We Good? Reflections from an Anxious Person on Lent

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Nate Pyle

Having anxiety can make participating in Lent difficult.

My character perfection tendencies go into hyper-drive, and I am in a constant state of wondering just how well I’m doing with this whole “faith” thing.

Have I repented? If I have, how will I know?

Is giving up Netflix to read books from a few #BlackLivesMatter movement guides going to wake me up for real?

Am I good? Am I forgiven? Am I made new?

Will Easter be enough for me, my sins, and I?

Will this journey be enough for me?

I met with my spiritual director Linda this last week. She asked me how my “faith life” is going, which is such a difficult question for me. I’m never quite sure how to answer it, because I’m so anxious and such a perfectionist, I always think it’s not going as well as it could be.

So I told her I started meditating in the mornings. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, so it’s not really a Lenten practice, but I’ll go out on a limb and assume it’s a part of my “faith life” as much as giving up Netflix and reading books by black writers.

But meditation is so hard for me, because my mind is so busy, and honestly, going deeper into myself, the sacred spaces God calls me to examine and dwell in, scares me.

What will I find within me?

Will there be love and acceptance? Anger and hatred? Firm kindness, or judgment?

After I shared these concerns, Linda talked to me about the concepts of “original sin” versus “original blessing.”

Original sin begins with the assumption that all humans are made sinful (which is confusing because if God is good and we are made in God’s image, so what does being inherently sinful say about God’s nature?). According to this doctrine, we tell ourselves over and over “I’m not good. I cannot to be who I am. I must strive every day to reach an unattainable perfection that is unlike me.”

I was not made in blessing. There is nothing good to which I can return. There is nothing towards which I can keep striving, because I will always have that sinful nature in me, even as I aspire to be holy. The journey becomes tedious, exhausting, and even pointless.

If we messed up in Eden, how could we possibly make anything better outside of it?

This theology asks: What good are we? What good is God if God made us this way?

When we remember we are made in God’s image, when we remind ourselves our original creation was one of blessing and joy, when we remember the unbound, unconditional love God has for us, we remember who we are meant to be.

We remember we are made to love God and our brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings. We are made for more than our worst sins, our cruelest words and deeds, and our most embarrassing moments. We are made in a holy image, and even when this image is smudged, attacked, or hidden beneath our deepest wounds, it remains within us.

This original blessing, this uttermost essence of ours, is who we are, and we live life and seek God’s help to not only remember this, but to be this holy image in a painful, beautiful world.

This theology asks: How can we return to the good God made inherent in us? How do we continue to live out the Love within us with God’s help?

I took this theology to my meditation time the day after our meeting.

I sat on a yoga mat in the basement, facing my fiance’s guitars. His area is the tidier spot in the basement.

I breathed in and thought of my congressional representative, over whose comments about issues I became so furious. I breathed out and honored the blessing of his creation and the image of God inherent in him.

I repeated this process for the President, his cabinet members, and people who drive me crazy on a regular basis.

I repeated this process for my fiance, my parents, and my youth group.

For good measure, I repeated this process for myself.

Meditating on our God-given image changed the way I look at and even engage with people. It also reminds me while I am called to show the perfect love which casts out fear to the people who deny justice and mercy, this same, perfect love doesn’t cast out frustration, sadness, and the need for accountability.

Because I honor the image of God in myself, I honor it in others.

And because I honor this image of beauty, love, and holiness, which is inherent to every single one of us, I will continue to keep calling out the times I and others act in ways contrary to our holy nature.

So I keep praying. I keep remembering the image of God, first in myself, and in others, the ones I adore and the ones I abhor.

And my prayer for myself and for us is this:

You are made to love. How are you showing it?

Ignoring the Bodies, Losing our Souls: A Plea to the American Church

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BloxImages

Christians talk a lot about the fear of gaining the whole world and losing their souls.

Have we ever wondered if we can lose our souls by ignoring the world?

Martin Luther’s enabling of common people to be able to read the Bible in their own language and focus on Scripture emboldened the peasants of his time to air their physical grievances with their rulers, resulting in one of the largest rebellions ever. Yet before he ordered the princes to destroy them like “mad dogs,” Martin Luther said the liberation was for their souls, not their bodies.

American slave holders refused to let slaves learn to read the Bible, lest they get any ideas about what freedom really means, for the body and the soul. They also kept the upside-down Gospel to themselves, because they knew God’s call to never enslave a brother or sister, someone equal to you in all things. In his Narrative, Frederick Douglass describes the bleak reality of “the Christianity of this land: “We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!”

Christian artists like Toby Mac claim Jesus ended the debate over which lives matter since “he died for all.” Prominent Christian leaders like Franklin Graham uphold refugee and Muslim bans, despite the biblical commands to welcome the foreigner, by saying “it’s not a Bible issue.”

What has happened?

Have we tried so hard to forget the importance of our bodies that we’re threatening to lose our souls? Have we forgotten we are part of Christ’s living Body, and when part of us isn’t well, the rest of us suffers? Have we forgotten our complicity in structures of unjust power, because as long as our “souls” were right with God, everything else would fall into place?

Is this why we can come to worship on Sunday and ignore the detained and barred refugees and immigrants on the news? Is this why we can give our tithes and offerings but talk about the “deserving poor?” Is this why we can pray for God’s Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” while resisting any type of change that gives more people more access to the rights and privileges we take for granted? Is this why we can pretend we care about “equality” and “justice” while condoning police brutality because “if people would just behave, the police wouldn’t have to retaliate?”

This Lent, may we repent of our complicity to physical neglect for the sake of a misguided idea of spiritual preservation.

May we remember we are living, fragile, beautiful bodies, made from dust and destined to return to the same dust into which God first breathed life. May we remember our bodies and spirits are intertwined, that our souls are embodied and this flesh is both our struggle and our gift.

This Lent, may the Body of Christ remember to take care of her physical needs, the physical bodies which compromise her, or else she will risk losing her soul.

What are you waiting for?

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I wrote this post during Holy Week 2013. I figured the theme of waiting and hope was appropriate for the Advent season, too. Enjoy this blast from the past!

Today is Palm Sunday. Today is the day I check off one of the risks I said I’d do long ago and finally made a commitment to when Donald Miller dared us all to do 5 things we were afraid to fail this week: start my own blog.

So on this day, when we remember as a church when Jesus made his “triumphant” (or anti-triumphant, if you really think about it) entry into Jerusalem, and we begin to journey through the pain and tension of Holy Week, we also ponder this question: What are we waiting for?

I pondered this between 9 and 9:30 this morning, after we had set up for worship at Court Square Theater, and as the band practiced their songs for the morning. I’m not gonna lie; my ponderings weren’t on dreams of ending hunger, achieving world peace, or anything focused outwardly.

I was thinking about my own pain, my own fears, and the deep dark depths of my soul.

Anxiety can be crippling to live with on a day to day basis. Some days are great, others are just ok, and a few reduce me to a vegetative state in which TV, music, and movies are needed to numb my mind from the white noise of worries that run through all day. Since writing is among my favorite forms of therapy and self-soothing, I grabbed a RISE bulletin and wrote what weighed down my heart and mind today. And here’s what I came up with:

I’m waiting for peace, patience, joy, confidence, identity. I’m waiting for me to come back. I’m waiting for transition to turn into character, to a sense of self. I’m waiting for calm and quiet and excitement and growth. I’m waiting to be happy to be me, whoever she is. I’m waiting to be heard and seen for who I am, all I am. I’m waiting for my fear to make way for my life, for hope, love, joy, and peace, to make way for me to burst forth. I’m waiting for the voices of guilt, shame, fear, and mistrust to quiet down, so the voices that are really me can speak up and be heard, listened to, understood, acted on. I’m waiting to be born again into hope, so I can die to my own strangling fears. 

In short, I’m waiting for…my soul to break through my fear.

As a faith community, RISE is wrestling with this question this week as part of The Ellipsis Experiment (http://storiesandvoices.com/post/45893346395/the-ellipsis-experiment). As a community, we are learning together what we are waiting for as we journey through this week of tension, pain, and eventually resurrection. We are not just skipping to Resurrection Sunday; we are walking with Jesus through service, pain, the tension of waiting, and the joy in the hope that death is not the end.

Friends, will you also join me? What are you waiting for?