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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

I started taking jazzercise classes last week because I’m really old.  Just kidding – I’m actually taking jazzercise because there’s a class right next to my building and I never exercise because when I get home I’m too lazy to go anywhere.  I figured I could head this problem off at the pass if I just work out before I even go home, hence this excursion into 1980’s fitness fads.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever done jazzercise before, but it involves a lot of bouncing up and down from mats on the floor to skipping around upright like some crazed squirrel on meth.  Sometimes you switch between the two poses rapidly, until just hoisting the weight of your own body on and off of the floor is exhausting after so many reps.  Needless to say my legs are killing me.

I went to jazzercise last Thursday night, and then on Friday I went to mass to commemorate Jesus’s crucifixion.  It seemed like a good idea at the time….I’m not Catholic, so I haven’t been to all of the Catholic services yet.  I had done Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil) at a Catholic church, but I had always done Good Friday at Protestant churches.  If you’re a Catholic you already know the punchline to this story.

Apparently, good Friday is a penitential aerobic work-out.  It involves about 30 minutes of reading from the gospel story of Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem, the last supper, his arrest and trial, and the crucifixion, and all of this is done standing (since you always stand out of respect during the gospel readings).  Then you kneel for about an hour while lots of esoteric ritual goes on, which mostly involves venerating the cross and being grateful to Jesus for suffering so we could have grace.

At this point if you’ve been to jazzercise, your legs are probably in agony, but the best part is at the end of the service, when the whole church prays for 10 specific intentions like world peace, wisdom for world leaders, and people in crisis to have comfort.  This involves the priest saying a prayer and then chanting, “All kneel.”  Everyone drops to their knees for one minute and prays silently, and then bounces back up to their feet.  The priest prays for the next intention and then chants, “All kneel,” and everyone goes down again.  This goes on and on and on until you’ve done it 10 times just like a rep in jazzercise and you want to cry.  But then you feel bad because Jesus died on the cross for your sins, damnit, and he suffered a lot more on this day than you did and the least you can do is kneel and pray for the people who need comfort, you selfish wretch.

There is some kind of unholy alliance between the people who choreograph jazzercise classes and the Catholic Church.  Just saying.

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I am not trying to convert you.  I’ve never asked you if you’ve found Jesus or feel his love in your heart.  I won’t give you a pamphlet, or try to legislate what’s taught in schools to indoctrinate your children while they’re still young and vulnerable.  I understand that there are religious people (of many types of religions) who do this, but I am not one of those people.

I have peace in my life from my walk with God, and if you’re curious, I will tell you about it.  However, I don’t think Christians have a monopoly on the truth.  Many practitioners of other religions, and lots of agnostics and atheists, lead lives that are good and I think God recognizes that.  Many Christians lead lives that are bad, and I think God recognizes that, too.

I’m not a Christian because I woke up this morning and felt like it would be fun.  It’s hard for me.  The bible is full of contradictions and I read it every day and I studied theology and I can probably tell you more about how the bible doesn’t make sense than most people who are vehemently opposed to Christianity.  I don’t feel accepted in any particular church.  I struggle with who is going to hell and who is going to heaven.  I have doubts.  There are people I can’t forgive and forgiveness is not negotiable in Christianity.  I’m not happy about being different from the rest of my family and most of my friends.  I feel on the outside a lot – like the black sheep.  Being Christian is a knock-down drag-out fight for me, and I make a choice to be Christian every single day because I feel like I was called to do it – even when it would be easier not to.

I wanted to tell you this because there is someone I can’t tell.   Someone who matters to me seems inexplicably angry at me for being Christian and who acts like I’m attacking them and part of an insidious institution, even when I’ve never tried to convert them.  This person thinks I’m presumptuous and arrogant.  I wish I could tell that person that I am not trying to make them unhappy by practicing this religion and  I am not trying to change them.   In fact, I don’t see how it has anything to do with them at all.  My belief in Christianity is central to who I am.  It informs all of the choices that I make in my life, and I don’t need this person to be Christian, but I need them to leave me the hell alone about my choice to be Christian.

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I’ve been reading a very interesting book called When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor that is about how our efforts to help the poor often make situations worse rather than helping them to escape poverty.  This book focuses on the debilitating impact of many short term mission trips that churches undertake and many ministries that churches provide to the poor, as well as misconceptions about what it is to be poor and what causes poverty.

Reading this book is causing me to re-think many beliefs that I’ve never questioned.  For instance, if a homeless person on the street asks me for money, almost 100% of the time I give them something.  I do this because several verses in the bible make it clear that we should share with those who don’t have much when we do have enough, like:

1 John 3:7 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Proberbs 3:28  Do not say to your neighbor,
   “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
   when you already have it with you.

There are a lot more verses like this in the bible and a lot of people will immediately ask if I’ve also literally sold all my possession and given them to the needy as Jesus mentions in Luke 12:33.  I have not, but I think it’s a very common condition (affliction?) for Christians to pick and choose which bible verses they will interpret literally and which were dependent on the context or perhaps mistranslated over time.

I believe when I die that I will see Jesus and we will talk about my life.  I want him to say that I did a good job, and I don’t want to have to answer to him for the times that I turned away from someone in need.  When my friends argue that these homeless people are just going to buy drugs or alcohol, I always comment that if I were homeless I might want to do that, and that it’s really not my business what they buy with it.  It’s only my business whether I turned away from someone who was hungry, and ultimately I’ll answer for that someday.

This book is making me think about whether my responsibility to the poor involves something different than giving them cash and turning away when they may be stuck in situations where money isn’t really what they need.  As Americans, we often throw money at problems we don’t understand.  I’m not sure yet how my interactions with the homeless are going to change, and in the meantime I am still giving them cash, but I’ll update you when I finish the book.

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I’ve been studying a packet my grandmother gave me a few years ago by Chuck Swindoll about the classic bible verse Proverbs 3:5-6.  (Trust in the Lord your God and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.)

The first thing that jumped out at me was his exposition of the story of Mary and Martha.  In the text, Jesus visits Mary and Martha. Mary sits at his feet and soaks up everything he has to say, but Martha runs around in the kitchen trying to cook for all the disciples who randomly showed up and gets angry at Mary for not helping.  She complains to Jesus and he tells her that Mary is doing what she needed to do – what was important for her to do.  Martha is not stressed out because Mary is shirking her duties – Martha is stressed out because she has decided that the most important thing is to live up to her own expectations of being a hostess.  She assumed that responsibility herself when it was not actually the priority at that moment.  Chuck Swindoll brings up this story because he is trying to point out that you should not blame other people for your stress – you may be accepting worry for things that are unnecessary.

I manage complex research projects and I feel angry at people who have easy projects.  I feel angry at the woman in my office who has one project and rolls into work at 10:30 AM and leaves at 4:30 PM because she’s (presumably) a nitwit and can’t be given complicated projects, while I have three projects and I work from 8:30 AM until 6:30 or 8:30 at night, and on weekends.  I think “angry” is an understatement – I hate her with the fire of a thousand suns.  I hate my clients who make me do stupid things to data.  They are arbitrary and they don’t understand research methodology and it toasts me that I spend so much time catering to their misguided whims.

When I read that exposition on the story of Mary and Martha, it occurred to me that I am not stressed out because my clients are crazy or my coworker is lazy.  I am stressed out because I internalize the crazy demands my clients make and the obvious injustice of my coworker’s schedule.  I still think my clients are crazy sadists, but it was enlightening to realize that their madness does not automatically deserve my stress.  I don’t not have to take that inside of me – I can choose not to internalize their agenda.

Today I learned that they want me to make extensive changes to a research project that is in the field.  I am so proud that my very first thought was, You do not deserve my cortisol.  Each time my body makes cortisol it shortens my life expectancy and I will be damned if I do that over your stupid changes.  My life is not about making these changes happen tonight (or about being someone’s idea of a perfect hostess).  You cannot force me to feel that unrelenting responsibility that threatens my sanity – I refuse to take it up as my burden.  Fuck you.

I think that’s what Jesus meant, and that’s why religion is helping me.  (Clearly it’s not helping me avoid words like “hate” and “nitwit” and “fuck,” but we can deal with the plank in my eye on another post.)

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I have been worried lately about a medical diagnosis that looms over my head.  I’ve been tired for years without an explanation, and the doctors I’m seeing are slowly crossing out the (treatable) diseases I would rather have had.  I have never drowned before, but I feel the way I think it would imagine to be in a sinking ship with the water rising above your head.  I’m gasping for air, and sometimes I get a lungful of stinging salt water instead, and sometimes a bit of precious oxygen.

I see the dreams that I had slipping away and I’m only 25.  My hopes for finding a fulfilling job and being a mom and traveling the world.  I feel frustrated with myself that I can’t even work full-time and keep up with the basics in my life, liking making dinner, cleaning a small apartment, going to church, seeing my friends, buying groceries.

I feel angry that I have been given so many gifts, and then this major limitation.  I am so focused and motivated and when I decide that I am going to do something, I have an amazing ability to make that goal happen.  I’m smart and I want to help people, and yet some days I cry when I wake up in the morning because I am so tired.  Why would God give someone intelligence and ambition, and then make them weak?  Doesn’t God know that if he gave me energy, I would accomplish so much?  That if I can make myself get into a good college and finish my master’s degree early and get a job immediately and pay off tens of thousands of dollars in student loans and fight the biggest battle of my life to get my husband permanent residency – if I can do all of these things with crippling exhaustion, what things could I do if I felt strong?

I don’t understand.  I don’t understand why I pray each morning, why I have prayed each morning for so long, to be healed, and I am not.   I think of Paul and the thorn in his flesh that he prayed that God would remove.  I think of God’s answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Really, God?

The only thing I know today is how grateful I am for my friends and family.  For people who went out immediately and bought me panda snow hats with ears, because I’ve always wanted one of those.  For people who left the library to talk me through those first hours of despair.  For my husband, who told me that no, he was not about to accept my offer of a divorce and find someone healthier.  For my friend, who told me that I am not a statistic, that I am not my genetics.  For the people who didn’t even know, and yet showed their love anyway.  “The world moves for love.  It kneels before it in awe.”  I am loved and upheld by so many people.  In their hands, I see God reaching out to me.

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