Archives for the month of: October, 2016

I love this short interview with Brene Brown regarding her return to Christian faith. It really stresses this whole idea of God being with us in solidarity in the midst of our pain and suffering. Below are excerpts of the interview transcript, but I encourage you to listen to the recording.

“I went back to church thinking that it would be like an epidural, like it would take the pain away, like I would just replace research with church. And then church would make the pain go away…. Faith in church was not an epidural for me at all, but it was a midwife, who just stood next to me saying, “Push, it’s supposed to hurt a little bit.” It was a completely new experience going back for me…

I believe God is love. It makes total sense to me that Jesus would have to be the Son of God because people would want love to be like unicorns and rainbows. And so then, people go, “Oh my God, love is hard, love is sacrifice, love is eating with the sick, love is trouble, love is rebellious.” And so I was listening to this Leonard Cohen song, and it said,

Love is not a victory march,

Love is a cold and broken Hallelujah.

Love is not easy. Love is not hearts and bows. Love is very controversial, really…. In order for forgiveness to really happen, something has to die…. Whether it’s your expectations of a person, there has to be a death for forgiveness to happen. In all these faith communities, where forgiveness is easy and love is easy, there is not enough blood on the floor to make sense of that. And so I thought about why forgiveness is so hard in our culture. Because there are two affects (or emotions) that people fear the most,  and it’s  shame and grief.

If something has to die in order for forgiveness to happen, and people are deathly afraid to feel grief, then we just won’t forgive anybody. Because I don’t want to feel grief. I thought faith would say, I’ll take away the pain and discomfort. But what it ended up saying is that I’ll sit with you in it.

I never thought that that would be enough. But it’s perfect. I don’t feel alone in it anymore… When I was growing up… [faith] was mostly like magical thinking. It was more like there was a reason for everything. If something tragic happens, it was supposed to happen…. We had a horrible loss in the neighborhood… At the funeral, they said… “This is not a time to grieve, that’s selfish, this is a time to celebrate because this child is with God.” On the way home, my mom said that, “I just want to be really clear with you. This is not a time to celebrate. If you’re sad, that’s OK. Because be assured that God is grieving today too. God’s weeping too.” I was like, “That changes everything.”

I just think for me, it’s about being with you. It can’t take away the pain. When we set that up as the parameter, that just does not work… Love weeps.”

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I recently heard a talk by Andy Crouch where he put forth a framework that supports an abundance mindset, instead of a scarcity mindset. Basically he was positing that with God in the picture, we do not live in a closed system with limited resources, since God is the Creator of all resources. Therefore, we should not grasp onto our resources and power, but share them freely, especially with those who lack resources, since we actually live in abundance, not scarcity. He says this is not a zero sum game.

Of course, there are stories in Scripture that support this. The original Creation story. God creating man from dust. Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed thousands. Manna from Heaven. Quail. Elisha, the widow, and her jar of oil. Drawing water from a rock. There are also some modern day anecdotes along this vein. Corrie Ten Boom’s story in her autobiography, The Hiding Place, where she describes this medication that didn’t run out when she and her sister were in the concentration camp. I’ve also heard of some missionary somewhere who makes spaghetti for like a hundred people once a week and feeds them from one box of pasta. There’s also Mary Poppins and her bottomless purse.

But I think this is more the exception than the rule in this earthly life. I think that we have natural laws that God put into place, and that God occasionally supersedes them. It’s very, very rare and exceptional.  I think if we look at Earth by itself, it’s generally a closed system with a set amount of resources — this is scarcity. 

I know I’m disagreeing with a Christian thoughtleader, but I still think we live in a resource-constrained world. I deal with it every day, as I consider where to give grants — I have a limited pot of money. I can optimize and be creative about it, but at the end of the day, I have only a certain number of dollars available to me. I think about scarcity when I think of affordable housing. I asked Andy this question about gentrification: the number of wealthy tech professionals who have moved into San Francisco has displaced those who can no longer afford the rising rents. This is scarcity. My very presence in San Francisco means that someone else cannot afford housing in the city. It’s a zero sum game. He answered my question saying that this means we as Christians just need to be more creative about housing policy — higher density housing, more mixed use housing, etc. I feel this answer is simplistic, from someone who doesn’t really understand housing policy — I know a lot of experts and advocates  who care very deeply about the effects of gentrification on the poor, and there might be good solutions and theories out there, but there’s clearly lack of political will or resources to implement them. No offense to Andy, but I looked at his background and he doesn’t seem to have any “real world” experience — he’s mainly been a writer, editor, and campus minister. I think it’s “easy” for him to make the claims that he does, from an ivory tower, and I don’t know that he can speak from direct experience of being in the trenches.

I feel like trying to apply an abundance mindset to our lives on Earth is like trying to convince ourselves that we can have our cake and eat it too. It negates the concept of sacrifice. If we have resources in abundance right here, right now, then it’s easy to give — it’s not a sacrifice.

However, if we take Heaven into consideration as well, it is an open system where there is abundance. We give now, sacrifice now, in this Earthly life, banking on the abundance we will experience in Heaven. We might experience small glimpses of abundance here on Earth, but it’s rare, miraculous, and supernatural. Heaven is where our hope and faith lie. And moreover, regardless of whether we have abundance in the next life, we sacrifice today because it’s the right thing to do, because we see our sisters and brothers suffering and we want to share in that suffering. Isn’t this what it means to take up our crosses and deny ourselves? Mark 8:34-37 says:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Jesus talks about storing up treasures in Heaven — this is where true abundance lies. But implicit to this is the fact that there’s a tradeoff between treasures on Earth and treasures in Heaven. Matthew 6:19-21 says:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

 

I continue to deal with feeling sadness, grief, anger, disappointment, etc. towards life and God. And I stupidly keep allowing people to say, “Oh, you’re feeling this way because because you’re not trusting God.” Judgment and more judgment. I think Christians really relish labeling any weakness as moral failure, so they can avoid compassion and empathy.

Maybe I feel the way I do because it’s NORMAL, and any human being who has my story would feel this way. But not that anyone would take the time to really hear my story out. Most people are chomping at the bit to condemn me — doesn’t matter what the details are, I’m wrong, God’s right, and shut up. Perhaps they do this because the story is too hard to hear and it’s easier to blame how I feel on me because THEY aren’t trusting God enough to really hold the pain? TWIST!

Interestingly here’s how Isaiah 53:3 describes Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.”

Man, I know how you feel.

I don’t particularly remember Jesus being described in the New Testament as ever being happy or joyful even (perhaps sacrilegious that I write that since we claim that joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit, so Jesus had to be joyful, right?!).  I assume that there were some lighthearted moments, e.g., making and drinking wine at weddings, etc. But interesting that none of the Gospel writers really bothered to record stories of Jesus being happy. He comes off more as stern, sometimes annoyed at how dimwitted the disciples are, at times kind, sometimes cryptic with a dry sense of humor, and generally frustrated with the Pharisees.

So maybe as Christians, if we’re called to be Christ-like, then that means we should also be people of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering, and like one from whom people hid their faces, and despised? Interesting.

I pity Christians. We’re in an awkward position where we either wear a mask of joy happiness all the time so that other Christians don’t malign or judge us, OR we are truthful and then Christians shun and shame us. It’s lonely and isolating either way. The one solace is that Jesus does know how we feel.