Beware the Line

send

Gentle Reader,

What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?

– James 4:1 (CSB)

How often do you examine your motives?

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this recently. I know that it’s unpopular, but I do believe in tone policing, to an extent; there is a way to say something in order to get the message across, however strong it is, while maintaining integrity of self and respect for the other person (which is incredibly difficult sometimes) and then there’s being obnoxious for the sake of stirring the pot. Where that line is, where we cross from attempting to communicate and into poking the bear, is different for each person, for, while we share a common tongue, we are not always speaking the same language.

Tone policing is not the same as deeming a subject taboo. It’s not the same as refusing to engage in conversation on difficult matters. It’s not something that we can do for each other, really, beyond a gentle touch on the shoulder or a low-voiced, calming word. This is all about the individual. There are things that you can say, and ways that you can say these things, that I cannot. There are people who will respond to you who won’t respond to me. Frustrating as this can be (and it is), this is simply part of making our way through this world.

Beyond considering the way a sentence is worded, however, is the deeper issue of why one is about to say or write the sentence, or, indeed, post the meme or link to an article. What is the urge rooted in? What is the goal in sharing?

As I’ve previously written, 2018 was a long, hard year. I had no sense of direction in my writing. The Lord made it clear to me in the days just prior to pulling out a fresh, new calendar that I needed to place my eyes back on Him. That I needed to dwell in and focus on Him and His truth, for this lack of dwelling and focus is what led to the lostness. As I’ve begun doing this – make no mistake, it’s a daily choice – I realized that my motives in hitting “publish” or “send” haven’t been entirely good.

This whole section has in view an acquisitive society, the competition for material things and the pleasure they bring. It begins with the manifold desires of individuals that need to be satisfied; so individuals mobilize, each one, to seize the desired object. When they step outside the self, they engage in competition with other persons, even to the point of fierce conflict. So intense is the desire for possessions that they are ready to commit murder (Barclay).

Asbury Bible Commentary

Possessions are not merely things we hold in our hands. We all, each of us, are tempted by the desire to possess authority and power. This doesn’t always look like stepping on other’s to get the corner office. This can be as simple and subtle as thinking, “Why can’t you all see? Why can’t you admit that I’m right? Are you stupid?”

An attempt to diminish the imago dei in another. If I see them as somehow less-than, then I don’t have to check my words or explore my motives. I can let them have it.

When I crossed over from “there are things that are happening and they are very alarming and we need to talk about them” and into “seriously, you’re a bunch of morons and I don’t like you,” I don’t know. I suspect I went back and forth over that line a few times. Sometimes I would communicate as well as I know how and the discussion would be fruitful. Other times I would poke the bear because I felt angry and the bear is dumb.

Oh, the humanity.

This side of Heaven, we will struggle. We are never going to get this exactly right. Yet we must not shrug and think, “Well, it’ll never get better, so whatever.” It can get better. We can get better. Not perfect. Better. We who have the Holy Spirit dwelling within are not helpless, hapless, hopeless slaves to sin.

There are things happening, in society and in our churches, and they are alarming and we do need to talk about them. In our talking, there can’t be justifying or sugar-coating. But we don’t have to go to war. We don’t have to beat each other with words. Jesus never did and He is our example. He said a lot of hard things, spoke a lot of truth that people didn’t want to hear, but He never stepped outside the bounds of love.

Lord, make us more like You. Teach us to examine ourselves, by the light of Your Spirit, not that we may engage in self-condemnation but so that we may grow into who You designed us to be. Help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. And when we do speak, grant us the self-control to keep our tongues from lighting a deadly fire. By Your grace, in Your power, and in Your Name, Amen.

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Five Minute Friday: Routine

Routine

Gentle Reader,

Something to ponder:

How was she created? I’m not sure if you realize this, but it was in God’s image. How can anybody dare to speak ill of something which bears such a noble imprint?

– Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies

Born in 1364 in Venice, Italy, Christine de Pizan must have been in possession of a TARDIS, for her work was far ahead of its time. Regarded as the first professional female writer in Europe, she published both prose and poetry, participated in literary debate and commented on theological topics at a time when many wondered if women should read or write at all. (Our brains being ill equipped for intellectual pursuits and all that). de Pizan dared to state that women are equal to men, that rape is a crime and that we have a talent for governing well.

Sad, isn’t it, that over six centuries later, in some circles, these ideas are still regarded as radical?

Kate says: routine.

Go.

Ah, yes. One of my favorite words.

I don’t function properly without some idea of what the day is going to hold and how I need to navigate through it. This doesn’t mean that I am never spontaneous; I can let go with the best of them as long it’s in a quiet, organized fashion. I wish that were true, actually. Illness leaves little room for spur-of-the-moment decisions, though, on a really good day, when all the planets are in alignment (if I believed in that sort of thing, which I do not), I can rouse myself from the couch and the books and sally forth on an adventure.

Some think of “routine” and immediately scowl, but it’s not as bad as all that. Everyone needs a schedule. Everyone needs order. Nothing would ever be accomplished without lists and timetables. Within those boundaries, there’s really quiet a lot of room to play and explore. I can’t calculate the number of documentaries or the amount of music I’ve listened to while running errands, keeping house and sitting in lines. In our technologically-advanced era, even the most mundane, mind-numbing of tasks can be made bearable.

This is not to say that everyone’s routine should be the same. We’re all different. I, for example, will never be a night-owl (willingly, I should say, as insomnia does keep me up many nights) but I’m friends with those who are. I find it easier to get things done earlier in the day; they prefer handling tasks when all others have gone to bed. Some roll out of bed and directly into exercise, others first need coffee in order to become human. There is no ten-step program that guarantees harmonious living for every person.

So, have a routine. Work on that self-discipline thing we all love so much. But don’t stress if you don’t do things exactly the same as someone else. It’s okay. As they say, “You do you, boo.”

Stop.

This has no connection to anything whatsoever, but I just discovered this lovely piece of music. Enjoy.

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Five Minute Friday: Follow

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Gentle Reader,

Tonight we spoke of eating our feelings, throwing things and longing for new bodies. We prayed for hurting doggies, discussed my upcoming book “Things That Make Me Cranky and the Food the Makes It Better,” shared Blacklist jokes (yes, that show comes up fairly consistently in conversation) and enjoyed the deep sort of soul-sigh that comes with being in the company of family.

Connected across the miles and denominations and food preferences.

Kate and the gang. We: follow.

Go.

Today was tough. Some stuff was said by some people, which pushed the ever-shortening fuse of my temper closer to the dynamite. I got quiet. (Nobody seems to realize that lack of speech is a warning sign. I might not be the most verbose of persons, but if I’m completely tight-lipped there’s a good chance it’s for the safety of others). I tried to keep my head down and just get through.

But really I wanted to cry.

I hate that. Emotions are so awful.

Of course, they aren’t really awful. They are God-given. I know that. As a person who is very much wired for the head-space and not the heart-space, however, emotions are difficult to handle. Often I don’t know what I’m feeling until the moment has passed. Sometimes it’s hours later.

I felt embarrassed. Publicly humiliated.

So I ate my feelings and put on my sweatpants and chatted with my lovely Twitter friends. All the while, I hear the Spirit speaking into my heart, “Follow Me.”

Why does He say this? I know without having to think. Because my reaction to those feelings was not good. My face was a blank mask (at least I hope it was), but my insides were ugly. I was throwing things. Name-calling. Screaming.

And following Him, while it means not that I ignore the hurt or gloss over the wrong, does involve letting that screaming, cussing, termagant die. It involves killing her. It looks like taking all that pain and frustration and dumping it at His feet. Asking Him to sort through my emotions and help me to feel them in a way that does not bind me tight.

Following Him means releasing the desire to whip around, look at those people and drop a list of their wrongs, failures and short-comings on their laps. It means not retaliating.

Following Him is hard.

So very hard.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Sock Seams

IMG_20131125_191853Gentle Reader,

I’ve been in a funk.

A multiple-year funk.

The last major work I finished writing was for the Women of Faith contest a couple…actually, possibly three years ago. I forget. And reading? I pick up books only to discard them. The mojo just hasn’t been there, not for anything greater than the hammering out of a post or the quick run-through of a familiarly-plotted novel. Words, lovely black-faced words on fresh white pages or screens, haven’t been as friendly as they used to be.

I was only vaguely aware of this funk until last Monday, when the volunteer coordinator at the shelter I’m volunteering at asked me if I had any life-goals.

Cue panic, stage right.

The truth is, I’ve been focusing on getting through each day. Sometimes on surviving the day. Or the hour. I used to spend so much time berating myself for not having brought about the end of world hunger with a Pulitzer and Nobel winning piece of elegant prose. I used to feel ashamed for not having accomplished more at such-and-such an age. I used to think that it was necessary to have a five-year plan and that if I didn’t check every item off the list, I was a complete and total failure. Then the world caved in. Getting out of bed and taking a shower became the major milestones.

For someone who isn’t wildly expressive, I sure do live on the extremes. Plan out five years or plan out five minutes. No happy middle ground.

This simple question, coming from a place of completely innocent curiosity, settled on me like a thick, smelly blanket. What are my life-goals? Why can’t I think of any?

In the midst of this gloominess, I picked up Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson. The hubby had gotten the book for me over the summer, for my birthday. It had been sitting on my nightstand for weeks, untouched. I’m sure I sighed when I picked it up and thumbed through the crisp pages. Why not read? Nothing else to do.

While I’m not the heavy predestination-y sort, I do believe that God orchestrates things for our good (Rom. 8:28). I think there are times when we’ve been wandering around for long enough and He lights a spark under our rears. Where I could barely get through the introduction before, now I couldn’t stop reading. And, gloriously, I came to this sentence:

The problem is, many people can get treated for the rest of their lives and learn to manage an illness, but will never be “over it.” (p. 114)

This screamingly-apparent truth brought new light to the question of life-goals and the answering thereof. While I firmly believe that God can and does bring total healing to people if that is within His plan for them, I also firmly believe that it can be within His plan to withhold total healing. I know that this is true because of sock seams.

I’ve worn socks my whole life. I’ve never had a problem with them. For the last two weeks, I’ve had to turn my socks inside out. I can’t stand the seams. This isn’t just a “oh, seams are annoying” and you carry on kind of thing. No. I have to turn my socks inside out. I’m afraid that the seams will get between my toes and I won’t be able to fix it. If I am in a situation where I can’t fix my socks, then it must be a Very Important Situation. I don’t like Very Important Situations. If I turn my socks inside out, I can avoid the discomfort and, possibly, Very Important Situations.

Does that really make any sense?

No.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). – Mayo Clinic

I thank God that I have what you might term a “mild” case of OCD. My obsessions and compulsions usually revolve around little things, like sock seams and getting my tape dispensers at work lined up exactly. But I know what it is to feel a physical ache and a great, gnawing worry when things aren’t “just so.”

Life-goals and sock seams. And then this, in my Sunday school lesson:

There are other children of God who are hurting and need to be comforted. – Rob Prince

Amy Simpson put a lot of effort into her book. She surveyed pastors and congregations to get a feel for the prevalence of mental illness within the Christian community. My friend, it’s everywhere. The person you sit next to at church could very well be slogging through mirky depths of sadness. Could have chewed her nails to the quick out of fear. Could think that he’s getting special messages during the sermon. There are people in pain and confusion, from the new guy in the back row to, gasp!, the pulpit itself. And even though we’re learning to talk about it more, we still struggle. We still don’t have ministries that seek to serve the mentally ill; it’s no wonder that this is often referred to as the “no casserole” disease. We stigmatize. We fear. We label.

We think of victory in terms of completion. The Christian lives a victorious life if she is no longer struggling, no longer tempted. I think that’s an incomplete definition. Victory is found in turning your socks inside out and going about your day. It’s acknowledging that, yes, there is pain, but that pain will not defeat.

I don’t know if I will ever write a book that gets published. I don’t know that you’ll ever see me work the talk-show circuit. I’m sure I’ll have more days like today, when I wonder if I should really be adding my feeble voice to the cacophony. I do know what my life-goal is, though: Hope. I want to share hope with people. I want to comfort the hurting children of God.

Especially if they’re irritated by sock seams.

My journey to faith. (15)