Goodness isn’t a paint by number.

There are days when it is in the forethought of my mind that I have left the Evangelical pattern of religion for good reason.  Usually I don’t think on it much, because I wasn’t super happy to leave it.  I desperately wanted it to work. I think as much as I wanted a fresher version of it, I never intended to leave it, until I made the decision to be intentional about leaving it behind about 8 years ago.

The reason I’m thinking about that this morning, is reading a friend’s blog post about struggling with not feeling good enough.  I recall that feeling well.  I constantly felt like a complete failure, that I could never do enough, and my shame was consuming. Altar calls did not seem to alleviate this feeling, this knowledge that I wasn’t not perfected in my faith.  I feel for her keenly as she struggles with it and puts out her intentions to recognize that she cannot be and needs grace.  I know that feel, to quote the current vernacular.

I don’t feel like that for the most part anymore.  Not because I’m amazing, but because of an intentional shift in my thinking about how loved and valued I am by my Creator. Raised by Believers, taught by the church, I did not really believe that God loved me until I was in my 20’s, when some people who care about me sent me on a Emmaus walk.  (Trust me, the irony of a program being what got across the love of God is not lost on me, but rather illuminates what can happen when the heart of a program is for love.)  I’m grateful for the good I learned in evangelical circles, but there is so much “un-programming” I feel like I had to do.  That I was brainwashed to feel like a dirty awful sinner all the time, and had to remember that I am a person and I’m flawed and messy but also beautiful and strong.  I still recognize that I make choices that separate me from my Creator (which is really what sin is),  and repent of them when I become aware of it.  But there is something about living your life in joy and celebration that lends itself to good choices, that viewing the world as a bunch of “no” doesn’t provide.

One of the things that I love about the church my husband and I sometimes attend, is that they seem okay with our sometimes.  If we want to be more involved, they’re happy to let us be.  If we don’t show up for a month, when we get back it’s like we never left.  Part of how we chose our church is that if we looked around, they were a church in the community that people said good things about… how loving and kind and helpful and involved they were.  We never saw them telling people they were bad, just serving.  And not “we will serve you if you listen to our pre-rehearsed commercial about why God is Awesome”  but rather “here, let me serve you.”  It makes me happy to serve… there’s no anxiety or worry about “Did I save enough people today?”  because there is an understanding that only Yeshua saves,  I’m just his disciple.  I’m off the hook for the redemption, I just have to be an example of the redemption, and somehow that’s beautiful.

Sometimes I think I miss the community, but what I actually miss was a sense of belonging.  I can’t really say that the community was really great in evangelicalism, everyone was trying to be a certain thing and if they weren’t trying to hide it or repent of it or kill it off… even if their different thing wasn’t a sin but just a different-ness.  This, understandably, was Very Hard for me, because I can’t play normal for very long without literally losing my mind.   But I wanted to belong, and it was basically like highschool (only I refused to play in highschool but embraced the game in “church”) :  do the popular thing, don’t let people know that you are weird, if you have to be weird just repackage it to look like a new version of the status quo, don’t dress in a way that makes people have to think (we wear pink on Wednesdays),  and make sure that your song lyrics stay pretty much the same no matter what.  And there’s this headiness from belonging that will take you through it like a high, but somewhere, in a thinking persons head, you have to be thinking “Is this all there is?”  It’s so boring.  You don’t know anyone who isn’t like you, unless you have tried in an artificial way to meet them so you can “witness”.  You don’t live life, you live the “Church” 2-4 days a week, every week… goodness forbid that you have time for a life outside, why, you might get Ideas. Evangelicalism was always feeling “Good” while knowing that inside you were rotten to the core and should strive to be better.  I don’t miss it.

If I sound like I’m being harsh and judgy, it’s because I am.  I am still angry to see this one weird interpretation of scripture being all that people see when they look at churches.  I’m still angry that my friends put themselves through this kind of sadomasochistic wringer every week.  I’m still upset that grace was hidden from me and I was complicit in it. And, I admit, I’m angry it didn’t work.  It would be so easy to follow the rules and stand on platitudes and know that you will be saved by it,… it’s so much harder to walk up a narrow steep path looking at all the beautiful treacherous things and work out how you’re gonna make it to the summit with fear and wonder.

Hoping to soften my anger with compassion.

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That kind of luxe it ain’t for us…

I think about the concept of luxury sometimes, how it balances with meekness, with humility, with being “poor in spirit”.  (I note to myself: find out if “poor in spirit” means what you think/have been taught it means).  

The definition of luxury is ” a state of comfort or extravagant living”.  I love that definition, but I also see how people have linked it with concepts of wealth. Not to knock money.  It’s nice to have money.  It’s necessary for things in this world.  I don’t love it though.  I resent having to rely on it.  

My friend Kristen said on Twitter one day “#wealth need not be #money”, and I think that is the truest thing that I can think of.  Just like comfort need not be money, or living extravagantly need not be anything to do with riches. It’s something that Kristen teaches me from her Buddhism all the time, about pursuing beauty and extravagance that is divorced from money or finances.  My faith path says “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.”  which to me really says that you can’t just think about godliness but also about being content, The passage goes on to talk about how we don’t bring anything but ourselves into the world, and leave in similar fashion.  I think I often think of contentment as being okay with what you have… but the definition of THAT word is ” a state of happiness and satisfaction”, which makes me redefine myself a little.   Like, instead of having to “make do”, possibly I need to not only embrace and be grateful for the immense amount of luxury and sweetness I enjoy in life, but also be willing to pursue and work at contentment in the same way that I pursue and work at godliness.  That being content is a virtue not of martyrdom but of celebration.  As I have been redefining this for myself, I’ve found it so much easier to be content, and that the contentment feels luxe.  It feels decadent.  It opens me up to how much I have and my privilege in life in ways that allow me to do something with that life and privilege instead of feeling vaguely guilty and trying to make up for it in other ways. 

As an American who is employed and is married to someone employed, I do live in a lot of monetary luxury, so much more than the bulk of the globe.  And yet the culture I live in would lead me to believe that I am practically impoverished, because I can’t do what I want all the time.  That to stick to a budget is a stigma of my class,  and that my pursuit in life would be a lot more money to obtain and maintain comfort.  In fact, I am quite comfortable.  My bills are paid, I live in a lovely townhouse, we can buy nice things,  we are never hungry.  We even do luxury things like go out to eat and go to the movie theatre,  head to the Onsen. 

I grew up with a family that really made very little money.  My parents worked hard to ensure that the situations that brought to us did not define us.  Our family had oodles of fun, did lots of exciting things, and sacrificed what many consider comfort to travel and experience and enjoy.  We were aware, a lot of the time, of our situation in life (as Jane Austen would have put it), and I think somewhere I did think “Ah! If we are doing this now, imagine what I could do with a NORMAL life, a NORMAL job, as an adult”.  Not understanding the balance of life, and how demanding a “Normal” life is of your money, resources and life essence.  But having a relatively “normal” life now, I am so grateful to be able to draw on that ingenuity, that gratefulness, that attitude of being able to make things happen and be generous even when you don’t have a lot of money… how to serve and be generous with other things and in other ways. 

And yet I still forget to buy into contentment.  Or I forget to allow myself to enjoy.  I get in my head and say that because I’m supposed to be content with what I have and I have so much more than most people that I shouldn’t get myself anything or shouldn’t treat myself because that is frivolous and stupid, and I judge myself really harshly for any non essential purchase, or when I get money and think about how contentment isn’t money so money can’t do good things for me.

This last week was snowy and it triggered my anxiety and my OCD and I built myself a mermaid bath, with a bath bomb and face mask and coconut body butter… and it felt so decadent.  I felt guilty as I dreamed it up… that money could go to something useful, that buying those things would be a luxury and luxury is bad and money is bad, and … and… and I remembered that enjoying what your hands have worked for is a virtue.  That you can practice gratefulness, charity, compassion, thrift, and still be allowed to do something frivolous just for the spirit feeding joy of it.  And there was freedom in that realization. 

 

So, just as wealth need not be money,  being content doesn’t mean never ever pursuing something you don’t have.  And just as you can’t buy happiness,  being happy with something you bought is okay too.  Just pursuing the balance,  seeking the joy, and being grateful and content and trying to share what ya got.  

…We crave a different kind of rush, 

raych