Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Today I Am Perfect

I hate taking pills. In fact, in another lifetime (before I had kids) I declared that I’d better stay healthy when I got old because there was no way I could EVER take a pill a day, let alone several.

Then I had kids. Kids taught me, in so many ways, to never say never. After my second pregnancy, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. The treatment? A pill a day.

Treating thyroid conditions requires consistency. The medication is slow to build in the body, so it takes about 3 months to reach peak efficacy. This means that you can skip a day without much negative effect. I tried taking the pills. It would work for a day, a week, maybe even a month. But then I’d forget  for a day. One day became two, then four, then 20. Failure. I’d try again, but inevitably, I would fail at taking my pill consistently, which meant that the pills weren’t really going to help me. They were a mental pain, a sign of weakness and failure. I hated thinking about them every day. I felt demotivated, sick, and old – at age 31.

I did some further research about hypothyroidism, educated myself thoroughly, and decided that my condition wasn’t worth treating. (Or at least, that it wasn’t worth treating if I couldn’t treat it perfectly). My case was mild, my symptoms minor and not at all bothersome, and the pills seemed to be taking over my life. My doctor didn’t understand or agree with my choice, but he acknowledged my autonomy as a patient. I continued to have my TSH levels checked yearly to make sure nothing was changing. I didn’t deny that I had the condition. I just chose not to treat it, because if I couldn’t treat it perfectly, I wasn’t going to treat it at all. And this way, I didn’t have to face the daunting spectre of imminent failure every singe day.

This coping mechanism worked fine for 8 years or so, but then in 2009 early pre-menopause and hypothyroidism became contributing factors in an apparent radical hormone imbalance that resulted in depression. As I got on the road to recovery, it became clear that I really needed to start consistently treating my thyroid condition to maintain good mental and physical health. So I started taking a pill a day.

The first year was on-again, off-again – just like before. But this time, I was also seeing my lovely therapist who helped me examine what I was doing and how I was feeling. Somewhere in our conversations, I had the idea that I could change my definition of “success.” Maybe “success” didn’t need to be synonymous with the “perfection” of  taking a pill a day and never skipping. Maybe I could lower the bar and re-define success as “taking a pill a day until I didn’t – THEN taking a pill a day even after a skip.”

So in January, 2011 I started a chart because I’m a firm believer in the concept that you pay attention to what you track. I made a little calendar that could fit inside my pill box, and I started writing “P” every day that I took my pill. I did pretty well! I went a whole 37 days before I missed a few days from being sick. Ugh. I gritted my teeth and started taking the pill again.

This “failure” was now progress – and success! All of a sudden, the very thing would have made me feel like a failure – missing a few days of pill taking – made me feel successful – all because I’d changed my definition of success and accepted the inevitability of human imperfection.

I went 47 more days without missing, then I missed a day, took pills for two more days, and missed an entire WEEK. Here was a challenge. Could I stick to my new definition of success and start again? I could, I did, and life was good. It was summer of 2011 and I wasn’t perfect, but I felt successful – I WAS successful!

Or was I? Maybe I was cheating. Is changing the definition of “success” to make it less than perfection really succeeding? It sure is. And in a weird way, it enabled perfection. Because you see, I didn’t every give up the notion that taking the pill a day, every day, was the ultimate goal, the perfect goal. I just stopped making it the ONLY goal.

I am a Christian and my Lutheran faith tells me that Jesus died for my sins so that I could be perfect in God’s eyes. God wanted perfect obedience from his creation, but he also wanted it freely given from us, so he gifted us with free will and the ability to choose obedience – or not. Satan is real and Satan is allowed to tempt us, try to part us from our loving creator God. Sadly, from the very first human, we’ve chosen temptation and disobedience over perfection. We are a corrupted creation.

But God changed the definition of success for us through Jesus. Instead of heaven being reserved for beings who never make a bad choice, heaven is now for those who acknowledge their failures, regret them, and come to terms with the inevitability of them. To attain heaven, we must let go of our human lust for pride and power, admit complete defeat, and accept God’s superiority over us by accepting Jesus as savior.  We can’t even do that perfectly, so we have to do it over and over again, never losing faith that through God, our imperfection can be made perfect. In holy communion, I accept Jesus as my savior again. I acknowledge what I have chosen to say and do (and what I have chosen to NOT say or NOT do) that goes against what my omniscient and omnipotent God knows would ultimately make me happiest. My sins are forgiven and I am made perfect.

In other words, when you are a Christian, every day is New Year’s Day.

I continued trying to take my pills. I missed most of April, May, June, and July, 2012. In the past, I would have considered that an EPIC failure. But because of my new definition of success, I instead had the opportunity for epic success. I started taking my pills again on July 26th. And this time, I didn’t stop. So today, December 31, marks the last day of 5 consecutive months of not missing one day of pill taking!

Today I am perfect.

I know that I will fail again. Maybe not tomorrow, but some day. I am human and I simply am not capable of attaining perfection in my present form. But now I know how to shrug off the curse of perfectionism that tells me I will never succeed, change my definition of success, start over, and achieve. I wish you nothing less in 2013.

Chicken with a Side of Hate?

There’s a distinct difference between disliking something, disagreeing with something, and hating something. I’ve watched – and participated in – many discussions around the recent uproar over statements made by Chick-Fil-A’s owner Dan Cathy’s about marriage. I’ve even seen debate about what the man actually said and personally believes, where the “liberal media” was accused of distorting his words and “causing this whole controversy”. But it was when I saw posted on Facebook a picture of a KFC sign that read “Delicious Chicken Served Without Hate” that I really paused and stopped to think one more time about where I stand and why. “Hate” is a strong word. Does Cathy’s heart-felt belief about the definition of marriage really translate to actual hate for gay people? Have *I* fallen into some kind of media or popular culture wave of righteous indignation without really discovering the facts for myself?

From what I have read, I can confidently state that Dan Cathy supports the concept of legal marriage defined solely as between one man and one woman as based on his interpretation of Biblical scripture. Obviously, Mr. Cathy owns a very successful chain of restaurants which earn for him a great deal of personal profit. Doesn’t he have the right to use that money to support any cause he wants? Of course he does. And I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that Mr. Cathy doesn’t have the right to use those personal profits as he sees fit.

But there is more to this story. Chic-fil-A’s official statement of corporate purpose says that the business exists “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” Although I didn’t know the exact wording of their corporate mission, I knew they were closed on Sundays and I had heard that such a policy was because founder S. Truett Cathy (Dan’s father) believed the Biblical concept that Sunday should be a day of rest and that people should abstain from work on Sundays in order to worship God. This is publicly documented on S. Truett Cathy’s own website at the link “A Five-Step Recipe for Business Success.”

Interestingly, the origin of the “closed on Sunday” policy actually had nothing at all to do with religion. According to Dan Cathy himself, “We opened on a Tuesday, the 23rd of May 1946, but by the time Sunday came, he [C. Truett Cathy] was exhausted,” said Cathy. “He was just worn out. And Sunday was not a big trading day, anyway, at the time. So he was closed that first Sunday and we’ve been closed ever since. He figured if he didn’t like working on Sundays, that other people didn’t either,” Cathy said. “He said, ‘I don’t want to ask people to do that what I am not willing to do myself.’ ” However, even if the “tradition” started by accident out of sheer exhaustion, it’s obviously been a conscious business decision since then to REQUIRE the franchises to remain closed.

So if you are a staunch atheist who not only does not believe in Chick-fil-A’s concept of God, but does not want to support a corporation whose stated purpose is to glorify that entity in such a public fashion, it would make sense that you chose not to eat there. But what does this have to do with gay marriage? After all, several Christian denominations are supportive of the legal right of homosexuals to marry.

Deeper digging reveals that Chick-fil-A as a corporate entity, has directly co-sponsored marriage retreats where same-gender couples are not admitted and it actively, regularly gives money to very anti-gay (not just anti-same-gender marriage) lobbying organizations such as “Focus on the Family.” If Chick-fil-A were being consistent, it would block anyone who has ever been divorced from participating in those marriage retreats, but I found no indication that this was the case. Chick-fil-A has also directly supported the openly anti-gay (again, as distinct from an anti-same-gender marriage stance) groups Marriage & Family Foundation and the Family Research Council. This type of activity, in my estimation, is where the company crosses the line which has now invited wide-spread boycotts.

Despite Dan Cathy’s claims that, “we will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family,” Chick-fil-A gave direct corporate donations totaling over $8 million in 2010 alone to the private marriage and family institute that Truett Cathy founded. That institute actively supports other organizations which advocate politically against marriage equality. Focus on the Family itself, which I also mentioned already is financially supported by Chick-fil-A, openly advocates for individual political candidates, despite its 501(c)3 status which is supposed to prevent such activity. These types of actions mean that ultimately, Chick-fil-A very definitely IS championing a specific political agenda. If Cathy and people who share his views perceive homosexuality as a sin, why aren’t they advocating as strongly and loudly for laws against divorce which they also consider a sin, especially if all sin is equal in God’s eyes?

Also, think about the implications of the wording in this statement that Dan Cathy made on July 16, 2011: “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit.” So…wait – we’ve moved from opposing single-gender marriage to implying, quite clearly, that no structure but a married man and woman constitutes a family? Hmm… Not only that, but Focus on the Family actually believes that the so-called “Biblical family unit” is even more narrowly defined as comprised of “a homemaker mother and a breadwinner father.” (James C. Dobson and Gary L. Bauer, Children at Risk, 1994, p. 119, 122) Dear Chick-fil-A and Focus on the Family: it’s the 1950’s calling for you.

So back to my original question: do the actions of the Cathy family in support of their beliefs rise to the level of “hate” for gay people? Maybe they themselves don’t specifically hate gay people, but their money definitely supports – in a significant way – organizations and individuals that say and do offensive, hateful things. At best, there is disingenuousness present in their protestations and a very definite use of corporate – not private – money to advocate against political and social equality.

I hope that God will use the Holy Spirit to work in Dan Cathy’s heart and mind to reveal what I feel is a deeper truth about the depth and breadth of God’s love – and our REAL mandate from God to simply love and to leave the judging to him.

I doubt I know

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” ~I Corinthians 13:12

Today is Palm Sunday for Christians.  I have always felt that Palm Sunday was  an oxymoronic day.  On one hand we remember, commemorate, and even replicate in small degree the parade that heralded Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem for the celebration of passover.  It must have been such a joyful outpouring of adoration!   But minutes later, we hear for the first time this week the somber and dramatic story of Jesus’ last few days of life on earth.  The same people shouting “Hosanna!” one day are yelling, “Crucify him!” practically the next.  It’s a wide swing of emotions for one day, but a good precursor to the emotional roller coaster ride which is Holy Week for me.

Lately, my entire life feels like an oxymoron, a carousel ride: up and down, moving, but getting no where.  I feel at the same time wise and foolish; old and young; loved and invisible; supported and abandoned – some times all of those in the course of a single day!  I am exhausted but cannot sleep, hungry with no appetite, desirous yet apathetic.  I have been energized one moment, yet sit down and in an instant have literally no momentum.  I have been full of words and thoughts…and speechless; strongly, boldly confident…and reticent; sure in my faith…and spinning in a void of questions.

Since mid-December, I’ve felt like I’ve been holding on for the ride of life.  I’ve felt complete awareness of this pulling back, yet a distinct disconnect from it all.  Part of my brain analyzes and worries that this is not right, not good somehow while another part acknowledges that life has ups and downs, like a carousel.  All my life’s a circle, and I’ve been here before; there’s nothing to be done but patiently wait it out.

I’m asking some faith questions, too.  Questions to which I thought I knew the answers.  Questions that are a bit scary in the asking.  But at the same time, I have always believed – still believe – that God is big enough for all our questions, that we were given brains to use, to apply, so as to come vigorously to our faith.  And I do have faith.  Deep.  Forever.  Unshaken.  Though the details may well move around and readjust themselves for me, that truth is unmoving.

I have faith that God is.  I have faith that my life has purpose, that I am loved for who I am in my entirety – good, bad, and gray.  And I have faith in humanity – or at least in God’s ability to turn all our mistakes into triumph.  I also have faith that we’re part of a bigger picture, a larger story.  I have faith that I am fully known and that I will know fully.  Someday.  I know I doubt, but I know.

Neither Judge nor Jury

Obviously, the Dumbledore revelation has the world plugging its ears and shouting at the top of its lungs – again (still?) – about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of homosexuality. It is interesting and sad to me that so many religious people who have strong opinions on this issue (either way) have not taken the time to study for themselves what the Bible says nor to pray for the wisdom to interpret the scriptures with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Several years ago, my husband and took a class studying what the Bible says and doesn’t say about homosexuality. Or more precisely, we took a class that discussed how various interpretations of the Bible apply – or not – to homosexuality. The intent of the class was to present, in as balanced a way as possible, the views and arguments on most sides of the issue. I personally did a 360 in the class – I ended up with the same opinion I had when I came in, but for a totally different set of reasons! These were my conclusions from the class after 6 weeks of study:

1. There are just a few versus in the Bible that even obliquely reference what we know as “sexual orientation. ” None of the passages explicitly references homosexuality – a term not even coined until the late 1890’s – and condemnation of that particular sexual orientation (whether genetic, as I believe it to be, or chosen) doesn’t seem obvious based on the text when Biblical textual context, historical/cultural context, and nuances of the original Hebrew language are considered.

2. At Baptism, we are adopted as children of God. Although we may turn from God, God will never “unadopt” us.

(I think all people do, by virtue of our human nature, turn from God. I believe this is a consequence of the free will with which were were endowed by God.)

3. ALL sin is regarded equally before God and that ALL people fail and fall short under the Old Testament law. No one can redeem him/herself in God’s eyes by adherence to the law or through actions taken on earth.

4. Jesus’ life shows and the Word tells that the most important commandment is to love: God first, yourself next and your neighbor as yourself. Over and over again, when the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with questions of law, he responds in love, regardless of the law, for the people affected. Love truly is the answer!

Generally speaking, Lutherans believe that to go to heaven, you must believe and be baptized. Since faith itself is considered a gift, and baptism represents God’s adoption of us into God’s family, both “belief” and “baptism” are really acts of God, not acts of humankind.

gavel.jpgPersonally, I am at peace with my current stance on homosexuality, though I will continue to seek input from others who disagree or have differing nuances of opinion.

I am so thankful that I do not need to judge for myself who is or isn’t going to heaven! I am so often wrong at unimportant things that I would never trust my own judgment on something so important. I feel that my job is to do my best to reflect Jesus’ love for me by loving and showing love to everyone through word and deed (more than enough work there to keep me busy for the rest of my life) and leave the judging to God.

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