Friday, 13 December 2013

A Fire

This isn't easy to explain.  Nor is it likely to be terribly interesting.  Something that always set me apart in my church growing up was my inability to be content, and leave things be, to not listen and not remember and not care.  I couldn't help listen, remember and care, and this had the direct effect of making me likely to think about and bring up stuff people didn't want brought up, and it contributed to my being increasingly discontented with the spiritual climate by which I was daily buffeted.  It wasn't that I felt it wasn't correct enough there.  It was that it was hurting me, and I increasingly found, a whole lot of others.  It certainly wasn't for everyone, they said.  Only "us chosen few."  We made the sacrifice of healthy Christian community, in order to really please God.  Others gathered and worshipped however it pleased them.  Our group wasn't like that.  In fact, the vast majority of Christians found it so toxic and dead that they were never able to attend for long  They left, or stayed away, in fear of losing their faith.  Which made us feel like spiritual badasses, of course.
   And I grew up thinking it was all incredibly normal.  But I didn't fit.  Oh, I tried, alright.  I did all the right stuff.  I did all the normal stuff hard, and to an abnormal degree.  But the only way I can describe it is that eventually it felt like God had lit a fire under me.  And that felt just like being an ant under a magnifying glass.  Kept me squirming and hopping.  And not smiling and zoning out contentedly.  I couldn't sit around complacently, staring fondly at my wife as she stared fondly at our child.  And there weren't cell phones, really.  So I stared at the floor.
   I'd be at a bible conference, and some guy would talk and afterward peole would smile and say how wonderful it was. Wasn't it wonderful?  And I'd realize that the talk had made me mad, made me doubt things, and made me feel like I needed a shower, like I had been emasculated or lobotomized, like something essential to God Intended me-ness was being removed from my spirit in order for events to unfold.  That something God had made, in me, clearly somehow threatened said events, which was pretty suspect, actually.
   I remember as a young teen often walking into the church and finding I was feeling that feeling.  It was kind of a dizzy, dark, open, empty yawning wrongness that ran right through me like a train tunnel.  It was like being naked, but finding one's genitals had been removed too.  It was also having had all of my innards removed when I hadn't been looking, somehow.  What was happening to me seemed very much like someone else's idea, but it was being done to me all the time, without me quite knowing.  And it seemed like everyone else was wholly asleep to it all.  They smiled and said things were good.  That we were so blessed.  They didn't believe me.  They just thought I was crazy.  The feeling was wrong.  And it was coming from absolutely everywhere when I was in there, for as long as I could remember.  I used to blame myself at first.  Sometimes I would go down to the church basement and it would intensify.  I would even go look at myself in the men's bathroom mirror to see if I looked as pale and odd as I felt.  But I didn't.  I looked normal, and felt deeply wrong.  I didn't understand what was going on.
   It was kind of intensified when it came over me at bible conferences.

Paying Attention
At first I shut up.  But I'm not good at shutting up.  Increasingly, when someone smiled and said "Wasn't that wonderful?" or "Isn't it a privilege to be here, hearing a Word like this?" I'd say "I guess" or eventually "Actually, I didn't like it much."  This left it up to the smiler in question to choose whether to start up with me or not. They could always choose to tell me what exactly was so wonderful about being in the room and hearing the guy talk, or they could leave me alone.  It was amazing how seldom they left me alone.  It wasn't okay not to be content and pleased, it turned out.  It was a form of betrayal.  Disloyalty.  Seemed to threaten them.
   And what was staggering to me was how often the people singing the praises of some talk or other proved, immediately after it, completely incapable of remembering any of the actual specifics of said wonderful talk.  They would flat out deny certain things had ever been said, even if I quoted word for word, which I was extremely good at when I was a bit younger.  They would even deny that anything like various things had ever been said.  They would certainly deny any number of things about the overall tone, about the tenor, the focus of what had been said.  They didn't notice what got repeated, or what got omitted.  It was like touring an art gallery with colour blind people.  I got very used to people starting conversations with me, and then bailing on them, and fleeing with some greasy remark flung at me over their shoulder as they retreated in haste, an odd mixture of unease, disapproval and disgust in their eyes, which were showing way too much white.
   And I was not attending all of these weekly, supposedly helpful, talks during a peaceful, neutral kind of time.  I was attending them leading up to, going through, and afterward, when pretending a huge church division hadn't really been important, and in fact, had barely happened.  So there was a lot hinted, and there was a lot not quite being said, and a lot of odd "slippage" when people said things that would be denied almost immediately afterward.  (like a guy closing Sunday morning in prayer, not one month after kicking out 60% of the people, and thanking God that we, at least, we faithful few, though now only a very few, had at least been Ones who had proved faithful, dutiful and obedient to the clear leading of the Holy Spirit in scripture.  I didn't like that prayer much.  And afterward, people denied pretty heavily that anyone had ever prayed anything like that prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude for our superior level of correctness.)
   I didn't at first understand what was wrong with me.  Eventually I came to feel like God had lit that aforementioned fire under me.  People didn't think I ought to pay attention like I did.  People advised me to never mind, to not think about stuff, to not dwell on "negative" stuff, to let it all slide off my back like water off a duck, to remember how bad I was, and that therefore I certainly couldn't judge anything, but I'm not made that way.  I'm very much a "the emperor's guard just executed that child for saying the emperor has no clothes, which, though true, none of us now dare mention" kind of person.
   I'm not saying the doggedly, desperately contented people were wrong.  I'm not thanking God that I'm not like them.  But far be it from me to ask the Potter "Why hast Thou made me thus?" to ask why he created me like this, functioning like this.  (I mean, I do go there from time to time, but I don't stand behind that kind of inquiry.  By now, if I do that kind of stuff, it's just me being self-indulgent when I don't get to fit, and when I can't live how I want.)  But it feels like God lit a fire under me and like I couldn't "just fit in." And it feels like He meant to do it, no matter how inconvenient it is to me.  No matter how inconvenient it is for other Christians, too.
   People have told me my whole life that I am "negative."  I suppose it's true.  Thing is, though, "negative" doesn't usually actually mean a whole lot.  It's generally spoken just as if things simply are 100% negative or positive, and like it's actually very easy to make that black and white moral judgment about them.  But really, most often when people say it, they just mean "I don't like that" when they say something's "negative" and "I like that" when they say something's "positive."  For example, sometimes people say that I'm really a very negative person.  If I then tell them I feel that to be really a very negative comment, they often then "feel" in turn that what I've just said is negative, while they were just making a neutral, factual observation. 
   It must be odd to be so negative, a pastor once told me.  Because, you see, he's very positive, and never negative like he feels I am, he says. Doesn't make judgments like he feels I do.  Doesn't criticize.  Not like me. He thinks it would be very weird to be like me.

Comfortable People
Today, when I see people who can be comfortable in those kinds of settings, I don't want to judge them, but I do not relate.  I can't get comfortable.  Can't smile and sing.  And I can't recommend those settings, people, doctrines and events to other people, either.  I don't feel like I can really trust them with new Christians, or people with real problems in their lives.  Because they don't even know how to handle sincere, disgruntled, seasoned Christians like me.  How would they handle someone with actual spiritual problems?
   And I don't even know how they can be (relatively) content.  'Cause I just can't.  Oh sure, they say things about "Well, no one's perfect, and no group of Christians is perfect, and we have our problems of course, but..." but then they rush forward, emboldened and safe because of the "but" and immediately proceed to talk their way out of it all.  They want to settle right down and be (kind of) content again.  Like that's their job.  Their sacrifice for God.  What He wants.  I wonder Who they think He is, exactly?
   Or perhaps they just fear, too much, any serious contemplation of change.  And growth requires change.  I can't really talk to them for long, usually.  They get upset and leave.  Or treat me like a tetanus shot they probably should face up to every several years or so.  But not Friday night or anything.
  They do not show spiritual discernment.  Not in the sense of being discerning about people's spirits, or what the spiritual problems around them are, how they're contributing to and maintaining them, nor certainly what could help, regarding them.  They are not careful of, nor helpful to people with wounded spirits, in my experience.
  They sometimes read my blog.  They very occasionally have uncharacteristic-for-them conversations with me about their doubts, various memories that don't sit well, problems in their Christian groups, but then they soon pack it all up with great relief, and say how interesting and odd it was to be so "honest" with someone, about Christian things(!) for once, at least for that half hour.  Then hey go back to living the opposite of what they've just talked about.  They fall in and march with the flock of contented livestock. I just don't get that.  And I certainly can't do it.  I used to feel inferior.  Now it's all too tempting to feel superior to them.

Free Me
I reached a point in my twenties.  A point when I knew I needed to be saved from the spiritual environment in which I was raised and to which I was wholly enslaved, and which I could never escape, I didn't think.  It was a mold I'd solidified in, and which wasn't removable, once one had been poured into the narrow little opening at the top.  I didn't want to actually go to a different church.  I didn't even want to stop going to my church, though I increasingly found it a real ordeal to show up there. I certainly didn't want to be kicked out of it, or walk away from it.  But I knew I was trapped and locked up inside.
  If some of the "points" of being a human, and certainly a Christian, involved caring, loving and connection at all, we were doing all the right things to ensure God didn't get any satisfaction from us in that department.  We had taken what could have been a clearly Christian, supernatural-seeming ability to do those things, and sacrificed it for quietly exclusive uniformity, all the while claiming to have more of a grasp of Christianity than the average Christian.  More grasp on caring, loving and connection that an average human being, certainly.  And I knew in my twenties, eventually, that we had no right to claim that.  No right at all.  You see, I met some average human beings.  And we couldn't keep up with them.  And I knew bad things were continuing to be done to my spirit and soul, to my heart and mind, among the people of my Christian community. It even affected my body.
   If I hadn't gone to see the middle chapter of The Hobbit trilogy, this evening I might have taken a crack at recording a song I wrote back then.  Maybe tomorrow.  The drums have been recorded for a month.  What that old song says over and over is "get me out."  I didn't mean my physical self, or even that I wanted to lose my membership.  But I had reached a point where I suddenly knew I desperately needed my life, my deepest, most authentic, God-intended self free from it all.  Because it was stopping me from living.  And that's dying, obviously.  And it sure felt like it.  
   Everything inside me was slowly dying away, locked inside the Brethren mold casing.  It was one long plunge into despair. It was like being locked up in a mental institution so I could be kept safely neurotic, paranoid, depressed and delusional, as there was some danger of me finding my feet if I was just left alone.
   The really troubling thing was that God actually got me free from it, in fairly short order.  As fast as I could stand it.  And there was a brief period of me walking around free in that Christian community, but it deeply upset everyone, and they soon kicked my ass out too, so that body followed soul and spirit.  Oh, I attended a bit afterward, and asked back in repeatedly, but that wasn't happening.  (It generally isn't done, once one's proven one isn't one of the chosen few.  Can't cut it.  Not worthy.  Not of like precious complacency.)
   I'd changed.  I was something they didn't want around.  I was at liberty.  I was told they "didn't get me" and that I'd never be allowed back in until they "got me."  I pointed out that shunning me so completely didn't seem to be giving them a chance to ever "get" me.  They pointed out in turn that this was exactly the sort of thing they didn't like. Not one bit. My brethren were "uneasy."  Because of who I was.  And who I was was wrong.
   By then, though, I had so much more peace.  Peace as to working with God, and not fighting Him over who he'd made me to be.  Peace about how that self wasn't a "convenient" one to have to be in that group, but peace that this was just too bad.
   Peace.  I still had that fire lit under me, though. God was making no apologies for who and what He'd made me to be.  Certainly not to me.  It was time to get down to being who He made me to be.  Better.  More.  Excellently.

Being Aware
Back in my twenties when I was very much trying to figure out who I was, I met a somewhat flaky, but good-hearted exBrethren Christian who "diagnosed" what he felt my spiritual gifts were.  That had never happened to me before.  I was always treated as a problem, with problems of my own too, and never as a potential solution to anything.  Certainly I was never treated as someone who could help, or who had spiritual gifts.  For one thing, I wasn't fifty-seven years of age.
   But this guy had a book, and he felt he could identify who God had made me to be, and what use I potentially was to Christians.  
   He decided very quickly that I had the gifts of a prophet.  The bible prophets, not televangelist ones.  Not Gandalf. Not a fortune teller, telling people what job to apply for, or getting a strong impression that the name of someone in the room's first crush had started with "J."  No.  Someone who knew when things were going wrong. Someone who knew which way the wind was blowing. A canary in the coal mine.   Someone who kept track of lapses in integrity. Someone who could follow subtext.  Someone who tried  the spirits.  You know?  Like in the Old Testament.  Nathan.  Samuel.  Obadiah.
   Not one of those modern guys who would never let anyone call him a "prophet," but is currently writing books drawing contrived, antsy charts connecting Fox News with Revelation 5.  Not those guys.  I don't think that's what seeking prophetic gifts is like.  At all.  And I think actually having awareness of spiritual things (instead of playing wizard and using the scriptures as goat entrails or tea leaves or tarot cards) feels like a curse, a lot of the time.  Showing those gifts makes Christians want to crucify you, for one thing.  Makes you wander alone through the wilderness of Christian community, hoping not to be sawn asunder.
   Regarding all of this, I gradually started to realize that I had been purposely created to be someone who was shocked and uncontrollably disgusted by the stench of spirits going bad and hurting people in his immediate surroundings, despite not wanting to know about any of it to begin with.  It wasn't a choice.  It wasn't controllable.  It wasn't about judging.  It wasn't about power.  It wasn't even knowledge.  It was much deeper than that.  It was very built in.  It was a sense, like a sense of smell.  It was on purpose.  It was just being sensitive to danger. 
   And danger, I increasingly found, wasn't just from going to watch movies.  There was lots of danger right there in churches.  Danger from lies. Danger from people grabbing after power and scheming and getting into positions of trust with money or ministry, or teenage girls or people's wives.  Sudden odd and telling changes in the focus and tone of teaching.  Christians being herded in mysterious directions and denying this was happening at all, just as they'd always been trained to deny things like that, or at the very least not "dwell on them"/mention them.
   I had no real intention of being a whistleblower, and the depressing thing was that, once I realized that I was picking up on a whole lot of problematic stuff people were desperately denying the reality of, I had to face facts like:

a) it wasn't like I knew what to actually do about any of it, even though people were being hurt,
b) I would certainly be punished for talking about it with anyone, and this scared me

   and worst of all:

c) it always turned out that a whole lot of people had known about all the bad stuff all along, and were more terrified someone might want to do something about it than of it continuing unabated.
d) no one cared.  Not to the point of being willing to discuss, let alone do anything, I mean.

I filled with this awareness of all the crap that was building up in my community, and which wasn't to be discussed.  It choked me. It poisoned me.  So I wrote songs at first.  Because I had to put things into words.  I'm like that.  When the very atmosphere stank and was toxic to me, and I could see what it was doing to so many others, when I could see unprincipled people hurting others and people being driven away in droves, I had to crystallize it into some kind of "product" somehow.  So I did songs no one heard.  There was no Internet, so I had no way to reach any audience.  And I talked to people. And they mostly said it wasn't good to dwell on the negative. Sometimes they said "I know, I know, but..." before they said that.  But it always came down to "don't think about that stuff."  I couldn't help it. I think I was made to think about it.  And it was all around.
   It took me quite a while to gain the courage to write a blog, and eventually, books.  I am still often told I really shouldn't do this, that it causes trouble, is negative, unhealthy, and does no good.  That it is airing dirty laundry, or telling it in Gath.  The more I feel increasingly less (?) identification with Christian communities of any kind, and the more I feel like we've all lost touch with who Jesus Christ was and is, the worst this gets.  But I have slowly, inexorably come to accept the fact that being who I am, and feeling and thinking what I do, is part of who and what God created, and that it does help people, even if they don't want it.  And it is healthy.  And it does good. Even if people don't think it should happen at all.
   I'm not perfect, and I'm not done learning and growing.  I'm not even fifty-seven years old.  But maybe I can do stuff.  Because I'm on purpose.


Anonymous said...

Enough people were also totally against Jesus daring to rock the boat.Many people would rather live with the idea of, all's well that ends well.Even today while religious numbers seem to get fewer and fewer year by year.

Some people can even find ways to train themselves,to still be able to find a sense of peace, while carrying out act's of Jihad.Blowing people to smithereens.

Maybe you are not quite normal. As far as normal goes. But is that really such a bad thing

Merry Christmas !

Bethany said...

on purpose, yes, and thanks for sharing it. some of us are a lot further behind in the accepting of our own purpose :). esp liked the neg/pos description really being like/dislike, so true.