Friday, February 12, 2021

February 12 Friday Update

I miss mini blogging! Time to bring it back for a little bit.

I've been thinking a lot this week about how easy it is for us to find loophole-y ways around our beliefs -- finding ways to adhere to the letter, but not the spirit. This came up in two conversations with evangelical Christians over the past week. In one, we talked about how important it was to emphasize that salvation is not a result of works we do. That's always something my church was very good at emphasizing, but even while we adamantly claimed works didn't bring about salvation, there was always a back way into believing that. As people talked about how much they didn't believe works were what saved you, I thought to myself, "Well, OK, so what they'd say is, 'X doesn't save you, but if you are doing X, you must not be saved.'" And literal seconds after I thought that, someone in the group piped up and said, "Works don't save you, but there are things that if you do or don't do them, I would question your salvation." So those instincts were right on.

Technically, letter of the law, nitpicky details, those are different ideas. But in practice, they do the same thing. They deny you salvation based on whether or not you do X. I could believe the exact same things about God doing either, but one means I'm not saved and one means I do. That's a sneaky way to end up with the same functional outcome.

I say "sneaky" not because I think the people saying this are trying to be sneaky, but because human nature often likes to put rules to everything - it's so much easier to figure out what to do, it's easy to figure out if you're on the right track, it's easy to figure out if others are on the right track - and I think that tendencies sneaks into us even when we don't notice it.

My old church is apparently doing a sermon series on mental health, and I'm in a much better mental health space than I have been for awhile, so I'm going to give the first one a shot.

Things I hope will be said: That taking medication or going to therapy is not bad and may be necessary, just like getting treatment for any other physical illness. That having bad days is not your fault or a lack of faith or a sin. An acknowledgement that for some folks this will be a lifelong struggle and that's OK, the church should be a support for that. Tips on how to be supportive. Some comforting verses or suggestions on how to reconnect with God when mental health is bad. Focus on trust in God as a support and a comfort for us, not an obligation to fulfill. If I got EVERYTHING on my wish list, it'd also include an acknowledgement for how badly the evangelical church has often dealt with mental illness and a desire to move forward.

Things I worry will be said: Putting the emphasis on us to fix ourselves by doing the right thing, praying the right thing, remembering the right thing. An almost-but-not-quite declaration of anxiety as "living in fear" or equate it or depression with not trusting God. An admonishment to tell people to stop living in fear, maybe. 

Verses I predict will be used: 2 Timothy 1:7 ("not a spirit of fear but of power & sound mind"), Philippians 4:6 ("be anxious for nothing"), maybe one of David's more emotional psalms.

Here we go.
  • We start with pastor asking us if Jesus stays in our mind. Obligation red flags sprouting but not in full form yet.
  • Defining what a "mindset" is, including all our thoughts and feelings (special emphasis on "the things you think nobody else knows about," which I suspect is in a "your secret sins you're hiding" way but I would also like to emphasize "your secret insecurities and fears that make you feel alone").
  • ...I completely forgot how emphatically we were taught that Satan can't read your mind because he's not all-knowing. I'm not sure of the biblical basis for that, I think it's more just, like, lore? Because obviously somebody could read minds and not be all-knowing, all-knowing encompasses more than that.
  • He's emphasizing a lot that feelings are part of your mindset, and I'm very curious as to whether that means he thinks a mindset focused on God can also yield feelings we can trust, or whether that's going to mean "and therefore don't trust your mindset." No idea yet!
  • "My thoughts and feelings matter to God." I agree! In a positive sense as well as negative!
  • "Your mindset can be good and acceptable and perfect doing the will of God." I don't... really know what he means by this.
  • Ohhh, the "don't be conformed/be transformed" verse. Missed that on my bingo card, but that makes sense.
  • We're spending a lot of time focusing on what "the world" says without actually saying what the world says, so I'm not sure what exactly he's getting at.
  • This is... very culture wars-y but also so vague!

Friday, October 2, 2020

October 2 Friday Update

All right, starting off with Old Church Sermon Dissection! I was able to get through all of last week's, may this one be equally less-triggery!
  • Acknowledging that right now is a difficult time and turning to Matthew 11:28 (the "Come to me & I will give you rest" verse). Rest has been a historically difficult thing for me to find in church, as well as something I think evangelical churches struggle to preach. The most difficult part of that is truly letting go and not letting the weight of what I "should" be doing hanging over me.
  • Tying it into Phil 4:13, which is not about rest but accomplishment, so... I guess we're not actually talking about rest today. "Get some rest so you can do more later" is sometimes the only way I can justify rest to myself, but that's not, like, a healthy attitude.
  • Reminding and recapping that we are loved by God. Good!
  • Reminding and recapping that we should love God. Not hitting too shamey here, framed more as a natural consequence of understanding God's love for us. Good!
  • Circling back around to surrender and, for some reason, "here I am, send me." Still very much not about rest.
  • Interesting... He talked about finding balance in our lives after talking about God loving us so I thought maybe it was going to be about the balance between resting in God and actively working for God, which would be interesting, but instead he appears to be looking at the balance between "love the Lord your God with all your misc" and "love your neighbor as yourself," which... I don't know if that's a balance so much as continual reinforcement? Like what does he think it looks like to love God too much or love your neighbor too much? Guess I'll have to listen and find out!
  • Talking about what it looks like to love people, including the good stuff that gets missed in a lot of evangelicalism like "care for the poor." This is all pretty good so far.
  • Talking about agape as unconditional love from God that we should then be passing on toward humanity. Still good.
  • Going to 1 Corinthians 13. The first three verses have been my life verses for several years, partly because I've needed to claim it as a bit of a shield against the pervasive belief that bullies who "speak the truth boldly" make good Christian leaders. These verses make it pretty darn clear that that's not the case.
  • We're returning to "love your neighbor as yourself," and... it's kind of weird. I think the charitable read is that he's trying to steer us away from loving yourself taking precedence over loving your neighbor in a selfish "only me" way, but I get concerned about anti-love-yourself messages because an upsettingly high percentage of the church kids I know grew up to have exceptionally low self esteem and bad boundaries because we felt obligated to put others ahead of ourselves to the extreme. Talk about needing to find balance!
  • Huh, the reason to not worry about loving yourself seems to be because... other people might not love you? Not quite tracking this train of thought. Like if you love yourself, you might think you deserve love and then be upset because other people aren't loving. But I mean... you can absolutely think you deserve love because you think all of humanity deserves love just by virtue of being created in the image of God, and that doesn't mean you have to like melt down screaming that everyone should be nice to you.
  • Talking about being called to love each other even if we never get loved back in return. Again, I mostly agree with this, love shouldn't be transactional, although I do want to add that boundaries are good and necessary to put in place to take care of ourselves. But they're not intended to, like, punish people or "get what we're owed." Pastor doesn't want us to use the word "self-preservation," but I think that's actually an important piece of being able to love others as fully as we can.
  • OHHHH crap. Here we go, we've made it to the Remember How Much You Suck, Always portion of the sermon. "You don't deserve anything good," verbatim quote. Meant as a motivation to take Jesus' love for us and spread it around because he loves us when we don't deserve it so we should love other people when they don't deserve it. But wow, was it harmful for me to think of anybody "not deserving" love, that being fearfully and wonderfully made by God bestows no value upon us, that the small amount of sins I can manage to commit in the exceptionally short time I have on this earth are big enough and bad enough to completely obliterate the value of an infinitely good God in me. Ew. Ew. Ew.
Here's where I tune out for the week. Made it like 15 minutes in.

Pastors. You can't stand there and tell us word-for-word "You don't deserve anything good" and then be, like, startled that we don't feel love in the church. Like... it's right there.

Friday, September 25, 2020

September 25 Friday Update: I Made It Through a Whole Sermon!

I checked out Old Church's sermon from last week because members kept posting an "#iamlovedbygod" hashtag and I wondered if maybe it was an actual "you are a beloved child of God" message, which I'm down for.

  • Looked at the "come to me all who are weary" verse and followed it up with "Have you gone to Jesus every day this week [for rest]?" which again puts the focus not on taking comfort in Jesus as our provider but on following up on our obligations to look to him. Which, in fact, makes the concept not seem very restful!
  • Oh, here's the hashtag part. We're all being told to take a selfie and add the hashtag. Focus is on reminding ourselves we're loved by God and reminding others that they are as well. I have no qualms with this, this is super necessary and important. (I do think the shame language also being used in so many of these sermons is unintentional. Shame is baked into the evangelical church language in such a way that it often colors even unshameful concepts.)
  • "If you believe you are loved by God, you will have a desire to love him" -- teetering on the edge of something shamey, but hasn't gone over the edge yet. Depends on whether this will ultimately be framed as "Resting in God's love will strengthen your love for him" or, a la Daria:

  • ...Oh. Yeah. We're landing in a "Do you want God? If not, why not? What are you doing wrong?" space. Which is difficult for me to hold in conjunction with accepting God's love because it makes it... transactional. And weirdly re-centers God's love onto being about me and my decisions, which I think is actually the opposite of the goal.
  • Huh. Yeah. We talked about "God loves you" long enough to make it a hashtag and now it's all admonishing us to love God more. Hashtags are fun but they are not, in fact, powerful enough to overcome the shame of 20 years of evangelical sermons (and probably the rest of this one). Can't God just love us sometimes without us having to Do Everything Perfectly in response? Can't we talk about that for more than 30 seconds? Does every sermon need to center on a "do better" action point?
  • We're being asked to consider whether we'd be willing to do what God asks us to. This is only tangentially related to God loving us, now it's all about obedience and surrender, which is such a narrow understanding of our relationship with God!
  • Talking about re-understanding our identity - "who you think are vs. who God thinks you are." I am sure they're thinking of it in a "we think we're self-sufficient and God thinks we need him" way or something, but I'm hooooooping it's going to be "we think we are weak evil sinners and God thinks we are his children created in his image and made perfect through him." 
  • Oh, good, he's going to Gideon, which is about God having a more positive belief about us than we do. PHEW.
  • "Whose voice are you listening to about your own identity?" Well, for a long time it was the church and that messed me up, LOL! Fortunately I came around to being able to hear what God himself is saying about me.
  • Ooer, we are maybe getting into some weird territory about disability being caused by God for his purposes, which gets... real messy. And it wasn't even the main point, it was just a random example. Probably could have made the point about not being defined by our weaknesses without making that a centerpiece.
Final thoughts: Some good moments, some bad moments. Glad to hear that God thinks better of us than we do ourselves, but I'd rather the emphasis wasn't on us having to do things in response. The pressure to do things is, for me, exactly what contributes to my anxiety that I'm not enough.

My palate cleanser worship song for all this, btw: "A Little Longer" by Brian & Jenn Johnson. The verse from the point of view of the worshiper is this sad, mournful tune that keeps landing on "I can't thank you enough" but it's not in a joyful overflowing way, it's sorrowful. It's hyperaware of not being able to do enough. The singer's tone is so upset and dismayed at her inadequacy to praise God to the level he deserves. This is how I felt at basically every church service, every youth retreat, every worship night, for most of my churchgoing years.

And then in the second half, the tone changes to a much more peaceful tune, and we transition into this, from God's POV:

You don't have to do a thing
Just simply be with me
And let those things go
'Cause they can wait another moment

It always makes me cry (I had to pause writing for a minute and just sit here crying at it). There's such a sense of palpable relief at the idea of God saying, "You. Don't. Have. To. Do. Anything. Just be with me."

And that, my friends, is where I feel God's love. There's no admonishment, no "have you read your Bible today," no "have you fully surrendered to God," none of that. Just... being with him. Because being with him, truly with him, is going to change my life and my heart more than any sermon or any pastoral instruction. And it wasn't until I actually let go of those sermons and pastoral instructions and let myself be with God that I found him.

I don't want to get into it in detail but I am genuinely very, very worried for how things are going to go down in November, because if Biden wins (and I think it's likely) I can't see a scenario in which Trump gives up his power, nor one in which the people who wouldn't stand up to him the last four years suddenly stand up to him this time and make him. And even if they do... the fanbase is going to be mad, and many are likely to be violent.

So even as I'm planning my NaNoWriMo, there's definitely a "worst case scenario" thought in the back of my brain that who knows if there'll even be a US in November...

I'm hoping. And I'm praying, because I truly think a miraculous softening of hearts across the country might be the only thing to get us into 2021 in relative safety.

In case you missed it... I have a TikTok now. Specifically for a series of videos I've been making and posting as an easy, quick creative project. I've been taking some of the Zoom-style celebrity interviews happening on late night talk shows since the pandemic and editing in my own questions. (And, yes, I definitely took some inspiration from Weird Al.) It's been stupid and ridiculous and a ton of fun and has become part of my "winding down from work" routine every day. So I'm sure there'll be more of them to come.

Friday, September 18, 2020

September 18 Friday Update

My next page in my anxiety/depression handbook asks me to do the following:

"On this page, describe yourself when you are feeling all right.  Use descriptive words (e.g., bright, talkative, outgoing, energetic, humorous, reasonable, etc.) as well as notes about how you feel, think and behave when you are feeling ok (e.g., dress nicely, take a walk at lunch, respond to texts right away, tend to give others the benefit of the doubt, able to keep problems in perspective, feel confident about my ability to reach goals, etc)."

My list includes:
  • energetic
  • decisive
  • creative
  • able to listen to other people's struggles without internalizing them
  • strong
  • open
  • clearer thinking
  • can imagine positive outcomes
  • peace, feeling like things will ultimately work out
It follows it up with:

"On this page, describe those things that are important do every day to maintain your wellness. Use your Wellness Toolbox for ideas. Writing these things down as a daily reminder to do them is an important step toward wellness. When you start to feel 'out of sorts,' you can often trace it back to not doing something on this list."

Adding anything to a daily list feels a little overwhelming, but I think I can make a list of essentials. Let's see.
  • eat at least two meals
  • fill up my water bottle twice because I'm drinking it
  • spend at least 15 minutes moving
  • meet any today immediate deadlines for work
  • spend time checking in with my regular group chat
  • spend quality time with Jacob
  • engage with something creative (read, watch a movie, write something, etc.)
  • spend time with God
And the final piece we got to in my mental health handbook:

"On this page, make a reminder list for yourself of things you might need to do on any given day to keep yourself well.  Check this list daily to see if there is anything on it that would be important or helpful to do that day. You'll avoid a lot of the stress that comes from forgetting occasional, but important tasks."
  • schedule a virtual hangout time with someone
  • clean a space that is making me feel stressed
  • do laundry
And I guess that's all I have so far. We'll see if I come back to add any more.

Friday, September 11, 2020

September 11 Friday Update

In my anxiety/depression group today, we started making a list of "wellness tools" - things that make us feel better or are good for our mental health. So I'm going to toss my list in here:
  • Yoga
  • Jackbox nights with my core group of friends online
  • My socially distanced salons
  • Finishing a creative project
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Watching a musical
  • Watching musical clips
  • Listening to music that touches me emotionally (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is great!)
  • Writing something
  • Listening to podcasts: The Robcast, Small Triumph Big Speech, GCF
  • Finishing everything on my to-do list
  • Meditation
  • Finding something on Stitch Fix that I really love
  • Getting a new nail polish from Fanchromatic Nails
  • The Abide app
  • The Centering Prayer app
  • Finishing a project that scares me
  • Improv
  • My Lutheran church service
  • That Rob Bell quote I come back to all the time
  • Planning my future tattoo*
  • Exceptionally vulgar rap from female rap artists (seriously, there's something amazing about this)
  • Playing Megill Scattergories with my family
Have I mentioned I want to get a tattoo? I can't remember if I've blogged about it. I've never been opposed to tattoos, I just never had anything that felt like it made sense to add -- either it seemed not important enough, or it seemed so obvious that it felt stupid to tattoo. I don't need to have, like, "I love my friends" printed on me forever. Like duh.

But then an idea came to me. I want to remember the shows I've directed. Maybe the ones I stage managed or acted or whatever, but mostly directed.

So what I want to do is get like a charm bracelet-esque series of mini tattoos that wind around one of my arms. One small symbol for each show I've directed. An umbrella for Mary Poppins, cat ears for The Aristocats, etc. And then as I direct more I can add on to it.

When the pandemic calms down and this is a safe thing to do again... I do want to get started on that.

Friday, September 4, 2020

September 4 Friday Update

I've been playing one long AI Dungeon game for awhile and saving it in a Word doc. It's like 40,000 words. I plan to make it an ebook if it ever finishes.

  • I began as a noble and was promptly murderered.
  • I then lived for centuries as a ghost. My keep turned into a hotel, and the hotel receptionist also got murdered. I helped my ghost receptionist friend open up a restaurant, and then I abruptly woke up back in my old life.
  • A time traveler tried to kidnap me and my 5-year-old daughter Jacquescrappe to go kill Hitler, but the time traveler herself seemed like a Nazi, so we pushed her out of the helicopter and went back home.
  • The peasants overthrew the king and made me king.
  • Jacquescrappe started growing dragon scales and I learned she was half-dragon, but the dragon heat was burning her up from the inside out, so I put her in the ice caverns (in a barrel of alcohol, as per the AI's instructions, though that seems bad for someone on fire) and found a spell to fix her. Once I did, her scales and skin had mostly burned off, so she transferred from the alcohol barrel to a barrel of water and lived there for awhile.
  • Now 8-year-old Jacquescrappe moved to an island of dragons and lived there instead.
  • My wife was killed by a horde of barbarians. I went to fight them and was attacked by a woman named Edolith screaming about how I killed her father. I nearly died, but Jacquescrappe swooped in at the last moment and killed her.
  • Orcs took over my castle. I sneaked over to dragon island to ask for help and Jacquescrappe refused to help me but sent me to ask King Edgar for help. King Edgar was flayed by a bear, so he wasn't helpful.
  • Currently: Jacquescrappe reveals she wouldn't help me because I'm a bad king, so she's making me go on an apology tour to all the cities and tell them I'm going to try to do a better job. The orcs are at the first city I go to and they say they're taking over. The peasants all think they'll be better than me, so this might be the end of my reign as king.
Available in bookstores February 2021?

This week in my anxiety group meeting, we talked about setting goals. We were given several domains in our life, such as "physical wellbeing," "intimate relationships," and "work," and asked to set short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals for them.

Problem is, a lot of my own medium- and long-term goals I'd had before have been hijacked completely by COVID. And since I don't have anywhere near a timeline when that might be over for me, it's... hard to plan around it. I can only really focus on short-term goals for so many things. Or plan for my life with COVID forever. Not sure which is less frustrating.

Friday, August 28, 2020

August 28 Friday Update: Just All the Church Thoughts

This month has been... oof. So much depression. Has made it hard to get any words out. But I'm working on it.

I observed a conversation this week with a group of evangelicals who are, maybe some of them for the first time in earnest, processing and working through how the Christian church can/should be working on anti-racism. I disagree with a lot of members' beliefs on it right now (definitely a few "if we stop talking about it it'll go away" folks which, well, turns out it doesn't work like that) but I think everybody's learning and the conversations are good and hopefully challenging to all of us, including me as I continue to work out how my faith should inform my passion for social justice.

This week, though, a hot-button topic was how churches can be more inclusive. And every suggestion that was made, someone else had a reason that wouldn't be a good idea. And as I'm processing what to say to that, these are the two points I keep coming back to:
  • Inclusivity does not happen without intent. You can't just carry on the same as always and expect that magically, somehow, you'll draw in a more diverse crowd. It hasn't worked before, why would it abruptly work now? That's that "definition of insanity" business, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Choosing to do nothing has the same functional outcome as choosing exclusivity.
  • There will always be non-race-related reasons to avoid making changes. We live in a country (and frankly a world) built on segregation and have really only recently begun to change that. So when we take steps to make a change, we are working against hundreds of years of established systems and, yes, it will be difficult. If we wait until it is easy or until there is nothing we need to sacrifice to make way for diversity and equity, we will never do anything. If we prioritize diversity, yes, it is very likely we will need to listen to other people's experiences or change our hiring practices or repaint sanctuaries or sing songs we don't know or like. Some of those are more difficult than others, but all of them are things I've heard named as "too difficult" or "not important" and thus a reason to not try and diversify. And those aren't good enough reasons, at least not for me.
I had not expected, incidentally, that sitting through a discussion of why churches should not change anything about themselves to appeal to minorities would be as triggering as it was. And then I cried for like an hour that afternoon. But that issue taps into a similar thing as my own struggles with church. Both carry the message, You do not matter, your struggles do not matter, you will fit in to us, we will never adapt to you, and if you think we should, you are the problem. And it just hurts, and I hurt for anyone else who is getting this same message from their white evangelical churches, and I'm sorry I was ever a part of that for anyone else.

I ended up having a good conversation with my dad this week about some of my struggles with those "beauty of church" sermons I stopped listening to. And then we chatted a bit about what we might say if tasked with sharing a sermon on the beauty of church. Like, why do we think it's important that someone finds the beauty of church? And what is it?

I think it is important to find beauty in church, but then again I'm an artist, I think it's important to find beauty everywhere. For me it's about vision casting, inspiration, and fighting disillusionment. It also means that it can be possible to find value in it even in its imperfection (which I think is what my old church is trying to do, we just see very different imperfections and get frustrated by each other's definitions). Like, you'd think a sermons series on the beauty of church would be exactly what I needed. It's probably easier to convince me church is beautiful than it is to convince me it's necessary -- and it's probably a better way of framing it for me, since it shifts my point of view from church as a vegetable I begrudgingly eat to church as a work of art that I just need to find the right way to frame.

The problem is that to believe the church is beautiful, you have to on some level believe its members that make up its pieces are beautiful, and I'm not sure the leadership in that particular church believes that. If they do, I'm not sure they would say it.

A friend the other day shared a post about how we cannot rely on our own feelings, sense, reason, or self, we can only rely on the Bible. And while I know what they're saying, it leaves out two truly important things. First off, we rely on our (and others') feelings, sense, reason and self to interpret the Bible in the first place, so even if you believe in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, you have to be willing to question your understanding of it, which for many people equates to questioning it itself.

But secondly... these "we can only trust the Bible" posts always seem to have a conspicuous absence of the Holy Spirit in them. What role does the Spirit play for the people writing and reposting this? And how do they think he/she/it speaks to us if not through a combination of our selves and the Scripture?

The evangelical tradition I grew up with definitely doesn't know what to do with the Holy Spirit. They don't really teach on it, they get real nervous about denominations that do emphasize it. The Spirit is usually only active as either as a conscience to convict you of sin or a guide to bring you to the Scripture you need to hear. So, weirdly, the emphasis becomes not "look to the Bible to find God" but is instead "look to God to find the Bible."