A Good Talking To

It’s always nice when you get a good solid talking to from God. Tonight, I got a doozy of a talking to. I was, admittedly, praying about the thing with that girl at my church. Complaining might be a better word for it than praying, honestly. I’m starting to realize that I really and truly don’t want to date anyone at the moment, and just how scared I am of the entire concept of what he’s asking me to do. Not to say that asking a girl to lunch should really be all that scary, just that it is all that scary.

Well, tonight I’m having trouble sleeping. I even took a sleeping pill and I’m having trouble sleeping. So, as I’m lying in bed praying/complaining/praying God gets my attention and tells me to get on my face. I’ll be honest, I’ve had serious talkings to from God before. I was always a problem kid and I guess that hasn’t changed. I know that I’ve mentioned before that God cusses at me sometimes. He never does this when he’s serious about getting my attention, or when he has something specific to say to me. He does it when it’s what I need to hear to do what he wants me to do.

The serious talkings to are much, much more frighting. They always start with ‘I love you.’ Tonight, God told me that he loved me, and then he told me that I need to show a little trust. He talked to me both about the exorcist I met, and about this girl at church. He pointed out that the exorcist was his servant and I didn’t need to be wary of him. That was the easy part. Then he spent a good ten minutes lecturing me about not trusting him. I believe the phrase was “If I hear ‘this is stupid’ come out of your mouth one more time…”

I’m not really a fan of when God doesn’t finish his sentences. I know that it means that he’s serious about something, but not angry about it. For me, when God doesn’t finish a sentence it’s not a threat (an ‘or else’ kind of thing), it’s a chastisement (a ‘don’t you know better by now’ kind of thing), and that’s when I know that I’ve been seriously stupid. I’ve been so scared, and so convinced that I was going to get hurt that I haven’t trusted him in this. Thing is, I asked him (before the talking to) to take away my fear of this, and at the moment… I’m not afraid anymore. I’m still going to talk to some Godly men about it. Ask for some wisdom and advice, but I think I know what I’m going to hear.

God answers our prayers, but not necessarily in the way we think he will. When I asked him to take away my fear of this, I didn’t expect him to chastise me, but it worked. Sometimes I just have to shake my head in wonder at the God I serve.

Then The Demons Left

I had the privilege of attending a deliverance (i.e. exorcism) tonight. It was an interesting experience, and I use the word interesting intentionally. If I’m honest, the only thing I can say with absolute confidence is that the experience was real. The woman who was delivered was visibly changed by the end of the night. That being said, I’m not convinced that the experience was entirely spiritual. As I’ve said, I’ve been involved with the occult, I’ve been exorcised (or at least the attempt was made) shortly after my salvation, and I’m fairly familiar with the demonic. In my experience demons aren’t stupid. According to my reading of scripture, demons aren’t stupid. In fact, I have no rational reason to believe that demons are stupid, but some of the things that were said tonight were remarkably stupid.

Some of this I can put on the simple fact of pride. If a demon is compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak, and whether for pride and for some other reason it does not wish to speak the truth, the only possible response might sound stupid. For instance, if the only answers are yes and no, and the demon doesn’t want to say yes, then no is left, and no might sound stupid. However, this only explains a portion of what happened tonight. Also, if everything rebuked tonight was a demonic spirit, then the young woman who was delivered must have had upwards of a hundred demons in her. The only scriptural precedent I have for this is Legion, and his case in scripture appears to be rare. That being said, scripture tells us remarkably little about the demonic, and so any exorcism ministry must be, in large part, extra-biblical. This was openly admitted by the exorcists tonight. In fact the claim they made was that much of what they did was extra-biblical, but none of it was unbiblical. This is a claim I have to agree with. Nothing I saw was heretical, none of it was sinful, none of it was theologically problematic. It was simply outside the scope of what scripture teaches.

The result of what I saw was absolutely real. I said this above, and I want to reiterate it. However, it was also therapy (again, this was a point made by the exorcist), and I think that which was rebuked had a mix of spiritual, psychological, and emotional elements. I have no doubt that some of the things rebuked were demonic in origin. However, I am not convinced that all of the things rebuked were demonic in origin. I think some of them may have been sin issues, emotional traumas, or psychological mechanisms that arose from those traumas. That being said, I also see no problem with rebuking these things. One thing I noticed is that the exorcists, at a few points, bordered on word/faith (i.e. name it claim it) doctrines without actually crossing over into them. I found this intriguing because, if they had crossed that line, then I could point to something distinctly unbiblical, but they didn’t. And there is truth in the claim that words have power. Not the reality altering divine power that word/faith doctrine gives them, but they do have power.

So, I’m definitely glad that I went, and I’m probably going to join them again. For now I have no actual verdict on what I saw tonight, except that it appeared effective (I want to say ‘was effective’ but to really make that claim I’d need to see sustainable change in the woman delivered, and… well, this all happened a few hours ago).

Fear and Loathing in… Lynchburg

I’ve been fighting with God for the past 24 hours. At least… I think I’ve been fighting with God for the past 24 hours. I’ve either been fighting with God or I’ve been fighting with myself, and I’m honestly not entirely sure which. I think it’s the former, but I’m not sure. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a bad habit of dating emotionally traumatized 19 year olds and putting myself up as the perfect rebound guy to date and then gut. I’m trying very hard to break this habit.

There is a woman at my church… I’m honestly not sure how old she is… I’m guessing early twenties… I think she’s almost out of college. Honestly, as I write this I’m rehearsing just how stupid this is and why I should just ignore it. Anyway, last night this woman was on my heart and on my mind, and there was a nudging to ‘ask her to lunch’. I barely know her…. …Anyway, I’m very happy that she wasn’t in church today. If she had been I think I might have just yelled something and walked out.

As I said, I’m honestly not sure if this is actually God, and I’m trying to convince myself that it’s me, or if it’s just me being an idiot and trying to convince myself that its God so that I’ll be an idiot. …I kind of hope that it’s the latter because then I can just ignore the entire thing… you have no idea how much I don’t want to ask her to lunch. Okay, by now you probably have some idea.

If this is from God (and that is a big ‘if’ because I really don’t want it to be), then I don’t know what he’s thinking. Honestly, I could sit here and list all of the reasons why this is a stupid idea, but I’ve been having that argument all day, and I really don’t want to rehash it. When it comes down to brass tacks (yes, I said brass tacks), I’m scared. Really, pissing my pants, weeping into my communion glass scared. I’m scared that it is God telling me to do this. I’m scared that I’m going to be rejected. I’m scared that I’m going get hurt, and that’s what it comes down to.

I don’t want to get hurt.

I’ve been hurt a lot. I’ve been hurt by women. I’ve been hurt by parents. I’ve been hurt by friends. I’ve been hurt by God. I’ve done an awful lot to hurt myself. I’m terrified that I’m going to get hurt, and I don’t want to get hurt. Honestly I don’t even want to consider asking this woman to lunch because the only possible responses are ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and I don’t want to hear either one.

But whenever you argue with God, you lose. I was reminded tonight that getting hurt isn’t a bad thing. At least not when God’s the one doing the hurting. Being broken is unpleasant, and if you want to be broken then you’re insane, but being broken is also good. There is a Japanese art form called Kintsukuroi that I learned about tonight that exemplifies this. Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing broken pottery using gold or silver lacquer, and the result of well done Kintsukuroi is quite incredibly beautiful.

It strikes me that God is a Kintsukuroi artist of the highest caliber. The thing is that God doesn’t repair broken pottery. He repairs broken people, and while being broken sucks, and being fixed is painful, the result is amazing. So, much as I’m scared of being hurt, I have to come back to the fact that if this is God’s will (still a big ‘if’) then it is good. If God wants to hurt me so that he can heal me, then I know that he will make me better for it, and that is good… …and I suppose that there is always a chance that God actually doesn’t intend to hurt me. That he is actually taking this somewhere… joyful.

This doesn’t make me any less scared (actually it might scare me even more), but it does make me more determined to find out if this is God’s will or if it is my idiocy, and it makes me more willing to follow God, no matter where he leads.

Complaining, Grumbling, and The Truth

Today an acquaintance of mine pointed out something that was true in the particular, but very, very wrong in the principle. I love my job. It doesn’t pay much, but it’s fulfilling in ways that I’d never honestly imagined, and it what I’ve always wanted, and still want, to do with my life. I honestly can’t imagine being as happy doing anything else. That being said, this has been a very long summer and I am pretty completely exhausted. I’ve also been teaching the same class over and over for most of the year, and grading the same papers (albeit written by different people) every day for six+ months gets very, very old.

So, today when I left my work to sit down with this acquaintance I mentioned that I was tired of grading papers, which was true. I’d been grading papers for about 5 hours, and I was on my second to last paper for the day, so I was actually quite tired of grading papers at that moment. This acquaintance (I can’t actually remember her name… let’s call her Sally) asked me why I’m always complaining about my job, and pointed out that ‘God says we should do all things without complaining’. I asked her where God says this and her reply was ‘the bible’… when I asked her to be more specific she couldn’t remember where it was found, but promised to get back to me (we’ll see if that happens).

Sally was talking about a verse in Philippians 2 that is a part of the following passage: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (Philippians 2:12-18, NASB – bold mine).

So, first the practical: I have been very tired lately, and honestly I haven’t really enjoyed my job much. I’m at the point were even grading good papers feels like a chore, and that makes it hard to enjoy. Add to this the fact that I actually read my students sources (at least some of the time) and grading papers really becomes a lot of work. I’m not quite at the point where I really mind doing this, but I can’t say that I’m really enjoying it either. The thing is that I really do love my job, and that should come through to the people who know me. Sally was right that I’ve been less than enthusiastic about teaching for the past few months (she hasn’t known me very long), and I’m glad that she pointed that out. My attitude could use some adjustment, and I’m thankful to have people in my life who aren’t afraid to point that out.

However, the principle: Sally took a simple statement of truth as a complaint, and the assumed that all complaining is always wrong no matter what. So, in principle we must ask a simple question, “Is it better to be honestly grumpy or dishonestly enthusiastic?”

It can be argued that there is a difference between complaining and ‘grumbling and dispute’, but for a moment let’s assume that these are the same thing. Even if this is so, the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-32 would imply that it is better to grumble and obey, than to be enthusiastic and disobey. God has much more to say about hypocrites than he does about grumps, and so it is safe to say that it is distinctly better to be an honest grump than a dishonest enthusiast.

Now, to return to the argument that complaining is different from ‘grumbling and dispute’: while the word ‘γογγυσμῶν’ (gognusmon or goggusmon) can be translated as complaining, this isn’t quite the actual meaning of the word. Grumbling is a better translation, as is murmuring. The idea that ‘γογγυσμῶν’ brings across is one of secret or concealed discontent. It is the idea not of a tired desire to be finished, but of a hidden distaste for what one is doing. This then combines well with the idea of disputing. The word ‘διαλογισμῶν’ (dialogismon), commonly translated as disputing, dissension, doubt, or argument, brings with it the idea of human reasoning that solidifies an existing prejudice or errant belief. It can also, biblically, carry the idea of thought that raises in one ideas against God, or (as John might put it) thought that carries within it the spirit of Anti-Christ.

So, when we put these ideas together, to do something without ‘grumbling or disputing’ is not the idea of being always cheerful, but instead the idea of acting without secret desires or contempts that contravene God’s will. The context of this verse, Philippians 2:12-18, is the sanctification of the individual. We have ‘always obeyed’ and are ‘working out our own salvation’ so that we might be ‘blameless and innocent’, ‘above reproach’ to be ‘lights in the world’. In this context and with the above understanding of ‘grumbling and dispute’ it becomes quite clear that the issue here is not one of simple grumpiness or discontent, but of hidden discontent that adds to our human reasoning a desire to contravene the will of God in our sanctification.

Speaking of this, I have another friend (let’s call him Billie Bob) who is flirting with this at the moment. He has good reason to be. This is a man who has dealt with a lot of pain in his life, some of which I can only imagine, and he is immensely frustrated with God. He is, however, honest about this frustration. He does not hide it from himself, and he doesn’t try to hide it from God. At the moment, he doesn’t understand what God is doing in his life, he is in a lot of pain (physical, spiritual, and emotional), and he struggles to believe that a loving God would leave him in the kind of pain that he’s in. I understand pain, though perhaps not his pain in particular, and how easily it can make you question God. However, God has brought me through a lot, to the point of suicide and back, and he’s taught me that I can trust him, even when I don’t understand what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, or how he intends to use it in my life.

Sometimes, God puts us in places that we don’t like, that we don’t understand, and that we can’t deal with, and he does so for a variety of reasons. In my experience, the only answer in these situations is to trust that he knows what he’s doing, and pray that he will bring us peace.

Wistful Pangs

I was going to write about sin today. About the difference between sins that are proscribed in scripture (adultery, murder, etc) and sins that are the result of individual convictions (drinking, watching R rated movies, etc), and those sins that seem to fall somewhere in between, and thus are immensely and distractingly confusing. Then I sat down in the only seat available in my favorite coffee shop to see a woman who I rather liked sitting with her new boyfriend.

This isn’t a woman that I dated, not even close actually, but it is a woman that I wanted to date. Honestly, from everything I’ve seen, she’s generally the kind of woman I’d like to marry… except that she wouldn’t give me the time of day. Actually… that was quite literal one time. The one major flaw that I’ve seen in her is that she couldn’t tell me ‘no, thanks’. She simply brushed me off with promises every time I tried to ask her out, and then never followed through on them. This is something that has become one of the things that I generally judge (i.e. discern) a woman’s quality by.

As I’ve said before, honesty is a big thing with me… quite possibly the most important character quality for me to see in someone. So when a woman is incapable of telling me that she’s not interested, when she makes promises with no intention of keeping them, then it really factors into my opinion of her character. This particular woman, we’ll call her Anna, has a very strong character, except for this one important area, which I have to admit rather thoroughly turned me off to her.

That being said, when I first saw them my gut reaction was confused at best. I wasn’t quite angry about her invasion of what I all too often consider ‘my’ place (it is a business after all), and I wasn’t quite hurt that she had chosen someone else when she wouldn’t even give me a chance, and I wasn’t quite happy that she had found someone to share her life, or at least a part of it, with. There was a little of all of these in my first reaction on seeing her, and I think it’s finally settling down into a happiness to see that she’s found someone… I think. Honestly, I think it’s probably something that I need to look more closely at.

The Taoist in me says that my gut reactions show my true self, and that if those gut reactions aren’t pure, then I am not pure and this is something that I need to work on. The Confucianist in me tells me that it is my actions that matter, and so if I treat her with filial love and kindness, then I will become filial in spirit. The Christian in me says that my gut reactions do show my true self (or at least my fleshly self) and that they aren’t pure (duh…). It also tells me that my actions do matter, but that my actions alone cannot change my true self. The Christian in me tells me that I need Christ to change who I am, to make me whole, and to make me better, and that is something that is far too easy to forget.

Giving Thanks

Something that I’ve been learning lately is the importance of actually giving thanks. I don’t mean the importance of being thankful, that’s something else entirely, and it absolutely is important. However, being thankful is an internal attitude, and for too many of us it never actually makes it to our lips. What I mean by ‘giving thanks’ is the importance of actually saying ‘thank you’, and not just as a polite missive, but actually sitting down with someone, or taking the time to write a note and tell someone why you are thankful for them.

This isn’t something that we often do, and it’s important both for ourselves, and for others.  Having a grateful attitude is a wonderful thing, and being a thankful person can go a long way towards making you a happier person. However, actually taking the time out of your day to stop and let someone know why your thankful for them, why they’re important to you, or what makes them awesome brings this attitude into reality.

You don’t have to write them a three page letter, or take them out to dinner (although that never hurts). Try starting simply by writing out a short note letting them know that you’re thankful for them and a few reasons why. Explain why they matter to you, why you love spending time with them, or what they’ve done to make your life better. I have to admit that I’m not very good at this yet, but I’m learning as I go.

Something that I’ve tried to make a practice of in my life is to not wait to say the important things. So often we don’t say the things that really matter because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of being rejected, afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of sounding stupid or sappy. We let our fears control us, and this costs us what could be important, meaningful moments with the people we care about. We don’t tell our friends that we love them, or that we’re thankful for them, or that they add value to our lives, and we should because by doing so we could return some of that value to them.

So, the next time you really want to say something nice to someone, but are afraid it might come off as ridiculous or that it might not be good enough, just say it.

push… Push… PUSH!

I slept for eleven hours last night. It was wonderful, and I think very much needed. I tend to push myself fairly hard, and every so often my body just says ‘nope, that’s it, I quit’. Then I get sick and have to spend a few days sleeping and eating a lot. Yesterday, I could tell that I was starting to come down with something, and I still did my best to get all of my work done, but I also tried to take some time to relax and enjoy myself. As Americans we tend to have a habit of forgetting to take care of ourselves. We’re not as bad as some *cough* Japanese *cough*, and we tend to be much harder workers than others *cough* Spanish *cough*.

All in all, I think we’re close to having a good balance. There are some people who work 80, 90, 100 hour weeks and this isn’t a good thing, but then there are some who work 20 hour weeks and think that they spend too much time at work, which is ridiculous. Work is important, it’s part of being a grown-up and taking responsibility, which is also a good thing, but it’s very important to find time to just relax and enjoy yourself as well, and it’s important to know how you enjoy yourself.

There are lots of different ways to play. Some people like to play with action figures, or to play video games. Other people like to play football or soccer. Other people like to just lay around and watch movies, and some people like to go out and start fights. I have to admit that if I can find a good person to fight with, a person who knows how to really enjoy a good, clean fight, then it’s a lot of fun. Those people are fairly rare though.

So, all in all, I’m actually a fan of the ‘American’ work ethic (not that every American has this ethic). Work hard when its time to work, and relax well when its time to relax. However, our priorities are way off base. We seem to have taken the motto ‘If something’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing right’ far too seriously. I was raised with the idea that if I can’t be that absolute best at something, then there’s no point in even trying. The goal was not ‘do your best’ but ‘be the best’, and as I drill into all of my students, but especially my martial arts students, ‘there will always be someone better than you’.

I think that a better motto for us to live by is ‘if something’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing badly’. I tend to want to do the things that I’m really good at. I’m good at fighting, I’m good at teaching, I’m good at deep conversation, and I thoroughly enjoy all of these things. I seek them out because I enjoy them. However, the things that I’m bad at… making money, paying bills, math, romantic relationships, small talk, bananagrams, etc I often find myself avoiding. I find excuses for not doing things that are absolutely worth doing, because I’m not very good at them. That’s a dumb thing to do.

If something is actually worth doing, then it’s worth doing it badly. I spent the other night with a group of friends (… all girls actually) just hanging out and playing games. We played volleyball, frisbee, bananagrams… all things that I’m pretty bad at. There was no deep conversation (this group actively avoids that), and obviously there was no fighting. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening because I just let myself suck. I didn’t try to win, I just tried to have fun, and I did. So, the moral for today: stop trying to be the best at everything! Do your best, absolutely, but don’t be afraid to lose a game, get a B (or a D), or just fail at something that’s worth doing. If it’s worth doing, then it doesn’t matter if you succeed. It’s not about succeeding, it’s about doing.