Friday, May 05, 2006

Name it and blame it

Over the years I've been able to put a lot of my past to rest; to change negative patterns and behaviors. But it's not always easy to change ingrained thinking patterns, is it? And they sneak up on us sometimes.

I have a lot of thoughts and beliefs that feel like they are woven into the very fabric of my being, no matter how irrational they may seem to others (or even to myself at times). One of the biggest things I battle against is the notion that hard times happen because of something I've done wrong (good times I'm not so much concerned about--funny that).

I grew up learning that bad things could be blamed on either Satan or God. Satan, because you had done something bad and God had turned you over to him. Or because you had done something good/righteous and so Satan was suddenly taking notice of you and harrassing you. God could also cause calamity as a test of your faith and righteousness. But he could also cause bad things to happen as a means of correction for a misdeed, or as a way to communicate something important.

Good things could be attributed to God blessing you, or they could also be a result of going further away from God. Huh? Oh yes, because if you are further away from God, Satan might reward you for being his pawn, or at least not actively torment you, because you're weren't causing him any concern.

So I guess there's a 50% chance of blaming the right entity. Not bad odds. Although I still am uncertain as to how we should know who is to blame. Flip a coin?

Now, to be fair, every great once in a while I'd hear "the rain falls on the just and the unjust." Meaning, basically, "shit happens." There's no reason. It just is. But that was pretty rare.

I grew up with my parents asking me if I had unconfessed sin which, when coupled with taking communion, was causing my frequent and prolonged illnesses (actually, it was unconfessed food allergies, among other things).

When it would rain on a day that was set aside for, say, an abortion protest, then clearly it was Satan trying to attack the saints.

My parents also tell a story about how they couldn't sell their house because they were (unbeknownst to them) tithing improperly. When they realized the error and corrected the situation the house sold. God was withholding blessing to alert them to their error.

I have a friend who was diagnosed with MS a week before her wedding. A much-revered Christian friend of theirs actually had the nerve to tell her she thought it was a message from God that she should not marry her future husband (this husband, by the way, has stood by her through amazing physical deterioration for over 10 years now).

I remember being so ill at times (this only a few years ago) and thinking that if I continually prayed and sang praise and worship music (known as "offering the sacrifice of praise" to God), that I would heal faster. God would see my faith and be moved to heal. It would break the power that Satan had over me.

It used to confound me when I'd see nonbelievers with lots more money and outward success than I saw in our family. My parents were incredibly faithful with their money and giving. They supported numerous missionaries and tithed 10 percent religously, no matter what our financial situation was (sometimes quite dire; I've heard stories of us living on $400 a month and I know they almost lost the house on at least one occasion).

I'd ask my parents about it (you know, the neighbors who were unmarried, living in sin, and seemed to be "blessed" by earthly standards) and the response would be something like, "Well, they are getting their reward on earth--ours is in heaven" or "That's because Satan doesn't like the fact that we are doing the Lord's work, so we have more difficulties."

A guy I used to go to church with is now working with a pro-life/anti-gay/anti-Muslim organization and writes:
There have been spiritual attacks, but that's to be expected with the pot we're stirring. We're messing with systems that have been in place for a long time. Too long. Religious spirits have had dominion over the Church of New England for far too long. The're manifesting in crazy ways all over the place. The occult has deep roots here too. We've had to battle unusual sickness and confusion at every turn.

So after 30-some years of this kind of thinking, when things happen like, oh, I don't know, my purse being stolen, my glasses breaking, not having a cell phone or money or ID, and RTD having the unmitigated gall to launch an inane ad campaign, I naturally begin to it Satan? Is it God? Is it a sign?

I've heard it described as magical thinking. A friend called it superstition. I grew up just thinking it was the way things were.

And now it manifests itself in not reacting to bad things that happen. Being cheerful in spite of negative things, until a few days later I melt down under the pressure of not acknowledging my own feelings and emotions. I go through cycles of denial, guilt, shame, blaming myself, feeling the victim, woe is me, what am I doing wrong, what am I doing right, etc. It's not really a pretty picture.

I think I have this thought that if I don't acknowledge how bad something is, then Satan can't "win." See, I just know I can fool that Satan into picking on someone else if only I just act like nothing bad has happened! Or if I flipped the coin the other way, it goes like this: if I don't acknowledge how bad something is, I show God that I'm not looking to my external circumstances for my happiness (so, did I pass the test, God? Huh? Can you bless me now?)

I find it interesting how I can still hold onto these inconsistent beliefs (I mean, the reasons behind why something bad or good happens--at least in many Christian circles--couldn't be more contradictory), while not necessarily believing in them logically.

Now I'm trying to figure out where to go from here. How do I learn just to roll with the punches? To be calm in the midst of the storm not because of the reward I may get, or to avoid further calamity, but just because it is how I choose to live? How do I acknowledge my emotions (anger at being robbed, sadness at what was lost, frustration, etc) and not feel as if I gave in to a nameless, faceless enemy?

How do I stop trying to appease or please this strange and capricious God? How do I learn that life isn't about trying to outsmart Satan? How do I learn to just live in the moment and experience life as it comes--the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly--without trying to find some great meaning or some cosmic entity to blame or praise?


    This is just my personal testimony. I hope it will encourage and uplift others. About 3 years ago I rededicated my life to Christ. Before that time I was, I was living a life that I thought was making me happy but on the inside I was miserable. You see I was gay. I didn't come out until I was in my early 20s. I remember how mad I was at God because I could not understand what was going on. I knew at a young age (elementary school) that I felt different. As I got older I started thinking more about my feelings. Then I decided to act on them.
    I was so mad. I grew up in the church and I knew that it wasn't right. I knew what it said in the Bible but I felt so confused. I remember throwing away my Bible dictionary, my commentary and all other books relating to the Bible. But I could not throw away my Bible.
    I remember one day feeling lonely. I went to a gay club and met someone. This was the beginning of my second gay relationship. I remember after we had been out a few times we got on the subject of God. It felt good to meet someone that was feeling the same way I was. So one day further into our relationship I believe we both came to the point where we said we just couldn't live like this anymore. We were happy together but on the inside I believe we both were in pain. To make a long story shorter than what I have. I am now in Ministry and so is the other person. Life is great. I'm just glad God changed me, because, I couldn't do it on my own. I don't care what anyone says. You can change with the help of God. You have to understand that it is the work of the devil to keep you down and out of the will of God. God wants to use you and wants you to be happy. There is so much more but next time I will come with scripture. Just trying to get this out.
    posted by GOD'S CHILD @ 10:06 PM

  2. You remind me of that piece of corn that gets stuck between a person's teeth, God's Child. Harmless, pointless, and friggin' annoying. Next!

  3. Ya know sometimes we are just dealt a certain deck of cards and that is the way it is. I consider myself one of the more luckier people, things pretty much go the way I want them to. However, Teri has the worst luck, if it will go wrong, it usually does. Cest la vie! (that's life)

    I think that when you start analyzing the spiritual world. (A world we are not really privy to.) You step into a very scary area. The biggest scary of it is that we lose sight of God and fix our gaze on the spirit world of which it is not our world to know about.

    We are to pray to God and have him take care of it, not analyze who is fighting whom or the whatever. Just keep our gaze on the Lord and let him sort it out either on this earth or the next.

    And while He is doing that, we do what we are supposed to, live life and leave the spirit world to it's own 'wars'.
    My 3¢ (inflation)


  4. Christine, I know exactly what you mean about not reacting to bad things immediately. I do also think you are right in pointing out it may be from a belief that this is a way to "stick it to Satan", or make it not so bad.

    I also think that as you (and the rest of us) are trying to figure out where to go from here, you should see that where you are at right now is pretty cool.

    I think it's a GOOD thing to be able to stay calm under stress. While acknowledging to yourself, and others if necessary, that you will at some point *feel* this loss, and may need to go cry for awhile. But in the moment of a bad thing happening, YOU are the person I want with me. I don't want freaked out, blubbering, idiot person making the situation worse.

    You have a great ability to keep a level head in times of stress, even if it's been fed by a belief that it's all about Satan or God. Now you know it's just a part of who you are. Go with it!

  5. Yeah, I've been guilty of more than a little "magical thinking" in the course of my life. Although I do believe that God is an active presence in my life, I've come to learn that he's not nearly as petty and manipulative as I've often imagined him (and as many Christians do, not that they realize how out of character a lot of the things they're attributing to God really are). But like you said, stuff happens and it isn't necessarily because God decided I needed a good zapping.

    Oh, and I'm glad to hear that you exist again. The world was a drabber place without you. :)

  6. Christine,
    I grew up with this same sort of thinking. It can be a tough pattern to break, and just recognizing it for what it is helps tremendously.

    Here's the way I sort it out now...since you brought it up! :) I believe God is soveriegn. Nothing happens that He doesn't allow, and some things do happen because of His specific plan for my life. My charge is not to figure out which is which but to continue to move toward holiness, towards Christ, no matter. Come what may.

    I do understand the "craziness" of growing up with the sort of thinking you describe here. augh!


  7. In the end, personal responsibility is about making decisions and living with the consequences.

    Sometimes, 'blame culture' can be just a means of avoiding personal responsibility, or a means of trying to explain those 'acts of God' (hurricane, earthquake).

    I agree that blame culture is ingrained in some sections of the church, and that has left its marks on me too - superstitions can be hard to throw off - I still find space to be thankful for things. As to your question, we learn by practice, and I'm still practicing.

    Best wishes. J.

    P.S. God's Child, you said:
    "I don't care what anyone says.

    In which case you must expect some people not to care about what you say.

    I hope you remain happy in your life, but please don't think that what works in your life is necessarily the right thing for everyone else.

  8. Two thoughts spring to mind:
    1. Anyone who thinks that conservative Christianity is simplistic needs to read your post. The complexity of thought, belief and possibilities always astound me. What you describe, and I know well from my own life history, sounds like an elaborate flow chart that branches out into a million directions. (family curses, local principalities and powers, people praying for or against you, etc)

    2. If God were a human parent who corrected his children the way that many people claim that God treats them, protective services would remove the children from the home and arrest the Almighty.

  9. “How do I stop trying to appease or please this strange and capricious God? How do I learn that life isn't about trying to outsmart Satan? How do I learn to just live in the moment and experience life as it comes--the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly--without trying to find some great meaning or some cosmic entity to blame or praise??”

    I don’t have the same life experinces as you. I have always been a liberal sort who never took any part of scripture as either litral or having grand meaning well beyond the place and time it was written. I belive in God and I belive in christ, but that is about it. However I think one step might be realizing that God is grander, smarter, bigger than you or I. Look around and be amazed by his plan, but don’t try to figure it out.

    Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. It’s God’s job, not ours to define who is good and who is bad. Like that unmarried couple, there could be a ligitimate reason they remained unmarried. I know of a person who is an unmarried mother several times over. She grew up in an abusive home where her two parents both married quarelled violently, commited adultry and divorced. Somehow I don’t think that such a person having such bad role modles would be the marring type.

    I also think it is a waste of the brain that God gave us to blame a cosmic entity. It does not solve the problem nor prevent it from reoccurring. For instance now that you have had the horrible experince of lossing your purse chances are you will take steps to prevent that from happing or reduce the damage should it happen again. Think of where humanity would still be if we blamed God for all of our problems. Modern medicine would not exsist since after all your health is a sign of God’s bleasng or curse. The modern economic system with things like welfare and insurance likewise.

    I think you will get to a place where you don't balme God. It just takes time.

  10. God's Child -
    I can relate to some of what you have told me. I'm not sure you read my story, because if so, you'd have known that I did years of ex-gay ministry myself. I even spent a period of time thinking that I had actually experienced orientation change. I fully believed with all of my heart that God wanted to heal me and others who experienced same-sex attraction. I now no longer believe that.

    To clarify, I do believe that sometimes some people experience a shift in attraction/orientation. I think it's rare, and I think more people experience harm in the process than experience good. Not that there aren't good things to come out of exploring our sexuality and our past and our relationship with our Creator.

    I actually am not sure that the God you believe in wants us to be happy, though. You might want to reread your scriptures on that. I'm not so sure I see evidence for it.

    Regarding those scriptures you are returning with, since I've read the Bible through quite a few times and have memorized whole chapters, unless you are going to come back with something from one of gnostic gospels or something, there's probably not much you could say that would be news to me.

    Regardless, I wish you all the best in your journey. I hope you continue to pursue truth in all that you do. And whether God wants it or not, I truly want you to be happy.

    Sheila -
    I guess I'd prefer if people didn't attack others on my blog. However, I understand the sentiment, and sure do appreciate you sticking up for me, knowing what my journey has been.

    Dawn -
    I agree with you about getting dealt a certain deck of cards (I think, to a point). And also, of course, there is the issue of personal responsibility, which most people want to try to avoid when possible. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and beliefs with me. We should get together sometime before you flee the region for good!

    Rachel -
    Thanks for the perspective that it's not all black and white. And I can keep the ability to be calm in a stressful situation while not linking it to all this other crap. You are very right. And yes, I'd want to be with you in a bad situation. Not a certain friend, who will remain nameless, who only was concerned about washing her hair when trouble struck! ;) Seriously, thanks as always for your thoughtful comments. When are you getting a blog?

    E -
    I knew you'd be able to relate. Thanks for your comments.

    Grace -
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I like hearing your perspective, especially since you have such an active and deep faith, and yet seem to try to avoid some of these fundamentalist beliefs. You're welcome to comment here anytime.

    Jimbo -
    I sure agree with you too, especially about personal responsibility. I know it's been important for me to take responsibility for the choices I made regarding the ex-gay stuff as well. And in the back of my mind the whole time I knew that it was my own damn fault really for leaving my purse in an unlocked vehicle, even if just for minutes, and for the other things I clearly did wrong. Not that I deserved to get robbed (because it's also easy for me to swing to the other end of that too), but that I need to acknowledge that I could have prevented the situation entirely! I always appreciate what you have to say. Thanks.

    Peterson -
    Amen. Or, for you, as one woman was told in Bible college, "You should end your prayers with 'A Man!'"
    Love the flow-chart idea. I'm working on one now.

    Anonymous -
    Thank you for your thoughts. I actually don't logically blame God or Satan at this point in my life. It's more that it's a well-worn heart/brain/spirit path that is easy to fall into if I'm not careful. I was more trying to document it here, and document how that affects me, rather than stating beliefs I currently hold. I appreciate the time you took in responding...

  11. Christine, I know, I know....I'm crotchety like that. ;-) I'll try to behave myself in your blog!

    And secondly, the second trouble strikes I do feel the urge to shampoo. I think Rachel, and everyone else who sees this blog, knows my fetish for clean hair! (It was that one time, woman! That ONE time I lost it! *LOL*)

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