So although I tend to post most of my more spiritual writing over here, I’m very aware that more people read this blog than that one. At times like today, when I feel I have something more interesting to say, I’ll post here anyway. Eventually the two roads will diverge in the wilderness, or something like that.
Anyway, lately I’ve been having a lot of wildly contrasting conversations. People are just all very different to each other, and that’s that. The strange thing is, those differences all seem to emerge from the same motivations, ultimately.
On my twitter feed the other day, I posted this:
I’m starting to realize that for a lot of people belief=control. Doesn’t matter what the belief is in.
There were a few responses, but what prompted the tweet was talking to two very different people.
The first is a woman I’ve met through my theology classes–for those of you who just got here, I’m doing a degree in theology and I’ve met some very interesting people that way. Cross Wal-Mart with Lollapalooza, add a dollop of self-righteousness and a sprinkle of best intentions and you’ve got your average gathering of theology students, myself included. Anyway, this woman is a single mother, hasn’t been a Christian for too terribly long(I think a year or so) and is all about fear and legalism and using Christianity to fix her problems because she believes she’s screwed up her life. She believes in God because God provides a framework, a way to control a wildly unpredictable life.
As I’m sure you can guess, we got along great.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a little control over things. That’s a normal, natural part of being human. But basically, within hours of meeting for the first time, we’d discovered that we disagreed greatly on things like halal food, piercings, child-rearing techniques, multi-culturalism, and consumerism. When I say that “we’d discovered” I really mean “I discovered”. Sistah-girl was so utterly convinced that it was her way or the highway when it came to being a Christian that there was no room in her constant monologue for the possibility that she was terrifying me with each new sentence.
What got me wasn’t what she thought. It’s a diverse world, and people have the right to think what they want. I also have(quite recently) developed enough sense to realize that just because someone believes in a way that I disagree with it doesn’t automatically mean that they haven’t invested just as much time and thought and interest in arriving at their conclusion as I have in mine.
What got me was that she fully expected her harsh, legalistic way of looking at the world to fix it. This is her way of imposing order and control on her life because it hasn’t turned out the way she wanted. She seems to believe that by looking at Christianity as a list of what not to do, her life–which she believes is totally ruined and in need of fixing–will be redeemed and reordered.
Well, shit. Can’t say I haven’t thought this way in my darker moments. But for the most part I’ve been free of such fictions, and boy am I glad. Folks, I’ve said this to many of you in person, and I’ll say it again in print: Christianity for me has never really been about the things I couldn’t do. It’s always been about the things that I can do. God is a God of possibilities, not denial. God is a God of authority, not control. God is a God of “go!”, not “stop!”.
This woman has a family. A nice, big, involved one of both blood and choice, if what she was saying was any indication. She’s got a career. A home. Good health and a lot of intelligence. What she’s cut herself off from is curiosity and the day to day enjoyment of life that the grace of God really opens us all up to. And all in the name of controlling the uncontrollable–life!
She stands in sharp contrast to another woman I know. This other woman is also a mother, also a Christian, enjoying her faith day by day, and one of the least controlling people I know. The reason she stands in contrast to my fellow student is that one of the first things she said to me was, “sometimes all the wrong choices lead you to the right places.” This second woman–a friend, I’m proud to say–has done pretty much everything wrong, in the traditional Christian framework. She’s been in a bad, abusive marriage, gotten divorced, had two children while unmarried, abused substances, made stupid decisions, done ugly, rebellious things. But through all those bad choices, she has come to the right place. She’s married to a wonderful man(who, incidentally she met while formulating an escape plan from her previous abusive marriage. Funny how that worked out.) She’s got a beautiful home and family. She lives a gracious, gentle life which I, to be honest, envy a bit. Sure, she’s had some really tough times. There have been low moments, moments of angst and suffering, even when it seemed that things were otherwise going well. But outside of those moments–she is really living a full and prosperous life. She believes that at the end of the day, a loving God is in authority over her life–and will redeem her choices and her life because He loves, not because she behaves.
Now, does she sometimes wish that she hadn’t made those bad choices? Of course. Is she still dealing with some of their consequences? Of course. Does she sometimes wonder what could have been? Yes. But is she free of living in a restrictive, fearful way that only thinks of what could have been? Thankfully, yes.
When I look at my own life–in which I’ve done some things right, most things wrong, and many with the fear of divine retribution creeping around in the background–it isn’t my fellow student who I look to for encouragement as a part of the body of Christ. It’s my friend, who has failed big but lived well and overall, has understood through the ups and downs of her life that God’s grace is sufficient for her, because his power is made perfect through her weakness.
Years ago, when I first started doing this crazy England thing(which was the either the end or the beginning of a string of bad decisions, depending on who you ask), I prayed a strange prayer. I simply said, “thank you, God, for teaching me that while I will never be perfect, you will always be.”
That’s grace, y’all. I live my life as a free and happy woman because I know that someday I will grasp this concept entirely. I only hope that my fellow student begins to experience it. I hope that my friend continues to live in it. And I pray that you and I, as I close this blog, do the same.
OH wait, before I go…while The Gossip’s Standing In The Way of Control seemed like the obvious choice for today’s title quote, while I was listening to a few Gossip songs I rediscovered their tune Heavy Cross…an infinitely better choice if you listen to the lyrics…check out the video.
…aaaaand Beth Ditto is FIERCE! That is all.