Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Love in Anxiety

For so many of us, anxiety &/or depression are an unwelcomed reality. It's not something we've chosen or can choose away, it simply is. And whether it's the fault of being dealt a shitty hand or whether it's the fault of incidents big and small, it simply is and that's a reality that can't be prayed away or willed away; though I desperately wish it could sometimes.

For me, anxiety hits me in different ways at different times. Sometimes it's a physical onslaught of panic attacks berating my body, wearing me down. Sometimes it's all mental- consuming, distracting thoughts like thousands of mosquitos that I feel takes all my attention and energy to keep swatting away lest they land and leave a painful bite. Regardless of how it hits me, whenever and however anxiety comes, it leaves me feeling drained and empty. 

As such, I feel very little left over for God. I feel His presence, but lack the capacity to engage mine with His. I feel His nearness, but have not the strength or the means to move closer to Him. A fact I feel no shame for- it's the reality of any dark season; our capacity shrinks and transforms into a great and infinite need for more of Him- something He gives without question or prerequisites. 

After waking up this morning feeling rested and refreshed, I wanted to thank God for His loyalty- for sticking with me and by me even when I have nothing to give or offer. But as I penned the word, it felt so wrong. "Loyalty...loyalty...loyalty?" No. No it's beyond "loyalty"'s love. And I felt that. I feel that. It's so beyond some sacred sense of duty that He hangs so closely. It's so beyond some bond or obligation or allegiance to those He cares, it's love. 

When I am worn thin by anxiety and have nothing to offer, He doesn't pick me up and hold me out of loyalty- it's love. 

When I am preoccupied with keeping the thoughts and fears from taking over, when I am consumed with keeping my own thoughts from budging or giving way; He doesn't remain near out of duty- it's love. 

When I'm beaten and overcome, He doesn't step in simply because He promised to do so- it's love. 

I don't always feel it. I can't always spare the mental energy to comprehend it or entertain it, no matter how lovely the thought. But I know it. And on good days when there is air to be breathed and I don't feel my chest tightening, threatening to undo me, I relish in the truth of it. I can't say that knowing I'm loved has any real effect on anxiety- it's not some magic pill- but it removes any shame that could possibly slip in and allows me the freedom to be in this and deal with this knowing someone is with me not because they have to be, but because they love to be. 

It's love. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"How on earth are you still following God?"

When I tell people parts of the chapters in my story where I was burned by the church, by ministry, pastors, leaders, and organizations, I get the same response almost every time: a dropped jaw and the question, "How on earth are you still following God?"

In many ways I'm still trying to find the appropriate response to that question because sometimes I wonder myself. Sometimes I'll answer that it was because I found a really good church that gave me hope, trumping all the ways I'd seen it done wrong. Sometimes I'll credit the people in my life that made me feel okay and gave me space to be angry; trustworthy people who demonstrated true care and love. Sometimes the answer feels like that it's because God followed me during those betraying times. Other times the answer feels like God rescued me from the church, ministry, pastors, etc. While they're all true in some way, I'm wondering what grace or encouragement any of those answers truly give to the hearers.

That question, "How on earth are you still following God?" is rising out of some part of someone's story (maybe theirs). I wonder if what they're really saying is, "How on earth are you still following God after going through all that when (fill in a name) went through the same thing and they're/I'm not following God now?" Maybe they're thinking, "I couldn't go through that and still trust God." (Because the only ones you follow are those you trust). I don't know what people are saying, what underlying scar or memory is crying out under that question, but it makes me think about my answers to that question.

If the answer to how I can still manage to follow Him is because of a good church- where does that leave the one who can't bear to be in a church parking lot because of the anxiety and panic it gives them? Where does that leave those who are still afraid of church and what church might say or do, or how church might turn and betray them? Where does that leave those who can't find a good church? Well they're up shit creek without a paddle.

If the answer is having the right people in my life- where does that leave the people who, after having left their church, were ostracized (excommunicated), left completly isolated and alone? Where does that leave the ones who keep getting burned by all the wrong people? Where does that leave the ones who can't tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys? They're on their own with just them, their pain, their memories, and the emptiness.

If the answer to sticking with God is God sticking with me- where does that leave the people who feel abandoned by God? Does that mean that you can't find God because God left you? Well then why'd He leave?! What in the hell does that mean for you and everyone else?! They're left confused and hurt, feeling more abandoned than they did before.

If the answer to being able to still follow God, no matter the burns, is because God rescued me from those people and places that burned me- what does that say to the people who can't recover? What does that mean for the people who feel like they had to rescue themselves? Does that mean that God chose not to rescue them but did choose to rescue others? Does that mean God simply didn't want them? Where does that leave those too battered to save themselves in need of a someone to save them aka a Savior?

So whereas these answers may console and bring some sort of resolution to me, they utterly destroy my fellow wounded veterans of the church. It doesn't make them any less true, but it does make them less appropriate. None of those answers have much chance of affirming someone else's journey, just my own.

So what do you say to a question like that? Someone has resonated with your story, with your experience, and yet cannot comprehend its ending...what do you say?

Simply put, I don't know how to answer that question except to let the question be- to let it echo into The Void in hopes that it will collide with something somewhere and bounce back to them whispers of life. I can't answer how on earth I am still following God without risking collateral damage. But this I can say that God is not okay with what happened to me, to you, or to us. He is bothered by what happened. It does not sit well with Him and it does not go unnoticed, you do not go unnoticed. And regardless of how, the very thought of that makes me want to follow Him a little while longer.



Thursday, August 20, 2015

If Being Like You Commentary

At the beginning of August I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. These songs were a product of needing to process and talk throug issues long met with silence. Now a tangible compilation, I feel a deep need and desire to invite others into those very processes and conversations that are woven around and within each song. That's why every week I'm holding a live stream Q&A via Periscope to open up discussions about each song, to give greater insight and hopefully to receive some from you the listener.

Last week I shared about my song At The Lighthouse, the first song on the album. This week I'm changing things up slightly and I'm going to share the story behind this week's song, If Being Like You, here on my website and use the live Q&A to answer questions and give fun facts and inside scoops to the song. After the live stream I'll post another blog with the script of what was talked about on the livestream for those who weren't able to or aren't able to make it.

The Story

I worked as a volunteer for 2 years with a religious humanitarian organization. Since I was 15 I had been making choices and planning my steps based on the idea that I would live my life overseas in service to others, but when I got over there I felt the ill-fitting nature of what I had sewn for myself; it didn't fit and it didn't feel natural. Not only was I wrestling with trying to fit in a box too small but I was having to fight to survive and protect myself under abusive and exploitative leaders and conditions. It was orchestrated, I believe, to push me out so that I could find a better way and push me out it did.

So I came back to my hometown of Gainesville, Florida and I returned to my church that had supported me financially and had once been a very close family for me- I hoped they would be again. But, I wasn't the same person they sent 2 years prior. I was beaten and battered and fragile. I was desperate for help and I was in a place of re-evaluating and questioning everything since nothing had worked for me.

I was perfectly comfortable in this space. I felt confident and assured that that space was exactly where I needed to be. I was finding God there. I could breathe there. But no one in that church was comfortable with me being in that space; it made them nervous and suspicious of me. So they began to push me out right around the time that I began stepping out having realized that I was, again, trying to fit into something that was ill-fitting. But before I left, I wrote this song from the outside looking in.

I was labeled as one that had "fallen away" and was lobbed into the ranks of all the secular heathens going to hell (which I was kinda okay with. People are nicer over here). This song wasn't written from a point of being upset with how I personally was treated, but moreso from an angle of being upset with how they were treating everyone else- everyone that wasn't in their club aka their church; how they talked about the world and the people in it with such condescending eyes and words so drenced in judgement. I saw or heard nothing of God. This song is what I saw.


So that's the story behind If Being Like You. You can listen to it here or you can download your own copy of Pissed at the Praxy on iTunes.

Tune in to the live Q&A on Periscope Monday, August 24 @7pm on Periscope. You can send me your questions ahead of time using the hashtag "#IBLYQandA". Hope to see you then!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

At The Lighthouse Q&A Notes

At the beginning of this month I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. And although I've always respected artistic restraint in letting the interpretation be at the listener's disposal, I felt the need and desire to invite my listeners into the stories and secrets behind and within each song. Being pissed at the praxy opened up my eyes to look at everything in a new way, one that allowed me to see a clearer glimpse of a God that I wanted to know- a God who, oddly enough, was nothing like the one I had been giving up so much for. So that's why I'm doing these Q&A's. That's why I'm telling my story. I want to let you know you're not alone. I want to be vulnerable and share these stories with you, maybe hear yours, and let's talk about this stuff that is felt so deeply and that which needs to be given space and grace to be felt.

The Story

For two years I worked as a volunteer for a religious humanitarian organization. My last year with that organization was working in Adelaide, South Australia and it was the most wretched season of my life to date. One, because I was working in a very dysfunctional, abusive, and neglegent environment and two, because I myself was driven by very self-destructive beliefs. A broken person working for broken people in a broken environment only begets more brokenness and I was feeling the toxicity of my lifestyle and my choices come to a head.

I was six months into it and had decided enough was enough. I couldn't take it anymore. So I decided to quit and go home yet awoke the next morning with doubts. I couldn't simply save myself, you see. I had to be told what to do like the good little soldier I was trained to be. So I went to the only place in Adelaide I had ever felt any kind of hope or peace to demand and wait on God for His instructions on whether or not I should stay and suffer or save myself and quit, so I went to Port Adelaide and I waited at the lighthouse there by the ocean. I waited and I waited and I waited. I scribbled on pages in my notebook, "should I stay or should I go?" over and over again until the words blackened the page. I was desperate for God to speak to me. I kept throwing out these crazy challenges like, "Okay if I'm supposed to stay have someone come up to me and say _____." And when that didn't happen, "Okay if I'm supposed to go have that man pick up that piece of paper on the ground." And nothing would happen. I was desperate for a sign. I felt I was on the verge of drowning and I needed God to speak so that I could justify saving myself. But He didn't speak. The sun began to set and Port Adelaide wasn't the safest part of town so I left because it was simply no longer wise to stay. I left feeling abandoned, hopeless, ignored, and left to drown. I figured that it was better to stay and suffer through it than to leave and learn that He had wanted me to stay.

Five months later God would speak about the lighthouse. One day the shit really hit the fan making it impossible for me to stay. I finally felt that last chord that held me duty bound be cut and the image of the lighthouse and the wisdom and common sense that met me there saying, "It is no longer wise to stay." began to play in my mind. And I realized He had spoken, He hadn't left me to drown, He had heard me and He was using the lighthouse to save me now.

Why It's Important to Me

There's no pretty little bow at the end of this song, no hope to wrap it up nice and neat. This song dwells in the frustration of that moment, it recognizes it and validates it. Yes, God would speak, but I didn't know it in that moment and those feelings I felt there at the lighthouse in Port Adelaide were very real and raw and demanded to be felt as all pain does. It was accepting that frustration and letting it have its way that allowed me to see things myself and my choices and my environment in a new light. The lighthouse may not have shone that night, but my frustration acted as a light for awhile- revealing things that had long been hidden by a lifetime of good behavior and duty. And that's why this is the first song on the album because it marks the beginning of this journey Home.


Verse 1: I waited at the lighthouse for someone to come and save me for some word to come and raise my sinking boat. All my anchors had failed me. Sea and kraken had scared me close to that cape where light should wave some hope amidst the shadows. I waited at the lighthouse for any kind of sign but the silence gave voices to my doubts.

*All my anchors had failed me... [Before I left in 2010 to live overseas, I had a dream that I was at the airport saying goodbye to my family with tears in my eyes and I turned to get onto the airplane and Jesus was standing there with his right hand stretched out to me and He took me by the left hand and walked with me onto the plane. Anytime I was scared or felt alone or needed to feel Him I would clench my left fist in remembrance of that dream. About 3 months after the scene at the lighthouse I asked God to speak to me again, any word at all to get me through and He told me "holdfast". I looked it up and a holdfast is an anchor and I remembered my dream and I was reminded that I just needed to holdfast to Him, that He was my anchor. That is what that lyric recalls for me and it represents that feeling I had that God had let go of me, that my anchor, everything I held onto in fact, had failed me.]

Chorus: This ship is going down down and I'm going down with it. I am damned to the depths if someone doesn't save me now. I'm going down.

Verse 2: I waited at the lighthouse wishing, praying, begging should I stay or abandon ship now? I had no captain to steer me. No wind or waves to console me. The bottom of the ocean knows me by name and it beckons loud. One last chance dear lighthouse. Cast a glance my way. If you don't I'll give my last breath to curse you as I drown.

*One last chance dear lighthouse. Cast a glance my way... [I remember as it was getting dark and I realized that I may actually have to leave without an answer, I remember being so angry with God saying, "Are you seriously going to let me leave and not say anything?!" I was furious. I demanded He speak, on the verge of making any threat that would make Him speak.]

Verse 3: I waited at the lighthouse. Darkness ever grew with no light to answer to. Overwhelmed by orphaned demands. Salty tears lost in the sea. All my sails bleached by failure, I surrender my challenge to the deep.

*[It's that whole scene at the end of my story: the sun is setting, I know I can't stay and at the same time I know that leaving means I surrender. I raised my white flag and I gave into fears and lies and shame and pride. I stayed because I could not save myself because I could not accept that I was worth saving.]


Q: @wordsbyshay- "Can you tell more about the 'ship' you refer to in the song?"

A: The "ship" is me. As a ship relies on a lighthouse to guide its way to safety in a dark storm, so I was waiting at the lighthouse for the same rescue.

Q: @jadefrances4- "What song stretched you the most vocally? What about instrumentally? Emotionally? Why?

A: Vocally- If Being Like You. It was the most bluesy song I had ever done which made it a stretch but since my voice has dropped about 3 octaves since recording it, it would literally be a huge stretch to try and sing that song again. Instrumentally- Selah because of its complexities and the focus being the instruments rather than my voice or words. Emotionally- At The Lighthouse and The Cobblestone Road by far! I had to really sit with these songs after I wrote them. They both flowed so beautifully but as soon as they were on the page, I could only weep from the raw and barren nature of the memories that had just bled out on the page. I've also found them incredibly healing as such.

Q: @jadefrances4- "What has been the most challenging part of this process?"

A: VULNERABILITY! These songs represent some of my most delicate and fragile moments and some of my most precious. To not only share them for others to hear, but to share them with the knowledge that I'm going to share ABOUT them has proven to be a challenge. Fear of being so naked and exposed by my songs has made me want to hold back and withdraw many a time along this process, but it's also made me press on because I believe one person's vulnerability can make another feel safe and not feel so alone- it has the potential to bring people together and that's what I want. That makes the uncomfortability of being vulnerable worth it. Because we are not alone.

Q: @jsorgi- 'What brought you out of that depravity/ what ended that depravity?'

A: Frustration. That frustration with how things weren't working made me look deeper and that revealed all the deeper issues that were only aiding and abetting my world of dysfunction and self-destruction. I've never been so thankful for frustration. Anger is simply a stage of grieving and repressing and supressing that anger only delays one's healing. I think Pissed at the Praxy is really a representaion of the stages of grieving actually now that I think about it.


Thank you all so much for your questions, for tuning in, and for listening and supporting Pissed at the Praxy. Feel free to email me privately here or on facebook or twitter with any more questions or comments. If you've ever felt hopeless or mad at God for not speaking, ever felt ignored or abandoned by Him, I get it and I'm here if you want to talk and process some of that with someone who's been there. I don't just want to do all the talking. I'm here and I'm available and ready to listen. :-)



Stephanie Gray


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pissed at the Praxy Commentary

Last week I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. These songs were a product of needing to process and talk through issues long met with silence. Now a tangible compilation, I feel a deep need and desire to invite others into those very processes and conversations that are woven around and within each song.

I've always respected and looked up to those artists that refrained from being obvious and let the meaning and motivation behind their songs be left up for interpretation (restraint that is incredibly difficult to hold). But, this album isn't just a story, it is a commentary in and of itself- a commentary that was birthed out of tension, a tension that Silence and Unease bore.

I want to meet with you here. I want to, not only tell the story that each song holds- unveiling secrets, treasures, and emotions within- but I want to dialogue about them. I want to hear your thoughts and opinions and questions. Let's ask them together. Let's unveil them together. Let's tell our stories.

So for the next few weeks I'm going to be hosting live online discussions via Periscope app (Download Here) around each individual song. I want to share the story, yes, but I also want to answer your questions. Each week I'll announce which song is up for discussion on social media with a specific hashtag for you to use to send me your questions, discussion points you'd like to hit, or your thoughts via twitter, facebook, or instagram. Following the live stream, I'll post a blog with a written script of what was talked about for future reference and for those who maybe can't make the livestream. I'm really looking forward to this and I hope that you'll join me.

To start this off I want to tell you the story and the meaning behind the album title because I think that will give a great platform from which to start these discussions.

The Story

Pissed- adj. annoyed, very angry

Praxy- noun. origin: Greek (taken as a stem of "praxeology"); study of human action and conduct, esp. in relation to one's orthodoxy (practice or doctrine).

I was raised in a church that was adamant towards its views on how a christian should live, behave, and appear; views that were harsh, demanding, and costly. It was engrained in me that if it doesn't hurt, if it isn't hard, then you're doing something wrong and so I Iived for difficult and, essentially, abusive situations believing that it was proof of my love and proximity to God- proof for Him and for me. This thinking helped direct me to a Bible college to study World Missions. It was my intent to get my BA in World Missions, graduate, and move overseas to live the rest of my life as a missionary. I cut my time short there having only been met with arduous resistance by the staff and students to my being a woman in ministry; I was worn out by their insane shovenism and closemindedness and so I graduated early and left to pursue my role as a missionary with an organization called Youth With A Mission. My innauguration into the organization was a smooth transition, my commitment to stay in it, however, was brutal. I staffed on a base in Australia for almost a year. Looking back I can say that I had to feel the extremes of my praxeology that inevitably followed my toxic orthodoxy in order to truly understand how ill-fitting, unnatural, and heavy they were; and feel the extremes of them I did. The toxicity and dysfunction of my environment only helped to speed up the revelation that needed to come which was: This is not right. And so I left and returned to the US so broken and feeble and wounded that for the first month I wept day and night. I came home and went back to the church in which I was raised only to find that it too was ill-fitting, unnatural, and heavy. I could not find any trace of God there, not that I was welcome to remain there anyway. I was broken. I needed help. This untamed reality frightened and unnerved them and therefore they encouraged me to leave (a fact I had already gladly come to terms with). And so I left that church. I left that way. And I began to find God, for the first time I think.

Frustration had been brewing for years towards the praxeology I was seeing around me, but when that frustration turned inwards and I began to become frustrated towards my own praxeology- when I could no longer tolerate my own orthodoxy- that's when I started to see, that's when I started to feel free. Leaning into those frustrations, giving ear to them and allowing space for them to be whatever and however they were going to be, was like a steady slew of rain kissing a dry and parched land cracking from the heat and neglect.

Pissed at the Praxy, for me, is not about anger or frustration, but rather, about where that anger and frustration took me. I never believed that anger or frustration had any place in a christian's life, but I am so glad I let it wreak its havock on my wretched beliefs. I've never been so thankful.

Behind the Scenes

The actual name of the album came about because of a song I wrote called "If Being Like You". I had just recorded and was about to release my second EP called "Eve of Regret". On the tail end of recording that EP I wrote and recorded "If Being Like You". It had absolutely no place on Eve of Regret and I knew that there would be more songs to follow. I looked at where I was at, what I was feeling, and where I was headed and "pissed at the praxy" just seemed pretty fitting.


So what are your thoughts?

Have you had similar experiences? If so, did you (and how did you) encounter frustration?

What does the album title mean to you?


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I think I'm done

I've been trying to blog for some months now. So many posts left unfinished or abandoned all together. It's not that there has been an absence of inspiration, but that inspiration would always bring about thoughts or feelings that I was always unwilling or uneager to share with the public. Sometimes such ugliness and jadedness and disdain would surface in these posts and sometimes such delicate beauty would emerge; both were private and were handled accordingly. Enough posts like that and one begins to think. 
That's why I don't think I'll be blogging anymore. 

I've wrestled with this resolution for quite sometime. If my blog was made of ink and paper, I'd of set it on fire a hundred times by now. But I finally came to some peace in it when I discovered the great disagreement between the way I communicate in person and the way I communicate on my blog. 

When I am with someone, it is not until I feel safe that I even consider sharing my heart (my feelings, my thoughts, my opinions, my ideas) and I don't utter them until I have some sense that the hearer feels safe as well; and it is by their comfort level that I temper what and how much of myself that I share. But when it comes to blogging, my ideas are my ideas and, although consideration for the reader is taken into some account, I operate from an isolated safety- safety in the distance and the disconnect. I can say whatever I want really and if you don't like it, well then, you don't have to read it; and you, well you can reject me and my ideas without ever having to face me. 

Now let me take this time to say that I, in no way, am against blogging. My life has been saved and shaped by blog posts that I still cling to. This blog even, has been a saving grace- helping me to process and to find my voice again when I had lost and forgotten it. I owe a huge debt to blogs! 

But I am no longer in a place where I find myself needing to process from a place of isolated safety, I find myself needing and wanting to process with people- my people; people who make me feel safe and heard as well as people who graciously entice and stretch my thinking, tantalizing me with new perspectives and sharper questions. I want conversations. I want connection. I want to see your face and hear your voice, to feel your presence and be affected by it. 

I feel as if I am Truman, having found the very limits of the world which was created for him, The Truman Show, and leaving it to find the world that lives outside his own. Perhaps I'll need to process this way again someday, I'm sure I will. But for now, I think I'm done. 

Come and find me someday. Let's have a cup of coffee. Let's talk. Let's feel each others presence and engage with words that are not our own. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What Dreams May Come

In the film What Dreams May Come starring the late Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra, a married couple, after literally going to hell and back to find each other after death, decide to leave heaven to be reborn in order to experience finding each other anew all over again; trusting that their love would bring them back to each other even in another life. 

It makes me wish that I could be reborn, live again, and experience both finding Him and being found by Him all over again, totally anew and afresh. And I wonder, would I know Him better?

Would I know Him better if I were void of all the influences that I've faced? Would I know Him better if I were free of all the religious expectations I've encountered? Would I know Him better if I didn't grow up in churches so eager to perfect my imperfections, modify my behavior, demanding and requiring so much? 

Oh if I could go back to the canvas and start again- my canvas that holds everything I perceive Him to be and how I perceive Him to be it. I wouldn't give people such free access to my canvas, my paints and my brushes simply because they bear a certain lable or come recommended by another who wears a lable of the same kind. These influences are specks in my eye, blocking and frustrating my vision. And although one by one they are being dealt with and erradicated, something always lingers and I wonder if I will ever be rid of it. The speck may be gone, but the voices remain. Or the voices are silenced but the wounds left by them are still present. Will I ever be rid of the hideous ideas I allowed into my life, onto my canvas? 

I'd take the paint brush away from the youth groups that didn't have time for children, only "spritual warriors"; I wouldn't let them touch my canvas with their rules of modesty, their idea of what "truly living" looks like, their demands for "spiritual maturity" desguised as religiousity. 
I'd take the paint brush away from the Bible college I attended that assaulted my canvas and my space with ideas that women are second to men; I wouldn't have stuck around for the abuse. 
I'd take away the paint brush from the many religious leaders running exploitive volunteer organizations manipulating me into laying down my rights and sacrificing beyond what is healthy.

But perhaps, in another life my paintbrushes would only be left to be picked up by other abusers of influence. Perhaps my paint brush would be picked up by an abusive parent or a negligent father. Perhaps my paint brush would be picked up by war or racism. Perhaps my paint brush would be picked up by teachers who would make it impossible for me to suceed or neighbors who mollest me, or neighborhoods of violence and fear. 

I think in the end we've all had a pass or two made on our canvases that we regret having been made. I think in the end we were all powerless to stop them, unaware of the inhibiting specks being laid or the barriers being built. I think that if we could, we'd all go back and snatch the brushes and the colors away from all sorts of abusers of influence as we lay our bodies across our canvas in a stand to protect our perception of God. I think when we finally see Him, there'll be a lot more of these kinds of thoughts- maybe there are tables set for such conversations- a group therapy of sorts. Such abuses and uninvited passes have been being made on canvases since Eve met the snake in the Garden which gives me great hope for the kind of company of humbled ragamuffins that await me in the next life. 

Perhaps that is what awaits us in heaven, a rebirth; passing through the doors of death, all trust put in Love, into a Life of experience where I get to find Him and be found by Him all over again, anew, afresh, and uninhibbited- to get to know Him as He truly is. 

For now I wait for what dreams may come.

"Weak is the effort of my heart
And cold my warmest thought
But when I see Thee as Thou art
I'll praise Thee as I ought." - John Newton

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Coming Back to the Table

I keep revisiting the subject of social justice because I have yet to come to a resolution on the topic. Like, What does this look like biblically? What is the healthy approach? What does it look like for me and in my life? And how does that all conflict or compliment with the global and popular methods?

I don't have answers. In fact, I have more questions. For a while I felt that the subject needed to be put on hold and removed from the table for a while so that other things could be attended to without the distraction of how it all applies to helping others because I needed serious help and attention and there were things in my own life that had been dangerously ignored at the expense of helping others. So it was necessary for it to be out of the way for a while. Then I found that I actually couldn't even bear to look at it I was so fatigued and so worn out from it all that it pained me and even aggrivated me to look at the subject. So I didn't.

Now I feel like it's starting to inch its way back onto the table of discussion and I'm filled with thoughts and feelings I can't navigate through on my own.

Jeremiah 22:16 says, "He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know Me? declares the LORD."

You know I think that before, for me, I used to behave as if my ability to follow through on my actions determined my proximity to God rather than my proximity to God determining my actions. As in, when you know God- this is what you'll look like.

So a few years ago I would have read it like this: If I want to know God and if I want things to be well then I will judge the cause of the poor and needy. Whereas now I read it like this: When I know God and am close to Him then it naturally follows that things will go well and I will naturally be defending the cause of the poor and needy around me.

My perspective has shifted from something I must do to something that will happen naturally when I am alligned with Him. This is not true for me at present. Although I feel closer to God than ever, I can't say I recognize this output happening in my life. And honestly, I think part of that is to do with my own doubts and hesitations on the subject and part of that is because, up until very recently, it all felt very off limits. For me, I don't want to jump back in and do things the way I did because I know where that path leads- burnout and compassion fatigue. So if I'm going to answer a need then I want to do it in a way that isn't just what's best for the receiver but also in a way that's best for me the giver. Sadly, this isn't the popular way; to factor your own needs into the social justice equation. So it's hard to know what's the "right way" to go about it all. But maybe there in lies the key; if you are close to God does the output flow in a healthy way? Are our responses to social injustice done in an unhealthy manner because of our lack intimacy with the Father and His heart (both for ourselves and for those around us)?

I'm chewing. I'm ready to discuss it again, which for me is a big step.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Well, is it really working?"

In attempts to be gentle, gracious and kind towards those who think and live in ways contradictory to our own thoughts and lives, my friends and I adopted this phrase of "Well that's what works for them."

The overly submissive wife...."Well that's what works for them."

The religious volunteer who's a workaholic...."Well that's what works for them."

The church that's all missional but zero homecare...."Well that's what works for them."

The church producing copy after copy of the same "type"...."Well that's what works for them."

The pastor who has his PhD in delegating and ordering...."Well that's what works for them."

And for a while it stiffled and silenced accusations and oppositions of thought and rhetoric, but it got to a point where it just wasn't doing it for me anymore because it all began to pose a new question, "Well, is it really working?" And the answer I've found is both yes and no.

IS IT REALLY WORKING FOR THEM? Yes. Yes it is. It absolutely works within the confines of the world which they and their culture and their chosen influences have created for it to work. As it's been said, "Perception is reality." In other words, how you perceive things is your reality. Anaïs Nin, a writer in the early 1900s, said, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." My belief structure determines my thought structure and my thought structure alters and paints my perception and my perception paints my reality. 'It is what determines whether I see a piece of colored cloth as just that or whether I see it as an enemy flag. It is what determines whether I see as stick as merely a stick, or whether I see it as a religious staff ('

The problem is that my belief structure has determined my own thought structure and my thought structure alters and paints my perception whichin turn paints my reality. My beliefs have taught me to see God in a certain way just as their beliefs have taught them to see God in their own way; which is how it ought to be by the way! If we all see God the same way, what is there to learn from each other. And if we all read Scripture the same way, what more could we possibly ever learn than what we ourselves perceive? But the problem is that in my reality, it's not working for them. And of course, it's hard to not be baised about one's own reality. So I can't just judge one reality beside another because realities are based off something too fluid. Even what one would call an "absolute truth" is tainted by perception. What then is concrete enough to be able to stand up against people's realities when even God Himself is colored by them?

And here's where I break down and I realize that I just have to shut up and let God be God because only God can break down those kind of unseen walls to where He, and He alone, is able to gently invade their perception with the True reality of His heart and character in a way that does not offend their perception, but encourages it to open up and allow Him into their reality in just the way that He is revealing Himself. The beauty is that He meets me where I'm at, not where you're at; just as He meets you where you're at and not where I'm at.

I may see an innevitable collapse when I look at some churches. I may see a withering soul when I look at some people and their situations. But that is my perception. It doesn't make it any less true. It doesn't make theirs any less true either. The trick is, I believe, to tap into God's perception that we could look and see His reality. That would indeed be a gift beyond comprehension. Such a glimpse might even be called bringing heaven to earth.

Sometimes things are so undeniably unhealthy, a fact proven by the rubble it leaves behind in its wake. Sometimes our conscience demands we speak out against certain realities and perceptions. Perhaps because we have caught a glimpse of God's perception and we see the ways in which one reality contradicts His intended reality. Perhaps not, but I think in those times it is best to do what one feels is best according to one's own conscience and to do so gently. To not merely debunk one reality against another, but to gently woo and coerce another's percerption to invite in the possibility of another reality and let them decide what to do with it.

Both silence and action present their own set of trials which, in their own way, seem to always pose the question, "Well, is it really working?"