Wednesday, November 30, 2016

4.5 years - Flowers for Algernon





A little over 4 and a half years ago, I was Charlie from this story. At least, I was when it came to being a part of a church. In a way. I was "drugged" so to speak. Before the moment spoken about in the links to come, I did claim to be Christian, but it was in the Spiritual but not Religious sense. The weekend spoken about in the following links changed that...

Reflections and Surprises (pt 1)
Reflections and Surprises (pt 2)

Suddenly, I did want to be a part of a Christian community. I wanted a church family. But as I first started entering the church world, I was still fighting it. I immediately saw things I didn't like...

Dear Pastors
Dear Pastors (clarified)

But I still tried. For 4 years I tried. For 4 years I did believe. Even though I heard rumors here and there, I still believed. I believed that the Church was the answer. It was where I was meant to be. It was a place of support. It was a place of love and comfort.

---





In the past month, I have been like Charlie - the treatment has worn out. It's disappeared. And like him, I'm back to how I was, but with the memory of how it was.

All those lies that have been spoken in the past several years are still there. All the slander that has happened in the past several years is still there. But 4.5 years ago, I never truly appreciated it for the evil it was. Now, it's still there. And I feel it. Every bit of it.

----

A couple weeks ago, I realized this and realized the potential damage it could cause. So I quit teaching Sunday School.I gave up the children I love so dearly so protect both them and my own family.

A few days ago, I realized that wasn't enough. I ended up in a severe panic attack that left me unresponsive, not breathing, and requiring an ambulance.

I gave up the rest of my church stuff. And was approached by a church member who was upset that I gave up cleaning the church. She didn't care that I gave up the rest... but, in her words.... "There are a lot of people who don't bother coming to church, but still do their responsibility."


------


Like Charlie, I have suddenly realized that I am not worthy. Yes, there have been a few to chime in recently. But most have always held the belief that I do not belong in the church. And while I was blinded by some notion that I do belong... those blinders have come off.


“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.”
Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon


 -----

For the past 4.5 years (and probably longer)... while I thought I was being a desired part of this church, I have found out that I was the cause of one pastor leaving; I am a drunk; I dance slutty; I have had affairs; I have somehow coerced pastors/leaders into doing my bidding; I have inappropriate relationships with others; wives hate me; I am unworthy; I should not be part of this church.

I do feel alone.

Especially when the truth is that yes, I am unworthy. I can't financially support my family. I try but fail at taking care of my disabled husband (whom, by the way, is wheel chair bound, and passes out/has seizures on a daily basis). I can't buy my children Christmas presents this year. I can't even afford to pay my mortgage that is 2 months overdue. I couldn't even afford a thanksgiving dinner this year, and my family will be lucky if they get a dinner of hot dogs of mac & cheese for Christmas. I have had to miss work because of my emotional state. I can't enter my church without crying. I have lost what few friends I have because my responsibilities are my family first. I am on the brink of a complete emotional break down. 

“Its easy to make frends if you let pepul laff at you.”
Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon 

To answer the question posed in "Flowers for Algernon" - it is much worse to become what you've always wanted to be, and feel alone. And yet I still don't know if I could throw that all away to know what I am and be happy.


-------

I do seriously thank those very few who've reached out to me. I do wish I could be what you want. But until there is a drastic change... I cannot be and will not be. There are some very beautiful and wonderful people there. But until people are willing to stand up and say that this is wrong - until they're willing to realize they are chasing so many people away from God... until people have the courage to go after the lost sheep without badmouthing  those lost sheep....that place is not God's house. And I need God's house.

-------

“The path I choose through the maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being--one of many ways--and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.”
Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Brandon, I won't quit



I've been told to be silent. I've been told there is a time and place to voice my thoughts. But as I learned today (and most days in the past couple weeks).... that time and place is apparently behind others' backs. I'm not like that. I don't play that game. I refuse to play that game. So, I am not playing it... instead, I'm being me...

I called a friend to cover for me at work today because I had a horrible headache that I couldn't get rid of. As I told her, I could have made it through the day if I needed to. But, she was kind enough to come in and cover for me. My plan was to just go home and sleep the headache away. Instead, I found out that rumors about me have been going on for a lot longer than I'd thought, and involved more people than I had thought.

I left my workplace with a heavy heart, fighting back tears. Instead of going straight home, I went to the church - the place I have been going to find peace and comfort for the past 4 years. No peace or comfort was found. I was crying by the time I got home. I cried as my husband held me. I cried as i told him what was hurting me so much. And he said something that will stick with me for a long time...

He told me I didn't do anything wrong. He told me none of this is my fault. But what hit me harder... he told me that I stand up for the people with no voice. I give them a voice. And he told me I can't stop being that person. And what hit me the hardest... "your brothers are supporting you. They don't want you to stop being that voice."

Tomorrow marks the 16th anniversary of my eldest brother's death. Brandon was always my best friend. He was the one person I could always confide in. He never judged me. He never betrayed me. He never hid anything from me. He was more than just a brother. He was a part of my soul. He still is.

When he first became part of my family, he and I had to share a bed. He was 2... I was 8. And from that moment on, we were glued to each other. We played legos and match box cars together. As he got older, we invented our own game which eventually we started writing as a novel... Solar Stars. While we did let the other kids play too, it was a game that belonged to us. We were rebels... victims... heroes. He was Mercury and I was Venus. We were trying to defeat a tyrant. And we always succeeded. At least, in our game play.

I was the one he turned to when he was crushed that his girlfriend wanted to be a ballerina and he wanted to be a farmer - those too professions couldn't work together (he was 5, she was 4). I was the one he protected whenever anyone tried to hurt me. He was only 10 when he stood up to my 18 or 19 year old date and told him "if you hurt her, you'll have to deal with me." And went on to tell the guy there would be no kissing or anything else.

And I stood up for him as well. I stood between him and abuse. I tried to protect him just as he had always protected me. That is what family does. That is what it means to be a brother or sister.

Even after I left home, he would sneak messages to me. When I did get a chance to visit him, he met me outside with a hug, and when I had to leave, he held on wishing time would just stand still for a bit. And I held on with the same wish. That's the last time I saw or heard from him.

6 years later... Thanksgiving morning... I got the phone call. Brandon was gone. He died that morning. I had failed him. I should have fought. He deserved that. He wouldn't have stopped fighting for me. He never stopped. He and I fought against tyrants. We fought against those who put down those less fortunate. He and I gave what we could to homeless and those less fortunate. He gave everything he had. And he kept giving. And he never got anything back.

My husband was right. I can't quit. I can't stop being that voice. You want to hate me for speaking out - hate me. You want to hate me and spread lies about me just because I'm willing to stand up for those who can't stand - bring it on. You want to drag my name through the mud... accuse me of this, that or the other.... you better be prepared for the results. I may be as small as a 10 year old standing up to a 18 year old, but I won't back down. I am standing up for Brandon... I am standing up for my brother. I am standing up for all of those who've been kicked down repeatedly. I am standing up for those whose voice you try to take away.

You won this one battle - I gave up the Sunday School kids I love dearly. I gave up the church I once believed in. But you cannot and will not win this war. Strip me of all I have... I will still have my family. And I will still have the support of my brothers. And I will still have God on my side.

You have just your own vindictive and slanderous lips. 

I love you Brandon. I miss you. And I won't give up.



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Spiritual but not Religious


I know I have written a few posts regarding this subject, so I do apologize if I repeat myself, but I feel a very strong need to write about this topic once again...

First, for those who don't know, allow me to explain the concept of Spiritual but not Religious. These are the people who do believe in God, or at least in a higher power, but do not believe in organized religion. In my 42 years (yes, I just admitted my real age) I have spent at least half that time as one who did not participate in organized religion, and a bit more than that as one who did not believe in it... or at least, has realized that organized religion is not a requirement, and can indeed be a hindrance to true spirituality.

Now, before you start throwing stones, allow me to explain...

In my 42 years and 4 churches, I have witnessed the following (note: these are not all things that happened to me specifically, but are definitely things I have witnessed)....

Girls from age 2 (maybe younger) to 10 (at least) were knowingly being sexually molested by a member of the church, and the church members didn't just ignore it - they specifically told the families to ignore it and not report such abuse. Those who did cause waves were chased out of the church and eventually the community.

Children (ages birth to teen) were being beaten to the point of bruises, breaks, bleeding, unconsciousness, etc by their parents, to the knowledge of church members and the pastor. Children who came to the pastor or other leaders with this information were told to honor their parents.

Families - some active, some not as much - were criticized and made to feel unwelcome by church leaders/members because those families could not contribute much financially.

Children (ages 6-10) were caught drinking alcohol in a park by church members. Instead of seeking help, these members chose to gossip about the worthlessness of the parents.

Young ladies turned to church members about their desire to cut or harm themselves. Instead of seeking help, these members chose to slander these young women. When some of these young ladies ended up pregnant out of wedlock because of their search for someone to care/listen, they were pushed out of the church because of the gossip and slander.

Young men who were trying to take care of their family after the death or injury of their father were criticized because they weren't doing well enough, or were told their father is worthless.

Women were being beaten and raped by their spouse, to the knowledge of church members/leaders, and were given no support or care. Instead, they were gossiped about and slandered.

Friendships were made that were needed and healthy, especially because of many of the above scenarios, but church members chose to slander those God-centered relationships and spread lies of sexual relations and adultery.

Dead men and women, and their families, were spoken ill of because they had a funeral at a church of which they weren't active members, or weren't members of at all. 

I could go on for days about the mistreatment I have witnessed within the church. But I'll stop here. I think I made my point.

For those who didn't get the point........

Many churches are like this. They either turn a blind eye or they gossip and slander.

Please... tell me how organized religion - how the supposed Church/House of God - is better than being spiritual?

The Church is supposed to be a place not just to worship. And definitely not a place we show up to on Sundays so we can get into heaven. It's supposed to be a safe place. It's supposed to be a place of comfort, support, and love. It's supposed to be a place of love - the love of Christ. A place of forgiveness. A place we can go where we know we're forgiven children of God.

Instead, it is often a place of bigotry. It's a place where we point fingers at the poor, saying they don't contribute enough and don't belong. It's a place where we shake our heads at having a funeral for someone who wasn't a member (or an active member), saying they don't deserve our time be given to them, and that they don't deserve to be given a proper funeral. It's a place where instead of helping an abused or molested child, we make judgements against their family. It's a place where we ignore the depression and abuse another person faces, and instead say that person or family isn't worth our time. It's a place where we'd rather condemn good friendships because we don't understand the importance of those than embrace and imitate such relationships.

The Church has become a place where love is lost. It's now a place where Christ is lost.

Yes, I attend a Lutheran Church. Three of the four churches I have ever been a member of have been Lutheran churches. That does not make me a Lutheran. And it does not make me proud to be a Lutheran, or a part of any church. I'm ashamed of it actually. I'm ashamed of what the church has been for me and those I know. I'm ashamed that there is no true spirituality within the church. There is no community. There is definitely no love.  There is no Christ.

So yes, I am spiritual but not religious. Because THAT is what it means to follow Christ. It is not about following religious traditions. It IS about showing Christ's love and forgiveness and acceptance. And if I, or anyone I know, is going to be persecuted by anyone for that, the persecutor might want to actually tend their own soul.






Sunday, November 6, 2016

Bearing False Witness



Grace, Mercy, and Peace unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

“Valandra and those around him at the bar begin to rattle off the offenses, many of which they heard about through social media. They talk about tear gas, rubber bullets, sound cannons and concussion grenades. They speak about the elder who was beaten with a club, the horse that had to be put down, the boy whose wrist was broken.” This comes from an article written on Fox 4 news, reciting what the author overheard from protesters at the Standing Rock Reservation. (http://fox4kc.com/2016/10/30/not-all-the-standing-rock-sioux-are-protesting-the-pipeline/)

An article from one blog says ““Early estimates suggest that the damaged equipment will cost $10 million,”…. “Despite continuing to claim that their protest is a peaceful and lawful one, damaging the equipment puts workers at risk as well as protesters untrained in dealing with industrial equipment,” the MAIN Coalition writes. “Moreover, and wildly hypocritically, protestors cut fluid lines and tampered with gas tanks which undoubtedly spilled industrial fluids on the very ground they are fighting to protect.”” (https://www.sayanythingblog.com/entry/pipeline-company-estimates-10-million-damage-equipment-dakota-access-protesters/)


Stories like the above are all over our newspapers, televisions, and social media sites. We can’t escape the stories regarding the situation at Standing Rock reservation. Many of us have family or friends on the scene, on one side or the other.  

The problem, however, is that these stories – these news articles and youtube clips and televised news stories – all lean heavily on one side or the other. The “facts” presented are generally based only on one side or the other and are quite often skewed by the opinion of the author. And therefore, they’re made to paint the other side as the enemy – the lawless – the problem in the whole situation.

Many articles tell of the pipeline and law enforcement unjustly injuring tribal members and protesters, using tear gas and guard dogs. Many articles point their finger at the protesters, stating they have caused millions of dollars of damage to equipment, and have blocked main highways. Everyone has an opinion of which side is in the wrong, and aren’t afraid to voice their opinion, bringing up all the bad things the other side has done – often times, this is only things they have heard through social media.


This is something we all tend to do. We focus on who is to blame. We focus on what we believe is right, and anyone who doesn’t agree is obviously wrong. And we do everything we can to disprove these people.

This is what we find happening in our Gospel lesson this morning. The Sadducees were trying to prove Jesus wrong about resurrection. They didn’t believe in such a thing and therefore knew Jesus had to be wrong. And they wanted to prove exactly that. Just telling people that wasn’t enough – they needed to prove it. And they figured they had the perfect way to do just such a thing. They could prove it by asking Jesus one simple pointed question – one question that he would not be able to answer, and therefore would prove they were right all along.

While the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection, they did believe in, and taught, the first five books of the Old Testament. So they used these teachings – these books which they believed to be accurate, and of which anyone who spoke against these books to be in the wrong – as the basis of their question.

In Deuteronomy chapter 25 there is a law. Should a husband die and leave his wife childless, an unmarried brother of his was to take the widow as his wife.
This would ensure the family name continued. So the Sadducees used this law as the basis of their question. They posed the following situation: a husband dies… he and his wife had no children to carry on the family name. The brother then marries her, but meets the same fate. He dies, also leaving the woman without a child.  This continues until all 7 men have married the woman, and have died. Eventually the woman also dies, still without a child. The Sadducees gave Jesus this scenario and then asked the question – “Once resurrected, which of the brothers is this woman’s husband?”

I can only imagine the smirk they must of have on their faces when they asked this question. They knew they were right. They knew they trapped Jesus in a question he could not answer without denying resurrection.

But Jesus answered with something they did not expect. He didn’t lash out at them. He didn’t fumble for a response. He didn’t turn things into a battle of who is right and who is wrong.

Instead, Jesus told them they were focusing on the wrong thing. He did say that there is no marriage after death. He did explain that marriage is an earthly institution. But then he explained that their own teaching does indeed support resurrection.
He showed the flaw in their belief by showing that the scripture they believed in even supports it. He turns to the story in Exodus chapter 3 where Moses quotes God as saying ““I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”. “I AM”… Not “I was their God.” He uses the present tense, showing that although these men are obviously dead on earth, God IS still their father, their God. Therefore these men must still be alive.

Jesus also explained to the Sadducees that we cannot comprehend what is to come. And, more importantly, we shouldn’t try. We should not be focusing on what is to come, but rather what is here right now, and what we can do.

So what is here right now and what can we do?

I was preparing my Sunday School lesson for this week, which focuses on our second reading of today. In my teaching guide, there is a section that asks “So what does this mean for our lives?” and then provides an answer. The answer this week comes from “Pastoral Perspective” by Neta Pringle and states:


“Rather than speculate about the who and the when of Christ’s return, we need to tend our own souls. Rather than try to identify the lawless one, we need to recognize our own tendency to play that role. But there is also another way: to live as if the Day of the Lord has already come. My seminary theology professor used to say “If heaven is like that, what are we doing in a mess like this? We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Knowing that God will triumph and the work of God’s people will be vindicated is a powerful motive to work for justice and peace even in times of discouragement.”

It is so easy for each of us to succumb to that desire to show we’re right and others are wrong. And we do it in a slanderous way. “Law enforcement are intentionally hurting those at Standing Rock. They’re evil.”  “The protesters are intentionally causing destruction because they’re bad people.”  

We say these things and turn to the Bible to support our ideas. We use God’s Word as our argument, just as the Sadducees did. In regards to Standing Rock, there are Bible verses which tell us we are to care for the earth, the plants, and all living creatures. We are told we are to respect and obey those in authority. We are told that should those in authority be wrong, we can and should stand up and say this, in a respectful and peaceful way. We are told not to use violence.
Even when it comes to just our everyday lives and the things we say about others, we will often use the Bible as our defense.

But we often overlook one verse. We overlook one commandment. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” It is tempting (at least for me) to think of this commandment as simply “I won’t LIE about my neighbor.” When we think of it in that way, we know we’re not at fault for anything we’ve said about others. I mean, the pipeline really did have guard dogs and used tear gas against protesters. Protesters really did set up road blocks and damaged equipment. Or, at least, these are things we’ve heard so they must be true. We’re not lying. We’re not bearing false witness.

But when we look at the small catechism, we learn what this commandment really means. In Luther’s Small Catechism for this commandment, the “what is this or what does the mean” answer reads: “We are to fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

So what are we to do? 

When you look at the scripture texts this morning, and when you consider the meaning of the eighth commandment, we find our answer. We find that what I quoted from Neva Pringle is our answer. ““Rather than speculate about the who and the when of Christ’s return, we need to tend our own souls. Rather than try to identify the lawless one, we need to recognize our own tendency to play that role. But there is also another way: to live as if the Day of the Lord has already come.”

We need to reach out in love to everyone.

We are not to worry about who is saved when Christ returns, or focus on when that return will happen and what it will look like. We are to worry about our own hearts and souls and whether we’re doing everything we can to help, encourage and build up others.

We are to steer away from that tendency to listen to and spread rumors about others, whether we believe these rumors to be truth or not. Whether we know these rumors to be truth or not. We are to speak well of everyone and see them in the best possible light.

We are not to destroy others’ reputations – whether it’s the people of Standing Rock, the other protestors, the law enforcement there, the pipeline company, or the person sitting in the pew next to us this morning.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Undeservingly Accepted and Invited





“If she can’t control her children, she shouldn’t bring them!”
“They need to be doing what those of us who give the most offering request. We’re the ones who pay the bills and keep the place open.”
“[(S)he] has no right to be [teaching, preaching, sitting in that pew].”
“We shouldn’t be doing his funeral. He never even bothered to show up most of time!”

As I was reading thru the texts for this Sunday, my mind immediately went to these things I’ve heard people say. I found myself thinking about the contempt I’ve seen and heard from others that even the undeserving – the criminals and the adulterers and the poor and the non-churchgoers – are forgiven and supposed to be welcome within the church of Christ. I found myself dwelling on how many times I have felt the hurt and pain of this discrimination – whether it was myself in the position of feeling unwelcome, or the witnessing of others being made to feel unwelcome.

And throughout my thoughts, I kept feeling this tug on my thoughts. I kept feeling this tug at my heart and soul. It finally dawned on me that God was trying to get my attention. God was trying to give me a little kick in the pants. God was trying to tell me I was thinking about this all wrong.

In my thoughts of how these people with “power” were putting people down, I was also thinking about how they are the ones who do not deserve to be here. They are the ones who just don’t get it. They are the people who need Christ the most. I found myself thinking of the joy I would feel if I saw them knocked down a position or two – told to move to a lower place at the wedding banquet. I found myself thinking how wonderful it would be to start a new physical church where those of us “lowly and undeserving” would have a truly Christian place to worship.

I was putting myself on a pedestal, believing myself to be better than those in power. I was seating myself in a higher place at that table. I was being one of the proud and haughty. And more importantly, I was focusing on the absolute wrong point of the Gospel. Or, at the very least, I was not placing my focus where God wanted it.

It is true that we should be a welcoming place. We are to accept the poor and lowly as well as those with money and power. Anger about the mistreatment of anyone, especially within the Church, is understandable. But again, this should not be our focus. Our focus should be on God.

The truth is, not one of us is deserving of the love God pours out for us. Not one of us has the ability to pay God back for the blessings he has bestowed on us. God invites all of us to the table – not one higher than another – knowing that not one of us has the ability to repay him. Christ died for each of us – for the forgiveness of all our sins – and not a single one of us can repay him for that.

The most any of us can do is to follow his example – invite the poor to the table. Eat and drink with even the lowliest. Give of ourselves in every way we can to those who need our gifts the most. No, this will not make us more deserving of a seat at that table. It will not raise us up in better standing before God. It will not place us in a position of power before God.

Every one of us has the ability (and often use that ability) to look at what others are doing as wrong. We all have that ability to turn things inward and look to ourselves to speak for God. What we should be doing instead is looking to God in everything, praying for the strength to be the meek and humble people he wants us to be. With every person we meet – whether friend or enemy, one of power or poverty – we should be accepting and loving and compassionate, striving for that unconditional acceptance, love and compassion God has for us. We should be praying for guidance in how we can use our blessings to bless each person, regardless of their status. We should recognize that we ourselves are not deserving of God’s blessings – we ourselves are not deserving of a place at Christ’s table – at yet we are given those things.

We should not look at others as being undeserving, but rather should look at what God has given us personally despite our own undeserving nature, and be thankful and praise him for these gifts. It is out of our humility and thankfulness that we find the strength and ability through God to accept others and share in our blessings.



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