I can't handle this challenge
These past couple months have been rough for Heather an me at church. We've been doing a sermon series called "Empowered" which is essentially all about how we Christians ought to be doing miracles and stuff. Implicit in every sermon then is a litany of things we must be doing wrong since we aren't bringing anyone back from the dead or regrowing limbs or what have you. One thing I love about my church and pastor is that we aren't usually this stereotypically evangelical. I'm a live-and-let-live kinda guy, so sitting through messages that I disagree with is not generally a problem for me. I can almost always find some kernel of inspiration to apply to my life. But this series has left me dry almost consistently. I just simply disagree with almost every premise that these sermons are based on. I don't think God promised us we would have miracle powers. I don't think God WANTS us to do miracles but is sad that we aren't because we are failing at stuff. I don't think our comfort in life is a good indication of God's blessings or curses on us. I think God is totally cool with us suffering and dying in horrible ways.
Of course denying all these premises puts me squarely outside the bounds of what my church thinks one necessarily needs to believe for the miracles to start flowing. So in their paradigm, I'm my own worst enemy. Which doesn't bother me. The problem is with Heather. Her health has been consistently declining since I've known her. I literally don't know anyone else who even comes close to the amount of physical suffering she deals with on a daily basis. She has had all the prayer warriors at church praying over her many times. So the fact that she has only gotten worse, according to the paradigm, must be her fault. She's not loving God enough. She's not expecting a miracle. She's not begging God incessantly for healing. She's not reading the Bible enough... etc.. etc... So even though there has been no unfriending process happening, she is feeling alienated from our church community. We haven't seen any judgmental looks, or cruel words said. We just know that underlying logic of the doctrine. Though several sermons in this series have focused on the idea that it doesn't matter how good we are, God isn't limited by our failures... but there's always the 'other side of the coin' as it were. In my opinion: a contradiction. One that I can't process, or happily label as a paradox and go along my merry way. God can do whatever He wants, BUT if we aren't doing all this stuff, He can't, but He still can... He's just waiting for us to do the right stuff... but it's not dependent on that, but it is... This is what the past several months have sounded like to me.
Anyway, today Heather dragged herself to church super early again to play piano, even though she got less than 4 hours of sleep, which is what she gets almost every night. Even though she gets leg and foot cramps from it. Even though she has pounding migraines, mysterious nausea, etc. Because she was asked to. And she's giving like that.
So I was happily surprised today that the message was a bit different. I don't want to try to sum it up, other than to say that it was about the most raw, realistic and vulnerable sermon I've ever heard. And even though I can't agree with some of the premises, I LOVE it when people are honest about their doubts, their lack of understanding, their failures, etc. It's kind of a theme on this blog. Even if you're not a Christian, I think anyone who has clearly articulated values would benefit from watching this sermon by Justine Morris. (Not our pastor, but a member of our church who does an occasional sermon.)
I felt like I needed to give her props for the message so I wrote her this. I'm putting this out here so I won't be able to forget about it.
Hey Justine, just wanted to let you know that I found your sermon phenomenal. In the spirit of shared honesty I’ll say up front that I can’t handle the challenge you laid out. But I can recognize the truth in it. In any admonition message there’s a fine line between encouragement and shame, and that line is different for each individual who hears it. And sometimes people need to feel shame to get to where they need to be. This whole sermon series thus far has been one shaming after another for Heather and I. But not in that positive growth way. Because what has been communicated to us is that our problems (Specifically Heather’s health issues) are due to our failures to do (or do them often enough) or believe the right things. God’s not doing miracles because we aren’t doing or believing X. Because Heather and I have a fundamental problem with Curt’s (Well, evangelicalism in general, really) beloved paradoxes, we don’t get the emotional relief that others seem to when a paradox is brought out to comfort us. ie: God can’t do His thing because we aren’t doing our thing… BUT God is all powerful and it doesn’t matter what we do, He can still use us. I’m really glad this formula works for so many. It just doesn’t for us.
What excited me about your message was that for once I felt shame for something I CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT! I can’t change what I believe; what I find convincing and what I find unconvincing. But I can work to align my core values with my actions. And that was, to me, what your sermon was all about. When I contemplate your challenge to be more like Christ in how we approach the uncomfortable and disgusting people of the world, I ask myself why I don’t instantly run out and start doing these risky and awkward things. Well, like most people I don’t like risky and awkward things, but that’s not really the problem for me at this point in my life. I’ve done some extremely risky and awkward things in the past when I believed it was the right thing. No, the conclusion I came to was that I have packed my life so tight with a variety of creative endeavors that I would have to cancel or seriously impede my progress towards my life goals in order to pursue the kinds of challenges you presented today.
It’s interesting you brought up Dave Ramsey today. For the first time in my life I’m doing ‘fine’ financially. I actually have a savings account. I’m truly building my career towards my life goal of owning a fiction IP like Star Wars but with a heart of Christ’s values. Doing what you are suggesting would throw a big monkey wrench in my trajectory. But what occurred to me is that my time is now more valuable than my money. And thus, any REAL sacrifice I make for my values must come from the time-bank, not the bank account. And so my ‘tithe’ means budgeting my time in such a way that my trajectory does not shoot past my value system, ignoring the foundation I want to build on to create this dream of mine.
So this time budgeting is what I’m taking away from your message. I don’t know if that will make you happy or distressed, but I thought you’d appreciate the feedback.