Faith- Based Initiatives

So, this is going to be another blog entry on faith – just thought I’d give you all fair warning, in case that’s not your thing. I plan on covering two very different faith-related topics, and one of them might be upsetting to some people, so I’ll leave that one for last.

First up is this – I think I want to find a church of some kind to go to. I was raised Catholic, but I’m not sure that’s where I am; I don’t think my ideas tend to line up with Catholic teachings very well, and so I don’t think that would work very well for me. And aside from my knowledge of Catholicism, my experience with church in Houston has been pretty limited. I enjoyed going to church the few times I went with Calla, but given that we are no longer on speaking terms, I think it would be weird for me to go there; I don’t want her to feel like I am trying to intrude on her life or her faith, and I also think seeing her would be a constant reminder of how much that messed with my life. So that is out, and that’s my only real church-going experience in Houston. So I am looking for a place I can go that will accommodate, or at least not be outright dismissive of, my beliefs. I’ve never really looked into finding a new church before, so I don’t really know how this goes. Ideally, I’d want to go to or belong to a church that has some times, apart from services, that are explicitly for discussion; I don’t want to force my beliefs on anyone, but I think that more in-depth discussion of theological matters might help me to articulate what I’m thinking more clearly, as well as give me more of a faith-based outlet in my life – which seems like something that would be helpful right now. I’m open to suggestions, if anyone has any.

And now, on to the part that might be offensive or triggering to some people. Going beyond this point will result in reading about the anger and disgust I’m feeling right now at some people who consider themselves Christian, but don’t seem to be in anything but name. You have been warned.

So, Josh Duggar has been in the news lately. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he is a son of the Duggar family, stars of the TLC channel show ’19 Kids and Counting’. And, apparently, some years ago – it seems around 2002 – he molested a number of young girls, including, it seems, several of his sisters. And his father, at least, knew about it – and did nothing. Well, not until 2003, when he reported it. Not to the police, though – to his church elders. They recommended that Josh get counseling – but his counseling consisted of manual labor and talking to someone who had no training in counseling. When they finally went to the police, they went to a friend of Josh’s dad – who only gave him a stern talking to (it turns out that police officer was later in his own hot water for child pornography, but that’s not the issue here). And that was apparently it, until last week, when details came out and Josh apologized. And, of course, many people leaped to his defense, saying he had, in his father’s words, “made some very bad mistakes“, but had been forgiven by God. Even former Governor Mike Huckabee (a personal friend of the Duggars stood up in Josh’s defense, saying, among other things, “Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family. Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.

Well, that’s bullshit. They were clearly not open and honest about it. If they were, it wouldn’t have taken 12 years – well beyond the statute of limitations for his crimes – to come to light. It was handled in-house – by his dad, their church elders, a friendly police officer. And then swept under the rug. He abused several young girls – some of them his own sisters – and it seems he got almost nothing in the way of consequences. And so the idea that he has been forgiven is laughable, especially since he probably has not sought forgiveness from the people he wronged. But what I find really disturbing about this, and which angers and disgusts me, is that no thought seems to have been given to Josh’s victims. Were they given counseling (and by this I mean real, professional counseling)? Were they helped in their time of need, after having their trust in someone who should have been a protector – for several of them, a big brother – violated in such a terrible and fundamental way? Were they treated with compassion, given all the care and help that, as devout Christians, they should have been able to expect from their fellows in their church? Given the way this was handled, I doubt it – they were probably given no thought at all. No punishment was ever truly sought for their abuser. I have seen nothing to indicate there was any effort to give them even token effort at help. Having known people who have suffered abuse – maybe not exactly like this, but similar – it offends and sickens me that the victims of this seem to have been totally ignored. Josh wasn’t the one who needed help – they were. They needed to know it wasn’t their fault, that the shame and guilt was on him, not them. That this family claims to be so strongly Christian yet seems to have neglected the needs of their own abused family to protect the reputation of their criminal son – because that’s what his acts were, criminal, not simply ‘mistakes’ – shows them to be hypocrites. It makes me sick to my stomach and makes me shake in anger to think that these people could represent any part of my faith.

Alright, that’s it, rant over.

Exhaustion

Man, I am tired. Hell, I am exhausted. Mentally, emotionally, physically.In the last few months, I have lost someone I thought was a good friend, had another good friend move away, had work go crazy, flown to Omaha and back over a weekend, had my grandfather die, and found out I didn’t get into the graduate program I have been working for much of the last year trying to get into.

My back hurts. My feet hurt. I just got over being sick. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in at least two weeks. And that’s just the physical stuff. Last night was the first time I’ve had to myself in about a week, and being an introvert, that’s important. I like being around my family, and I know it’s important for something traumatic, like my grandfather’s memorial service. It helped to have family around, and I know we all needed it. I was just glad to get some time to myself, not because I dislike my family, but just because being around people all the time, even people I like, just drains me mentally and emotionally.

So things have been pretty lousy lately. And a couple years ago, that would have been the road to something bad, and possibly fatal; I would probably have started on a road to deep, deep depression that would would likely have lasted for months, if not years, and might have eventually culminated in a suicide attempt. I know some people are still worried that a cascade of bad things happening like this will send me down that path anyway, and I can’t really blame them; it’s happened in the past.

But even though it’s been a pretty lousy couple of months, over the last two years I’ve had a lot of preparation for handling these kinds of things in my life. A lot of awful things have happened, and I do feel bad. But I also know that despite how I feel now, they won’t last forever. And one of the things that’s been on my mind a lot for the last week is my grandfather, who was a pretty amazing man.

As a little background, my grandfather was 93. He was a soldier in World War II, serving under Patton in the 3rd Army, and taking part, to some degree, in the Battle of the Bulge. That was one of the most miserable parts of the war on the western front, and yet despite that, all the letters he sent home to my grandmother were positive; he never complained about things like being stuck with summer clothes in winter. And for my lifetime, that same positive attitude was one of the biggest things I remember about my grandfather. He never got angry, or started yelling, and feeling sorry for himself. Even when he had trouble hearing, or started having trouble walking, or couldn’t drive anymore, he never seemed miserable. It was one of the things basically everyone he knew remembered most about him.

I don’t know that I can get to that degree of optimism; I am naturally a pretty cynical person, and, let’s face it, I do have clinical depression – even on a great day, my life is probably not going to be all sunshine and puppies. But I know that I can at least try and look on the bright side and be more optimistic; that’s what the whole idea of the gratitude challenges I’ve done have been about. I’m not really sure how I’m going to get there; right now I still need to deal with the fallout of my personal life’s wreckage and the fact that, without grad school, I need to find something else to do with my life. But I know that at the least, I can try to follow the example of my grandfather.

But right now, I have work tomorrow. So I’m going to try and get a jump on this exhaustion and get some sleep.

Disavowal

My head has been a weird place to be lately, and I’m not really sure why. I know that part of it is just the intense feeling of… I’m not sure what to call it. Betrayal? Maybe not that dramatic, but it certainly caused a mess in my head when it happened last month. Someone I had felt very close to had gotten back in touch with me after a very bad parting of the ways a few months earlier, and I was very glad of that – maybe too glad, I guess. I don’t like losing people, and so when I felt like this person might be coming back into my life, I guess I didn’t really look at it that closely, and when this person again decided to leave my life last month, the previous wounds caused – which had been deep, and painful – kind of reopened. And I don’t even have a good reason for why it happened, and I don’t know that I ever will.

That bugs me. I like knowing why things happen. If I have a feeling about something, I want to know why. If something happens that seems interesting or weird, I want to know more about it. I’m inquisitive, and that can get me in trouble – I know that some of my tendency to try to get more answers contributed to things going wrong in the above friendship. I wanted clarity, and my friend wanted something else. More and more, I am convinced – by the voice in the back of my head, because it’s all I really have here – that that person is not who I thought they were, that I saw what I wanted to see and extrapolated a totally different person from that. And because of seeing what I wanted to see, I poured entirely too much of myself into our friendship, only to get badly hurt in the end.

I won’t say that walking away from relationships is wrong; I’ve done it in the past, and I know how upsetting it was for the other side. And I know that the reasons I gave at the time were probably enough for that  person, because I don’t know if any amount of information is enough when you feel like you’ve been rejected and abandoned by someone you thought was a friend. I just know that being on the receiving end is a miserable feeling, especially coming from a friendship that – at least on my end – showed me that I still have the capacity for feelings I thought had been burned out of me years ago. It seems that the heights of that relationship are matched only in the lows of where I find myself now, confused and hurt and unsure of what to do next. What if the next person I reach out to does the same? It took a lot for me to reach out in the way I did, and I don’t know if I want to reach out the same way again if the results will be so terrible.

I don’t think that the pain I am in was caused on purpose. I fervently hope not, because whatever our relationship, I don’t think my friend and I ended on terms that badly. But I’m not really sure what to do with it besides hope it doesn’t happen again in the future, and in the meantime, I find myself terribly trepidatious about the possibility of another relationship, because this kind of pain just doesn’t seem to want to fade. Or maybe it will, but only if I put myself again into a situation that will open me up to the possibility of the same sort of pain again. I can’t be sure. And that not knowing scares me.

Faith

I was going to write about faith here, because it’s been on my mind lately. But just recently, I got this link in my e-mail – fortuitously, only a few minutes before I started writing this – and thought it was something good to hare, both because it deals with mental illness and it touches on faith:

Along with this, I thought I’d quote from a blog post of mine from last year on faith, since I think it still pretty much applies; you can find the rest of my post here.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t fall under the wings of any particular denomination; I’m Christian, but that’s about as far as I can go. Instead, my faith is kind of a grab-bag of things; some deism, some Christianity, some other bits and pieces – I think at one point I was seriously referencing the “Godfellas” episode of Futurama. Essentially, it all boils down to this: I think that there is a god, but due to the immensity of his/its likely power, intelligence, and abilities, there’s no real ability for humanity to seriously understand God, because we just don’t have the perceptive abilities to encompass him. And once God ensured we had free will, and the ability for rational thought, he stepped back, letting us find our own way, and watching as we tried to understand. Eventually, though, God decided that our understanding was important to him, and so he sent a messenger, one very important to him, to act as a conduit for our understanding – that being Jesus. And while we have free will, and God doesn’t often step in to act directly – because that would contradict our free will – we might never know if he does, because, quoting from the aforementioned Futurama episode, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

For the most part, I think that my particular version of Christianity is pretty chilled out – we’re supposed to be good to the people around us. We’re supposed to give aid to others in need, especially if we have more than we can reasonably use – if I have 600 sandwiches, and you have none, it doesn’t cost me much to give you food, but it might mean the world to you. But we’re supposed to give not for praise or acknowledgement, but because we think it’s the right thing to do. The belief should be matched by works – some effort, large or small, to help our fellow man – because words need to be backed up by deeds for faith to be taken seriously. I don’t know that I feel the need to actively spread my faith – if people are helped by what I do, then that’s good enough. I don’t need to proselytize; if they want to know, they’ll ask. Christianity isn’t a secret, hidden religion anymore – it’s the biggest faith on the planet, even if it is broken up into dozens of denominations.  And my faith is my own; I don’t have, or feel the need to be identified as, anything other than a Christian. I don’t think  my faith has any bearing on the faith of others, either – my beliefs are mine, and given that I can’t possibly know that God is real for certain, who am I to say that my beliefs are right? All I can do is act like a good person, and believe what I believe, and go from there.”

My faith isn’t the most complex of things, but I don’t think it’s wrong just because it isn’t complex. I’m not sure it’s right, either, and I’m willing to talk about it and bring in new ideas, because faith isn’t certainty. Faith is belief, and while it may be strong belief – Collins English Dictionary defines faith as “strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp. without proof or evidence” – it means there has to be room for change in that belief. And so while I believe that God is watching, I don’t believe that He has a particular plan for me. And I know my thoughts on belief and faith can be caustic at times – my sense of humor where faith is concerned seems to keep getting me in trouble, and may have been at fault, at least partially, in the loss of at least one good friendship. But my thoughts and what I say about faith are mine; I don’t mean them to apply to anyone else’s. When I make a joke about God, that is part of my relationship with God, and not meant as a slight or an insult. My faith doesn’t need to have any bearing on yours, or anyone else’s. When I pray, if I pray for you, I’m saying that I care about you and I want to make sure God maybe can throw a little love your way; I’m not asking you to share in my faith or my belief. I find all the hate and fear and anger people have with other people about their faith – just the beliefs, not necessarily the acts that back them up – to be bewildering. I want to be able to talk about faith and belief with other people of faith and not worry that everything I say will be taken badly. 

I guess I’m not really sure what I mean here, and I don’t know how to be clearer without engaging in some sort of dialogue with someone, so I’ll end with a quote – though who it’s from is unknown (it’s been linked to Marcus Aurelius, former Roman emperor, but seems unlikely to be his work):

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

Oh, and May the 4th be with you.