A watery God of growth: some thoughts on Eden

Picture Eden in your mind.

What are some adjectives that immediately come up? Paradise, perhaps? Perfection?

What are some things we’ve been taught about Eden? That it was God’s original plan? That after his plan of perfection and paradise was ruined by Satan, with the help of Adam and Eve (emphasis on Eve if we’re to believe the rhetoric of the patriarchy), that God has been working on nothing but trying to return everything to that state of paradise and perfection?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Garden of Eden mythology this morning. And I want to deconstruct a few ideas. (These are my own thoughts, not something I learned in a college course since I’m an uneducated swine.)

(For those of you offended by the term “mythology”, please read this dictionary definition of myth: a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.)

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One: Perfection.

If God wanted perfection and he/she is as omnipotent as we all believe them to be, then perfection could have been achieved and sustained indefinitely from the very beginning. If perfect people were the goal, God had and has the power to create beings that never sin, never do evil, are never unhappy or sad or angry. There would be no greed, narcissism, hatred, lust, jealousy, arrogance, war, violence, hunger, need of any kind, etc.

Ah, you say, but Adam and Eve had that state of perfection until Satan, disguised as a serpent, tempted and tricked them into eating the forbidden fruit.

No, he didn’t.

You can’t tempt and trick someone into something they don’t already desire. On some level, they were already curious about the fruit and wanted to try it. Then, when presented with the idea that they could be like God in knowledge, the desire to taste that fruit became unbearable. They had to have it. Satan didn’t put desire into them. It was already there.

The idea that Adam and Eve were perfect and innocent before the serpent came along is false. They were already entertaining the idea of eating the fruit before he showed up. I mean, they were hanging out by the damned tree when he came along. He didn’t have to lead them to it or drag them over there. They were ALREADY THERE.

So, no, the Garden wasn’t perfect before Satan came into the picture. Adam and Eve weren’t naive innocents who fell prey to a flim-flam man. They didn’t give their retirement to a Nigerian prince. They weren’t scammed or tricked. What really happened? Satan gave them verbal permission to do something they already wanted to do.

I think it’s important to stop thinking of Eden as a spoilt paradise and dream of creation that God is always trying to get us back to. Because the idea that if Satan hadn’t come along and persuaded A and E to sin, we’d all be living happy, prosperous, perfect lives with no pain is completely and utterly false. Can we all just admit that it was only a matter of time before A and E effed things up on their own without outside help?

They were not perfect and Eden was not perfection.

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Two: Pain.

Let’s stay with this idea that perfection and paradise are God’s ultimate goals for creation and humanity for a bit.

The idea is that perfection and paradise have always been the end game for all of creation and especially humanity but back in Eden, Satan messed everything up. Ok, so where did Satan come from? If perfection and paradise are the goal, why would a good God allow a being like Satan to exist at all?

Ah, you say, but Satan was originally good and fell from heaven because he desired God’s throne.

Poppycock.

That’s just more mythology. If you’re someone who believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and holds the Bible up to be more fact and history than poetry and story, then please point out to me the clear scripture verses that explain who Satan is and where he came from. I’ll save you the time and trouble, there are none. There are no verses that clearly state who and what Satan is or how and why he exists. There are some very evocative metaphors about this being that possibly point to metaphorical origins, but nothing straightforward or clear.

Who and what Satan is, remains a mystery. And one of the real mysteries to me is why this being of pure evil exists at all. Because a creature like this does not fit into the idea of perfection and paradise. A being of pure evil can only cause destruction and pain.

Why would a God who desires this state of ultimate perfection allow a being like this to exist at all? If you want perfection, just destroy the little bugger or better yet, don’t allow him to come into existence at all.

But evil does exist. Whether evil comes only from the heart of man or there is a being of evil in the world influencing us, it still exists nonetheless. And evil only begets one thing: pain.

So why would God allow this evil to come and ruin his garden paradise and thwart his plans for perfection? I think it’s because perfection and paradise were never the end goal. God wasn’t creating a paradise that was then ruined by creation’s first douche. If you ask me, Eden was simply meant to be a starting place, a loading screen, chapter one.

I don’t pretend to know why evil or pain exist but I do know that their very existence negates the idea that God is only interested in paradise and perfection. If that’s what they wanted, evil and pain would never have come into the picture.

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Before we move on to my third and final idea, let’s go back and retell the story of creation as quickly as possible.

  • There was nothing
  • God makes light, stars, moon, sun, water, land, plants, animals, everything
  • God makes humans
  • God puts humans in Eden
  • Humans plus Satan topple the Jenga tower

I really want to focus on that middle bullet point for my third idea: God makes humans. Because all this talking about and deconstructing the mythology of Eden has been leading me to this idea. If God wasn’t aiming for perfection and wasn’t trying to make perfect humans, what was he/she up to?

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Three: Humans.

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.””

Genesis‬ ‭1:26-28‬ ‭

I hope you actually took the time to read the verses above because I want you to notice the suspicious absence of the word “perfect”.

God said “let us make humans in our image” not “let us make perfect little mini-me’s”. We assume humans were meant to be perfect because that is the main attribute we ascribe to God.

Let me say that again for those in the back: WE ASSUME HUMANS WERE MEANT TO BE PERFECT BECAUSE THAT IS THE MAIN ATTRIBUTE WE ASCRIBE TO GOD.

If humans are supposed to be made in God’s image and God is perfect then, ergo, transitive property, humans are made to be perfect.

But perfection is not the only attribute of God and not even the most important one.

If Adam and Eve were meant to be the standard that we fell away from, can you please list for me all the ways they are like God? I don’t see God’s kindness, compassion or love in them. I don’t see God’s power or authority. In fact, I don’t see much of God’s likeness in them at all. God said “let us make them in our image” and we immediately believe the fullness of God’s image is born out in Adam and Eve. How?!? I don’t see it! I can’t believe when God said “in our image” that these two were the standard by which we must measure ourselves. If they were so great, why isn’t there more written about them?!? You know, the only attribute in Adam and Eve that I see as godly is that they were “unashamed”. That’s it!

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Made in God’s image.

God is many things. Loving, kind, gentle, compassionate, fierce, jealous, a still small voice, a whirlwind, a creator, a vine dresser, a gardener, a king, a queen, a baby in a manger, a spirit or rather THE spirit of all. And so, so much more than I could ever think of on my own.

Perfect? Yes. Holy? Yes. But with so many wonderful things to say about God, why do we stop with these two? Is it because the one attribute of God’s that A and E actually had, being “unashamed”, was lost and we inherited that shame like it’s written into our DNA. We’re ashamed of ourselves. And all we can see is how unalike God we are.

Can we address the fact that one of God’s most agreed upon attributes is “creator”? When we were made in God’s image, we were given that same attribute. We have creation and creativity in our blood. It’s an essential part of our being. Whether you create through art or cooking or building or children or whatever, you are a creative being. You can’t help but create all day long, every day. But creation of any kind is messy. It’s always messy. Creating anything of any kind causes a mess. If God was not ok with our mess, why would he/she allow us to be these magnificent creative beings going around making our messes?

For me, the “G” in God stands for “growth”. Just one look out your window is all it takes to see what a huge fan of growth God is. We weren’t meant to stay trapped by shame all our lives, punishing ourselves mentally for being imperfect and unholy.

The order of creation goes: light, water, land THEN seeds! God created all the things those seeds would need to grow before he/she even created the seeds. Everything was put in place to foster the growth of those seeds. And once the seeds were created, they were buried in dirt and darkness. They had to push their way free of that dirt and darkness in order to reach the light and air. But they didn’t do it alone. You see God created water. The water reached down into the dirt and darkness and held that seed and helped the little plant break free of its seed cocoon. The water softened the dirt for the little plant so it could push through and reach the light.

Adam and Eve were just the beginning. They weren’t the gold standard. They weren’t something God lost that they’re trying to get back to. They were the seed of humanity. And we’ve been pushing through the dirt and the darkness ever since. Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, they are the living fucking water that have reached down to help us navigate our way out of the shit! Yes, humanity is mired by dirt and darkness but we are being held by the watery God of growth and light!

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If there’s anything I want to leave you with today, it’s the idea that Eden was not our lost perfection. It was the start of centuries of growth. It was the endowment of creativity upon the little seedlings of God. It’s not the end goal of God’s heart. Restoration is absolutely God’s heart. But not resetting. God does not want to reset humanity back to Eden. God wants growth! Growth is always forward. A plant doesn’t grow back into a seed. A plant can certainly wither and need restoration but once it’s restored it continues to grow! That’s the restoration God is bringing us. Not shrinking back into the earth. Not starting from the beginning again.

Eden was the start. Not the end. Let’s keep growing!

Thanksgiving PSA: Don’t invalidate people’s feelings.

Don’t invalidate other people’s feelings.

You may not agree with them. They may have a completely different memory or perspective on a shared experience than you. You may even KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt, with irrefutable proof that they are remembering things wrong. That’s ok.

Still.

Don’t invalidate their feelings.

Don’t tell them how to feel. And when they voice their feelings out loud, don’t correct them saying, “That’s not how you feel. You actually feel this way.”

If they tell you that they’re hurt by you or because of something you did, regardless of whether or not you actually did it, you can be kind and say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting and that I played a part in that.”

Some people will blame you for everything and consistently tell you you’ve hurt them or that you’re an asshole. If that’s the case, look deep inside, really self-evaluate, ask someone who will be honest with you if you’re really a jerk. If you’re not a jerk and you’re tired of apologizing for things that never happened, you don’t have to have a relationship with that person.

But…………..

Don’t invalidate their feelings. Because if you do, then you really will be an asshole.

Why am I writing this on Thanksgiving?

Because a meme I saw on Instagram reminded me why I choose not to spend time with my parents anymore. Do I miss them? Of course I do. But I can’t be around them. Because I can’t share myself with them. There are a lot of reasons for that but a big one is that I’ve spent much of my life having my feelings invalidated, belittled, and gaslighted. I learned to become two different people. The one my parents knew and the one everyone else knew.

I know I’m not alone in this. This is a common tale. That doesn’t stop it from hurting.

So don’t be an asshole. Don’t invalidate people’s feelings. That’s my Thanksgiving PSA.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving. 🦃 Or don’t.

Chucked in the bin again.

Someone said something that hurt me. My immediate reaction was to move them from one category in my mind, the “You May Be Extremely Conservative But You’re Still Really Sweet” category, to the “Wow! You’re Really Judgmental and Kind of a B” category. I wanted to take them from “good” to “bad”. I wanted to label this person as “bad” in my mind. Why? Because in addition to hurting my feelings, their comment let me know that they label me as “bad”. And they may not know this but I’m rubber and they are glue. #science

But I’ve been obsessively thinking about it all morning and I have come to some conclusions. The first of which is, they are not “bad”.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that it is human nature to think of most things in a dualistic, good vs bad, no gray area kind of way. One of our favorite pastimes is gossiping about celebrities and sorting them into good vs bad categories. Bill Cosby used to be good but now he is bad. The discovery of his unforgivable actions erased the good things we liked about him. He is no longer good. He is now bad. During the height of the #MeToo movement, I was shocked and saddened by the news that many of the actors and celebrities I once liked were capable of such ugly and horrifying behavior. They were moved from the “good” category to the “bad” category overnight.

But is it really true that people fit into only one of two categories? Is it true that people can either only be good or only be bad? I really don’t think so.

I try very hard to be objective about myself and to see both the good and the bad in my actions. I know I have done wrong at times and I know I have done right. I do not delude myself into believing I am always right and my actions are always righteous. It may seem that way to others, I don’t know. We don’t really know how others perceive us. So maybe there are people out there who think I am self-righteous and that I do not see my wrongs. I can actually see how conversations I’ve had with others might come off that way. But, dear reader, please be assured, I know I have been wrong many times.

So knowing that I do not fit into either the “good” or “bad” categories, why should I assume that everyone else does? If I am neither all good or all bad, why would anyone else be?

We are all capable of tremendous acts of kindness or horrendous acts of evil. We can all be inclined to be judgmental of others, especially if they have done something to hurt us. And we can all be overcome with compassion for others as well.

The person who hurt me, who said something nasty about me, I know a few things about them. And what I know is that they can be very kind, compassionate, loving and giving. They have a desire to help others, especially the vulnerable. They have been a good friend, not to me, but to others.

Can they also be judgmental? Apparently. Selfish? I’ve heard a few things. Does that make them bad? Does it erase all the good? I don’t think so.

Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” (Luke 18:19)

I always thought this meant we were all bad. And I have to laugh as I type that. Because that is the old dualistic mindset, putting everything into binary categories again. If it’s not good, it’s bad, right?

Maybe what he really meant is “stopping labeling everything”. Stop sorting people into “good” and “bad”. Can we please get over our need to categorize and label and just focus on God, who actually is good?

Does it still hurt me to know people are still chucking me into the “bad” bin? Of course it does! People I know have warned other people I know to stay away from my husband and me. And I was so distraught earlier, I actually made a list of what they were warning people about.

Stay Away From Nick and Bonnie Because:

  • Nose ring
  • Listening to non-Christian music and associating with people who smoke cigarettes
  • Trouble makers/ do not submit to authority
  • Liars
  • Turned teens against their parents (back when we were youth pastors)
  • Church hoppers
  • Only friends with someone so we could get the gossip
  • Support the LGBTQ community

That’s all I could think of. People were actually told not to associate with us because of those things. That list represents what makes my husband and me worthy of the “bad” category. Some of the things on this list are absolutely true. I DO have a nose ring. I DO listen to non-Christian music and associate with people who smoke. I DO support the LGBTQ community. I HAVE been to more than one church. We haven’t always been so good at “submitting to authority”. LOL. And I’m sure I’ve told a lie or two. (Or three or four.) But I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never intentionally tried to turn teens away from their parents or only been friends with someone so I could get the hot goss. I’ve never intentionally been a trouble maker or made a habit of lying. (I really do try to be honest.)

It hurts to think that these are the things that landed me in the “bad” bin and that this is what people are saying about us. But I know I’m no different. I know I have said unkind things about others. I know I have painted others as “all bad” when in truth they are not.

And I guess that’s really the point of this post. No one is “all bad” or “all good”. Everyone has a list like the one above of things others have said about them. Many people are both kind AND judgmental. Many people are both generous AND dishonest. We are all a mix. That doesn’t mean people don’t have to be held accountable for their actions, or that their negative behavior should be excused or overlooked. It doesn’t even mean that we should weigh every person’s actions in a “pros and cons” type list to see if the good outweighs the bad. For me it just means, I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Because the people out there who have hurt me and said negative things about me, they’ve done good things too, they’re both good and bad. Just like me.

So that’s it. That’s where all my pondering, obsessive thinking and anxiety led me today. It led me to the conclusion that we’re all a mix of good and bad. Just because someone hurt me doesn’t make them bad. And I need to keep working on leaving behind that dualistic, binary way of thinking that categorizes people, dehumanizing them in the process. Also, it’s ok if some people think I’m bad. I can live with that.

I leave you with this video. Before you click play, I should warn you, it’s non-Christian. *wink*

This Vessel or Why Everyone Should Practice Creativity or Horcruxes Are Real: Here’s My Proof

I started doing something yesterday. No one told me to do it. It just popped into my head and it seemed like a good idea so I went with it.

I started calling my body, “this vessel”.

I am not my body and my body is not me. I’m not my thoughts and I am not my feelings. I am not even my actions.* I am a spirit, energy, a soul. I am something my mind does not comprehend because our minds exist within a specific framework and “I” exist outside that framework. I use my mind, my mind does not use me. I exist outside of it. I use my body, my body does not use me. I don’t really know who the “I” or “me” or “my” are in those sentences. “I” doesn’t seem to accurately describe it. But here we are. I am me.

So saying “my body” is accurate because it is the body I have control over, it is the one I use. But there are certain connotations with the phrase “my body”, at least for me, that keep me from really understanding what my body is.

One, there’s the idea that this vessel, my body, IS the embodiment of “me”. That this flesh represents who I am. But as I’ve already said, I am not my body.

A lot of emphasis is put on physique, weight, appearance, health. But these are all flesh issues, not soul issues. And it makes sense, in a way, because our flesh is the most visible part of us. It’s the part of us most frequently judged by others. Our appearance sends messages to others, some we intend and others we do not. My weight, tattoos, skin color, hair style, nose ring, height, clothing – they all send a message. A message I can’t even know because it is only known to the one receiving the message. I can try to send out a message with the choices I make regarding my appearance and a lot of times those messages can be received as I intend them.

But I am not my body. I live inside this flesh, it is not me. It will one day die but I will live on. How can something that I outlive be me?

Two, there’s the idea that this vessel, my body, is all I have. Once this flesh dies, I am no more. My spirit, energy, soul lives on somewhere else. But to the living world, I am gone. So we must work to keep our flesh in top running condition for as long as possible because it is all we have. It is our only connection to the living world.

I don’t believe this either. I believe we impart a piece of ourselves in everything we create and when others enjoy our creation, they are enjoying a tiny piece of us. This blog, for example, contains dozens of tiny snapshots of my soul that I wrote down and sent into the world for others to enjoy. When I go back and reread some of the things I’ve written, I see a younger version of myself that I’d forgotten existed and I feel her feelings and see through her eyes. They are tiny horcruxes** that allow my spirit and soul to live on, long after my flesh is gone.

The Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting ever created. It was created in 1503 and Leonardo da Vinci, the artist who painted her, has been dead since 1519. It has literally been 500 years since he died and we are still utterly fascinated by this painting and by him. People still analyze it, study it, try to copy it, and flock to see it. Why? It is because it is a horcrux that contains both the soul of da Vinci and the soul of Lisa, herself. A horcrux, if you remember from Harry Potter, is an object used to store part of a person’s soul, protecting him or her from death.** When we look at this painting, feelings rise up within us, whether we want them to or not, something of the artists’ soul was left on that canvas.

Visit any art gallery, go to any concert, read any book, look at a beautiful garden or enjoy a delicious piece of pie. You’ll find a part of the creator’s soul.

So my body, this flesh that I occupy, it’s only one vessel for my spirit, energy, soul. There are so many others: the stories and songs I’ve written, the recipes I’ve poured a part of myself into, the moments I’ve shared with my loved ones. I left a tiny piece of myself in all these, a piece I wanted to share with the world. Some day, when my flesh is gone, part of me will still live on in the things I’ve created. Perhaps this is why so many people feel the call to create and why everyone should practice a little creativity from time to time. To remind ourselves that we are more than these vessels we occupy.

This is one reason I started calling my body, “this vessel”, because it’s only one vessel that I occupy. And not even the most important one.

It’s also the one vessel that I know of that connects me to the living world but I really can’t say that for sure because, to my knowledge, I haven’t died yet. But since I DO know that here and now, it connects me to the living world, I need to take care of it as long as I’m interested in staying here. This vessel is a vehicle to travel the land of the living and just like I take care of my car, I should take care of this vessel.

Thinking of it this way helps me see that my health doesn’t define me and there are some things about my health I have no control over. Maybe your car doesn’t have power windows, that’s ok, you’ll just have to use the hand crank. The vessel I’m living in doesn’t handle gluten well. That’s ok! It’s not ideal but it’s manageable. It doesn’t say anything about ME, the being living in the vessel. But it tells me that if I want the vessel to function well, I should avoid gluten. If I want my car to run well I have to put in the correct fuel and oil, why should my body be any different?

I have not always been kind to this vessel, both mentally and physically, and I would wager that every single person reading this without exception can say the exact same thing. But if I view my body as just one vessel to live in, I separate my worth from it, I am not defined by it. And if I view my body as just the vessel I occupy, I can take care of its needs and issues without wrapping up my sense of self and value in it.

This flesh is just one vessel that I live in. It needs maintenance and care but it is not all that I am. Just like water leaves the banks of the river to join the mighty ocean, one day I will not occupy this vessel but that doesn’t mean I won’t live on.

So it’s weird and a lot of people will probably think I’m completely nuts but that’s ok. I’m going to keep thinking of my body as “this vessel”. Because there is so much more to me than my flesh and because my spirit, energy, soul is already out there in tiny horcruxes, keeping me alive long after my flesh dies. This is just one of my vessels.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Peace.

 

 

* I am not even my actions seems like a problematic statement. Some would argue that our actions are the only true way to define us. But that doesn’t take into account people who are drugged, people with mental illness, those forced to do things beyond their control, people with OCD or Tourettes, this list goes on and on. It also doesn’t take into account people who made mistakes and have since changed their lives and behaviors. While some people would probably love to be defined by their actions, others hope they will not be and some hope their actions will be left in the past or forgotten. I personally do not want to be defined by past actions as I have changed and grown since then.

** Horcruxes

Collection

Even though I am not a genius or wise guru, I’ve decided to put together a little collection of my favorite blog posts into a book. I’ll probably self-publish with Book Baby or another self-publishing service. It’ll be a while before it’s ready but I’ll keep you updated.

Anyway, what I wanna know is, do you have a favorite post that you think I should include? Message or comment! Thanks!

Thanks! I won’t.

Yesterday, I did a chalkboard drawing. I do these once in a while ranging from every few weeks to every few months. The chalkboard I use for this hangs in a fairly prominent place in my home and I have to see it a lot, so I often use it as a sort of ever-changing inspirational poster, like a physical inspirational meme.

The drawing I did yesterday was a fairly simple one, I’ve done much more complex ones in the past, with only an open door in the corner and large letters sharing a bible verse.

IMG_5186

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. ~ Matthew 7:7

I’ve been on a journey, seeking out God for much of my life. I’ve always loved the spiritual world and it’s mysteries. Even when I was little before I met Jesus, I was always looking for the mystical and magical all around me. The world filled me with wonder and I loved it.

For the most part, religion tried to scare that out of me. Religious people want you to love Jesus and forsake the mystery. The mystical and magical seem to have little place in the world of organized religion. This is because, unfortunately, we’ve all been domesticated to think dualistically.

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To a dualistic mind, questions and answers are separate, opposing things. Something cannot be both a question and an answer. In this way of thinking, Jesus is an answer to a question, not both the question and the answer. In this way of thinking, if I have found Jesus, I have the answer not the question.

But, lately, I’ve been trying to shed a dualistic way of thinking. It’s definitely not easy but it’s the direction I’m going.

Dualism, by its very nature, is an “us vs. them” reality. It calls for us to categorize and separate everything in our world, even people. And, honestly, I don’t want to do that to people anymore. I don’t want to try to categorize people and fit them into neat little boxes in my mind. I don’t want to be categorized by others so why would they want to be categorized by me. I know that I am categorized by other people, though, because, by and large, people are dualistic thinkers and they can’t help but put me in a box. But if I can somehow work towards no longer boxing people up in my own mind, then that is what I’m going to do. It’s a work in progress.

And so, on this path, I have decided it is ok to see the mystery of God, Jesus and the Divine, and to appreciate that not only are they the mystery but also the answer to that mystery. And it’s ok if I never have “answers” to my questions. The point is to keep searching and seeking. Because God loves to be sought after just as much as we do. We were made in God’s image, after all.

So I made my little chalkboard drawing, Seek and Find in big bold letters, and I wrote a little caption underneath to sort of explain where I’m at on my journey.

I woke this morning to find a very long comment on my post. An old friend I haven’t seen for years seemed to be in disagreement with some of the things I had said. They disagreed with my use of him/her in reference to God because they believe God prefers to have themself identified with male pronouns. And my friend seemed to take issue with me saying that I was dropping the need for right and wrong, saying, “if we drop the need for right and wrong, morality also becomes murky waters”.

My first thought, after reading all of that, was, “Oh no! I’ve offended my friend. I need to clarify what I meant!” That thought and all the feelings that were tangled up in it lasted about 2 seconds, if that. My next thought was, “No, I don’t.” And I’m still dining on that second thought, hours later.

Mixed into the first thought was worry that my friend was angry, hurt and offended. I don’t believe God has a gender and I don’t believe God cares if we call them he or she or it. When asked by Moses what God’s name was, it replied, “I Am.” I think God is a lot bigger than gender and social construct. God is “I Am”, something outside of name and category. So, in those first 2 seconds, I wondered if I should tell my friend these thoughts. Would my viewpoint ease their obvious discomfort?

I also wasn’t referencing morality when I said I was dropping the need for right and wrong. I simply meant I was dropping the need for me to be right and you to be wrong. I don’t want to leave morality behind. I just want to leave behind my own superiority and start to empathize with people, rather than try to fix them with my own ideas of what is right. So, in those first 2 seconds, I wondered if I should tell my friend what I really meant about right and wrong. Would this help them feel a little better?

But I realized quickly what I was doing. I was assuming my friend was angry, hurt and offended. I was assuming my friend was coming at me from a place of attack. And I realized that I actually didn’t know what my friend was feeling. Maybe they were concerned for me. Maybe they thought what I wrote was an indication that my soul was in danger. After all, I’ve definitely been the person who thought someone’s soul was in danger because of something they posted on social media. If I’m honest, I’m still there more often than I want to be.

And so, I went from feeling attacked and upset to feeling kind of flattered. If my friend was, indeed, simply trying to save my soul, well, I appreciate that. How kind of them! Perhaps, in the eyes of my friend, I am careening down a path that inevitably leads me over a cliff into the abyss of hell. Since they care for me, they are trying to stop me from going to hell. And believe it or not, I don’t find that offensive. I think it’s kind of sweet.

I do not believe my soul is in any danger. I’m not worried that God is offended by what I said on instagram. So, why should I take offense at what my friend said to me? They were simply trying to help.

It’s like when a child comes into the kitchen and their mother immediately yells, “Don’t touch the stove! It’s hot!” The child came into the kitchen to get a treat, not to touch the stove. But the mother doesn’t know that and loves her child and doesn’t want to see her child burned. The child can react two ways. Either become offended and say, “I know not to touch the stove! I’m not stupid!” and storm out without the treat they came for. Or the child can simply appreciate that their mother loves them and say, “Thanks! I won’t,” and continue going about getting their treat. More often than not in life I have reacted the first way and shouted, “I’m not stupid!” and left without my treat. But I’m trying a different approach these days. I’m trying really hard to see the love in situations like this and simply say, “Thanks! I won’t,” and continue getting my treat.

And so, I replied to my friend.

IMG_5187

And now, here I am, telling all of you about this. Why? Well, I don’t think my motives are really all that pure. I’m writing this because I’m really proud of myself. I still haven’t reached the place in my spiritual journey where I don’t need to celebrate personal victories. This is a personal victory for me!

I don’t handle conflict or confrontation well. My normal tactic is to run away. Lol. I’m usually terrible at standing up for what I believe in. I often let others fight my battles for me.

But for several months now, I’ve been working on my conflict resolution skills. I wish I could tell you that I read a great book or listened to a great podcast that has helped me with this, but it’s just not true. Instead, I’ve been trying really hard to stop feeling personally attacked and start trying to see things from someone else’s perspective. This isn’t the first time I’ve had comments from people on my social media that have felt attacking, far from it. But this may be the first time I have switched perspectives so quickly. That is why it’s a personal victory for me.

Normally, when I receive negative comments, my adrenaline starts pumping and I feel scared and worried. It can take days for me to stop thinking about it. It can also take days for me to reply, if I even do. This time, 2 seconds of worry and it was over. That feels really good. It feels good to realize that no matter what my friend was actually feeling when they wrote that, I can still appreciate it and be thankful. Thankful for the care and concern. Thankful to them for taking the time to write to me. And I’m just proud of myself for getting there more quickly than usual. Lol. I hope to someday get to the place where I don’t need to pat myself on the back for handling conflict well, but I’m just not there yet.

So, to my friend, I just want to say, I see that you were warning me not to touch the stove. I appreciate you trying to keep me from getting burned. And to anyone out there, lovingly shouting at me, “Don’t touch the stove! It’s hot!”, I say, “Thanks! I won’t.” And I love you.

 

Triangle

There I was, sitting in Starbucks, feeling really shitty about myself. I was, admittedly, having a wonderful little pity party.  Then a friend sent me a message. They were going through something really hard, something I’ve been through before but it’s been a while. Now, I was hurting for my friend. And I felt so stupid for my self-indulgent little pity party. I just wanted to find a way to help my friend. But there really wasn’t much I could do except offer support and pray.

I wrote the word PERSPECTIVE in bold letters in my journal and underlined it.

Still sitting at Starbucks, I decided to spend a few minutes in prayer and meditation. I grabbed my coffee cup and wrapped my hands around it, holding it sort of chest level and stared off into the distance at a knot in the woodwork. I asked God to help my friend and asked him to speak to me. I breathed in. I breathed out. Then I glanced down at my coffee lid.

I saw a triangle.

This was not a heaven sent triangle. It was just your ordinary, run of the mill, recycling triangle that you see on all recyclable plastic.

But immediately upon seeing the triangle, a spark popped in my brain and I thought, “Everything is a triangle.” Obviously, everything is not a triangle, but what I really meant was, “everything has a cycle and needs balance”.

Then I remembered the time Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment. He said to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. And the second is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. I pictured a triangle formed by loving God, loving others, and loving myself.

IMG_4749Every time I’ve ever read those verses I’ve totally seen the “loving God” part and “loving others” part, but somehow I have missed the “loving yourself” part. But it’s right there!

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40

News flash! You can’t “love your neighbor as yourself” if YOU DON’T LOVE YOURSELF!

The idea of loving myself has been evolving for me. To be honest, I have taught against it in the past. (This is why James said let not many be teachers. Because he knew we’d eff it up.) I always believed it was ok to have healthy self-esteem but I thought the idea of putting yourself first was just an excuse to act like a b*tch to people. And maybe that’s the case with some people. But as I’ve come to see, putting yourself first can also be extremely healthy and life giving. As I’ve been on this journey of self-discovery/uncovery/recovery, I’ve been seeing the need to stop doing things that hurt me even if those things help other people.

IMG_4750Sometimes, we do need to put others first, I won’t deny that. There are times when we have the strength, ability, resources, gumption, whatever, that others don’t have and as Amanda Palmer said “if you can, you must”. IF I have it to give, it’s ok to give. And I should give. IF.

But there are certainly times when I do not have the strength, ability, resources, gumption, whatever, and were I to give to my neighbor, not only would I be without, I would have a negative balance. And now I would need someone to come and give to me.

So there are absolutely times when I must be at the top of the triangle.

IMG_4751And even if what I am doing is so very beneficial to others, if I’m dipping into a dry well, I NEED to stop.

These last two years, I have started a class for middle schoolers at church that I then stepped away from. (But only after there were other teachers to take my place. I’m not a monster.) I have volunteered to clean at church and stepped away from that. And my husband and I have led a life group at church that we… can you guess? Stepped away from. I carry a huge amount of guilt about all of these. In all my years, I have not been a person who just stops helping. Usually, I am the person who adds more volunteer work to their schedule.

But I have been dipping from a well that is dry for far too long. And I’m so lucky to belong to the kind of church now that really doesn’t want people to do that. Most of the churches I’ve belonged to have been the kind that believe you “give until it hurts and then give some more”. But the church I belong to now believes in healing and wholeness for everyone. Even if that means stepping away from things for a season.

Back to Starbucks. I finished meditating and put my mystical coffee cup down. I picked up my journal and drew a triangle, writing “self, God, others” in the three corners. I wrote the word BALANCE boldly and underlined it. And I realized that to have balance in my life I must love God, others and myself equally. I must give time and place to each equally, never letting one become unbalanced and unhealthy.

It’s funny how concepts you’ve been thinking about for years (like not dipping from a dry well or having balance in your life), concepts you thought you understood and had some kind of mastery over, how suddenly they take on a completely new meaning and understanding for you in the blink of an eye. It’s funny how, even when you thought you knew what loving yourself meant, you find out, you didn’t completely and you have to keep learning.

Oh well. I’m gonna keep working on myself and my triangle and I guess you, dear readers, get to have a front row seat. Lucky you.

Go out and have a balanced triangle for yourself. Whatever that looks like for you.