Blessed be Your name when I walk through the wilderness

I have absolutely nothing to say.

No, now, wait. Y’all know me better than that. I have plenty to say, but I’m going to keep it to a bare minimum…

From the When Keeping It Spiritually Real Goes Wrong file…

Back to my pet bugbear(if I’m using that word right)…Christianity…not God, not Jesus, just Christianity…but lately, I get very irked when Christian people say things like, “God will never push you past your breaking point” when right in front of us we have an entire Bible full of people who God did exactly that to. To name a few; Paul gets chucked off his donkey, Joseph spends decades as a slave and prisoner, Job loses everything and then some, and oh yeah Jesus actually DIES. I’d call that pretty broken, wouldn’t you?

And the thing is, none of these people are fulfilled in a spiritual sense until they’re pushed to breaking and beyond. Without the break, Paul is just another bad guy, Job is a self-satisfied nobody, Joseph is a spoiled fortunate son, and worst of all, Jesus is reduced to being just another prophet. It’s not until the addition of catastrophe, loss and frustration that we get a Saviour.

Nobody ever mentioned this kind of thing when I was a starry-eyed young Christian. I wish someone had, because from the sales pitch, I thought it was going to be all guitar music and spaghetti dinners from the moment I decided to join up to this church thing. Nobody talks about the part where you ruin your Bible with tears and talk to God like you’re an outtake from The Bell Jar. Somebody needed to mention that.

But here’s where all this keeping it real goes wrong…nobody in their right mind is going to sign up to a spirituality that offers this. And to be fair, this doesn’t always happen. Just sometimes. And if someone had tried to say, y’know, it isn’t all tent meetings and DC Talk albums. Sometimes it’s just you and God and a horribly unfair world with a hard-on for destruction in the name of self-satisfaction. Sometimes being a Christian is kind of like being thrown in a mine with a flashlight and being told to search for diamonds using a two thousand year old blueprint. It’s not always like this–in fact, not even often–but sometimes it is.

Now if someone had said something like that to me when I first got into this–I probably would have wondered who peed in their breakfast cereal and written them off as a gloomy Gus, raining on my parade. Which some of you are probably doing right now.

That’s where keeping it real goes even wronger. It’s all fine and well to say well, hey, it’s not easy being green and all that, but how does one deal with those times? I have no idea. I’m going through one of those times right now, and I can honestly say, I have no idea how to handle this. The only thing that comes to mind is to just worship, trust, and let be, and to be really honest…worship takes on a very different texture then, I think. I find myself writing songs and poetry that would probably get me chased out of the local church trailing pitchforks and flaming torches. I’m not trying to be inflammatory, I’m certainly not trying to be sacriligeous(nor am I being), but I do want to be honest. With God, with myself, with my community, with random strangers who come across this on the internet…

Look, I want to be a happy, carefree, easy-on easy-off worship-song singing Christian who never asks gloomy questions and is able to just get on with Christian life, buy the books, see the movie, memorize the theme songs. But I don’t seem to be wired that way. And I don’t think that’s wrong.

~sigh~ There are so many levels to this Christian thing, and I don’t understand a single one anymore.

I guess that’s where divine relationship comes in.

I realize I’m losing a lot of you with my intermittent flights into Christian gabble, but hey. It’s all a part of the package. Stay tuned.

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6 responses

  1. Mel, you’re a prophet. I don’t mean ‘prophet’ in any namby-pamby 21st-century description of what a prophet is, I mean you are someone who sees truth and then communicates it, and like you say I’m sure some Christians write you off as having missed something, and some non-Christians write you off as missing some essential part of your cerebrum, but I’m on your side, and in a very real sense – i.e. once again, you express what I’m feeling.

    I actually think it’s heresy for Christians to suggest that life is gonna be much ‘better’ with Jesus. I guess in a limited sense – i.e. being in the ‘will of God’ is better than not being in it – but the fact that we often have no clue what God’s will is in some of the unique 21st century issues we have to make our way through means that’s hardly a comfort.

    You’re entirely right that life in Christ, or with Christ, is a life of brokenness. Suggesting anything else makes a mockery of the cross and resurrection. And Jesus said that to follow him, we must take up our cross every single flipping day. And taking up our cross doesn’t mean carrying a crucifix round our neck but embracing the agony of death and separation from God. Nice.

    My life is probably the most broken it has ever been. And yet I hold on, surprisingly firmly. There are a few things that help me, I think.

    First, that Jesus was fully human. I think we still separate out Jesus’ divinity from his humanity, even though we know that’s a Greek idea to do that. We still stress the fact that Jesus is like some kind of superhero who can make everything better. And yes, he can, but he hasn’t promised to do that in any full sense until he comes again. Jesus’ humanity means for me not only that he understands some of the things I go through (I say some, because I don’t think he had a car or an Apple Mac or had to worry about global warming etc) – but that, coupled with his death, he is in a very real sense with me in the things I go through. I don’t think I got that for a very long while. I used to say, “Jesus doesn’t understand what it’s like for me to face X, Y or Z, because he never did those things on earth”, but it’s actually more important that he experiences those things with me…oh, I’m really not explaining this very well at all, in fact maybe I’m refuting my point. The point is, God is with us and, I believe, continues to experience our suffering as we go through it, he’s not sitting up in the clouds reclining on some spiritual chaise-longue eating grapes whilst some cherub gives him a back rub, thinking “I’ve already done it, it’s all sorted” (although in some cosmic sense we have been told this is true ad nauseum.)

    The next thing I’ve found is that shifting my perspective on how I’m supposed to live out my Christianity has been quite relieving. There’s such a perfectionistic mindset that is backed up by verses such as ‘be holy as i am holy’ that means we are basically all feel guilty and like we’ve fallen short ALL the time. This mindset has made me reason in the last year: if something’s wrong in my relationship with God, then because God is perfect, it’s ALWAYS gonna my fault. And I’ve found it hard to relate to that god, because every other relationship in the whole world that we experience is, to some extent at least, 2-way. Both parties do something wrong at times, and both have to apologise. And then the relationship is stronger. With God, sometimes I’ve felt that he’s not answering me, or not giving me what I need, but again, because he’s perfect, it must be something wrong with me or my expectations. I can’t win.

    So, the relieving thing I read only this week was from Galatians 2:15-16, which in essence says that ONLY faith in Jesus justifies us or makes us right before God, NOT by doing stuff.

    So, it doesn’t matter that I haven’t actually read my Bible in a ‘devotional time’ for about sixteen months until this week when I picked it up again. It doesn’t matter that I’m not in a church fellowship right now. It doesn’t matter that I still struggle with a whole bunch of things. Those things are important, but they don’t make me right before God. Only faith in Jesus does. Rudolf Bultmann said that only the bare fact of Christ crucified was necessary for the Christian faith. And I think I TOTALLY agree with him.

    Finally (and I hope my struggles help you through yours in some way) I found it a huge weight off my back to know that crises of faith are a healthy sign OF faith, not of a lack of faith. Brian McLaren identifies 4 stages that people go through (and cycle back round maybe several times in their lives) in CHristian faith.
    Step 1 – simplicity – everything is very simple, God loves me, we need to tell others, God’s gonna make everything ok, etc. Often people in this stage are quite passionate.
    Step 2 – complexity – where the person realises that things actually aren’t quite so simple at all. There are some things which are very complicated.
    Step 3 – perplexity – where the person gets to a stage where they doubt the validity of many of the things they’ve learnt, and question everything. The desire is for a genuine faith, rather than a superficial, neat one. Apparently people in this stage can be very cynical of people in stages 1+2…
    Step 4 – maturity – I’m not keen on the title of this stage, but those that make it here from Perplexity get to the point that some things are simple, some are complex and some are just mysteries, and that that’s ok.

    I’m not sure how people can then go back round again, but the point is that being in stage 3 is a perfectly normal experience, probably increasingly so in our modern/postmodern hyrbid context, and that it’s actually fundamental to go through times of dryness or whatever you call it in order to grow in faith.

    I’d rather grow in my faith and find myself almost losing it in the process than remain in a stagnant stench the whole of my life.

    Love you Mel. Keep writing this stuff. You’re not wired the same way as others. And you’re right, that is not wrong at all, it’s awesome.

  2. Ahem. Sorry that was so long. Well, y’know I’m an extrovert 😉

  3. Dude, I love your comments on my blog. I’m going to have to read the above again to understand it all I think, but it’s nice to know that someone ‘gets’ some of the things I’m typing…sometimes I don’t think I’m expressing myself very well.

    If I’m a prophet, you’re a teacher…you really broke it down! I dig the Brian McLaren stages quite a bit…they make a lot of sense.

    Thanks for sharing all these thoughts…

  4. Well, I hope you get some kind of sense from it on a re-read. It kinda just fell outta my mouth as I was thinking it. Or, outta my fingertips…

    m x

  5. Nope, you never lose this Jewish heathen, not when you offer things like ” I thought it was going to be all guitar music and spaghetti dinners from the moment I decided to join up to this church thing. Nobody talks about the part where you ruin your Bible with tears and talk to God like you’re an outtake from The Bell Jar. Somebody needed to mention that”.

    I think the only true depression is that which cannot envision it ever being different. Remember that all things change, because I ain’t gonna say, “This, too, shall pass”.

    Loving you…

  6. […] been very frank on this blog in the past about my struggles with depression and self-imposed religious misery. I’ve also been pretty candid in discussing the bitter, unpleasant, socially suicidal process […]

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