Afraid to Love

They say that honesty and confession are good for the soul. Whoever “They” are. I suppose I should give it a try.

I work pretty hard at my faith. There are plenty of reasons to chuck it out the window. I’ve talked about a few of them here already. Life can be cruel and hard, and doubt always prowls in the shadows.

I don’t doubt God. I don’t doubt that He is good and loving and actively involved in everything that goes on in this creation of His.

To be honest, however, I am scared of Him. I’m afraid of His love.

If you take time to really understand the scope of God’s love, how foundational it is to everything He does and says, it’s mind-boggling. When I think about the enormity and totality of that passion, desire, drive, dare I call it infatuation? all focused on me, I’m overwhelmed.

And not in the good way.

I’m terrified. I want to hide from that terrible, consuming love. It’s too much for me, who can barely handle her own feelings and rejects the feelings of others.

God’s love is a consuming fire. I live in fear of being devoured by it. I know that His love transforms, taking away the garbage and refining the glorious. I know that, I don’t doubt it, and I’m petrified by it.

Maybe it’s because I don’t think I’m worth the effort. Perhaps I’m addicted to self-loathing, and this would kill the buzz I’ve “enjoyed” for so many years. After all, humility is a virtue, isn’t it? “Lo, I am a worm before Thee” and all that. Why did hair shirts ever go out of style?

But the Bible doesn’t support that mindset. In fact, it contradicts it. Even in Olde Testamente days, before Christ removed God’s wrath, God called His people to loving relationship. Dozens of Psalms talk about God’s transformational love and desire to have personal time with each one of us. The prophets constantly repeated God’s heart-broken lament that we didn’t want Him.

A love that big is almost worse than the wrath born of rejection. I don’t know how to let myself be loved like that. I haven’t done enough to earn it. I don’t control it. It’s based entirely on God and His character. Though it pours over me, it has nothing to do with me.

Emotions have always been hard for me. I can simulate them easily from my years of acting and my desire to not be mocked in public. But actually feeling those emotions lies outside my comfort zone. I’m much happier (ironic) with intellectual matters.

And yet.

God is not mind. God is not logic. God is not fact or reason or process or sensible. God is love.

Love is not orderly or predictable or straightforward. Love can and sometimes does cooperate with those attributes, but the nature of love defies control. It’s messy and noisy and confusing and glorious.

So maybe my issue is that I want to be in charge, to dictate to God the terms by which He may approach me. I want a neat, sterile relationship, and God wants to sweep me off my feet and show me things I never imagined. He wants to transform me, and I’m scared of that.

This is a process I’m walking through. It’s taking time and effort and no few expressions of frustration. I don’t know how long it will take to get through this. I don’t know that I’ll talk much about it until I’m on the other side of it. Too many feels.

But I felt the need to be honest. Faith makes life a heck of a lot easier, what with connecting us directly to the source of life. But we each have struggles to go through, mountains to climb and conquer. I’m as human as anyone else, much as I pretend otherwise.

Advertisements

What Thanks?

With deepest regards to Ann Voskamp.

 

Gratitude in the midst of suffering. Eucharisteo. Choosing to accept the bad as well as the good, seeing them as parts of the same whole.

Shadows teach us to appreciate the light. Rain make us grow. Winter bids us rest. Pain wakes us up. “Thank God for the dirty dishes/ They have a tale to tell/ While others may go hungry/ We’re eating very well.”

I repeat Scripture and truisms, but my heart wears heavy pain. I speak praises and affirm faith from a node of agony. I endure; I do not thrive. I do not count this joy. I hate the gifts and shove them from me. I would rather lie numb and shocky than wake up to recovery. I do not want pain or anything that comes from it.

Healing comes after admitted injury. Healing requires playing the deal. I left the cards on the table abandoned without backward glancing. I so nearly fell off the edge of the world.

To be thankful for all that? All this? To lift drenched eyes and clenching-bruised hands and say, “God’s grace!” To feel the sliced-edged beating heart and proclaim, “He is good!” To wrap empty arms around empty self and declare, “Love everlasting!” Can I do such a thing? Can I not and live?

How dare God require smiles and cheer from shattering? How dare the surgeon require movement from the broken limb? Healing requires movement. Gratitude propels us out of our misery. We would coddle our pains until natural healing leaves us warped and unable to use. Divine healing realigns the edges for stronger repair and restoration.

We see the whole when we lift our eyes away from anguish and turn to gratitude’s dawn.

Sex in DC: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

This is me, jumping on the currently-most-popular bandwagon in internet geekdom.

The DC Reboot.

If you don’t follow the comics industry, DC is one of the two biggest publishing houses (the other being Marvel). DC brings us Batman, Superman, Catwoman, Teen Titans, and a slew of other heroes and villains. Due to the decline in readership and sales, DC decided to recreate, or “reboot”, 52 characters and storylines.

The first few titles released over the last two weeks have met with a backlash of public outrage. The reason? The female characters are now mere porn stars.

Everyone knows that sex sells, and that isn’t really the issue here. What the internet is screaming over is the treatment of sex and sexuality in these volumes. And it isn’t just the women in the audience spewing vitriol; a large part of the male readership is also disgusted.

****

DC stated that it wanted to create, among other things, sexually liberated female characters. I heartily support sexual liberation; I believe that we labor under a great deal of bondage regarding our sexuality. The difference is in how I and DC define “liberation”.

Is it liberating to put a woman in an outfit that would not survive a shallow, indrawn breath? I can assure you that even for the alien female characters, those outfits would not survive a single step in the dressing room, let alone a battle. Why give her that outfit? It does her no good in any portion of the storyline, and she would not choose it for herself because she knows that needs a garment that will hold up under whatever activity she does. Ah; it isn’t for the story. It’s for the audience. When a woman is dressed by someone else to sexually provoke the audience, is she liberated?

Is it liberating to put a substantial amount of focus on a woman’s sexuality? If she constantly moans about not having or boyfriend or lover, to the point that half the pages include at least a mention of it, I doubt she is liberated. If a goodly portion of her screen-time revolves around enticing men or engaging in sex, it falls flat in the reading. We readers feel that the editor is a pimp requiring the characters to put for the audience, and we are about as satisfied as if we were Johns.

Is it liberating to require a woman to demand sex? Women do have natural sexual urges, but I would argue that a truly liberated woman can say “No” as easily as she can say “Yes.” A liberated woman can choose her partner(s) as carefully as she wishes. Writing a character who cannot refuse any opportunity to get laid is not liberating. Additionally, writing a character who is incapable of caring about her sexual encounters is not writing a liberated woman. Whores and slaves cannot care about who bangs them; free women do care about those with  whom they make love.

****

Why do we read comics at all? What started the fandom? I would venture it was the characters and the stories. We all want a hero, someone to save us from torment and show us how to stand tall. We want inspiration and encouragement and hope that a brighter day can and will come. We needed larger-than-life, beyond-human figures to provide perspective on daily human life. Aliens come to our world show us how human we are and how we can maximize our humanity.

Superheroes are those individuals who decided to use what they had to do what they saw needed to be done. They showed us the best and worst of themselves, thus enabling us to see the best and worst in ourselves. They usually won, but not always. Evil had a face, a name, and it could be stopped by someone determined enough to figure out a way.

Even the shift to allow for villains to have their own stories maintained the driving force of character. We want an interesting protagonist, one we can in some way identify with. Sometimes, we want to know more about the ones we vilify so that we can better root for the hero. Sometimes we have compassion and understanding for these archetypes of people. We want to know what they’re up to and why they’re doing it, and we wonder how much longer they will survive against the good guy.

Through it all, what keeps readers coming back is the character and the story. We find our entertainment in all the complex simplicity of heroes who fight crime and struggle to keep the rent paid. And yes, we want our heroes to look good. They are, after all, the ideal we strive for.

How many of us grew up wanting to be Superman or Batgirl? How many of us wanted to be the hero fighting Bad Guys, Saving The Day, and Getting the Girl/Guy? We wanted to be as attractive as they are, and we wanted to be as good as they are. Reading their stories inspired us and told us what to look for in ourselves and in others.

****

The shift we see in the DC reboot is troublesome because readers are so invested in the characters and stories. Yes, we want attractive characters who live The Good Life, and most of us don’t mind being able to sigh (or whatever) over just how attractive a character is, but that’s not our real purpose in reading comics.

We want stories.

We want realistic characters.

We want to be able to see ourselves in the panels.

Those of us who are liberated from sexual bondage know that sex is a beautiful thing that must be honored in order to be enjoyed. When love turns to gratification, there is no purpose. When sex does not further the character’s development or the plot, it becomes cheap and meaningless. And we are bored with that.

We do not want gratuitous shots of anatomy that give us no idea of who the character is.

We do not want ridiculous poses that serve no developmental purpose.

We do not want shallow, callow characters who don’t connect with the other characters or the audience.

If “sexiness” is integral to the story, then let it have an actual function! Sprinkle it in like choice seasoning; don’t dull us with too much spice and not enough meal. If there is more pepper than potato, we have a problem.

****

I find it interesting that as many men as women are disgusted with the recent comic issues. Many of the comments I have read state outright hatred for the female characters, frustration with the lack of coherent story, confusion about how the sex scenes are portrayed (as in, that’s not even anatomically probable), anger at the removal of all that made the characters wonderful to begin with, exasperation at wooden characters, and despair at not feeling comfortable with introducing their children to the comics they once enjoyed so much.

Numerous comments also revolve around the supposed target audience for this reboot. Stereotypically, older boys and young men read superhero comics. What DC seems to have missed is that those original 14-35 year-olds are now husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They still love their childhood favorites, and they don’t want to see them destroyed for the sake of a new crop of sexually-jaded post-pubescents.

What continues to amaze me is how few of the traditional comic publishers grasp the size and variety of their female readership. There are a lot of female readers out there who are every bit as invested in superheroes as the males. And we don’t appreciate having our own sexuality trashed.

A sexually liberated woman understands her body well. She knows what is normal, what is pleasing, and where the proper boundaries are. She knows how far to push and when to say, “Here and no further.” She appreciates what makes her female and refuses all attempts to make her less, in any form or fashion. And the sexually liberated male is, not so coincidentally, of the same mindset. He respects himself as much as he respects her self. Together, they create a healthy balance.

****

When a character’s main selling point becomes her ability to gratify “natural urges,” she can no longer be “real.” We can no longer identify with her and we can no longer care about what happens to her. She becomes an inflatable doll that we keep in the corner or under the bed and would really rather no one knew we had. Comics become that dirty habit that we hide, giving fuel to the argument that only masturbating boys living in Mom’s basement read that stuff.

Earlier I mentioned that most of us started reading comics because we learned more about ourselves through them. What do these new versions tell us about ourselves? Who can we be, according to this?

I see a tale of twisted expectations, wherein the most desirable individuals are the least real. I see a tale of hollow existence, where right and wrong don’t matter and sexual gratification trumps passion and love. I see a world become The Wasteland in which humanity is utterly lost.

Are there any heroes left?

PSA via SaS

I hope that you’ve been reading my serial, Swords and Sigils. One of the recent comments on SaS made me smile and then sigh. I was working up a response to that comment, and it became rather longer than I thought was appropriate for a comment thread, and thus we have a blog post. The reader mentioned that he would like to be able to comfort the character who is currently hurting, who has been hurting for so long that she finally broke under the strain of her internal wounds.

My first reaction was, “Yay! I have created a believable character with whom my audience identifies and about whom they care!”

My second reaction was to think about the people In Real Life who don’t get that kind of care.

I’ve personally known two suicides in my life. Both were young men on the cusp of greatness. They were talented, popular, and bright stars in the world. And both of them had some wound that they felt they couldn’t share with anyone, that they thought could never be healed. They chose to end their lives because they couldn’t share those things with anyone.

Now, both of those young men had loving families and friends. Why would they throw all that away? No one was beating them, using them, or oppressing them. They had resources readily available to them for counseling, encouragement, relaxation, talking, all that. But somehow, everyone missed the fact that each of these brilliant young men was hurting.

I know about trying to be strong enough, to be tough enough to take care of myself. I know about presenting that perfect mask to the world so that no one ever sees the mess I really am. And if I had not had friends who cared enough to brave my defenses and I had not made the choice to trust them, bad things would have happened.

Do people in your life know that you can be trusted? Do your family members know that they can come to you and unload their deepest wounds without censure? Do your friends think that they can be real around you? Are you willing to let someone fall on you for a little while?

It’s true that only the person experiencing the wound can deal with it; we all have to face our hurts and seek healing. We can’t expect someone else to make our bodies or souls regenerate. But for a time, we all need someone to help us. For a season or a moment, we need to let go of our strength and rest in someone else’s.

It’s scary when someone we’ve always respected as strong shows a weakness. We poor creatures of habit tend to settle on our expectations that things should not change. A strong person suddenly becoming not-strong tweaks our simple notions rather painfully. Yet I would argue that allowing ourselves to be weak upon occasion makes us stronger in the long run.

As with any vulnerable creature, we humans need a safe place to rest while we express that weakness.

Will you be a safe place for someone else? I spent much of my life refusing to “enable” the weeping-willows I met in life, mostly because I was upset that they wouldn’t do the same for me. Why should I let them soak my shoulders with their shallow woes when they would run the moment I tried to talk about my legitimate concerns? You can probably determine who was being shallow in this scenario.

To get, you must give. You must sow in order to reap. If you want to have trusted friends, you must be a trusted friend. This does not mean that you become a garbage dump for everyone and anyone to trash. You have to be wise and particularly seek out relationships. Some of the people you become close to might surprise you. I’m a middle-class, “white bread” yuppie; what am I doing being best friends with ex-gang members, drug dealers, and cons? Yet these have become some of my dearest friends, along with a few who are much more like me.

Seek out relationships and be willing to give without getting. But also, don’t overlook the random, one-off moments when you can give comfort to someone in need. Maybe you’re in a public place, and you see someone crying in the corner. Don’t ignore them. Maybe they will tell you to go away, that they don’t want to talk to you, but let them know that someone noticed and that someone cared enough to stop and say something. Even if you don’t think it amounts to anything, that moment could be definitive for that person.

I recall a friend from college who started the same year I did but took off the second year. I hardly heard from him at all, though I sent emails at least once a month. I ended most of my messages with “Keep in touch,” primarily to urge my friend to be nice and reply to me, because wasn’t it rude of him to be ignoring me like that? When he came back to the university, he told me that he had been hospitalized for severe depression. And my emails, with that simple (if selfish) closing entreaty for contact, had helped him through some of his darkest moments.

Never underestimate the impact that you can have in someone’s life. Take an extra moment to look someone in the eye. Be brave enough to let someone weep in your arms. Be wise enough to keep your mouth shut while they work through it. Take a chance and love someone through your actions.

Maybe you won’t prevent a suicide. After all, the person has to choose to accept what you offer. But if no one offers comfort, what then? If no one, even out of poor motives, reaches out to them, what then?

We’re all human and all in at least occasional need of someone to turn to. Be the person that others can turn to, and you will find people to whom you can turn. I would urge you to seek out someone of your own gender to build the deepest relationships with; there are some things best shared between women or between men. I can’t really understand what it’s like for a man to struggle with X, Y, or Z, and he will always have difficulty understanding my concerns. That is not to say that cross-gender friendships can’t be life-savers; they can. You should have both in your life.

To wrap this up, if you can care about a fictitious character, you can care about a real person. You can make a difference in someone’s life. You could be the difference. So please, please, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you know is hurting.

Fast Dreams

Just had an interesting thought. Have you ever tried fasting from something that you don’t have? We hear about fasting from food or TV or shopping or video games, which tend to be things we have access to (too much access, in most cases). But what about those things we don’t have … but really wish we did have?

We all have dreams of “someday” when we will have certain possessions, jobs, relationships, status, etc. And we all, at some point or another, have spent way too much time wishing we had all that right now. Sometimes, our longing had a physical impact such as depression, over-spending, over-eating, or some other destructive manifestation. We made ourselves sick because we didn’t have something we wanted.

Fasting is a kind of mourning, a sorrow for an absence in our lives. We put something away from ourselves and then feel sad for not having it. The reason for doing this is because we seek something greater than what we give up; in the midst of grieving for what we willingly lose, we rejoice in what we resultantly gain. For those who follow Christ, fasting is a way to put off distractions and focus on the glory of God.

Some kinds of fasting are easier than others; when you have an object that you can physically separate yourself from, you can easily tell if you completed the fast. Did I eat during this fast time, yes or no? But fasting from a heart-longing is not so simple to measure, and it is far more slippery a stand to make. Yet I daresay it is a better fast.

The purpose of fasting is to remove a distraction in order to focus on something greater. Yet how many of us have made a food-fast only to spend the whole time dreaming of burgers or candy or soup? We become more distracted than before the fast. And even if we keep food from out lips, we have not kept it from our hearts; we have failed the fast as surely as if we had snuck a bag of chips. Therefore, I propose a fast of dreams.

What do you think about in your spare time? What do you wish you had? What do you worry about? Fast from those things. Each time that thought comes to your mind, every time you realize that you’re fretting again, turn your mind to God. In the same way that you declare, no food shall pass my lips, declare that no worry shall cross your mind. How do you get through a traditional fast? Use the same techniques to get through a heart-fast.

Jesus made it very clear that where you put the focus of your heart is where your ultimate treasure is. Whatever you spend the most mental energy on is what you value the most. If you spend most of your time _worrying_ about paying the bills, then money is your god. Note that I used the term _worrying_ about it. Taking prudent action is a fine thing; obsessing about how it will happen is not. Think about that.

We have the example of the elderly widow who put her last two pennies in the tithe box. She did not have money to spare. She did not have a savings account or a stipend. She probably didn’t have a full cupboard at home or the next month’s rent. Jesus went out of His way to mention that she gave out of her lack, not out of her abundance. Why would she do that? Why would she be so reckless and foolish with her money? I take my cue from Christ: she knew what in life has true value.

If that widow had held onto her last coins, she might have eaten for another day. She might have been able to invest it and earn some interest. She could have held onto it. But what was she actually holding on to? Money promises us security, a peace that no matter what happens, if you have enough money you can get through it. But how much is enough? All of us can probably think of a bill we needed to pay but couldn’t. We sweated and wrung our hands and had ulcers until somehow that bill got paid, and then we collapsed with relief for a whole day. That doesn’t sound very peaceful to me.

The widow had the same choice to make. She could put her faith in anything she wanted, and she chose to put her faith in God, not what humanity declared was sensible. She looked at the coins in her hand and weighed their value. How much were they worth? A biscuit? A cup of coffee? “Peace of mind?” That woman decided that she would only have peace of mind if she invested her heart in God. She demonstrated her faith by letting go of the physical representation of “security” in order to gain a deeper security. She believed that God would take care of her, no matter what.

So when you fast, why do you fast? Do you give something up to show how strong you are? How nothing is your master? If those are your reasons, you’re missing the point (and the benefit) of fasting. Fasting is all about declaring your weaknesses. It is a proclamation that you need something that you don’t have. It is a line in the sand that keeps you from the worse fate you were hurtling toward. Fasting is the heart’s scream of, “God!! I need You! And I will get rid of everything that keeps me from You!”

We think that the grass is greener somewhere else, so we fantasize about it and whine because we don’t have it. We worry ourselves sick and chew our fingers bloody. It is often money, but it could be a job, a spouse, a child, a pants size, a car, or so many other things. Yet when we say things like, “If only I had more money,” we put our faith, worship, and dependence in that thing. How many times has money (or whatever) let you down? Are you comforted by your bank balance or wondering how much longer it will last? Where is your heart?

And so, I propose that we attempt to fast from the things that we don’t have. Put aside those desires for a time and focus instead on God. Deliberately divorce yourself from that idea, that wish, even for just five minutes. For those five minutes, turn the affections of your heart to God. Instead of wailing over what you have lost, have deprived yourself of, rejoice in what you are gaining.

Previous Older Entries