Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lent, Prayer, and all that Jazz

So, this will be my last post until after Easter. I suspect that the earth will keep spinning.

My plan is to "unplug" as much as possible, to go from the virtual life to real life, from the spirit to the flesh. I talked about the need to become a fleshly person, to accept the bodies God gave us, to treat our bodies with care and health, to remember that we aren't just brains-in-a-jar.

I also wanted to get back into prayer. I'm really, really terrible at praying, like, worse than you think you are. I get bored - by talking to God. How fucked up is that? And I try to read the daily office (the Episcopal liturgical daily prayers), and it goes right into the confession of sin, and I just sigh. I'm sick of my sins. I'm sick of doing the same ones over and over. I should just record a list and play it for the priest at confession (kidding). Speaking of which, my last confession was terrible: I mean, I needed to go and it was good that I went, and the priest is always wonderful, but I didn't prepare really well. By really well I mean at all. I had a particular sin hanging over me plus a semi-pervasive problem so that's what I went with, but I knew there was more and just didn't take the time to remember and think it through. I was "busy" you know, something was more important than taking the time to really heal from the sins that burden me.

With everything that's been going on lately (depression, sickness for me and my husband, a pretty intense regiment of counselors and other doctors, and just the regular work and commute and keeping our bodies fed and clothed) let's just say that it's been hard to keep my priorities straight. I commit to things without thinking them through because a call for volunteers tugs at my heart, and then I realize what a foolish mistake it was way, way too late. I feel overwhelmed with trying to keep up with a slew of relationships back home (several states away) while keeping life going up here. And in the back of mind I wonder: where will we be in 3 months? Will the diocese come through and find a position? Will we have to look elsewhere? Nick thought they'd be in South Carolina and now they're in Arizona. I'd be OK with Arizona, but please oh please Jesus not Michigan or Minnesota or North Dakota, the cold would do me in. And God don't You dare get that shifty grin on Your face. I'm onto Your tricks.

Sorry y'all, got lost in my own dialogue in my crazy head. Where was I?

Right, so, prayer. Really just my relationship with God just sucks on my part. He's done everything of course - held me in my panic attacks and gave me a surge of spiritual comfort, gave me the energy to get to Mass and Bible study on Wednesday, sent social events to me that I desperately needed but would never have sought out. God is so good.

Whenever I say God is good, I think of some homeless folks I've met. If you ask them how their days are going, 9 out of 10 they'll say "God is good, He's keeping me safe. A day with the Lord is a good day." "As long as I'm breathing I can praise God." "God sends down the rain and the sunshine, and it's no good to complain about the rain. You got to have the rain to get the green grass and trees."

Maybe I need to spend more quality time chatting. I've been avoiding the chats lately because it's cold and I'm a wimp, and because it's cold more of them are in shelters. But that's me being a pansy. If I'm going to build a relationship with God, I need to talk to the best theologians in town.

I also need to work with my strengths. It's no good fighting to stay awake on the bus before my coffee, trying to read morning prayer on my phone or going through the Rosary app. It is the epitome of a lost battle. So what can I do? What has worked for me in the past?

That was the question that our bishop asked us in study. What do you need in order to have a closer relationship with God? And the answer that popped into my mind was "retreats."

Not retreats where you go to a conference center in the woods and eat in a cafeteria and go to prayers and workshops and sit on porches with the older women. No, I need a retreat of just me and God in nature, even if it's just one of DC's natural parks, but even better if it's out in the country. Certain things feed different souls. Country, grass, walking on crunchy trees [haha just editing this and realized how tired I was when I wrote it, I meant grass], watching squirrels chase each other, fighting my way through brambles up a hill - these things nourish me. I'm starving, distracting myself from this hunger by the internet, but it burns inside me. My eyes need to look at things without written words. My body needs to deal with outdoor weather for awhile even if it's not my preference (it won't be until May). My nose needs to smell trees after the rain. My hands need to get little cuts and callouses and dirty fingernails. My legs need to walk for so long that when I climb into bed I am bone and muscle tired but my mind is refreshed and at peace. These days it's the other way around. We weren't meant to live like this: sitting all day, leaving the office after dark, sitting up late staring at glowing screens, eating in front of a laptop instead of around a table with friends.

But all that's just talk. I won't get this done without hard and fast rules and the kick in the butt that is Lent. But the rules can't be too onerous or I'll throw in the towel. That's why I'm writing this here, publically. Not to show off (I've read enough Lenten plans to know that I'm a rank beginner and that this will impress absolutely nobody), but to know that someone else knows my plans. If anyone reads this, I expect you to ask me I kept to it after Easter week.

Here are the rules:

1. No updates to the blog, and comments will be turned off Tuesday night through Pascua Sunday.
2. No reading any blogs, responding to previous comments, etc. No social media whatsoever.
3.No You Tube. That place is an evil trap of doom.
4.The websites I can use are as follows: gmail,, pandora, netflix for things my husband and I watch together, dish anywhere for the same purpose, project gutenberg, for news, my church website, and sites with prayers and devotions such as divine mercy chaplet, audio rosary, mission st clare, etc.
5. A retreat on Saturday or Sunday each weekend in which I drive to a natural park in the area, perhaps taking a sketch book, journal, Bible, and Book of Common Prayer, or maybe the devotional books I'm reading, The Imitation of Christ, Interior Castle, or No Man is an Island. And spend time doing whatever feels best - walking vigorously, drawing, praying, reading the Psalms, Lectio Divino, reading an office, doing some intercessory prayer for people, whatever.
6. Take 5 minutes (timed) every evening in silence, seated, doing nothing.
7. Commit myself to daily intercessory prayer in the evening. Please leave any intentions you have for me and I'll add them to the list.
8. Pray this short prayer from the daily devotions section of the BCP as a morning offering:

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, You have brought us in safety to this new day: preserve us with Your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, or be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of Your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Hold me to it friends! Have a blessed and fruitful Lent. And I'm cheating and going ahead and posting this "Sunday" post on Saturday. I mean, it's technically Sabbath the night before, right?

Delighting in evil, or rejoicing in truth?

If you've hung around Christian circles - or been to a wedding recently - you've probably heard 1 Corinthians 13, the "love chapter" that starts off "love is patient, love is kind." One of those verses is a common proof-text, one of the most damaging and mis-used texts I've heard, which believe you me is saying something:

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth." (NIV, but most translations say something very similar).

Here's how that verse gets twisted: it comes to light that the pastor of a large congregation has been sexually molesting the receptionist and threatening the loss of her job if she tells. (I wish this were truly hypothetical). Since this is a large and influential congregation and the pastor was well-respected, the story makes its way to the media. A member of the congregation posts the link on Facebook, and another member jumps to the pastor's defense simply by saying "love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth." The idea is that you should never attempt to make a big deal about the sins of a religious leader because that would be "rejoicing in evil." There's a good deal of tribalism about this too: way too many times I saw where a Catholic writer would respond to the media coverage of the priest assault scandals by saying that "well, the percentage for child molestation is X% higher in public schools." In other words, protect your own.

Lest I look like I'm just attacking Catholics - I'm totally not, thankfully I also read many Catholic thoughts on the abuse that were thoughtful and well-reasoned. The place where I've seen this lately is in response to the burgeoning abuse stories coming out of the Protestant fundamentalist movements.

It's truly astonishing, like a stone thrown in the river. First came the news about Doug Phillips, then Bill Gothard. And just like that, two of the biggest and most influential voices in Christian patriarchy were silenced by their own sins. ATI was sort of last year's news, pretty old school fundy really, but there are still families under the sway of the Gothard cult. And Vision Forum - yikes. Their power had grown to a level I never would have guessed. Because they did not tie themselves to a denomination they were able to weasel their way into many Christian groups, spreading the poison of Reconstructionism everywhere they went. I am not holding my breath that the ideas will die, because unfortunately they won't. But at least these particular leaders have lost their grip.

My family was not involved in Bill Gothard's ATI cult, and in fact we delighted in making fun of him. But there was a serious undertone to it, because we knew families broken apart by the madness. There's something particularly painful about watching families crumble, the parents divorce and relationships crushed, because of a cult which promised to create the perfect family. Most families found the pressure too great and cracked. Others gradually removed themselves, but it was too late for the oldest children. The internet is full of the stories of my generation, children raised in ATI who are now adults struggling to recover.

Do I delight in the knowledge that Bill Gothard raped, molested, and sexually harrassed the young women working for his organization? Not for a second. Do I delight in the knowledge that Doug Phillip's wife and children are undergoing public scrutiny and the pain of betrayal? Far from it. No, I mourn -

- For the parents who sent daughters to work at ATI, trusting in their safety
- For the young girls trained to never say no, to submit to all authority without question, to acquiesce to every request made of them by their "spiritual umbrellas"
- For the husbands and wives driven to divorce by the constant pressure to perform, with the crushing knowledge that they could never be perfect enough but could never let down the facade of perfection
- For the many intelligent, talented girls whose dreams were squelched because they didn't have a penis
- For the adult children disowned by their families for daring to step outside the cult
- For the young boys taught that only the length of a girl's skirt kept them from becoming a rapist
- For the parents who wanted something better for their children, who wanted to shelter them from their past mistakes and heartbreak, who gave up their own free wills and sense of self to a guru
- For those driven to suicide, eating disorders, and all manner of self-harm as a direct result of the toxic environment and teachings

I mourn for them almost every day. Because for me it's personal. I know a family who left their church because "only the father can teach the children," thereby fulling isolating their children from any contact outside the home. I know adults brought up in the system who turned to drugs as a way of escape. It's not an academic problem: when I see the words "Christian patriarchy" or ATI or Bill Gothard or dominionism, I see faces.

And that's why I don't stop with mourning.

Am I happy that these men engaged in such breathtaking abuses of power? Not on your life. But I am thrilled to see them discredited as the wolves they are. In order to have grace, you must also have justice on behalf of the oppressed. And the followers of these groups, especially the children raised in the thick of it without their consent, were oppressed by these toxic leaders.

Here's a proof-text for you:

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds may be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.