I wrote this last week for the National Catholic Register.
I’ve been trying to find my way back into writing for quite a while. It isn’t easy.
Every time I think I’m moving forward, I fall down. I get sick again; not cancer sick, but too sick to do anything. I get colds, kidney infections, gastrointestinal thingies, then I get another cold, and so on and so forth.
Each little illness — and these things come at me like they were being fired from a repeating rifle — takes the little bit of pizazz that I’ve mustered and smashes it flat. I have to rebuild my stamina, and yes, my interest in the world outside the confines of my personal life, all over again. Then, just as I’m peeking over the rim, I get hit with another illness.
These things take me down in a way that colds and such have not in times past. I don’t remember ever missing a day’s work over a cold or a kidney infection. No matter what happened, my verve for doing kept right on keeping on. It has fueled me all my life. But cancer extinguished that verve in a deep, deep way. My focus switched to an all-out fight for my life.
In addition to wearing me down, cancer shifted the things I care about. What mattered to me, in fact all that mattered, was Jesus, my family and a few friends. Whatever verve I had left went to cuddling my granddaughter and taking my Mama out for drives.
There was a time — quite a long time — when I could do neither. In fact, there was a period of at least a couple of weeks where my memory was so drug-laden that it’s just a spotty series of scenes that I sort of remember.
I had one tough instance of runaway high blood pressure. I had daily visits from nurses for a few weeks. They were wonderful and probably saved my life when the blood pressure went wacko. The nurse caught it and went to bats with the docs that they had to do something about it. I don’t remember a lot of things, but I do remember her telling a doc “You have to act. I will not leave this patient in this condition. I don’t want a mastectomy to stroke out on me.”
The odd part of that memory is that a friend of mine was Rebecca-sitting during this whole event. She came to my house each morning as my husband was leaving for work and stayed with me all day. I remember we watched movies and that she helped me strip drains and such.
Later, when I was trying to remember the big mess with the blood pressure, I asked her, “Were you there when that happened?” She smiled and said, “Yes, I was.”
Another time, I was telling her about how heavy my Kirby vacuum cleaner is and bragging that I had been able, for the first time in a long time, to vacuum my living room floor. She smiled and said, “I used that vacuum to clean your house when I was taking care of you.” I have no memory of that.
There’s a lot I don’t remember, and a lot I do (Read the rest here.)
I am having a blest life. In some ways, it is almost a charmed life.
I say that, not because everything has come easily to me, or because nothing bad ever happened to me. I say it because, in ways that I won’t talk about here, my life is one gigantic save.
I’m a survivor in that I’ve walked — sometimes crawled — away from a lot of crap.
I’m a survivor in that I’ve walked — oftentimes crying my eyes out — away from a lot of betrayal from people I trusted and loved.
I’m a survivor in that I’ve walked right through — oftentimes bitter and angry about it as I did it — right through repeated barrages of very public slams and whams.
I’m not writing this to talk about my grandiose survivability. In truth, I’ve survived things that should have put me down in the dirt because my surviving was to God’s purpose. I don’t understand it all, but it may have been, in a small part, so that I can write this post and say these things today.
Surviving requires one consistent thing of you, and that one thing is more difficult than all the gritty endurance that goes along with it: You can not allow yourself to be defined by other people.
If you are going to survive in this world you must — must — learn to think for yourself about yourself. You cannot allow any person’s cruel assessments of you determine your fate or your relationship with God.
I am writing today about one specific kind of person and one specific type of cruel assessment. I mean clergy and their condemnations and cruelties toward people who get on their bad side.
To my knowledge, there is no kind of clergy — Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim — who is immune to this dastardly misuse of clerical power. They are especially prone to it when someone challenges what they see as their authority, or when someone does something they find deplorable, or, most damning for them, when their followers get into a group hate of some poor hapless soul and they join in to keep them from turning on their preacher/priest/rabbi/imam.
As I said, this post is not the place where I’m going to talk about my deepest wounds. But I will talk about one very public happening that devastated me at the time. That very public happening was the very public refusal of a number of prominent protestant clergy to accept me as a Christian after I met Jesus. One of these clergy was someone who knew me, knew how sincere I was, and who joined in with his “brother” clergy rather than stand up for me.
I made the mistake of trying to talk to these pastors. That was more damaging to me as a Christian and a person than their initial — and I want to emphasize this, very pubic — attack against me had been.
It was, as I said devastating. I felt as if I had been cast out, banned, from Christianity.
It was one of the only times in my life when I hid in my bedroom for several days and wouldn’t get out of bed and just cried. I stopped going to church and withdrew from everyone but my family.
I stopped everything except believing in Jesus. That didn’t change or weaken. If anything, it grew stronger.
This wasn’t my first time to be attacked by clergy. Being attacked by clergy was my daily meat and bread during my first time in office. However, that didn’t bother me on any deep level. I was in my anti-God period at the time, and they couldn’t touch me inside my soul. I already thought they were cruel, so their behavior was little more than a confirmation.
The ability of clergy to do deep, permanent harm to another person is in direct proportion to how much that other person believes they are dealing with someone who speaks for God. When they cast off someone or “ban” them, they can only actually hurt the person who believes in their authority.
Their followers, the seekers and believers who look to them for leadership and relate to them in trust are the ones they can harm. Because nobody else gives a care what they think.
The fact that clergy can persuade people and that this persuasion can manifest in votes in elections has made them the target of a lot of people who don’t really give a care about what they think. This isn’t a matter of taking them seriously as men of God. It is a matter of tactical power politics. It’s a huge mistake to confuse that with the anguish and broken heartedness of those who believe and are seeking acceptance and love.
The person who saved me from total, absolute and permanent alienation from all organized religion was an Episcopal priest. I cold-called her because she was a woman. I could never have gone to a man. She didn’t know me, but she readily agreed to talk to me, came in to her office one day when the church was empty, just to meet me.
She saved me from the despair I was feeling, not so much by any deep eloquence, as her affirmation that I had a right to be there.
That whole experience taught me a number of lessons. It also deepened and re-taught me things I already knew.
First, I am convinced that women have a profound and necessary place in ministry. Men are only half the human race, and when they deal from positions of power with the other half of the human race, they can be extremely cruel.
Second, I know that surviving requires a refusal to give yourself over entirely to other people, and that includes clergy of all types. Because, in truth and no matter what they claim, they do not speak for God. Not always. They never speak for God when they are defending their power and privilege, when they are limiting God’s love and mercy to those whom they like or want to support. When they do that they are speaking from the depths of their own black and sinful hearts,
Third, no one, of any faith, is ever obligated to accept any other person’s degrading and destroying abandonment or cruel assessment of them as if that degradation, abandonment and cruelty is a judgement from God.
Because it does not come from God and is not His judgement. Degradation, abandonment, cruelty are not of God. Ever.
It is foolishness in the extreme to allow yourself to think that clergy are exempt from these sins. It can destroy your faith in Christ, Who, in the final analysis, is perfectly capable of speaking for Himself.
I want to emphasize that last point because it is so critical. I am a living testimony to that fact that Jesus Christ is absolutely capable of dealing with a fallen person directly and saving them all on His own.
In all my years of anti-Godism, I was roundly and soundly rebuked by various religious leaders. I was lied about and slandered from the pulpit on a regular basis. But I never had a single member of the clergy try to talk to me as one human being to another. I never had a member of the clergy talk to me about Jesus and actually try to convert me. Not once.
Years later, after my conversion, a member of the clergy in my district — who was the only one who had never lied about me — told me that he had once asked his fellow pastors, “Do any of you ever pray for Rebecca?” He said no one answered him.
There were people who did talk to me about Jesus, they even argued with me about my anti-Godism. Both of them were fellow legislators. One of them argued gently, lovingly. The other argued loudly and aggressively. Both of them had an impact on me.
I am writing this very personal and somewhat confessional post for one purpose. I want those reading it to realize that no person has the power to cast you away from the forgiveness and love of Christ.
Not only is the love of Christ greater than any sin you can commit, it is greater by far than the self-importance and narrow me-ism of all these bishops/priests/rabbis/imams who lay claim to Him and try to keep Him for themselves and use Him as their personal ticket to unmerited respect and power over other people.
I know this is not a very Catholic post, in spite of the fact that I am, in truth, very Catholic myself. But I am a child of the living God before I am anything else. And no one and nothing defines me other than that. This is the single great lesson of surviving that I have learned and re-learned and then re-learned again.
No person defines me. Christ defines me.
Those two sentences are the bedrock of survival in this world.
Do not let the petty wickedness of clergy and their ego-driven God-ownership issues convince you that you stand outside the circle of Christ’s beloveds. You do not.
Do not accept the cruel things they say to you as anything more than their own sinfulness. Nothing, not even Christ’s own Church, can separate you from the love of God.
Know that, and be unafraid.
Dr Greg Popcak wrote an interesting post today on the subject of job burnout vs job satisfaction in the helping professions.
He cites a study that indicates that people who are motivated by giving of themselves (internally motivated) last in helping professions such as nursing, while those who are motivated by how people respond to their work (externally motived) burn out.
I would like to add a single, thoughtful wordish little word to the conclusions of that study: Duh.
If you go around, spending your life trying to get other people to feed your needs by earning their approval, you are going to have one miserable life. People pleasing is a one-way ticket to dependence and emotional hell.
I say that as someone who has spent 18 years in public office where it is flat-out impossible to please everybody. Making somebody mad at you every day is built into the business of setting policy for millions of people. You can’t get around it. Every single vote you cast is a decision of whom to hurt. Every time you make one person happy, you make somebody else mad.
The same vote will get you lionized and called a hero by one group and slandered and called everything but a nice person by another group.
This happens every single day. In fact, it happens dozens of times in a single day.
Most politicians try to balance these things out so that they can walk between the raindrops. They try to balance issues and interest groups so that almost all of them, and certainly the most powerful of them, are never completely alienated. The trick in politics is to keep them coming back, which means to keep them hopeful that they’ll get what they want the next time.
Another political way of doing things is what both Presidents George W Bush and Obama practice. That method, basically, is to stick like super glue to one side of the political spectrum and flat-out ignore the other side. When presidents do this, it leads to a divided country and a dangerous inability to lead the people forward.
But enough of politics. Let’s talk about you.
Dr Popcak based his post on a study of nurses. It seems that nurses who approach their careers from the locus of doing their jobs to earn approval and affirmation from other people end up burned out. Nurses who do their jobs for their personal or internal reasons stay the course.
Again I say duh.
People pleasing will only make you miserable. It will also make you weak and variable. If your north star is how other people react to what you do, then you’re going to have to adjust your actions in little ways almost minute by minute. Other people change that fast. A lot of times, the reason they change so fast is because they’re focused on people pleasing, too.
Perhaps the worst part of people pleasing is that you can’t do it. You can not please other people all the time, no matter how hard you try. The reason for this is partly that they think about and react to other things besides you. It is also because they change, minute by minute, day by day, all the time.
The ironic thing is that people who have the courage to be their own uniqueness are often the ones we find most attractive. Nobody really likes mealy-mouthed, people pleasers, not over the long haul. They’re boring. And they tend to be miserable, which leads to whininess.
People are attracted to people who have that shine about them that true authenticity and the self confidence it brings gives to them. That is the essence of charisma.
Dr Popcak tells us that nurses who are internally motivated experience greater job satisfaction than people pleasers. I would imagine that this overall attitude runs through the lives of both groups. The people-pleasing nurse is also the people-pleasing husband or wife who gets wounded and pouts when their spouse forgets an anniversary or doesn’t praise them enough. They are the father or mother who constantly demands their kids’ attention and time and who even gets jealous of their children’s friends and, when they grow up, their sons or daughters-in-law.
People who feed at the trough of other people’s approval can never get enough. Nothing anyone does can fill the holes inside them.
There is an antidote to this, a way out of people pleasing for the hungry souls who live by it.
That way is the Way. No matter if you are buck-toothed and ungainly. No matter if you’re not the sharpest knife in the intellectual drawer. No matter, even, if you are tall, straight and lovely with an IQ that busts through the top of the charts. Whatever attributes you think you are, don’t matter. Not really.
You are loved and accepted and forgiven for all your faults. You are also important, but not because of your looks, intelligence or great singing voice. You are important in an intrinsic and essential way that is based on the deeper you-ness that does not need talent, looks, power or success to justify itself. You are alive in this time to do something that matters in the eternal scope of reality. Everything you do — everything you do — matters.
Instead of trying to please people, which is the equivalent of, as Jesus said, building your house of sand, realize that you do not have to earn the right to exist. You have a right to be here because you were put here by the same God Who made everything, everywhere.
More than that, He loves you on a direct and personal level. I have personally experienced this love, this guidance and contact with the Divine. I know that it is real.
My beautiful friend Margaret Rose Realy says that our one goal should be to be pleasing to God. The wonder of that is that pleasing God is actually quite easy. All we have to do is let Him love us and love Him back.
Give up people pleasing and lose the unending failure that goes along with it. You can not please people. It can’t be done. But simply by being your authentic self and truly giving your love and trust to the God Who loved you first and always, you can find the peace and strength of being whole.
You don’t have to change yourself and get sinless to go to Jesus. You don’t have to shine your soul like shining your shoes before a job interview to come to Christ. You can go to Him just exactly the way you are; stained, scarred, scared and weak. You can throw yourself at Him like a crying child running to its mama. I know because that is exactly how I came to Him.
Jesus never asks you to change to come to Him. He takes you as you are, then, over time, He changes what you want to do. It’s that simple. Loving God, being loved by God, doesn’t change what you do. It changes what you want to do.
People pleasing will not only make you miserable: You can’t do it.
God pleasing, on the other hand, is as simple as putting your hand in the nail-scared hand and letting Him lead you home.
World Vision Switches Tracks. Says They Won’t Hire Gay Marrieds. Can Their Supporters Trust Them After This?
It’s been an interesting 24 hours for the folks at World Vision.
Franklin Graham took them to task for their decision to hire people who are in same-sex marriages. Their supporters responded with a sense of betrayal and outrage. World Vision President, Richard Stearns, gave an interview to Christianity Today in which he tried to parse the decision into something it wasn’t, saying in part:
“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there, he said, “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”
My reaction after reading this earlier today was that Mr Stearns needs to run for Congress. He’d fight right in. While the decision to hire people who are involved in gay marriages may not be a formal, written-out endorsement of gay marriage that was specifically voted on and approved by the board of directors of World Vision, it was, in fact and in practice, a public endorsement of the practice.
The Latin phrase is de facto. It was a de facto endorsement of gay marriage.
The reasoning Mr Stearns gave for this decision doesn’t hold any more water than his claims that the decision itself was just a teeny-tiny policy change with no serious ramifications.
After this particular dog didn’t hunt, something happened behind the scenes at World Vision. I don’t know what, but I have a feeling it wasn’t good times had by all for the people who went through it. What came out of it was a reversal of the organization’s earlier decision to hire people who are in gay marriages. From Christianity Today:
Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
I am relieved that World Vision has taken this step back into Christian fealty. I pray that they stick with it in the days to come. Christians everywhere are being challenged by the changes in our society as we move deeper into a post Christian world.
World Vision flirted almost disastrously with allowing themselves and their ministry to slip over into public apostasy. Their reasoning, which seemed to be based on the notion that a lot of their supporter churches were slipping into this apostasy, is the oldest and weakest reason going.
“Everybody else is doing it” is an excuse that my kids gave up after they tried it on me and got a fail. Where this large organization got the notion that this line of thinking was a reasonable response to the challenges of being a faithful Christian in a post Christian world, I do not know.
I am glad that they are back where they should be.
I donate to other organizations rather than World Vision, so the next consideration is not one I have to think about. That consideration is, Can we trust them to stay with it?
That’s a legitimate concern, considering the bizarre leap of illogic they used to try to justify this move. If that is an example of how easily they get off the Christian track and how mush-minded they are about these things, there’s a real question, at least in my mind, as to when they’re going to jump off the track again.
I say that because I am certain without doubt that the challenges to Christians are just beginning. We are not even really out of the gate when it comes to the dissolution and dissing that is heading our way.
Can they take it?
I’m pretty sure that we’re all going to get the chance to find out.
The cheap grace of following the world in Jesus’ name is not grace at all. It is a lie we tell ourselves to keep from having to “chose this day whom” we “will serve.”
Sadly, it is also a delusion. Trendy jesus, pragmatic jesus and all the other false messiahs these theological snake-oil salesmen are selling having nothing to do with the real Jesus Christ Who was crucified on Calvary and calls each succeeding generation of Christians to “pick up your cross and follow Me.”
Following the real Jesus exacts a price. As the Light is smothered by the ever-encroaching darkness of humanity’s fealty to its own passions rather than the living God, the price for those who do not accede to the darkness goes up exponentially.
We may be willing to be friends with those who serve other gods, but they will not be friends with us. We may find our careers truncated, our friendships forfeit, our lives troubled in many ways when we follow Christ. He told us this would happen. If the world hates you, remember that it first hated me, He said.
The anger directed at us is just a side-blow, a glancing near miss of the object of the real hatred, which is satan’s hatred for the Savior of Humankind. Those who attack people for following Christ, even if they only do it with rudeness and exclusion, are the unwitting pawns of this evil.
Our task is always to be the witting servants of the good. God has no use and no desire for “unwitting pawns.” We can blunder into following satan, but we always chose to follow Christ.
Life in Christ is an intentional, moment by moment, living out of the faith. It can only be done through grace, and that grace does not come from us. There is no intelligence, courage or intuition we possess in and of ourselves that can equip us for following Jesus in a post Christian world.
The capacity to follow Him is a free gift of divine grace. He equips us to run the race that is before us if we ask Him daily and trust Him constantly. When we fail, all we have to do is reach out to Him and ask for forgiveness. That’s all there is to life in Christ: Just say “yes” to Him, and keep saying “yes” as each new challenge arises.
This is the Living Lord Who stood before Pilate, endured the blows and humiliations, hung from the cross and died. He understands everything He is asking of us because He has already endured all of it and far worse for us. He can help us on the Way as someone who has walked it Himself.