Sunday, July 18, 2010

misfit

So here's the problem: I don't really like myself. At least I haven't for most of my life.

I've been working on it recently. It's really no way to live.

I think a big part of the problem was that I was raised with a very negative identity. I mean, I was loved and had my basic needs met and everything, but what I heard pretty much everywhere was everything I wasn't supposed to be and do.

"We don't talk that way." "Boys aren't supposed to be like that." "Christians shouldn't be acting that way."

Before long, I internalized that sort of negativity. What's worse, it became my idea of God's personality.

I went from being a bit of a social butterfly and one of the most outgoing kids in elementary school to being a reserved, angry, introspective adolescent, teenager, young adult. I was beaten down and defeated. It really wasn't pretty.

A negative identity breeds those things. Whatever I did, wherever I went, I couldn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I desperately wanted approval of family and peers. I became wrapped up within myself in a messy inward crisis.

My big sister called it one day when I was a kid. She told me, "Jonathan, you're so bitter." Of course, at the time, I was bitter toward her for saying it, but remembering this actually may have later helped me come to terms with it. I could remember and place that moment in the trajectory of my childhood that began with not ever feeling good enough, smart enough, well-behaved enough, and ended with a slide into deep depression, anxiety and introspection.

Introspection. Sounds pretty safe, reflective, like something one does with a cold one, a cigar, maybe some cool jazz or Pink Floyd or something. Not so.

A speaker from English L'Abri that I admire a lot calls introspection, "mental masturbation," which I think is really helpful. The mind gets all wrapped up in itself and its anxieties, becomes completely withdrawn, and the person finally comes to the place where they live inside themselves, never entering the world around them. The focus isn't where it needs to be. This creates tons of problems for us.

It's not supposed to be this way. Our existence is supposed to be positive, freeing, liberating, not uncomfortable and repressed.

And what's more, I have everything it takes. I'm not a misfit or shortchanged or anything. I was created with everything I need for the life I'm meant to live.

And that is live-giving for someone who doesn't like himself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

turtlenecks for everyone

We love to try to be the Holy Spirit. Especially for other people. It seems like it's some sort of civic duty for Americans or something. Or at least it's a guilty pleasure.

There were times when I was growing up when so many people were bossing me around that it completely drowned out the Spirit's voice in my life. And, sadly, that's the truth. It's hurtful. And it's judgmental.

There are a bunch of Christians, mostly male, who love to tell women how they should dress. If you're a father and the woman is a child and is your daughter, it's probably okay that you have some input, as long as you're not a jerk about it.

If the above situation doesn't apply to you, then hush.

Being homeschooled, there were always things like this going on. I even remember going to retreats where, and yes, this actually happened in the 90s, girls' swimming was first, mixed swimming next, and boys' swimming last, even though two-piece swimwear wasn't allowed. Thankfully, the term "mixed swimming" was preferred over the more baptistic "mixed bathing." That would have been an uncomfortable explanation.

Anyway, I have heard a lot of men complaining about this, even recently, and saying things like, no joke, "I should just paint the bottom half of my glasses black when I'm talking to a girl these days, so I can't see below her neck."

Or, you could just not look. That choice is on the table. The sanctifying work of the Spirit does give freedom from lust, just like every other struggle.

Check out the book of Romans. It's one of my favorite parts when Paul tells them, "hey, if your conscience lets you, eat a nice juicy steak." "If it says 'no,' then don't."

I know the Bible says to dress modestly. But there are a couple of issues with applying this here. First, we need to know exactly what the Bible is talking about. Second, it doesn't say "women who don't dress modestly should be sternly rebuked and judged by men."

Here's another issue. Where do we draw the line? What is the ratio of body to exposed skin that does us in? Last I checked, that's not in the Bible, either.

Let's face it, it's not our job to draw the line for other people, anyway.

See, this issue is one of Christian freedom. Just like drinking and TV-viewing and carnivorous eating. It's a matter of conscience.

The whole "women should cover themselves up so they don't cause men to stumble" argument has, at the very least, one major problem. Men should be able to control themselves. Don't shift responsibility here.

So, if people you come into contact with aren't covered up enough, don't look at them, don't hang out with them, whatever you need to do.

Just don't tell them they need to cover up.

Part of the problem is the whole "Every Man's Battle" phenomenon. Sex addiction is not every man's battle, nor is it "Every Woman's Battle" or "Every Young Man's Battle" or "Every Football Fan's Battle" or "Every Apricot Miniature Poodle's Battle."

But even if it is some guy's battle, that's his battle, not everyone else's.

And you might not want to go publicizing it if it is your battle.

Oh, and women can lust, too. Just thought I'd point it out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

like the fool I am and I'll always be

God's will is our favorite excuse. It's a more serious form of "the dog ate it."

At the end of the last school year, the PE coach at our school invited the music teachers out to the gym during a pizza party for some of the 4th graders. After the pizza was over, the coach asked what game they wanted to play. Of course, the boys in the group wanted to play "Dodge Ball," more commonly known today by its politically correct name, "Avoid the Ball."

The girls wanted to do a more civil activity, like jumping rope or hula-hoops, but if you know anything about 4th graders, nobody heard anything the girls were saying, because Dodge Ball was a possibility.

Of course, being the mature role-model I am, I wanted to play. But Dodge Ball is one of those activities that, unless I want to be on the news, isn't the best idea. Still not fair.

The way we use God's will looks a lot like adults throwing gym balls at 4th graders. There's really not much you can do if you're on the receiving end. It kinda shuts things down.

For example, the following conversation:

Ernie: I want to go to the Outback Steakhouse.
Bert: I don't want to go there, Ernie.
Ernie: Why not, Bert?
Bert: I want to go to the Olive Garden.
Ernie: Why do we always have to do what you want to do?
Bert: It's God's will, Ernie.
Ernie: Oh.

Not much for Ernie to say, huh? Maybe it's God's will they go to the Olive Garden, but my guess is that Bert is conveniently using God's will to support what he wants.

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I'm not a parent, but I think parents should chill out just a bit sometimes.

Of course, this is coming from a recovering homeschooler, so my opinion might not be entirely accurate, but I do what I can.

When I was growing up, I wasn't allowed to see movies in theaters, ever. Especially not PG-13 or...gulp...R. And that's not much of a stretch. From 14 to 17, I maybe saw 3 movies.

But, for all those years, I made a list of all the movies my friends talked about. The summer after I graduated from high school, I got to house sit for some folks for a couple of weeks. It took me about 15 minutes to get to the nearest Blockbuster store. I caught up on movies. It was like I could breathe. And all those things my cool friends were talking about, I suddenly understood.

It was life-giving.

Even worse, don't harp on your kids about their behavior all the time. Let them be themselves. From what I've experienced, one of two things will probably happen. Either the years of repression will catch up to them in the form of bitterness and depression, or they will jump off the diving board of rebellion whenever you can't hold them down anymore.

Even if it's something stupid, like...I don't know...putting a household chemical into their shampoo bottle to slowly and secretly lighten the color of their hair and accidentally turning it orange....which is something I never did....

Relax. You'll be happier and their hair will eventually go back to its original color.

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Why is it that we naturally assume extremely emotional people are more sincere? This most commonly happens when we see them engaging in some kind of interpretive dancing during the slow music at church.

No kidding, one time during some music at a Promise Keepers conference, I saw this dude actually take off and fly away...it was awesome...

Anyway, I know some phonies. Sometimes what we feel the strongest keeps us most calm.

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Anyway, in celebration of Independence Day, here are some lovely pulpit quotes.

"I believe God's hand is still on America (read: U.S.), but just His fingertips."

"Jesus died for our salvation, the American soldier dies for us today."

"We're about to be judged, big time. God's let America (read: U.S.) go even further than He did with Israel."

"Everything our leaders do needs to be engulped (sic) in prayer."

"God Bless the U.S.A. by Lee Greenwood fits this sermon perfectly."

It only gets better with time.

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If I were to preach on freedom, I think this would be a complementary text:

O, the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of every love the best.
Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
Tis a haven sweet of rest.
O, the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Tis a heaven of heavens to me.
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to thee.