Monthly Archives: July 2015

Holy Crap. Put Your Mask Back On!

Many have said, perception is reality. There’s a lot of truth to that. Too much truth. It’s like the meme I shared a few weeks back showing the cylinder and depending upon where someone is standing, they either see a circle or a square. Both are true, but neither sees the entire picture; the entire truth.

The same goes for the people we know. How we perceive them is how we know them. Much of the time, however, it’s not everything we want or need to know. How often has someone said or done something that has completely taken us by surprise, something we never expected them to say and do?

A friend of mine once told me that he didn’t want to reveal something he did earlier in his life, because he didn’t want me to change my opinion of him.

I said, “It doesn’t matter, because me knowing something new about you doesn’t change who you are, only my perception of you. I can’t hold my perception of you against you. That’s on me.”

Then again, all of us chooses how much to reveal to others. It’s a mask we put on every day. I think we’re all afraid that if we took that mask off, even for a second, we will be shunned and despised.

It’s always a risk to reveal something “new” about ourselves. People will either embrace it, or put their hands out and back away as if warding off evil spirits. I put quotes around “new,” because, although people can and do change, we don’t always reveal that change the moment it happens. It can often take years — if at all — because we’re afraid that change will result in lost friendships and even family members.

So what is a person to do, then? Do we keep that mask on, making sure we avoid revealing everything that could offend or otherwise hurt someone? Or do we say to ourselves, “This part of me is important. It’s a passion of mine I want to share”?

That’s not to say we should reveal everything. Some things are definitely meant to stay private. I’m sure you don’t want to know my every, shall we say, appetite. I’m certain I don’t want to know all of yours.

Like everything, it’s a matter of balance.

This entire entry is my bloviating way of saying that whenever we reveal something new about ourselves, we risk angering or alienating people. We should always be prepared for that, as terrible as it is. We should also keep in mind that when someone reveals something new about themselves that changes our perception of them, they didn’t change. Only our perception of them did, and that’s not entirely their fault. We, too, are responsible for that perception, and we shouldn’t be angry or hateful to them because of it.

Just as we want to be loved, ugly and frightening* as we are under our mask, we, too, must always be loving to those who also show their honest, true, ugly and frightening* countenance to us.

Because it always takes courage to remove that mask.

* As an aside, we are not all ugly or frightening inside or outside. We are all beautiful and lovable, even when we have ugly thoughts or do ugly things. I use those words only because that’s how we too often see our darkest and deepest parts of who we are — whether it’s true or not.

A Formulaic Life

A few friends of mine are struggling. One can’t find the job she wants, and no matter how much she prays about it, God seems silent. Another struggles with anxiety, and no one seems to understand.

Both their frustrations increase when well-meaning friends and family offer nothing but platitudes, or accuse them of not having enough faith or optimism.

Part of the problem, I think, stems from wanting simple, formulaic answers. All those, “if only” statements such as “if only you prayed more,” or “if only you had more faith,” or “if only you exercised more,” or “if only you ate the right kind of food.”

I used to poo-poo depression. I’ve been depressed, but I never lost my sense of optimism, even when I considered taking my own life. Even then, deep down I knew things would eventually get better.

Until I read a book by Roxanne Henke (a ND author) called “Becoming Olivia.” It’s a fictionalized story of her own battle with depression.

The character, Olivia, endured the same quick and easy “answers” by friends and family, but without any solution. She even believed a solution could be found without much effort, because she had faith one was possible. Finally she had to admit she needed professional help. Even then there were no quick and easy answers, or a simple formula to follow in order to beat her depression. It was a process that took a long time to solve, and even with medication, she still has to watch how she feels lest she drop back into dark thoughts and emotions.

In today’s “gotta have it now” society, we want quick and easy solutions to all our problems, but it simply (no pun intended) isn’t possible. Life is complicated, and can’t be lived by using some five-step formula. It’s one reason I despise memes, and so-called self-help manuals. Memes never give the complete story, and self-help books promise to make a person’s life better “if only” they adhere to all the steps offered.

Every person has his/her own unique problems, and few can be solved with a few words or deeds. It’s a process that could take a literal lifetime.

On the flipside, I wish I could offer an easy solution to someone’s problems, because I don’t like seeing people in pain. Everyone who offers platitudinal advice is honestly and sincerely trying to help. They – and I – just don’t know how.

In the end, all we can offer is understanding, compassion and, above all, to simply listen. At least for me, when I’m having a problem, I’m not always looking for someone to give me a solution so much as a sympathetic ear. Sometimes knowing I’m not alone in my struggles helps me get through it all, even if those traveling with me can’t provide direct solutions.

I Am Ashamed and I’m Going to Hell

I went through a phase where things I learned and subsequently wrote about did not include scripture. I figured by doing so, I’m alienating several readers.

Because when reading other people’s posts that include scripture, my eyes glaze over and I skip it all. The last thing I want is my readers to walk away glassy-eyed.

My first question that I had to ask was why I would want to snooze when reading scripture posted by others? Am I ashamed of the Bible, and as such ashamed of being a follower of Jesus?

Now that’s a scary thought. Jesus even said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26).

I got a twofer, being ashamed of both Jesus and his Word? I’m going to Hell.

A few months ago, I was reading a photography forum, and one person posted about how a person shouldn’t judge the photographic works of others with too critical of an eye if the person doesn’t have the expertise him/herself to back up their criticism. The poster then added Matthew 7:3:

“For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

I actually cringed when I read that, no glazed eyes that time. Now I’m really going to Hell, I thought.

After thinking about it for a while, at 3am one morning I finally figured it out.

Context is everything.

In the photography post instance, the poster used scripture not to edify or help the other members, but to show off, and to prove the person who knew the passage was somehow better or more moral than the rest. To use scriptural passages on subjective matter (such as photography) isn’t helpful. I doubt I was the only one who cringed, and the responses were not nice.

Not long after that, someone posted a video of a pastor spouting a line in Hosea to “explain” why a woman’s baby was cut out of her; she survived, but the baby didn’t (if memory serves). The pastor’s reasoning behind reciting the passage was to show how godless America has become, and such instances like what happened to the woman and baby was proof of God’s judgement against us.

He cited specifically Hosea 13:26: “The people of Samaria must bear the consequences of their guilt because they rebelled against their God. They will be killed by an invading army, their little ones dashed to death against the ground, their pregnant women ripped open by swords.”

The premise of Hosea is not only to warn and convict Israel of her sin of rebelling against God and worshipping idols, but also to show God’s ultimate grace, mercy and love. The pastor completely ignored chapter 14 of Hosea which highlighted his forgiveness and rewards once Israel returned to him. Chapter 13 was a warning if Israel continued on their rebellious path. Chapter 14 focused on God’s mercy if they turned from their sinful ways.

Again, it’s all about context.

It’s a knee-jerk reaction on my part when someone recites scripture – especially a single passage – to prove a point. I’m always ready to take exception, because far too often, people misuse said passage, like the pastor and poster on the photography forum.

It’s not always a fair or reasonable reaction, because many also recite scripture appropriately (as if – in my infinite wisdom – I am qualified to judge said appropriateness [rolls eyes]).

There’s also the element of preaching. People don’t like to be preached to or at. When I use scripture, I always try to stay away from preaching, and instead use it as a teaching tool. Do I always succeed? Nope. I hope readers understand that, even when I come across as preachy, that’s not my intent. I want to instead highlight lessons I’ve learned – however painfully – and write about it in the hope people don’t make the same mistakes I did.

So am I truly ashamed of God’s Word? Am I really going to Hell?

No. I am actually quite protective of scripture, ready to defend it when it’s misused. Nor am I going to Hell. God loves me no more or less than everyone else, and he is ready to show me his love, mercy and grace even when I stray, just as he was ready for Israel as described in Hosea.

Check My Pulse. I Think I’m Dead.

In Skeptics this evening, we discussed how Christians can go out into the world to spread the Good News in a loving way instead of being obnoxious.

Our new youth pastor, Brandon, showed us different pictures of so-called “Christians” (I put quotes around it, because some of the pictures showed only self-proclaimed Christians, and are anything but). He asked us after showing each one whether or not the subject Christian (or Christian sign) was being loving or obnoxious.

There was a similarity with both the obnoxious ones and the loving ones that struck me early on.

One extreme example was the Westboro Baptists who descend upon funerals to proclaim those who died deserved it and would go to Hell — for whatever reason. The other extreme showed a picture of Mother Theresa feeding a hungry child.

In short, the obnoxious ones yelled, screamed and threw out platitudes. A very defensive posture (and unfortunately one I’ve taken trying to defend my own faith).

The loving ones whispered with actions, but those actions whispered so much louder than any words they could have spoken or yelled.

A common complaint I found from many non-Christians to Christians is, “Don’t tell me I’m a sinner. Don’t tell me I’m going to hell.” I should have seen it sooner, but I was so busy trying to defend my faith and my Christianity, I was missing God’s own whispers through their voices. The one phrase they kept saying is “don’t tell me.”

Writers know this refrain well: When writing, show, don’t tell.

This is equally true for Christians.

James 2:14-26 says it all (it’s a bit long, but well worth reading the whole thing):

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have any good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Don’t you remember that our ancestor, Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”

I noted in a previous entry that Jesus said, “Let him with ears, let him hear.” In no Scripture that I’ve found did he proclaim, “Let those with mouths let them speak.” More often than not, we must keep our mouth shut, and whisper loudly instead with our actions, because that’s the best and clearest way people will hear Jesus’ message.

While I may show well with my writing, I need to apply the same with my life day by day — to act and show instead of merely speaking.

Don’t Look at Me

One common reason I found for people attempting to disprove the existence of God, or abandoning their faith in him, is through the actions of people.

Here’s a quote I found on Facebook from a page called “Humans of New York”. It didn’t specify the person who wrote it, and I wish it did so I can give proper credit:

I’ve been a deep believer my whole life. 18 years as a Southern Baptist. More than 40 years as a mainline Protestant. I’m an ordained pastor. But it’s just stopped making sense to me. You see people doing terrible things in the name of religion, and you think: ‘Those people believe just as strongly as I do. They’re just as convinced as I am.’ And it just doesn’t make sense anymore. It doesn’t make sense to believe in a God that dabbles in people’s lives. If a plane crashes, and one person survives, everyone thanks God. They say: ‘God had a purpose for that person. God saved her for a reason!’ Do we not realize how cruel that is? Do we not realize how cruel it is to say that if God had a purpose for that person, he also had a purpose in killing everyone else on that plane? And a purpose in starving millions of children? A purpose in slavery and genocide? For every time you say that there’s a purpose behind one person’s success, you invalidate billions of people. You say there is a purpose to their suffering. And that’s just cruel.

He has a point, especially the last part. It is cruel to say survivors are somehow more special and those who died less so.

So is he right? Should I reconsider my faith because God can’t be seen when looking at human evil and natural (and unnatural) disasters?

Faith in God doesn’t make sense to the one who said the quote above, because he’s looking for God in human beings. Yes, we have the capability to show God’s love and grace, and there are countless examples of it. But for that to be someone’s only source in looking for God, he or she will not find him. At least not consistently. Not when we produce people like Pol Pot, Ted Bundy and countless others.

Therein lies the problem. God is consistent; human beings are not. We must look for God, but we must look for him through multiple sources, not only those who claim to know and speak for him.

God even told us where to look in Romans 1:19-22:

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God has made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.

When someone says after a horrific event, “It was God’s will, or God has a special purpose for that survivor,” that’s a human opinion (I also want to smack them upside the head, because — as the quote eloquently states above — it minimizes the worth of those who died, it minimizes the grief of those left behind. It also makes God look capricious and like some big cosmic bully). We humans can no more know the mind of God than an ant can know a human’s. We’re too different.

It’s certainly not scriptural that God considers one person’s worth greater than another simply because he or she survived something terrible. God can no more love one person over another than a parent can love one child over another. Not the good ones, anyway. Parents are, after all, imperfectly human, too.

In short, while we can see God’s love in human beings, we must not look for God solely through human beings. Doing so only causes anger, discontent and wavering faith.