Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

To Say or Not to Say

I am a “say-er” of things. By that, I mean that I almost always say something if I think it needs to be said. If I have a poor customer service experience, someone is probably going to hear about it. If someone hurts my feelings, I’m probably going to tell them. If I am treated unjustly, I’m probably going to fight it.

I have tried to curb this as I’ve gotten older and realized that 1) some battles can’t be won, 2) some people don’t care, and 3) sometimes I just need to let things go (this is VERY difficult for me).

I have gone through phases of being better and worse at it, that’s for sure. I do attempt to think before I speak more than I used to. I have a big problem accepting it when people don’t do what they say they will, especially, when they have presented themselves as Christians, or, at least, as people of integrity.

I had one such experience the other day. I don’t want to give out the details. It was one of those that put me in a bad mood due to someone’s disregard and negligence and subsequent lack of remorse or apology, though it was something that had been agreed upon long before, and resulted in me being out some money.

I held my tongue. It was hard for me to hold my tongue. I took Thumper’s advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

The next day I found out something about that person’s circumstances that made me really glad I had not responded in anger. Regardless of the fact that the actions were wrong, if I had spoken my mind in that instant, I would have regretted it the next day.

So, I’ve been trying to think back to other scenarios when I felt that I should keep my peace. Any time I’ve felt strongly that I should not go to bat for myself, and I’ve actually obeyed that little voice – in the end, I have been happy that I kept silent.

I should state that there are times when I feel no compunction at all about standing up for whatever situation or whatever wrong has been done. There are many times I’ve been happy that I spoke out.

But I think there are a too many instances when I have NOT listened to those little whisperings from the Holy Spirit and continued on with my rampage despite feeling like I shouldn’t. Those are the times I regret.

Some people don’t have the same issues I do. Some people have trouble standing up for themselves at all.

It’s a line that only the Holy Spirit can draw for us, whether it’s one of those times that something needs to be said, or one of those times we need to let it go. Hopefully, I’ll remember this next time I hear that little voice!

Conflict Unresolution

Hello, All!

I’ve been dealing a lot with the idea of what I thought was “conflict resolution” in my head lately, until I realized that what I needed to be focusing on was conflict UN-resolution.

I have this obsessive compulsion to force things into some sort of resolution when there is conflict.  So, any time that cannot happen because one or both parties cannot or are not willing to attempt to come to a satisfying middle ground, I find myself unable to let the situation go.

It’s such an amorphous being, though…conflict, I mean.  It never looks the same twice.  How do you take something to the mat (Conflict, as an entity, not the individual on the other side of it) when its face is always changing?

I will go over and over everything that was said on both sides, trying to see if I missed something, if I said something I shouldn’t have, if there was something I could’ve done differently.  The situation will eat at me for basically as long as I let it, and even then will pop up in my mental microscope at the most surprising of times, sometimes years later, and that same feeling will arise.  It’s the feeling of self-doubt, of injustice, of longing for some way to understand what in the world happened, and wishing there were judge and jury to determine if, as I usually believe, I did everything I knew how to do in order to resolve it.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ve made mistakes in my efforts to resolve conflict.  But when I DO believe I’ve made a mistake, I try to acknowledge it, and hope that the effort is recognized in the proceedings.

And so I find myself with an ever growing list of conflicts that just feel…open.  Unfinished.

Examples, you say?  Everyone is always squirming for an anecdote.  I don’t feel like going into details, but I will attempt a generic list. (Aside: my list proved to be thoroughly opposed to condensing itself.)

The most recent is an ongoing customer service issue with a group of people with which I must continue doing business for a time, and in a personal setting, not over the internet.  After a number of unsatisfactory events, where I would calmly express that I was frustrated, and calmly ask for a little more communication next time there was an issue (you get the idea), I was sent a very defensive, sarcastic message.  I responded with a message that was a good deal more to the point, though still nothing I feel the need to apologize for.  This interaction was completely ignored by the recipient.  *Queue obsessive over-analyzation.*  My next week was spent in dissatisfaction, trying to determine whether a) I really did go to far, b) they are just insanely bad at customer service or c) is there a c?  Someone help me out if there’s another option.  After that week of misery, I decided it was clearly not going to be resolved to my satisfaction unless I was pro-active.  I didn’t want to make enemies of those people, but I also did not want to seem copacetic towards being treated like that by someone to whom I was paying money.  So, I took them a box of chocolates with a card that said, essentially, “Hey, I don’t want to be enemies, so let’s make peace, thanks.”  I didn’t apologize, still not feeling that one was needed, though I’m sure they thought otherwise.  The devil on my shoulder didn’t want me to do even this, as it could be misconstrued an apology, but the angel won out.

I will say that this is one step towards accepting conflict unresolution – doing what you can to make peace, despite ongoing differences, and then letting the chips fall where they may, so to speak.  My inner soul still does not find it overwhelmingly settled…it’s like a song that someone brought one chord closer to finishing, but still did not complete.  It continues to linger, though no longer in manic waves.

Another recent event involves a person…a friend…whom I feel is frequently trying to manipulate me (and others) into doing various things.  If a tag showed up under this person’s name when you introduced them, lately I feel it would be: “Donna*: Always Wanting Something from You.” (*Names changed to protect the living.)  This is one of those different faces of conflict..the conflict that arises in you to which the other person may very well be entirely ignorant.  To raise or not to raise?  That is the question.  And even this is different for every person, in every situation.  There is no hard and fast rule.

Historically, in my life, I have been a conflict raiser.  If something was wrong, you were going to know about it, and truthfully, because I wanted to fix the issue that I was having trouble dealing with so that we could all go on living happily and peacefully, and not (generally) because I wanted to be able to complain to you about your faults.  I clearly have not always done this successfully, but it was my goal 90% of the time.  The other 10%, I admit, amounts to something akin to verbal abuse as a way to satisfy my feelings of injustice.  I’m not proud of that, but I am going for full disclosure here.  I have tried to come to a level of moderation in this, because I felt that I was becoming, myself, defensive and imperious…not who I want to be.  Accepting the injustices done to you, after all, was a trait carried by Jesus to a level that most of us will never even understand.  And what I call “injustices” are generally so petty, that I would be ashamed to face the Lord and tell him about the level of wrath that was kindled because of some minor inconvenience.  Hebrews 10 discusses the new Christians having faithfully and joyfully accepted the stealing of their property as well as many public punishments and reproaches.  How foolish are most of my complaints?

However, interpersonal issues are real, and must still be dealt with.  In this particular scenario, I realized today that I was allowing someone else’s expectations of what I should do cause me to feel pressured, guilted, and often, in the end, forced to do something I didn’t want to do.  And that is on ME.  Not them.  Someone else’s expectations do not have the ability to force me into those actions.  Boundaries, people.  Simple boundaries.  The expectations are theirs, but I get to decide what I will do with them.  If saying, “No,” and disappointing or angering someone is the result, then so be it. I don’t have to get mad, I just have to not do things I don’t want.

The last face of conflict I’m going to talk about is on the flip side: when you think someone has internal conflict involving you, but instead of trying to resolve it, they just disappear.  The disappearing is usually when you begin thinking they have said internal conflict involving you, because I’m not talking acquaintances here.  I’m talking about people you’ve been through stuff with, people you opened your soul to…friends you thought would be around forever.  And then suddenly, they’re gone.  As an introvert (I’ve been reading a lot of books about introversion), I don’t make close friends easily, nor take them lightly.  So, the sudden absence of those people with no explanation (or in some cases, just inadequate platitudes) becomes something close to, if not an actual, traumatic event.  The lack of information creates a world where anything terrible they could have thought of you becomes a possible truth, playing and re-playing the chart-topping broken records of self-accusation and self-doubt, whatever those might be for you: “Am I boring? Too serious?  Too intense in friendship?  Critical?  Judgmental? Negative?”  And then, because you want to feel OK, you run to the other extreme and start considering good traits that maybe they just couldn’t handle in you:  “I’m probably too honest or too spiritual.”  The problem is that you don’t believe any of them. You feel that there must be some glaring flaw deep down in your soul that you’ve never even considered and you will never know, because no one will be honest or brave enough to expose it to you.  And by “you,” I mean me.

This one, I don’t have an answer for.  I’ve been trying to figure it out for years.  How do you learn from mistakes you don’t know you’ve made?  On days I am putting my confidence in the Lord (as I should always do) and not basing my emotional stability on my own capabilities and persona, I can look at this philosophically, distance myself from it, and realize that whatever flaws I have, Jesus is well aware of them and loves me anyway.  And that if those people were still needed in my life, God would’ve left them there.  But on days when my conflict unresolution obsessive-compulsive disorder rears its head and I am focused on my faults and downfalls, my broken record still plays the top ten, and sometimes throws some new ones in there, too.

This is a tough post for me.  I usually won’t let myself say anything until I’ve got it mostly figured out.  I bet that there are some folks out there, though, who are further along in figuring this out than I am, so maybe I’ll get the chance to learn a few things.

The Up-Side of Humility

So in my last post from ages ago, I stated that I wasn’t really sure why I hadn’t written in a long time…now I am, so here you go:

I think that in the past two years, I have been learning valuable lessons in humility…but it hasn’t felt very good.  I guess that for most of my life, whatever might have been going wrong around me, I always had this sort of confidence in who I was; that I was largely capable, smart, intuitive, etc.  Even when I knew I had failed, I would somehow morph that failure into a lesson learned, thereby making me smarter instead of it making me doubt myself more in the future.  You may, on the surface, believe this is a good quality.  I don’t see it as such, having lived in it.  I see that even while I acknowledged God’s hand in many things, I also always got a certain self-satisfaction from being able to handle things, being the one who had it under control, etc.  So, in short, when this self-confidence began to crumble due to various circumstances and relationships, I felt that I had nothing of worth to offer.  If I couldn’t handle things myself, why would I want anyone to listen to my thoughts or expect them to glean anything from my ramblings?

I really do feel that all of my acknowledgments of weakness or failure prior to this period in my life were mere intellectual nods…my heart did not really feel its own frailty or understand how helplessly it needed God’s Holy Spirit, at least not on a regular basis.  Maybe in flashes, I felt a sense of failure or doubted my own sensibility, but I would always pull myself back to feeling OK about myself.

As with all things, learning humility has a very fine line…cross it too far, and you end up spending a little too much time going over your mistakes, letting self-pity move in and render you inert for fear of what other thing you may mess up.  I guess I lived there for a while. It has been a hard adjustment going from self-assured me to solely God-assured me.  I don’t guess I will ever have it exactly right, but I am always growing a little, even when I feel like I am going backwards.

Thankfully, I have a wonderful Saviour who never ceases to chase me when I am floundering, and loving people around me who remind me of His mercy and forgiveness…the renewal that He offers.

So I feel like I am definitely on the other side of a big mess, coming out on the upside of humility – a place where I know I will fail, and use that only as a reminder to lean wholly on Christ; a place where when I fail, I can trust His words, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.”

Here are a few more verses that are helping me stay there:

Lamentations 3:22-23 –  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

Psalm 51:1-17 –  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict, and justified when you judge.  Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.  Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,  so that sinners will turn back to you.  Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, You who are God, my Saviour, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.  Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you, God, will not despise.

The Politics of Love

A friend of mine received an e-mail forward that greatly grieved her.  I wrote a response below; original text in black, my response is in red.

(Forgive the poor formatting – wordpress does not like things pasted from Word!)

I’m The One You’re Talking About

 

With all of the hurt I recognize from those labeled “left-wingers,” I decided to respond to the following e-mail post in order to show that there is a difference in those who consider themselves Christians first and Republicans later and the reverse.

 

With all the vitriol I’ve been hearing from the right-wingers of late, I can’t help but recognize myself as the target of their obsessive hatred. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to out  

myself, just so they know who it is they’re spending so much time talking about.
Yes, I’m that American-hating broad who believes in life, liberty and equality for all Americans, not just those of a “socially acceptable” color, religion, address, pay scale or political affiliation.

 

 

And I am the Christian who wishes that I could make up for all of the anger, hatred and fear that is displayed in the name of Jesus Christ – all of the fanaticism that states that if you are not like me, you are not a worthwhile person.


I’m that baby-killer who thinks that every child should be a wanted child, and that the ultimate decision to give birth is the domain of the woman whose body is involved. I also believe that people who really care about saving babies might want to think about the ones who are already born – especially the ones born in places our government is currently blowing off the map, or might plan to in future.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that if more believers would put down their arms about an “issue” and take up the cause of the already fatherless, there would be far less of a need for abortion in the first place.  I am sad that Christians demonize the results of failing our duty to humanity.

I’m that godless whore who believes that if the government wants a say in how I conduct myself in my own bedroom, they’d better be prepared to lay down a lot of cold, hard cash – because if I’m going to screw according to someone else’s specifications, it’s only right that I be paid handsomely for satisfying the john.
 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that I am not God’s police.  The greatest of the commandments, from Christ’s own lips, is that we love God and love others.  We have failed to show anyone a reason to love God, and have no right to ask anyone to live up to standards that we ourselves cannot and have never been able to meet.
 

 

I’m that infamous anti-Christian who actually believes that I am my Brother’s Keeper – and that includes supporting social safety-nets that provide food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, care for the sick – you know, all that yadda-yadda stuff that Christ used to preach about back when people who called themselves Christians had a passing familiarity with his teachings. I also believe that just because Christ was tortured to death doesn’t mean he was promoting the idea as something we are free to do with his approval.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that the government has only to take up this responsibility because we largely fail to do it as the Body of Christ.  We were called to be an extension of His care, and have chosen instead the easy road of militant cause – lending us falsely free consciences when we turn our backs on those who we have decided are living “in sin.”

I’m that unscrupulous libertine, apparently devoid of any morals whatsoever, who has deluded myself into thinking that if the gay couple down the street get married, they’re not  going to destroy every heterosexual marriage in the neighborhood – and by the way, I’ve yet to hear a coherent argument as to how that would happen if they did.

 

 

And I am the Christian believes that we have destroyed marriage ourselves by treating it with such flippancy.  Marriage is about commitment and who are we Christians to bark about its sanctity when we divorce as often as those around us?

I’m that unpatriotic bitch who thinks that sporting a flag pin in your lapel doesn’t mean shit if you’re wearing it while supporting pay-cuts for the troops, or budget cuts to veterans’ care – or, for that matter, calling anyone and everyone who disagrees with you “unpatriotic” because you really have nothing of substance to say, but just love the sound of your own meaningless rhetoric blasted over the airwaves.

 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that disagreement does not equal hatred.  If we could re-learn to look beyond issues and labels and groups and see humans, perhaps we could learn that those humans have hearts.

I’m that blatant sexist who thinks that if someone like Sarah Palin has nothing more to offer than a pair of tits while seeking the office of the vice presidency, she’d damned well better have something more in her training bra than a wad of Kleenex – like actual knowledge of the responsibilities of the job, for starters.

 

 

And I am the Christian who wishes to apologize for our lack of faith in God – for the fact that we feel the need to press on everyone else and force them to fit in to our mold, like the school bully, instead of showing God’s love and trusting that He can work it out if we would just obey Him ourselves.

I’m that socialist commie who thinks people should reap the financial rewards of their own hard work while the CEOs of the corporations they toil for share the resulting profits, rather than pocket them all while throwing crumbs to those whose labor created those profits in the first place. Yup, that’s me – another anti-capitalist, spouting my big mouth off when oil companies earning record profits get tax subsidies, as though they don’t deserve them.
 

 

And I am the Christian who believes that capitalism is the life-blood of our economy, but for the fact that it has been hi-jacked and subsidized by a government seeking to attain its own ends and fill its own pockets.  The corporations receiving government payouts because they have run their companies into the ground with poor business practices are the same corporations that put Mom and Pop’s Hardware Store out of business, though they were possibly the most honest, hardest working people in the town.


I’m that big city chick, who couldn’t possibly share the same values of the kid from the suburbs, or the mid-western farmer, or the small-town librarian – or anyone who, unlike me, was raised in the right pocket of Americana – wherever that may be.

 

And I am the Christians who wishes we could do away with all references to “right” or “left” and learn to see the things that we hold in common – to protect the innocent, to bring hope to the weary and food to the hungry.  We are all in this together – who cares where the “pockets” are?

I’m that no-good Bush-basher who had the gall to notice that an idiot who couldn’t string two words together without getting both of them wrong would inevitably lead this country into an unwinnable war (or two), financial ruin, complete moral failure, and global disgrace.
 

 

And I am the Christian who does not turn a blind eye to disgraces from anyone just because they are in power, and I definitely do not make an exception just to make myself feel better about it if it is someone that I helped put there.


And while I’m at it, I may as well come completely clean – because, let’s face it, you’ve got me dead-to-rights: I’m also a tree-huggin’ environmentalist who believes in such outrageous ideas as upholding the Constitution, equal treatment under the law, and civil rights – and the hypocrisy of you people who call ME un-American makes me want to retch.

 

And I am the Christian who believes that our Constitution has been trampled on from persons of all political parties whenever it best suited their needs at the time, because politics is no longer “by the people, for the people,” but it is a selfish grasping for power and agenda.

So now that you know who I am, please feel free to rant about me all you want. I’m proud of who I am, what I believe in, and what I stand for – a feeling you’ll never know.

 

 

And now that I hope that you know we do not all hate you.  Some of us are saddened by the mis-use of our God’s name to try to manipulate the world around them so they can feel comfortable in a controlled moral environment instead of worrying about the hearts and souls of individuals.

But don’t be embarrassed by not recognizing me in a crowd – you see, there are tens of millions like me, and you know what they say: All those damned anti-Americans look alike.And we’re all about to vote alike – which means voting your asses out of office.

 

 

I hope that you also can see that I think it is completely irrelevant who is in office, because I believe in a God who loves – a God who is not threatened by man and our selfish, confused attempts at running a country, a business, a family or our own lives – a God who will be working in the hearts and lives of those who are seeking Him regardless of the political climate.  I am not threatened by political change, because my God is not a God of politics.  He is not trying to “win.”  He only wants to love.

See ya around, chumps. And the next time you think about calling me or anyone like me anti-American, you might want to look back at what this election has been all about – and who the REAL Americans truly are.

 

 

And along the same lines, I am not trying to be more American than you.  I do not want to compete with you.  I want all competition to be put aside so we can work together, live together…together, though not identical; in harmony, though not the same.

 

Thanks for taking the time to learn who we are, too.  We’re out there, I promise.

Love?

I read a book called “The Shack” by William P. Young over the last couple of days.  I think it’s one of those books that everyone in “civilized” Christendom will end up reading, like “A Purpose-Filled Life” by Rick Warren was.  I usually shy away from those books, because of my proclivity towards thinking that anything popular must be stupid.  However, I have been humbled in this position before (you can read about this in my “Literary Arrogance” post), and therefore have learned not to judge a book by its popularity.  A friend of mine read it, and it changed her world so much that she bought it and had it shipped to every friend she could think of, including me.  So, then I really didn’t have an excuse not to read the book. 

It is a fictional allegory about the nature of God and how He relates to us, and it gives amazing illustrations on what love really is and what it looks like.  I really needed a refresher course on that.

I told you in my first post of yesterday (sitting around doing nothing has a tendency to make one very prolific) that my boyfriend and I are broken up, and have been since April.  But that we also still have a non-defined relationship and neither of us are clear on where God has planned for us to end up.  And that for the moment, due to circumstances also outlined in yesterday’s first post, I am staying in the apartment off of his mom’s house.  However, the hurts that caused us to break up have continued and the relationship has become more and more strained, with bits of good moments scattered in.

As I read “The Shack”, I realized that my “love”, especially towards him, lately has been very flawed, and I became more and more aware of the damage my demands and requirements have done to him and our relationship.  Many (not all) of the things I was asking of him were and are justified from most people’s standpoints, but that does not justify the harshness, disapproval and anger I have shown to him in trying to get him to meet my expectations.  I felt compelled this morning to apologize for hurting him, because in many ways he has been trying very hard and he has received, in return, my complete unresponsiveness.  God knew I needed to do it today.  Yesterday things were OK; but this morning he had put this wall up against me…it was like he didn’t even want to look at me.  I feel that if I had been in the same place I was yesterday, that would have been it, because I would have seen him today in the same light I have been, and would have treated him in the same way.  But I went in to talk to him under God’s orders and in God’s strength because I still feel I have nothing to give, and I really was humbled at how my “love” was hurting him.  We talked through some more things.  I still don’t know what the future holds, but I think that this was all very necessary.  He apologized as well for his part in everything, and it was the first time both of us have said, “I forgive you.”

What healing words those are!

Recipro City – I live there

Get it?  Recipro City = Reciprocity.  Weak, I know, but it’s how I was thinking about it, and it’s true, I do live there.  I wish I could say that I didn’t, and I try to improve, but for the moment, more often than not, I feel like I am quite firmly rooted in that settlement.  This municipality is based on the economy of merit=favor.  And the amount of merit necessary to gain favor is completely subjective and left up to me in my not-so-fair city.  There is very little grace, and very high, though also very selective, measurements for the standard. 

I realized how entrenched I was in this mindset a few weeks ago.  I find that I am very derisive and patronizing to those whom I believe are not living up to the standards.  The standards, again, that I have set for them…how hard they should work, how much time, effort and thought they should put into things, even the things they should say or not say.  I find that the more someone does not meet my standards, the worse I treat them…the more condescending and unbearably arrogant I become.  One of the ridiculous things about this is that I seem to be the standard.  If someone is not working as hard as I (think I) am, or demonstrating as much common sense as I (think I) do, or putting as much effort into something as I deem necessary, they become the target of my merciless superiority.  I seem to take it as my right to treat them in a manner openly derogatory and demeaning.  I assume an attitude purposely (although not exactly consciously) designed to make them feel stupid.  At least it wasn’t conscious until recently…I don’t think I knew I did this.  I have several people in my life at this moment whom extract all of the feelings of disdain I am speaking of here.  For months, I have been slowly more and more convicted about my behavior in response to my frustration with them.  I seriously turn into a pompous you-know-what when dealing with what I have decided is unworthy behavior. 

And the unworthy behaviors I have picked are not even particularly “evil,” they’re just annoying…things like carelessness and lack of forethought and disorganization.  If I was going to get so miffed over any types of conduct, I would like to think it would be injustice or cruelty or something like that.  But, no, it seems that I am just as society trained me up to be, egocentric to the point that my blood only seriously begins to boil at things that specifically inconvenience ME.  I am rarely at the other end of serious injustice or cruelty, and so I can dislike those things from afar.  But catch me after I’ve had to work harder to correct someone else’s mistakes or pick up someone else’s slack at work or answer someone’s stupid question, and you’ll get an earful. 

So, not only am I the standard, but the standard is based on how helpful your existence is to me.  The less helpful your existence, the less worthy of respectful behavior you are.  I think this attitude is not only linked to human nature, but to the consumerism of our society.  Not to blame society.  I like to think I have “beat the system” as far as falling into societal traps, but clearly this is not completely true, and sometimes the societal traps I find so repulsive are just behaviors that cater to our human nature, so whether it’s society or not, it’s still me allowing my own selfishness dominion or some part of my life.  And I mean to talk about consumerism, so here we go.  Consumerism generally teaches us that we should more highly regard and respect those who have something more important to offer us.  You go to the doctor and show him deference.  You check out with the convenience store clerk and show him superiority.  I do the same thing.  I wish I could say I didn’t.  After all, I have most often been in positions in which I was the one looked down on…waitressing, fast food (even the title of manager doesn’t get you much respect), catering server, nanny.  These are jobs where the whole point of your being there is to “serve.”  And that’s how people treat you.  Like a servant.  Mostly.  I mean, obviously, there are exceptions.  But, honestly, even the exceptions are often very patronizingly trying to make themselves feel better by being nice to “the help,” and it is very painfully obvious.  My point is that you would think I would be above this kind of what-you-have-to-offer equals how-well-you’re-treated-by-me mentality.  But I’m not.  As soon as what I have to offer begins to exceed what I think you’re offering me, I begin to treat you in a degrading fashion. 

I know it seems like I got off-point with that consumerism thing, but can you see how it’s connected?  The point of this whole thing is that I am not valuing people.  In my economy, people who do what I expect of them deserve my acceptance.  I am valuing what they have to offer me instead of valuing them, seeing people as only a means to a good for myself.  Even in the first instances I was discussing, because in those, it’s when I begin to believe that my employer is gaining more benefits from having me as an employee than I am gaining by being employed, when a friend is gaining more benefits from having me as a friend as I am gaining in return.  When I start to think the balance is off in someone else’s favor in any relationship (by relationship I mean any interaction with people), I become dissatisfied, judgmental and, often, just plain mean.  However, when I think the balance is off in my favor, I smugly embrace it as just repayment for all of those times it was NOT in my favor.  Since, you know, I am wise enough to recognize all of these situations in their true light. 

My economy is not the same as God’s economy.  Thank God.  Literally.  If He rolled His eyes at me every time I did something He knew to be stupid, ignored me when I stopped being useful or thought me unworthy of consideration because I could not offer anything as important as what He could, I would be completely and totally in despair, because this is my inherent condition.  God, through Jesus Christ, offered everything to people completely unable to repay Him, unable to deserve Him, unworthy to look at Him.  And, yet, I choose to see myself as important enough to dismiss people right and left simply for annoying me.  I have really been trying to control my condescending impulses and be nice even when I find people’s behavior to be incompetent.  Controlling the outward impulses of open disdain is nothing, however, to controlling the attitude causing them.  When I can look at a person and see value regardless of what they have to offer, it will be cured.  There is a statement that I’m sure you’ve heard: “Use things; love people.”  This is in contrast to the bulk of my existence, which tells me, “Love things; use people.”  I consider myself to be fairly non-materialistic.  I am coming to realize that I am just materialistic in a different way than materialistic is usually meant.  It is not necessarily rampant in the area of wanting lots of things, but it is monstrous in the area of wanting everything I offer to be equaled in return.  C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit….”  If I could wake up every day and see this in people…in every person…their intrinsic worth and significance as a being loved and sought by the One True and Perfect God, how different would my responses be? 

I would like the rule of my life not to be reciprocity, but grace, mercy, love, respect.  I don’t want people to feel like they have to earn this from me, and constantly fear losing it, and, yet, there are people in my life whom I know do fear this.  People I have made to feel ignorant and unworthy because their performance was not up to my standard.  People who feel intimidated by my scathing condescension.  I have seen it in their faces, heard it in their tentative replies, felt it in their attempts at reparation.  I don’t want to be that person.  I apologize for being that person.  Whoever you are, I want to love you unreservedly and unconditionally.  I have a ways to go, and I can only get there by allowing God to work in me, but acknowledgement is the first step, right?  Everything is baby steps from here on out.

Update on the Study and Literary Arrogance

So, if anyone’s wondering what’s happening with the study on Feminism and the Bible, here’s the latest.  First off, let me say that I have not gotten very far on actual points.  My friend and I were going to attempt each taking the article point by point and researching one at a time each.  (She’d take one; I’d take one – then we’d both discuss and conclude that segment.)  This was a very naive outlook on how we could manage this.  If only it were that simple.  First off, you find that everything you hunt on one point inevitably leads to really good information on a different point.  Secondly, the very first task is to solidify what we do believe God’s outlook on the role for women is.  Again, naive in thinking that is simple.  A few examples:  Does God approve of women teaching in the church?  I feel like He does and, needless to say, I want Him to, but this is not about feelings or wants.  I’m trying to get a solid understanding here.  I’m trying to get to truth in a way that anyone can grasp it, even if they don’t agree with it.  I’m even prepared to find out that answers to questions like these are not what I wish they were.  I think that if the answer is that God does not want women to teach men or in the church or however you interpret I Timothy 2: 11-14, that there will be a reason (if we can grasp it) that makes me OK with that.  (But then we also get into the question of who decides what ‘teaching’ means.  I’ve seen some pretty ridiculous lines drawn since looking into this, as in “Women can ‘share’ but not ‘preach.'”  Huh??  And also, “Women can ‘talk’ in church as long as they don’t stand behind the pulpit.”  Ummm, OK.)  However, back to the point: as in the submission of wives to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-29), I’m not ruffled by this statement, because it also tells men to treat their wives as Christ treats the church.  I’m good with that…Christ gave everything of Himself for the church and did everything for her benefit and well-being.  If a man is going to treat me like that, unconditionally, as Christ did with the church, I think I can handle a little thing like submission.  (Although, I’m still wrestling with the questions: “Do you still have to submit to a husband that is not following Christ, and if not, who decides when they are not following Christ?” and “Do you only not have to submit if a husband is asking you to do something specifically against God’s commands and if so, who decides that as well?”)  My elusive point is that I feel there would be good, satisfactory and understandable “footnotes” for God’s decision even if that decision was that a woman is not supposed to teach a man or in the church.  I’ve got to tell you, though, finding a really solid answer to this debate is not simple.  I didn’t think it would be an easy task or even a short task, but I will say that I did not expect to find so many poor arguments for people’s interpretations (and not just for this one Scripture).  I’ve seen a lot of things that make me understand why people often think that Christians are uneducated…interpretations that use poor logic to explain something away or use an argument that fights against itself.  It saddens me.  I guess maybe the question is harder than I think, and I shouldn’t be so disappointed in the Christian community. 

So, I’ve said a lot of nothing about what I haven’t learned.  Let’s talk about what I have.  I’ve learned a lot about myself.  It seems God leads you to study things that maybe you need to know for your own personal reasons in addition to the reasons you study it (in this case, for the defense of His truths). 

Here goes.  I am reading a book someone recommended in my comments, “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge.  The friend I am working on this project with bought it, and gave it to me to read first, as she had some other reading material she intended on starting out with.  Well, I apologize, zephaniah317, because I really did NOT want to read this book.  I’ve heard of it before, and never had any inclination to read it. 

First strike: it’s about girls.  I’m a girl.  OK.  I don’t need anyone to tell me about the fact that I am a girl or about feminity.  Or how not to be a silly girl.  Or how not to be a naggy wife (girlfriend, in my case).  I’m pretty good at those things.  Or am I?  We’ll see, but the fact is that anything “girly” turns me off in the first place.  I don’t like pink.  I don’t like lacy, frilly things.  I hate to get my nails or hair touched by any stranger.  I don’t like massages.  This book is inherently girly.  That’s its whole premise. 

Second strike: it’s also very popular within the Christian subculture.  I have only just now realized how deeply my literary arrogance runs.  This book could not be worth my time because it is “popular” and anything that the general public could enjoy is probably too stupid for me.  Wow.  That’s really how I thought.  What a jerk am I.  I’m sorry, John and Stasi Eldredge, for thinking you were all silly, fluffy things and rhetoric. 

I don’t have a third strike, so we’ll just say that’s the only reason it made it through to the “read anyway” pile.  I’m not through with the book yet, but it has already made me severely aware of three separate very valuable issues. 

One of them was, indeed, my severe case of literary arrogance.  God didn’t cure me of that even by teaching me something important through the book.  (I retained a little bit of my reticence after learning the first lesson because of the fact that the book did not spell it out; it just showed me some other things that led me to a conclusion.  So, really, I figured it out on my own, right?  I still didn’t need the silly book.)  Wrenching my disgusting snobbery out of me did not come until I realized that I was acting patronizing to another individual who had genuine interest in this book, that they could probably tell I was being patronizing, and that it probably made them feel a little bit stupid.  Again, what a jerk am I.  God did manage to cue me into this, and make me feel like I wanted to hide from Him because of my pride in this nominal intellect I have.  I did not hide, but I did repent, and not only to Him, but to the individual. The other two things that God taught me through this book really deserve their own blogs.  And since I’m tired, maybe I’ll give them each one another day. 

Giving and Un-Giving – Confessions of an Indian-Giver

I am writing this story down, but it is a story I have never spoken out loud…not to my best friend, not to my boyfriend of two and a half years…literally, to no one.  I don’t have a lot of those.  I’m a fairly open person.  I am ashamed of this story, and that is why I do not share it.  It also involves another person…a person that I care about, and would not want to offend.   If this person reads this, they will know who they are.  However, no one else need know who this person is, so therefore the details may remain a bit sketchy for the sake of a little tact.  The telling of this event could possibly offend them, as it involves me taking offense at their actions.  If you are reading this, and you are this person, please know that I am sincerely aware that what offended me was not you, but my pride, which is why I need to confess it – because I am horrified at my pride, and at the things it revealed to me about my character. This friend of mine recently had a milestone, you know one of those great things such as having a baby or getting married or graduating.  I was therefore required by social compunction to provide a gift.  And, indeed, I wanted to provide a gift.  I did produce quite an ordinary gift, but this did not seem enough to me, and so I gave the person, in addition to this gift, a gift that I had made.  I can see you already, rolling your eyes and thinking you know where this story is going, but before you go there, let me assure you that this gift was not shabby.  There were other people who I knew would’ve been thrilled had I given them this gift, and I was rather fond of it myself.  I did make it, but if I do say so myself, it was quite worthy of being given.  (Can you hear the pride even now?  I cannot even turn it off when I am preaching against it.)  Well, I did give it.  And the response was less than thrilling.  I was able to swallow that, but knew immediately that the gift was not as appreciated as I would have hoped and anticipated, nor was it esteemed in any way.  This realization was solidified minutes later, when upon being asked what they had, my friend pushed it under the table and said “Oh, nothing.”  I should insert here, that it was a decorative gift.  I should also insert that my friend is usually quite picky about décor.  In other words, I should have known that any unsolicited decorative items would be unwelcome.  So, in a sense, I was asking for it.  But, let’s continue.   As time went on, the hubbub of the event ensued, many things were brought out, gifts and pretty things shuffled around.  Here is where I begin to be ashamed.  I saw my precious gift, the one I had labored over and was proud of…it was crammed (literally crammed) into a paper bag, with things being set on it and crushing it and bending it.  I should also state that it was NOT a gift that crushing and bending would benefit, and would’ve shortly become something only worth throwing in the trash had this treatment continued.  I watched it being battered as if it meant nothing even as a gift because I had given it, if not for its worth, and (forgive me, friend!), I took it back.  Everyone was doing other things; no one was looking.  I took it back – brought it back to my house, and in time, gave it to another friend whom I believed to have a better estimation of its value.  What on EARTH was I thinking?  I don’t say this because I think my friend ever missed it.  Based on the reaction, they were more likely relieved at not having to pretend to like it by displaying it.   The thing I am ashamed of is my pride.  What did I think gift-giving was about?  Pleasing myself?  Apparently, I did.  When giving the gift did not give me sufficient satisfaction, I just took it back.  Even this did not hit me too terribly hard until a couple of days later.  I heartily justified my actions in my discomfort until I thought about Jesus – Jesus’ gift – and I knew there was no justification.  It stops me in my emotional tracks even now as I think of it.  What He gave up for me, for us…I can’t even fathom it.  How He left heaven and came to live like a simple tradesman; how He willingly suffered abuse, mockery and cruel torture; but even this only scratches the surface.  He suffers my ingratitude on days when I am too obtuse to recognize the worth of having Him as my companion.  He watches me disfigure His gift in front of others to the point it is almost unrecognizable.  He feels the hurt of my unwillingness to assign value to His gift simply because it is His at times when I cannot understand the gift itself and bears, with patience, my inability to understand what He put into it.  He watches me shy away from it, hide it, ignore it and awkwardly try to figure out how I am supposed to display it.  In short, I do to His gift what was done to mine – my little insignificant gift that was nothing more than something pretty.  And I do this more times than I am able to keep track of in a day.  How small I feel when I realize that if I were Christ, I would have taken it back.  I would’ve watched it being battered and hidden, and I would’ve taken it back, thinking that the recipient was not worthy.  God, how merciful He is!  I remember how I felt about my gift, and wonder how He can stand it.  How can He stand it without screaming at us or throwing down fire-bolts, let alone taking it back.  If I could feel as small as I do right now in finally confessing this and spelling it out in words, I think I could actually learn humility. 

Forgiveness

When I was a little girl, there was a boy in my Sunday School class at church whose name I will keep to myself.  Let’s call him Joe for simplicity.  I’m not sure why this story comes to mind, but it seems significant.  I think I couldn’t have been more than four in our first confrontation, but I truly despised him.  It was during playtime, and I don’t remember what he said, but he was making fun of my friend Jennifer. I remember that at four, I thought it was absolutely despicable (though perhaps I didn’t think the word “despicable”).  I had my little girl Sunday plastic pink purse, and I hit him across the face with it.  Being the teacher’s pet, I was reprimanded, but not very harshly.  I wouldn’t have cared if I had been punished.  I was the Giver of Justice and the Defender of the Weak.  I have a very vivid memory each year four years running with Joe.  In his defense, when I was five, it was really his father who committed the offense.  His dad taught our Sunday School class that year.  One day, he was telling a story with farm animals in it, and he was giving all of the animal’s names.  The only thing I know about that story was that he named the cow “Connie the Cow.”  Apparently, I was a sensitive child at that stage, because I wanted to disappear more than anything when everyone looked at me and laughed.  I even cried in my bed that night, and told my mom about it.  She assured me that she was sure no one thought I looked like a cow.  I was actually quite a skinny child.  Joe, however unfairly, got the blame.  I distinctly remember him laughing the loudest and looking the cruelest.  When I was six, it was a tack in my chair.  We were singing that song that goes “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart….”  One of the verses was “and if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack, sit on a tack, sit on a tack….” There were motions for this.  You stood up in between each “sit on a tack,” and then sat back down when you sang it again.  Joe took the opportunity to put a tack in my seat while we were standing.  I don’t know if that means he thought I was the devil, but I definitely thought he was.  The next year was the last specific memory of him (and the most traumatic for me) until I was a teenager.  Our church took a yearly summer trip to the zoo in Monroe, Louisiana.  I lived in El Dorado, Arkansas until we actually moved to Monroe when I was nine, so this was about an hour and a half’s journey.  On the way back from this trip, I was sitting beside my very best friend (the kind you can only have when you are six), backwards and Indian-style leaning on the seat in front of us on our church bus.  I was sitting backwards because Joe was in the seat behind me, and he kept hitting me on the head. He was sitting with an older boy.  I should also state that I am sure the older boy put him up to this.  I don’t think he would’ve thought of it himself.  I was talking with my friend, when Joe reached over the seat, and touched me where I knew I was not supposed to be touched.  I had clothes on, of course, and he did it quickly and was back on the other side, but this very upsetting for me.  I thought it was the worst thing in the world.  I went home that day, and later my mom found me crying in a pile of my pillows and my Strawberry Shortcake bedspread.  At first I wouldn’t tell her what was wrong, but she got it out of me eventually.  She was horrified, and called Joe’s parents, and I think the older boy’s, too.  That incident was just the confirmation of my hatred of Joe.  I don’t think I spoke to him from then until the time we moved away three years later.  I stayed in touch with my friend, though, and when I was a teenager, I went to visit her several times.  One of these times, Joe and I had yet another run-in.  He and my friend both still attended the same church, and I went to a pool party with their church group.  I suppose he remembered tormenting me when we were younger, and thought it would be fun to continue.  I had an ear infection, and couldn’t get in the water.  I just sat on the side, but Joe repeatedly tried to throw me in.  My tolerance for him started out low, so I got more and more furious.  He never succeeded in throwing me in, but his behavior further solidified my belief in his being completely and totally evil.  For whatever reason, he remained the epitome of what I hated in people for years.  I’ve found that the opinions and emotions I formed early in life are more difficult to overcome than those I have acquired as an adult.  I suppose the more rationality you have when forming a belief, the more rationally you can view it, and therefore change it when you see the necessity.  His offenses were immature and some even mean, but not comparable to the measure of my hatred of him.  This is, believe it or not, a story of forgiveness.  I didn’t even realize it until last night as I lay contemplating the stories of my life, but Joe and I had a moment of peace-making…a moment when he said “I’m sorry” and I said “That’s OK,” even though neither of us said the words.  It occurred years later.  El Dorado was a very small town, and Monroe, although not large, had a fairly new and decent sized shopping mall, so people from El Dorado would come to our mall to shop.  I worked at the Chick-fil-A in this mall for years, through high school and my time at college, and worked my way up to manager.  I was already manager when this happened, so I must’ve been around twenty or twenty-one.  One regular day, I looked up and there was a person in my line who looked very like Joe.  His dad was kind of a short, stocky man, and this person had Joe’s face, and his dad’s build.  I knew he was grown-up Joe, and he looked at me and knew I was grown-up Connie.  He was with a girl, and was wearing a wedding ring.  Neither of us spoke any words of recognition as I took their order.  They ate in our dining room, and I went out to clean it a few minutes later.  He looked at me as I walked by their table, and he said, “So, are you the manager here?”  It was pretty obvious because of my uniform.  I just said, “Yes,” and he said, “That’s good.”  We both smiled a kind of awkward smile.  We didn’t have any trivialities, like “Do you remember me?” or “It’s so good to see you” or “Is this your wife?” or “What are you doing these days?”  That was the entirety of our conversation, and then I walked away.  I’m sure his wife thought it odd, and I’ve wondered if he told her that he knew me.  I can’t explain it, and I never examined it until yesterday, but that was the moment I forgave him.  After that moment, although I can remember the way I felt hurt by him, the animosity disappeared.  I could see in his face that he knew his actions had been hurtful, and he was sorry.  I hope he could tell that I forgave him.  I never saw him again, but I know that God organized that meeting.  It was a lesson of letting go of hurts, realizing that people make dumb mistakes and often regret them years later when something has grown up in them.  It was a lesson that you don’t have to hear an apology to forgive.  Christ’s lesson is that I should have forgiven him way before I knew he recognized his actions as wrong.  Christ’s forgiveness is letting go not knowing if the person will ever be sorry, allowing them the room to make mistakes without your judgment pressing in on them and forgiving without the slightest thought of justice or revenge.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.  I have other people in my life that fall into the category of the unforgiven.  I try to hold no ill will towards those who have injured me, but there is a piece of my heart that can’t quite let go until I at least know that those people recognize their wrongs.  I hope one day I can allow enough of Christ in me to love them unconditionally.