

I am not immune. For over two years I have been swept up in the political chaos. Burned in the dumpster fire. Politics has always interested me; all the movements, personalities and philosophies are part of history, the studying of which is second only to theology in my list of passions. I can still remember the “I’m Just a Bill” song from School House Rock. I once asked a teacher how Thomas Jefferson could write “all men are created equal” when he owned slaves. Theodore Roosevelt (who, yes, was problematic in some areas; I get it) became my favorite president in high school and I love him still for his trust-busting and his desire to preserve and protect nature. I have never, ever understood “strategic voting” or “straight ticket” or party loyalty in general, choosing instead to remain staunchly unaffiliated and doing my best to vote for the best person for each job, which I freely, honestly confess to you tonight has resulted at times in a sense of smugness. Why can’t everyone just be smart like me?

See? We’re all in this together.

It’s all fascinating. The debates, the processes, the great speeches. But this interest has become a sickness. I see it in myself. I see it in everyone else, even those who really do try to steer clear of the swift and churning currents. In this hyper-connected age, our suspicions and tensions are inevitably heightened, the fires of fear stoked by Executive and Congressional branches that want…power.

All of them, even the best of them, are dazzled by the allure of authority. Those who sit in seats of command may begin their careers from a place of service to the country, but few remain in that place for long. When Senator Lindsey Graham thunders, “All you want is power and I hope you never get it!,” he condemns himself along with all the rest, for the clear meaning in his words is: “We, my party, my people – me, myself, I – deserve that power.”

This isn’t new. Skim a history book. George Washington warned against the formation of political parties and believed that the president should stay above partisanship – he’s the only one. As soon as he was gone, the bitterness began. Seriously; John Adams, second president, was generally hated, especially in the Southern states, and served only one term. Andrew Jackson, seventh president, planted the seeds of modern campaigning in 1828, complete with negative advertisements and fake news. Down the timeline we roll, past inspiringly great and truly awful politicians, through great national moments and genuinely depressing ones, until we arrive here, now, in the Age of Nasty.

This is part of our DNA as both people living in the United States and people warped by sin. We fight because, well, that’s literally how the country came into being and we fight because that’s what we’ve been doing since Cain murdered Abel. We want to be on the winning side, with the ones in charge, because that’s how and where we believe we will find fulfillment, peace and safety.

Dominance, at all costs.

That is the way of the world, the hazy society that chooses to turn away form God.

For the Children of God, this should not be so.

This cannot be the way we operate. That hazy society looks at us right now and scoffs, telling us that we are no better than they are. And they aren’t wrong. They really aren’t.

What do we do?

I don’t think we can answer that question until we sit and face reality for a good, long while. We’ve all heard that the first step in conquering a problem is admitting that there is a problem in the first place. Tonight, let’s admit that. We have a problem. We have placed our trust in something and someones other than God. Pause and ponder the confession. Feel its weight.

Then meditate upon these words:

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

– Psalm 20:7 (NKJV)

We’re going on a journey, you and me.

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Brothers and sisters who do not live in the United States: Please, go on this journey with us. I know that you are not in the thick of this situation, but we need you. We need your prayers and we need your outsider’s perspective. We need you to remind us that we who have been redeemed by Jesus are part of a global community, brought together by His blood and grace.

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Five Minute Friday: Complete

Worn Out

Gentle Reader,

I distract myself when it hurts. Never one to enjoy “the feels,” I do what I can to regulate my emotions via outside sources, instead of, well, feeling them. Nature, nurture, whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’s part of my programming, one that antidepressants and therapy assist in changing. Maybe someday I’ll get there.

Kate says: complete.

Go.

I deleted all of the posts on my personal Facebook page. Am contemplating doing the same over on Twitter. I keep telling myself that it’s because I want a fresh start. I want to wipe everything clean and begin again. And that is true. But not all true. And not a good truth.

Fear has surrounded me, you see. A nice, complete circle. No beginning, no end.

Don’t post that.

Don’t write that.

Don’t say that.

Don’t share that. 

So if I delete everything, then nobody will know. So-called conservatives can’t get mad at me because I think monuments to the Confederacy belong in museums, that journalists are not your enemies, and that Donald Trump is not a good president. So-called liberals can’t get mad at me because I believe in the literal resurrection of Christ, that marriage as ordained by God is restricted to one man and one woman, and that Scripture is reliable and accurate. And nobody, on any side of anything, can get mad at me for my “Yes, I preach the Gospel but I also live and let live and work hard to love people whoever and whatever they are because I’m really not into ‘Christianizing’ anything” approach. (By the way, the labels “conservative” and “liberal” have just about lost all meaning. Let’s retire them).

Because I’m tired.

Tired of people being mad at me.

And THAT makes me mad.

So I place my figurative foot on this figurative soapbox and stand, knees knocking, toes trembling, hands sweaty. I look at the circle, the one that grows tighter with each passing day. I let my head fall back and I roar:

PEOPLE. DO. NOT. HAVE. TO. AGREE. WITH. YOU. IN. ORDER. FOR. YOU. TO. BE. KIND.

ECHO. CHAMBERS. ARE. BAD.

LEARN. TO. LISTEN. TO. OPPOSING. VIEWS.

GOSSIP. IS. EVIL. STOP. IT. GROW. UP.

IF. YOU. DON’T. LIKE. WHAT. I. WRITE. THEN. DON’T. READ.

OR. IF. YOU. WANT. TO. FOLLOW, BUT. DON’T. LIKE. WHAT. I. WRITE, THEN. MAKE. A. COMPELLING. FACTUAL. SCRIPTURAL. COUNTERARGUMENT. (NO. EMOTIONAL. APPEALS. AND. RAGING. DO. NOT. COUNT).

JESUS. IS. NOT. A. REPUBLICAN.

JESUS. IS. NOT. A. DEMOCRAT.

I want to wipe the slate clean because I want to hide. Just the other day I told my husband, “I want to go unnoticed.” And that, dear reader, is just as wrong as wanting all the attention all the time. Pushing people aside to take center stage, whatever the cost, is the lie of pride. Running away, never taking a stand, is the lie of fear.

The circle morphs into a lasso and yanks me off of the box, beating me into the ground, punch after punch, until I hardly know which way is up. I’m laying there, sweat and blood pooling in the dust, and the heat rises in my chest. Damn it. Who is anyone to tell me that I cannot speak freely when they themselves exercise that freedom? Who is anyone to tell me to stop telling the truth, to stop drawing us back to Scripture, to what God says? Who died and made anyone the social media, blogging, internet, even thought king?

My eyes look past the complete circle, to the place where freedom reigns.

I’m not there yet.

But I will be.

Stop.

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And Now, The Fish Slapping Dance

Giggles

Gentle Reader,

My house is a disaster. Really. We’re down to the last room in the Grand Epic of Replacing the Floor, which means everything in my bedroom has been shoved into the guest room and everything in the guest room has been shoved into what passes for an office (that nobody ever uses) and there is detritus everywhere. The dogs can’t figure out what’s happening to their environment; in protest of the disruption, they knock over bathroom wastebaskets and generally behave badly.

I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or decamp to the nearest cheap motel.

Attempting to see the humor seems the best choice.

Did you know that Christians aren’t supposed to have a sense of humor, though? I didn’t until recently. Again, belatedly I learn that I have been doing my life all wrong. Must have lost the instruction manual. Apparently we are supposed to be deeply serious people, always and ever concerned with ruining everybody’s good time.

How sad.

Jesus went to parties, you know. As in, He was invited to parties all the time and saw no need to avoid them. Heaven certainly sounds like it’s going to be a gigantic, forever-long party, full of light, laughter and good food. For what is being in the presence of God if not happiness? If not constant smiling?

Is life serious? Of course it is. It’s also absurd. A friend texted me a couple of hours ago, relaying a story she’d seen on the news of a man who broke into a house and began doing laundry. Not his laundry. The laundry that belongs to the people whose house he broke into. Yes, theft is a sin, but that’s funny. What sort of burglar thinks, “You know, I’ll just do some washing up for these fine folks that I’m robbing?”

There are two sides to my personality; one is very serious, dark and afraid, the other ever-amused and struggling to hold back giggles at inappropriate moments. This particular blend is what it is. At nearly 34, I’ve about given up on attempting to reconcile how I can, at the same time, be both numbingly anxious and laughing so hard tears spring to my eyes. That is, I suppose, humanity.

I believe in learning, study, contemplation. I also believe in a good pie to the face. I don’t think God minds a good joke. In fact, I think He laughs. Give yourself permission to do the same. Allow yourself to see the funny, the farcical. Perhaps, in so doing, the proverbial silver lining is found.

William Makepeace Thackeray (one of the best names ever) wrote in his novel Vanity Fair,

The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion.

When I frown at the world, when I dwell on all that makes me sad and scared, I find more things to be sad and scared about. When I do the work of looking up and smiling (for it is work, as all choices are), I find more things to smile about. That’s not pop psychology or self-help babble, nor is that a substitute for medication or therapy, if needed. (Real talk: I am beginning to become annoyed at having to place this disclaimer in my writing so often. I wish that anyone who ever reads here would simply, somehow, know what my position is and that I’d never have to state it again). It’s taking ownership of our thoughts an attitudes, something we are advised to do throughout Scripture.

And now, The Fish Slapping Dance. Not because it means anything. Not because it must be analyzed. Because it’s 17 seconds of sheer, unbridled silliness. It’s okay to giggle over this and promptly replay.

Bonus content: The Spanish Inquisition compilation. (Yes, I love Monty Python and yes, Michael Palin is my favorite. Some of my fondest memories involve acting out absurd, stupid sketches with old friends, both original and ones that we blatantly stole from this British comedy troupe. Please don’t sue us, gents. We have no money).

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