avoidance

I’ve started a handful of posts for this blog, but can’t seem to find the inspiration to write. I feel like I’m getting nowhere with this deconstructing, but neither have I actually put any effort into it. Thinking about religion triggers anxiety and anger and I don’t want to be driven by my emotions. Somewhere in my long, storied religious history, I learned that emotions were bad. They always led to sin somehow. My love, anxieties, frustrations were evils I had to control. Any excess emotion had to be quelled. This education started with my parents labeling me “sensitive” in response to any expressed emotion and continued with my religious education. Now I feel like I have to face everything on a cool, intellectual level, and I’ve equated this coolness with religious correctness.

So here I am trying to face something that is intellectually and emotionally turbulent with a coolness that I simply don’t possess (because my parents were right, I am sensitive). However, when I feel like I can’t maintain an academic aloofness, I avoid. I have stockpiled a small collection of books to help me process my deconstruction, but I can barely make it through three pages at a time. I begin to feel suffocated.

How the hell am I supposed to sort this out? I want to be practical and measured, but my mind revolts; I can’t divorce my emotions from this and frankly, I need to stop trying. It’s okay to feel emotional about this. I’ve spent a lot of emotional energy in my pursuit of Christianity. The mental patterns I built within evangelicalism can’t simply be shrugged off. Most of these patterns were unhealthy and reinforced by an unhealthy approach to religion. A large chunk of it is that I fall into the trap of almost every cognitive distortion covered in therapy, and that’s me without religion. I think and process poorly in all areas of my life. It was through therapy and seeing my cognitive distortions that I first realized that my religious thought patterns were harmful to myself. I had incorporated countless sermons straight into an arsenal of distortions that I daily used to convince myself I was overall lacking.

It’s one thing to know that you’re brain is twisting every thought into an attack. The hard work is re-wiring your brain to stop those thought processes before they even start. If I hope to reconstruct anything from this, it will be a lot of hard, emotional work. I have to stop avoiding the hard, painful things.

“It is entirely possible for a person to expend a great deal of energy getting to a destination. yet arrive there with their head and thoughts remaining at the point of departure.”

Lois Tyerberg, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

“If you let yourself be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root.” – Loa Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“…he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:8, ESV

“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Ephesians 4:14, ESV

I have no root, no discipline, no stability right now. My responsibilities have tripled in the past year, and rather than be resilient and face things head on, I’m let apathy and laziness dull my senses. I make my lists of things I want to accomplish intellectually and spiritually, then sit down to a five hour binge of Youtube videos. I spend weekends in bed scrolling through social media, time that has slipped through my fingers, self-medicating whether than facing my new reality. I don’t like this reality, how it yanks me back and forth, how I chameleon to those around me. How I don’t really understand where I’m at and where I’m going, but I’m afraid to disappoint any of those around me, how I cave to their expectations whether than following my own path. I’m seasick from changing my mind as to where I stand to the point I don’t want to stand anywhere at all. I’m a middle-aged adult whining over the same things I did in high school. All I can see is my lack.

a possible goodbye

I think I may be done with Christianity. It’s a little scary to say that (or type it), but I’m so bone-weary tired of it all. I was hoping to deconstruct and possibly rebuild my faith, but right now, that just doesn’t seem possible. If for freedom we have been set free, why does Christianity feel like such a cage? And a suffocating one at that. Can I stay in a system that triggers depression and panic attacks? But I feel like a failure because it doesn’t cause such things in others. Am I just extremely weak? Is my experience invalid since so many are able to walk the Christian path in happiness and security? My thoughts are muddled and I just want to surrender to apathy. Where to go from here?

Confession 002

I don’t feel guilty. I have spent years focusing on my unworthiness, but I have chosen no longer to dwell on my shortcomings. My days aren’t being taken up bemoaning my lack of faithfulness. I am allowing myself to simply exist just as I am.

“Rest and be thankful.”

William Wordsworth

Book Review Thursday: Talking with God

Talking with God: A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer

Dick Eastman

**I received this book as a free Advanced Readers Copy from Netgalley**

Before I picked up this book, I had never heard of Mr. Eastman or of The Hour that Changes the World, of which this book is apparently an abridged version. Mr. Eastman is the president of Every Home for Christ. Having also never heard of the organization before, I did some bare minimum digging. According to their website, they’re a charity that is focused on evangelism, specifically training local populations to evangelize their neighbors. Ministrywatch.com gave them a C, but that is apparently a better rating that it seems: Every Home met two out of three of Ministrywatch’s standards for transparency. However, they are not accredited with the Better Business Bureau.

I wasn’t out of chapter one before I hit questionable interpretation practices. In defining praise as used in the Bible, Eastman references the Old French word for praise as the most accurate description. “The full meaning of praise can be captured only in its Old French origin, preiser, which means “to prize.” (emphasis added). However, this isn’t good biblical interpretation. One should always go back to the original biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) for finding an interpretation for a word used in Scripture.

Chapter two starts throwing in necessities for Christian living: “Such [spiritual] silence is necessary if the believer hopes to minister effectively for Jesus.” Eastman fails to provide much more of a connection between spiritual silence and effective ministry; he proceeds on with the topic of waiting upon the God. Eastman further muddies the waters by rambling on about what this silence is, describing it as wordless praise but not a time of listening.

Chapter three moves on to the topic of confession. Here, Eastman defines his view of confession by the New Testament Greek word for confess. Point in his favor here. He goes on to make the odd assertion that “This act of declared [confession] gives God access into the heart of a believer, removing all hindrances to effective prayer.” This hints at a theology where God is limited in his interactions, rather than being omnipotent.

In chapter four, covering Scripture praying, Eastman asserts “The degree to which we believe in God’s Word and apply it to prayer is the degree to which God will pour out his power during our prayer.” Again, this hints at a God who is not capable of acting, but must patiently wait for human action to do anything. He goes on to quote George Mueller testifying to freedom from unanswered prayer. “[George Mueller] claimed the secret to receiving answers to prayer lies in how the Christian applies God’s Word during prayer.” (emphasis added). The promise of if you do a, God must provide b is a dangerous equation that has led untold number of people to grief and assuming they are doing something wrong that is keeping God from answering their prayers. Again, it lessens God’s sovereignty and places emphasis on human action.

By chapter 5 I’m wondering if this book is doomed to the did not finish stack of shame. Nevertheless, I persist. Eastman tackles the concept of watchfulness in prayer, evoking the image of a devil behind every bush: our prayers will cause Satan to attack us. He then messily combines this idea of devilish seige with a call for intercessory prayer. Eastman then oddly asserts “It is clear from [Romans 8:26-27] that a prayer warrior is not left to himself in understanding the ‘how’ of prayer.” Instead, the Holy Spirit directs one’s prayers. However, if this is the case, why write a book on prayer? Especially one on the how to of prayer. Eastman goes on to allege “God earnestly desires to reveal special secrets during prayer that help us pray more specifically for particular needs.” Claiming that the Lord will reveal special secrets is suspect and can lead to individuals believing they have special revelations from God.

Chapter six covers intercession. Eastman states that intercession is a means to become more involved in God’s plans, particularly in evangelism. Intercessory prayer is the “highest plane of prayer.” Eastman again evokes battle imagery. “There is a certain spirit of authority that must accompany a good deal of intercession. In that authority, we take back the ground the enemy has gained.” This view point encourages a more dualistic cosmology, one where God is constantly both gaining and losing ground in a spiritual battle with Satan. And while this view is popular in Christianity, it’s dubious that this is an actual biblical view.

Chapter seven moves on to the idea of petition for one’s own needs. He references the prayer of Jabez: because one man thousands of years ago asked for a special blessing and received it, we can use this as a rule to live by. Once again, he puts God into a box where if you do x, then y must follow. Eastman claims “In a practical sense, petition is not the prayer of a person opening heaven’s doors to release God’s power. Rather, it is a person opening his or her heart’s door to received power already appropriated by God.” What Eastman doesn’t seem to understand, is that both statements require action on our part before God is able to act. God may have appropriated power, but if he is sitting back, waiting on the person to open their hearts to it, his power as a sovereign God is weakened to a god that must wait on his followers to act in any circumstance.

I’ve reached chapter 8 and I feel like this post has gone on for too long and has probably lost the reader’s interest by now. To sum up the remaining chapters of the book, it’s more of the same. A God patiently waiting on us to do something so he can act. Weak theology aside, Eastman’s writing style is somewhat choppy; there are several times he could have combined sentences to assist with the flow of the text. Eastman asserts that his prayer style is based on the Lord’s Prayer, but then he rarely sites it. There is some good practical advice. I put an emphasis on contemplative prayer in my personal devotions, and it was nice to have a section covering the topic. I suggest to skip this one; choppy writing and weak theology are no-goes for me.

Modern Idolatry

Football and books. What do they have in common? They are both hobbies that my former pastor has shamed his congregation over. His implication: if you go home after church on Sunday and enjoy your hobbies, you’re not glorifying Jesus. To be more precise, you have chosen something over God and His glory, because you should be out evangelizing to your neighbor.

Where have all the gods gone? Christians are not tempted by graven images of pagan gods; culturally, the pagan gods have been dismissed as myths and so the temptation to worship them is pretty much nil. Then how are we to apply Scriptures warning again idolatry? We make up new “gods” for people to worship: hobbies, social media, sports, etc. We label excitement and enthusiasm as a sin, charging people with not loving Christ enough because they spend time doing other things than just harassing their neighbors about salvation.

Why do we shame people for the things they enjoy? Why do we want to make enjoying things a sin?

Pastors need sins to rail against, because apparently preaching the good news of a loving God is not enough to fill the pews. Christians seem to need reasons to feel superior. What better way to feel superior than to invent sins that you can hold against others?

Staying at home on Sunday and resting by doing things you enjoy is not idolatry. Enjoying something does not equate to idolatry. You can have a hobby or a passion that you pursue without having to constantly worrying that you are sinning by doing something that makes you happy. We shouldn’t make up gods so we can accuse others, or ourselves, of idolatry.

Confession 001

I’ve been trying to rebuild my faith, but it still feels so dull and disconnected. Does it even make sense for me to try to rebuild my Christian faith? Is this something I’m doing to avoid conflict; giving it one last try to avoid the inevitable conflict and disappointment that will boil over if I firmly walk away? This is the nagging fear gnawing away at me, but it’s partially imaginary. I’ve only told a handful of friends and family that I’ve started deconstructing my faith. I can only imagine – and imagine the worse – about how others will react. I’m still too caught up in what others think about me, and it’s hindering my growth.

Rebuilding Faith

“As I deconstruct, I rebuild.”

A simple post on Instagram that crossed my feed weeks ago, but it’s become my personal mantra during this past month. I have been happily deconstructing what I believe, but I haven’t been rebuilding anything.

The question that has been predominate in my mind for the past year is do I still want to be a Christian?

But how to define Christian?

Depending on who you ask among Christians, the answer will look completely different. Every denomination has it’s own opinion on what exemplifying Christ looks like; and a good many have that tied up in church attendance, small groups, and a schedule packed with good works and evangelism. This works-based lifestyle can lead to burn out, anxiety, and people falling away. Even further beyond denominational quibbles, the label has become tied up with Trumpism, Proud Boys, and the like and has little to nothing to do with a person exemplifying anything, much less Christ.

So is there a Christian path without the anxiety and guilt and radical hate? I want to believe there is, but I’m not sure such a path exists in practice. Inevitably, it seems that someone always wants to add to trusting in Christ. There is always just one more thing that you should be doing to really be living the Christian life. I realized I can’t live a life of constant guilt dressed up as repentance. I want to believe in a God who forgives sins, but the impression I get on Sunday mornings is a God who needs to constantly be appeased.

So I want to strip away the impression of a sinner in the hands of an angry god, and re-discover faith in a much simpler form. A faith not engaging in endless culture wars against people I actually agree with. A faith that brings peace rather than anxiety. But I’m not sure that faith can be found within the four walls of church.