God Does Not Work That Way!

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Since the dawn of man, people have looked for ways to explain their world. Comets were once thought to be bad omens. To have a mental illness or epilepsy meant you were possessed by demons. A bad harvest meant that the goddess, Demeter, was displeased with you. The creation of the Earth was, (and still is, for some people) explained by a poem written around the 6th century BC. And today, people explain illness and tragedy as God’s will. When people can’t explain why a child died, they say, We can’t understand the mind of God. If people are suffering, whether with a chronic illness or becoming overwhelmed by life, others will try to comfort them with, God will never give you more than you can handle. When that doesn’t ring true, they add on “without Him”. Some proclaim that God allows you to suffer because your faith is great, so you may be an example to others, like Job. The flip side of that is that you haven’t been healed because you haven’t prayed enough or your faith is too weak.

YOUR LOVE IS LIKE BAD THEOLOGY
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We’re going to assume, for the same of argument, that Jesus was/is who He said He was/is. The Son of God traveled, not only preaching the Good News, but also healing the sick and raising the dead. I can certainly understand why people may glean from the Gospels the idea that God allows people to suffer.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents have sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
John 9:1-4 NIV

I think plenty of people stop at verse 3 and hold it up as proof that God made or allowed this man to be blind so that God may be magnified and glorified. They completely miss the actual point, which is to do God’s work by helping others. Add on verses where Jesus asks people who are asking for healing whether or not they believe in Him, and it’s no wonder where this suffering theology comes from. But I find it telling that, while Jesus may have asked people if they believed, (and for all we know, it could have been something the disciples slid in there while writing the Gospels) He didn’t make them go through a checklist or faithfulness song and dance to prove themselves before healing them. In one case, Jesus found it more important to forgive a man’s sins, rather than physically heal him. It was only after the Pharisees pitched a fit did Jesus add in healing the man’s paralysis, just to shut them up with a resounding So’s your face! (I may be paraphrasing.)

Sometimes I think we forget and only look at the words of Jesus. We forget that His actions are every bit as important. Jesus healed the sick. When someone asked Him for healing, He didn’t say, Nah. Imma sit this one out. But you can head on out from your leper colony and tell everyone how awesome I am. Hosanna, y’all! To claim that God only heals those who call upon His name and are deemed worthy enough is to call God a capricious asshole. It completely contradicts what we see in God through Jesus. What is revealed is a loving God who mourns with us. We don’t see a God who brings suffering. And we certainly don’t see a God who’s concerned about getting credit for good works. (“Go and tell no one…”)

I think, too often, we are like the Pharisees. When we don’t understand or something doesn’t fit in nicely with our worldview, we cling to what we know, (or what we think we know.) Sayings and beliefs, and even superstitions, are passed down from generation to generation. When we use them to explain things in our human experience, we are looking to our own understanding, (and explaining it as God) rather than to what Jesus actually showed us long ago.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘Theses people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Mark 7:6-8 NIV

STOP IT! YOU’RE NOT HELPING!
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Phrases like, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” has made me want to reach through the computer and shake people many a time. (Especially when it’s thrown out flippantly when someone is clearly suffering.) This time, I was set off by the “helpful” comments that people in my chronic pain support group shared. All of these were things that were said to them about why they are made to suffer.

Jesus suffered pain so others would not suffer much more in hell. Your suffering makes you like Jesus, and it draws you closer to Him.

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(An ability to create a massive fish fry out of two fish and to form my liquid metal body into anything I want would also make me like Jesus, but you don’t see that happening. Or was that T-1000?)

I was once told by a Christian therapist that God wouldn’t heal me [be]cause I made him mad.

(So He took his toys and went home, or…?)

Our church said that our family [was] suffering with many illnesses so that the rest of the town doesn’t have to suffer.

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(John Coffey? Is that you?)

Look…those of us with chronic pain and illnesses appreciate your concern and support. But, like most people, we just want to vent or have a shoulder to cry on. Some things are just shitty, horrible, and unfair. Trying to have a simple, pseudo-spiritual answer to make sense out of something that doesn’t make sense isn’t helpful. And think about this: how many peoples’ faith are you possibly destroying by saying such things? When people have suffered for years without relief, saying these things leads people to the logical conclusions that they, 1) Aren’t good enough for God, 2) That God doesn’t care about their suffering, 3) That God is oblivious to their needs and tribulations, and 4) God is a capricious jerk with sadistic tendencies. And this is assuming that they don’t give up belief in a god altogether.

Please, just tell us I’m sorry, or That sucks, or What can I do to help? Those go a long way. If you want to pray for us and healing, that’s great. But also pray for our families who suffer with us, for comfort, hope, and strength. Because, as Jesus so often pointed out, the non-physical is just as important. Just be there for us. SHOW us you care.

Internet Wars Cause Real Life Casualties

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Since writing my post on the Tony Jones Debacle of 2015, events have continued to unfold. Open and honest communication between camp Julie and camp Tony has been strained and tenuous, at best. People from Stuff Christian Culture Likes and the Wartburg Watch have continued to call on high profile individuals within the progressive Christian community and those directly involved with what’s gone down with Julie and Tony in the past to communicate with and listen to Tony Jones’ ex-wife, Julie McMahon. Responses from people like Brian McLaren, Matthew Paul Turner, Rachel Held Evans, and Nadia Bolz-Weber have ranged from an apparent willingness to communicate and make amends, to angry blog and social media posts, to silence.

Meanwhile, critics of camp Tony have been anywhere from measured and tenacious, to aggressive and abusive, to their best impression of a soccer player beating the hell out of another player and then saying, What? I didn’t do anything!

I haven’t been able to keep up with every single volley back and forth between the camps, nor all the blog and social media posts. (In fact, some have been deleted, making it impossible for me to read.) But here is what I’ve observed, and what has taking up a good deal of my headspace.

The Calling of Shenanigans
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One major criticism by Group Julie against Rachel Held Evans is that she has publicly, and quite often, called out Mark Driscoll for his abusive theology, misogyny, and homophobia. She even went so far as to contact the elders at Mars Hill, and encouraged others to do so as well, to demand that they make Mark Driscoll change his behavior. Not only did she discuss public statements, like his books and those made in sermons, but also stories of former congregants who escaped the Mars Hill madness. Matthew Paul Turner did the same. (I believe MPT has disabled his blog for now. The original letters he posted from a former congregant who was under discipline at Mars Hill, therefore, are no longer there.)
In comparison, Rachel has decided to mostly stay out of this clusterfuck, instead advocating for resolution through the court system, (as she has before when decrying the horrific nightmare of Sovereign Grace Ministries.) Of course, it makes sense to pursue resolution through the courts, to a point. Rachel can’t call a Twitter quorum and decide custody issues. But there is more at play here than a domestic relations dispute. We have tacit support of a friend and colleague, Tony Jones, and all those who engaged in abuse and inappropriate behavior. There seems to be an unwillingness to believe that a woman who threatened to kill herself in order to get Tony to skip yet another trip away from his family, could be the same woman who was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused by this man.
And you know what? I get it. It’s easy to cry foul on a person, like Mark Driscoll, for whom there is no love lost. It’s much harder when the person is your friend and colleague. It’s harder when you’re in shock because of what he has been accused of doing. It’s harder when the other person, (Julie) has a tendency for high emotion and dramatics, and your friend has told you that she’s mentally ill. By the same token, I’m sure it’s easy to cry foul on Tony Jones when you don’t like him. Most of the people who believed Julie from the outset had no love for Tony. That’s not to say that they weren’t right for believing Julie right away.

Abuse and assumptions
Some of the people in groups like Stuff Christian Culture Likes can be real dicks. It doesn’t matter what you say or what your reasons are, if it doesn’t align with what they want and expect, you are clearly a horrible person. Even when people change their minds, like Matthew Paul Turner finally, publicly declaring that he believes Julie, it’s too little, too late. Every single action and possible motive is scrutinized and framed by that person’s past experience of church abuse. It seems to be forgotten that people like Rachel, Matthew, and Nadia are just people. They’re imperfect people who make mistakes and don’t have impervious armor for when verbal abuse,
and valid criticism alike, rain down on them.

And, as in all things, the dicks ruin things for everyone. It’s easier for Matthew Paul Turner to call SCCL a swarm and hide when people are rude and hold him accountable for every injustice ever. But for the most part, the people within SCCL are measured, reasonable, and thoughtful people who are hurting. They know what abuse looks like because they’ve been abused. They can smell the stink of church-speak and gaslighting from a mile away. They know that, perhaps, all of this could have been avoided if progressive leaders had just listened to Julie. They just want to be heard, understood, and for injustices to be made right.

The Proud Don’t Live Here
Documents from Julie and Tony’s divorce, psychological evaluations, and Julie’s medical records were released the other day. Whatever Julie may have done, it’s clear that Tony and church members abused and railroaded her. Such a person has no business being in a position of power and authority, especially when he doesn’t get how any of it is his fault.
From what I saw, no one was dancing an I told you so dance. In groups like SCCL, the only emotions I saw were hurt, anger, confusion, and grief. Not only were they, (and I) heartbroken over the abuse, but also the reactions, so far, from progressive leaders. Matthew Paul Turner deactivated his online presence and went dark. I’ve only seen silence from Rachel and Nadia, although I’m still hopeful that they are taking time to respond thoughtfully. I imagine that, they too, are possibly grieving. No one ever wants to be right about abuse. No one wants to be right that they are witnessing church abuse and the silencing of victims all over again, especially from people who gave people like me hope for the future of the church. Everyone has been wounded. No one is celebrating.

Maybe Mommy Should Have a Time Out

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Image via Shutterstock

I’m sure that my mornings are no different than anyone else who has kids in school. They are stressful, hurried, and full of yelling. My girls and I have an arrangement: they give me reasons to lose my temper and I, in exchange, give them plenty of material for when they’re in therapy as adults. While the specific material varies, the skeleton of each morning’s script remains the same. Since we rehearse this almost every morning, I’m fairly confident that we could make a good showing on Broadway.

Off stage: Rachael plays with her sister, rather than brushing her teeth and getting dressed. Mother enters, stage left, and finds that Rachael is just now taking off her pajamas.
Mom: Why are you just now getting undressed?
Rachael: Zoë distracted me!

Zoë pulls her heart blanket from the hamper. It needs to be washed because she spilled nail polish on it and was treated with acetone. Mom takes blanket away. Zoë has a meltdown.

Zoë visits Rachael while she is supposed to be brushing her teeth. Rachael chats with Zoë. Mom yells from off stage.
Mom: Rachael, stop talking and brush your teeth!
Rachael: I am!

Zoë runs away and refuses to following instructions. Mom is helpless, as she is on the toilet. Mom commences pointless yelling.

Rachael has a difficult time putting on her socks. Mom grabs socks and puts them on Rachael’s feet.
Mom: If you were paying attention, you wouldn’t have so much trouble.
Rachael: I was paying attention out of the corner of my eye!

On the way to the bus stop, Zoë squats and declares that her shoes hurt too much. Her posture resembles that of a donkey that has refused to move.

Zoë refuses to remove her hat and coat upon returning home.
Mom: Zoë! Now! One…
Zoë: Two…..

And, scene.

I tend to lose my patience easily, especially when it’s the same bullshit day after day. I could honestly pre-record the top ten things I yell and go to a spa; it would be as equally effective. I do need to find a way of controlling my temper. Not just for them, but for me as well. With fibromyalgia, my body feels the stress and anger. Most people experience increased heart rate, blood pressure, tension, and quickened respiration. I experience all those things too, but the stress manifests itself within my muscles. My skin. My bones. Even though regular body responses have returned to normal, the skin in my right arm is still on fire. Sometimes it means that muscles in my legs will begin to feel as though they are being stabbed, making it difficult to walk. Pain that tingles and rips through my chest used to worry me that I was having a heart attack. Now I know that my chest is just pitching a fit because I’m upset. My favorite, though, is when I think I doing alright and have come back down, but sudden numbness, tingling, and burning in my face informs me otherwise. Even while writing this post, I realize that my body believes me to be a cunt for stressing it out, and so is giving me all those things at once.
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Image via film, Camp Takota

I don’t have any great solutions or wisdom to impart to other parents facing the same problem. If I did, I’d bottle that shit, charge $75, and get a book deal out of it. I suppose that I just wanted to commiserate with my fellow Spoonies and to share with others what it’s like for me and others like me. It really is best to remain as calm as possible in order to avoid pain flares. Oh, and I guess it’s important not to damage your child’s little spirit. When you’re unable to maintain control, then you end up like my girls and I this morning- girls crying because their mom lost it and said that, with as much as I yell, the neighbors are going to call social services and take the girls away. Damaged spirit: check! Mom, knowing she’s gone too far, apologizing and hugging her girls close, telling them that no one’s taking them away. Mom, still in pain hours later because she lost her temper and was a complete and horrible asshole toward her children.

Fibromyalgia and Broken Promises

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Her face falls and her shoulders slump.
“I’m really sorry, honey. I’m just hurting way too much.”
“Okay,” Rachael responds, shuffling away from me. She understands. That somehow makes it feel worse.

The annoyed sigh that I expected Mike to breathe comes through the phone.
“Okay.”
His response is terse. It’s not that he’s mad at me and is going to be a dick about me calling him to come home. Mike understands that a component of fibromyalgia is chronic fatigue and that, even though I said he could stay for game night, the day has become too much and I need his help. But it still doesn’t suck any less for him or make me feel any less guilty when I have to pull the rug out from under his feet.

Text to R:I’m sorry. I’m have to cancel today. Zoë was up half the night.

Text to J:I’m sorry, but I physically can’t keep my eyes open today. Mike is going to bring Rachael instead.

It seems that I’m always breaking promises and letting people down because of this damned chronic illness. I’ve learned to compensate by under-committing and making “hopeful” plans. I almost never promise my children anything anymore, just so I don’t have to break their hearts along with my promise. Language like, “We’ll try,” or “We’ll do our best,” has also become part of Mike’s vocabulary. He, too, knows better than to assume our plans won’t fall through at the last minute.

I hate breaking promises. I hate that, compared with my old self, I have become an unreliable, under-productive woman. Fibromyalgia recklessly rampages, unplanned and unannounced, not caring who is caught in its wake. I know that, for others, it must be difficult to separate fibromyalgia from me. I sometimes still have trouble making the distinction. But it’s not me who is letting everyone down; it’s the fibro.

I’m sure it may be difficult to understand that I can’t always manage my own illness. Surely, if I know flares are possible, I should be able to plan accordingly so I won’t have to break any promises.
That’s only partially true.
I know I need to plan on being wiped out for a week or two after a trip. I believe it took me 3 weeks just to recover from Christmas. I generally avoid planning more than one thing in a day. For instance, my trip to the dentist on Monday left me feeling as though I’d run a marathon, minus the shitting myself component. I avoid making plans with anyone after 5 pm. My body is generally done, physically and cognitively, by then. I even tend not to let my kids in on plans until they’re about to happen. Given the nature of this beast, it makes no sense to plan for a friend to come play after school ahead of time, as I’m usually useless by 3 pm.

Still, even with all this planning and compensation, I can be suddenly attacked with flares. Sometimes I can explain them, e.g. weather events. Sometimes I’m waylaid and left thinking, What the actual fuck? Where’d this come from? These flares are not simple mind over matter moments. I can’t overcome them by simply refusing to be a pussy and soldiering on. All I can do is take care of myself and let it run its course. And part of taking care of myself sometimes includes breaking promises.

Part of what prompted me to write this today is that Rachael and I have plans to go see Into the Woods today. Because of all the weather systems coming through, I’ve been in horrible pain this week. I feel like I’ve been walking on broken feet. My back and shoulders are compressed in a vice. And this morning I woke up feeling like my neck had been in a knife fight. The thought of holding my neck to watch a movie for 2 hours sounds like torture. But I took as many drugs as I safely could and hoped the pain would subside by movie time, because I’ll be damned if I’m breaking another promise to my little girl.