Hate

I’ve experienced a rather unsettling revelation.

I hate someone.

This is not the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. People, by nature, are almost designed to bump up against one another and cause friction. Arguments and misunderstandings and dirty deeds will continue to happen between human beings from now until the end of time. Grudges will be held, friendships will be severed, and dislike will bubble over into hatred time and time again.

Something feels different about this, though, and that’s what is bothering me. Like most all of us, I have been mistreated personally and professionally at various points in my life. I’ve been picked on, although I’m not sure I was ever bullied. I was put down verbally and made to feel worthless. In most of these instances, I knew who the people were. It wasn’t as if pain were being inflicted on me by strangers. I always managed a certain amount of disconnect somehow, though, as if these people were more constructs of things I didn’t like than antagonists capable of wounding me.

As the old saying goes, this time it’s personal.

hateI’m not sure if fully realized hatred is possible in cases where trust has not been fully given. I’m not sure if a bona fide enemy can be acquired without some sort of relationship with a nemesis. I can’t imagine a deeper wound being inflicted by someone other than a friend, someone you have shared details of your life with and never dreamed they would ever do anything to hurt you.

This happened to me. I still can’t actually believe it. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up one day to discover it didn’t actually happen. I did trust someone. I did have a relationship with someone. I was friends with someone. It feels strange talking about it in the past tense, but it’s true. That state of being is over, and I’m not sure it will ever come back.

It also feels strange to feel absolutely no remorse over feeling the way I do. Even now, I want to include a paragraph about how I feel bad about how I feel and how I wish I could figure out how to put things right. I would be lying, though. I feel nothing right now but blind rage, and I wish nothing but vengeance on this person. I at least have the morality left to not try to inflict that vengeance myself. It is difficult, though, to not stoop to that level. I want to be a wrecking ball, destroying every object of hate in my path.

This feeling is not fading. It feels as if it will last forever, and everything from common sense to religion to quotes in the Reader’s Digest are telling me to let it go. I can’t, though. I don’t even want to right now. Is this meanness? Is it sin? Is a byproduct of depression? Am I just not a very good person, or am I simply a human being who is having a very natural reaction to a terrible situation?

I hate not knowing the answer.

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The Threshold And The Fear Of Flying

Several years ago, I gave up drinking caffeine. I didn’t even wean myself off it. One day I was memedrinking it; the next day I was not. Consuming caffeine was causing me some pretty scary health issues, most notably severe headaches, so I came to the conclusion that it was harmful enough to me that I had to cut it out completely. I went through three days of headaches that actually seemed worse than the headaches I was trying to get rid of, but eventually this new pain subsided. Now I feel so much better that I don’t want to drink it ever again.

It would stand to reason that I would be able to kick out everything in my life that is harmful to me with just as much resolve and swiftness. If only that were true. I have habits and hang-ups that have plagued since my teenage years that I still wrestle with today as a 40 year old. I have thought patterns that lead me down rabbit holes to nowhere. I sabotage myself on a daily basis in one way or another. It should be easy for me to want to put these things down; it isn’t.

There are certain times in our lives when we feel like we are on the threshold of a breakthrough. That if we could just step off the ledge and believe, we could fly to the places we’ve always wanted to be. These are also the times when we realize we have to surrender something to get to those places. Oftentimes the things we have to give up are so ingrained in us that they feel like a part of us. We wonder how we can even exist as a person without them.

So, instead of giving them up, we hold onto them. And we don’t fly.

It doesn’t make any sense to hang onto things that hurt us, whether they’re behaviors or thought patterns or relationships. We do it all the time, though. These things become who we are after a while, and we feel as if letting them go will be like cutting off a part of ourselves. I keep saying “we,” but I really mean “I.” I run back to unfruitful relationships. I am so afraid of failure I don’t try new things. I don’t change the habits in my life that lead me down paths of sin because, well, maybe I don’t want to change all that much.

cliffSo I’m back at the threshold again, and I’m feeling that fear of flying again. I know if I go back I’ll regret it, but the old places are comfortable and familiar. They don’t require change. At the same time, they always eventually make me feel bad. I always think they won’t, and they even deliver good feelings for a while, but they inevitably let me down. Giving them up will cause pain, but just like the post-caffeine headaches, that pain will eventually go away, and I’ll wonder why I ever tolerated them in the first place.

I’m weak, though. I need prayers. I need support. I need encouragement. I need Jesus to step in and move things supernaturally out of my way and out of my life. For what feels like the millionth time in my life, I’m standing at the edge. Will I actually want to step off it this time?

Tuneful Tuesday: Let It Go

You know it’s coming.

Your daughters have forced you to watch Disney’s Frozen for the 735th time. Despite the familiarity, you find you’re actually not minding having to watch it again. You may even finding yourself singing the words “Do you want to build a snowman?” or “For the first time in forever…” slightly under your breath. You almost forget about it. And then…

“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight…”

If it wasn’t already running through your head, you know it is now. “Let it go, let it go…” Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know the melody that accompanies those six words? Chances are most of us could sing them in our sleep. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez accomplished what every songwriting team in history has set out to do – create a song with a hook so memorable that even people who don’t like it can’t get it out of their heads.

I mentioned the first line of the song earlier, but I would almost lay money not many people know any words outside those famous six from the chorus. What is it about them that makes everyone remember them? Is it the tune, the vocal delivery, the sequence from the film? Personally, I don’t think it’s any of those reasons.

I believe the reason this song so sticks in the minds of everyone who hears it is because everyone has something they want to let go of. For Queen Elsa that was her fear and shame brought on by the special powers she possessed. It’s different for everyone, though. For some it may be an addiction. For others it may be a past sin. For others it may be a mental or emotional hangup. Whatever the case may be, there’s something there that is being held onto and needs to be released.

So if you’re like me, you’re going to mumble through the verses of this and then start belting the chorus, much like Chris "Hmm...that's a mystery!" - Tommy BoyFarley and David Spade did with R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World and We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” in Tommy Boy. You may not need to know the rest of the words anyway.

A Little Trouble

dream teamI recently finished reading the book Dream Team, by Jack McCallum. If you’re even remotely a fan of professional basketball, I’d highly recommend picking it up, as it provides a fascinating look at how some of the most cutthroat competitors in the history of sports managed to put aside their professional rivalries long enough to win Olympic gold, decimate its competition, and change the face of international basketball forever.

The book is also a virtual treasure trove of memorable quotes, many of which could not be printed here without barkleya disclaimer for language. Most of my favorites came from the “Round Mound of Rebound” himself, current TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley. Of all Sir Charles’ quotes that are fit to mention, his legendary answer to a pregame question concerning upcoming opponent Angola still ranks as my favorite: “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Angola. But Angola’s in trouble.”

I was reminded of that quote this evening as I read over an article concerning the suddenly very troubled Mars Hill Church. I knew pastor Mark Driscoll had stepped down, and I knew at least one other pastor on the church’s staff had done the same. Prior to reading the aforementioned article, though, I could only claim a Barkley-esque knowledge of the situation: I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill. But Mars Hill is in trouble.

Rewind just a couple of days, though, and you would have found me sitting a table following the service at my own church involved in a conversation with a friend in which I was discussing some troubles of my own. This came after he had mentioned some of his own struggles. And the service itself had featured some pretty open discussions on authenticity and transparency (See this post for more on that.). Go back even further, and you would have found me Heather1watching a movie about the personal struggles of the late Rich Mullins and listening to author Heather Kopp talk about her life as a Christian drunk.

So maybe this is what I should be asking: Is my friend in trouble? More to the point, am in trouble?

Well, yes, we probably both are. The fact is, though, I’m running across more and more stories of Christians being in trouble. The big difference I’m noticing today, though, is that more and more Christians are actually admitting to being in trouble, whether that’s confessing their bouts with depression, acknowledging their struggles with lust, owning up to their poor financial habits, or just straight-out saying, “Hey, I’m a sinner, and I can’t stop doing what I’m doing. In fact, I’m not even sure I want to stop what I’m doing.”

But wait, wait, wait. I thought Christianity was supposed to clean you up. I thought it was supposed to make you happy all the time. I thought it was supposed to end all your addictions. I thought it was supposed to put me in a position to show the sinners of the world how to live a spotless life. If it is, I’m doing it wrong. A lot of us are doing it wrong. And a lot of us are coming clean about why we think we’re doing it wrong.

Since the “we” I’m referring to here consists not of lost souls but of Christians, I suppose it could be asked whether the church itself is in trouble. That would be an easy assumption to make. Our houses of worship seemed to be packed with sad people, addicted people, tempted people, hurting people, and frightened people. At times, we don’t seem to be that much different from those who are not Christians. And sometimes we’re not even sure we can claim a difference anyway.

I would contend, though, that all this is not a sign of the church being in trouble. I view it as a sign the church is waking up. And I think that’s a good thing.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” As the famous quote goes, the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. The fact that people are coming forward in honest confession is, in my opinion, a sign that the church is coming to terms with reality. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we can’t turn to the church to help us overcome our sins and hangups, where can we turn?

I still don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill, but I do know this: When the church becomes a place where the imperfect Christian can feel safe and where the broken and imperfect can go for restoration, the glory of God will be revealed there. Maybe a little trouble is just what we need.

 

The Drugs We Crave

You’ve heard it before. You’ve been driving somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, be it to catch an early flight or to work the ufoearly shift at your job, and started scanning the radio dial. You flipped past some music, but somehow that just didn’t seem appropriate. You wanted something more subdued, more relaxing, so you began to seek out the talk radio stations. And that’s when you found it – that program that discusses UFOs as if they are a totally real phenomenon.

For the record, I have a difficult time believing in life on other planets coming to visit ours. I just don’t think they could have done it without some type of definitive proof being captured by now. In this age of leaks and the internet and satellite technology and who knows what other means of making sure nothing ever stays a secret for very long, it’s impossible for me to believe not one concrete piece of evidence exists to prove the existence of UFOs. True believers, you may begin spamming me now at your leisure.

At any rate, I came across one of these programs on my way in to work this week, and perhaps out of a desire to be entertained or a need to shake my head in disbelief at something to stir myself awake, I began to listen to it. The program I’m referring to is Coast To Coast AM with George Noory. Noory’s guest that morning was Dr. Peter Breggin, who, according to the Coast To Coast website, is “a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and former full-time consultant with NIMH who is in private practice in Ithaca, New York.” What held my attention on this particular morning was the topic of discussion – the suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams.

dr-marvin-monroe-7Now, I know nothing about the validity of Dr. Breggin’s credentials as they are spelled out on the website. He may as well be Dr. Marvin Monroe from The Simpsons for all I know. Regardless, he was bringing up some very significant points on this particular morning concerning Williams’ death. For one, he pointed out how cruel and difficult the manner of death seemed to be. The method Williams chose to end his own life was not an easy one. He also mentioned how Williams’ years of drug and alcohol use could not have been beneficial to the activity in his brain.

And it was then, in the middle of this unusual forum at an ungodly hour of the day, Dr. Breggin said posed a question that made as much sense as anything I’ve heard in a long, long time: “Why do we always crave the drugs that are going to lead us deeper into depression?”

Dr. Breggin was referring to drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines, to name a few, but he could have been talking about a great many things we wouldn’t consider to be “drugs.” Pornography. Affairs. Excessive use of the internet. Self-pity. Hours upon hours of playing video games in darkened rooms. Promiscuous sex. Many people might look at this list and say, “Look, I don’t see anything wrong with any of that. Those things are part of my life, and I feel perfectly fine.” Maybe so. To many, though, any one of these items could have opened a portal to the dark world of depression.

The fallen part of us chases these things, though. We see sin, and we know its consequences, but so many times we charge after it anyway. Then the guilt comes pouring in, and it can only take us down, down, down. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Dr. Breggin didn’t know it, but he was describing the sin nature in all of us, the desire to do the very things we know will destroy us.

For the apostle Paul, the only deliverance from this kind of behavior was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the only deliverance for me. It’s the only deliverance for you. Cognitive therapy, counseling, psychology… These all have their place, but they cannot deal with the issue of sin. Only the grace of God can do that. I may doubt the existence of flying saucers and strange visitors from other planets, but I do not doubt that.

The Bad Guys

What makes a bad guy a bad guy? Is he defined by the things he does or can his actions somehow be separated from who his is as a snidelyperson?

And I am I one myself?

Those are the questions I’ll be looking at here this week. I’ve heard the expression “Who you are is not what you do.” for years and years, but it’s always been very difficult for me to accept. I mean, if I do something, I did it. It was me. Ergo, if I do a bad thing, wouldn’t it stand to reason that I’m a bad guy?

Maybe not.

Perhaps behaviors can be externalized. Perhaps the person at the core is not the sum of his deeds. Perhaps the intercession of Christ does indeed make us new creations and frees us from the bondage of sin.

Or perhaps we don’t want to admit we’re as bad as we think we are.

So buckle up. Things might get ugly. Feelings may be hurt. Disagreements may occur. It’s time to separate the good from the bad.

 

Sins vs. Mistakes

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I hear the word “mistake” used a lot these days. Thing is, I don’t think many people are using the word correctly.

Take Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, for example. By now, most people know that Rice knocked his wife out and dragged herray rice from an Atlantic City elevator (Thank you, TMZ.). He would later apologize and call the incident “the biggest mistake of my life,” but I don’t think his wording is quite adequate. I mean, to me a mistake would have been aiming for her stomach and hitting her in the head. Taking a swing, well, that doesn’t accidentally happen.

As far as wording goes, I don’t believe a “mistake” is something that can happen deliberately. For instance, if I decide to drink a bottle of tequila and get drunk, my inebriation is not an accident. It would be poor judgement, but the alcohol wouldn’t have accidentally spilled into my mouth. I would have put it there. In fact, the Bible refers to drunkenness as “debauchery,” which leads into a very uncomfortable three-letter word…

S-i-n.

I have only recently begun to understand what this word actually means. To put it more accurately, I’m gradually realizing what Jesus dying for our sins really entails. For years, this is how I thought forgiveness works: If I commit a sin by mistake (like cutting someone off in traffic accidentally or something), God is cool with that because I didn’t know what I was doing. If I knowingly did something wrong, though, I would suffer dire consequences because God does not take kindly to His rules being broken. Thus, any bad circumstance that occurred in my life must be my fault because I can’t … stop … sinning.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Okay, I like that verse. I always say that the apostle Paul wouldn’t have spent so much time telling all those churches to stop doing bad stuff unless, well, they were doing lots of bad stuff. And these were the Christians he was writing to, not the heathens on the street. It would appear, then, that God stands ready to forgive a Christian if they sin, whether it is on purpose or not.

But…

“No one who is born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he hasbrennan been born of God.” This scripture is not so reassuring. There are countless stories out there of alcoholics who poured all their liquor down the drain the night they got saved, but there are also those stories of people who continued to struggle with addiction for the rest of their lives (Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, would be an example of this.). Did the second group not really get saved? If they confessed every time they got drunk, were they still covered? I’ve never been drunk, but I’ve done plenty of other dumb things since becoming a Christian. What does that mean for me?

To be honest, I’m still struggling with the answer to that question. I look at the story of Peter in the Bible, and I see forgiveness written all over it. In fact, Jesus even told Peter how he was going to sin. Peter didn’t accidentally not recognize a photo of Jesus that night; he deliberately and purposefully said to the crowd, “I don’t know the man.” You can’t inadvertently lie and say you don’t know the son of God when, in fact, you do. If Jesus could have mercy on Peter after that, it would stand to reason that deliberate sins could be covered.

Regardless of the answer to this question, though, the key point I’m trying to make is that sins should be owned. They shouldn’t be reclassified as “mistakes” because they’re usually not committed accidentally. And if they aren’t owned and confessed as being deliberate acts – no matter how awful the judgement may be – then they can’t ever be dealt with properly.

john newtonThe mistake would be to think I’m not the kind of person who would do that kind of thing, because I obviously was. We all are, and that’s why we need Jesus so desperately. As John Newton once said:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”