Friday, 1 January 2021

Am I a Liar? Maybe More Than I Realize?

Do you tell lies? More to the point, do I tell lies? A good question, maybe, for the beginning of a new year when we're encouraged to resolve to improve ourselves, eh? It's a question I've been pondering a lot over the past year, seeing as there seems to have been an ever-increasing amount of fake news, alternative facts, and other truth-stretchers-and-twisters whirling around us moment by moment, and which for a good many people seem to be totally acceptable—even approved. Of course, it's easy to judge others for their twisting of truth, but what about our own "little white lies" (are those really a thing? Another good question for another post, perhaps).

From the time I could string two or three words together, the adults in my life took pains to impress upon me that telling lies is a terrible sin. Adam and Eve picked it up immediately from the "father of all lies" himself, you know. And being caught in a lie (however "little" and "white" it might have been) was a sure path to getting my mouth washed out with soap. This was an effective punishment for me, as I hated the taste, but my brother quite enjoyed it—he enjoyed eating crayons too, as I recall—and thought it much superior to a spanking; I remember how, when he was in trouble, he'd beg for the soap-in-the-mouth-treatment, which I could never understand. But I digress. Anyway, depending on the size of the lie, especially if it led to another and another, which is one of those things that lies tend to do, mouth-soaping could lead to other harsher punishments, so you'd think I would have caught on and swallowed any falsehoods before they could pop out....

The trouble was, telling a lie successfully (e.g. not getting caught) was such great for avoiding punishment for the many other misdeeds we committed, whether intentionally or unintentionally. And oh, my goodness, there were so many possible sins (rules and regulations) which could snare a little person who might not even realize they had done something wrong, or couldn't understand what was wrong with the behaviour or attitude in question. Even a "tone of voice" or a "sassy" phrasing of a statement could invoke judgment by those who loved me dearly and were terribly concerned for the state of my soul—or who simply decided I had crossed a line they'd drawn. Sometimes, of course, I was a line-crosser on purpose, but quite often I found the said line to be very puzzling indeed. 

Certainly, there were things I did that I knew and understood were unacceptable: clearly stated rules like the Ten Commandments which we memorized early on (at least superficially; I wasn't always clear about, for example, about how being angry at someone could be equated to killing, though we were often warned about slippery slopes; and I had no idea for quite some years about what adultery might be and how it related to me as a young child). Other rules ("Thou shalt sit quietly and not wiggle during long sermons in church" — my poor wiggly little brother got spanked quite often for breaking that one, and I once got spanked as well, since Mom felt it was a bit unfair for him to get more spankings and she told me it wouldn't hurt me to join in receiving the spanking so he wouldn't feel so picked upon. That's one of those occasions in my young childhood that inexplicably has stuck with me these 60ish years later!). I suspect Mom did not enjoy spanking us, but it was a well-accepted and even expected way to keep children on the straight-and-narrow, and perhaps she felt under pressure to do so in order to be a good parent. At any rate, she once told me, many years later, that she suspected I often got away with things I hid much better than my poor brother, who found it much more difficult to appear as angelic as I did. And, yes, that brings us back to telling lies.

So telling lies successfully was appealing, as it avoided punishment for other crimes committed. While I was generally a "goody-two-shoes" little gal, usually obedient and respectful, I was also in fear of breaking the many rules set before me by definitely caring parents, grandparents, church, elderly folks who felt a direct responsibility for my soul; school teachers and the dreaded principal; ministers and Sunday School teachers; moralistic stories in Sunday School papers and Christian children's books; sermons at church and Bible camps and church children's groups and evangelistic services and prayer meetings, and so on. Naturally, there was also the Bible, which I had been thoroughly schooled in from birth, and read through it completely myself for the first of many times at nine years of age; one of the things that puzzled me about that was that it did not include many of the rules and regulations I'd been taught so thoroughly. 

Therefore, the usefulness of "the lie." The thought of spankings at home terrified me, though they were few and not terribly painful; and I was also quite terrified of getting in trouble at school. Detentions were shameful, and while I mostly kept out of trouble (I remember once having to clean the entire classroom floor by crawling up and down the aisles pushing my ruler in front of me), I saw enough punishment of other students (being sent to the principal for "the strap" being most frightful, but also ear-pulling, knuckle whacks with a ruler, shoes and chalk brushes thrown at students, "writing lines" and so on—my, how things have changed since then...) to encourage me to avoid incurring the wrath of my teachers. 

It didn't take long to discover that there were various ways to lie that didn't require an outright, in-your-face lie (which I was never very good at; my guilty facial expression tended to give me away when I tried that; though oddly enough, as an adult, I was equally poor at "reading" the expression of my children's and student's faces... ). There were tactics like "mostly telling the truth" but conveniently leaving out a few minor, troublesome details; transferring the blame to someone else; looking very sad and pitiful; hiding out somewhere until the potential punisher was distracted or forgot; pleading that I didn't realize I had done something wrong; telling a long, convoluted story that would distract from the point of the actual offence; get busy doing something that would win the favour of the potential punisher; and so on. 

Eventually, I grew up and far fewer adults felt the need to be responsible for keeping me on the straight-and-narrow. But the "little white lie" habit had, unfortunately, been well engrained. Because not only did telling lies help to avoid punishment; it also turned out to be an excellent way to keep people approving of me. Being approved of was, of course, closely related to all those rules and regulations. This has been one of the greatest difficulties in my life: the desire to have others approve of and accept me. And telling "little white lies" works so well. Often, I don't even think them through; they just slip out and there they are. The older I get, the more I realize what I am doing, and while I really try to overcome this, it is very difficult. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever conquer it. I know, of course, that this is one of those things that "only the Spirit of the Lord can change in your heart as you give it over to Him" and that "you just have to love Him and want His approval more than the approval of people." All very well, but when His approval was so wrapped up in the approval of the significant adults in my life from the earliest age, giving up the approval of others is much easier said than done. Still, the fact that I've come to recognize this problem in my life and want to change it gives me some consolation that maybe I am discovering the real "straight and narrow way" rather than the "rules and regulations" way.

One more thing related to all this. As you might gather from my ramblings, I love to write—and to tell stories. Entertaining ones. Especially stories from my childhood (and adult life, too). A perceptive uncle told me that perhaps my stories are more "creative" than "memoir" — though he also added that this is a family trait. So I'm wondering if the "creative" aspects of my memories are also related to the whole "approval" thing? Embroidering past events to make them more entertaining--and thus more approved, as my audiences laugh heartily. But that's another post for another time. 

Friday, 7 February 2020

I Want to Know You as You Really Are

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash

(originally journaled Oct 7, 2019)

Lord, I want to know You as You really are, not some human interpretation of You. I believe You are far beyond and above any small "divine spark" humans think they can find within them. And beyond and above, yet within and totally involved in and caring about, every moment of all Your creation. Certainly far, far more than some "Gaia" figure. Yes, You are my root and my eternal future ... should I choose to follow You. But how it is that You could let our puny human minds make that kind of immense decision. "Free will." Our understanding of the choice we are offered is so limited and we are so wound up in our narrow, overwhelming physical existence. Having the opportunity to reject You--with all its consequences--doesn't seem very "loving" to me just now. But yes, my human mind just doesn't "get" You. Yes, I know. Trust. Obey. Have faith. Let You be You.

Do we all yearn for You? It does seem we are drawn in some way to a need, even a desire, for Your "divine spark," to You, our "Source." But it is so easy for us to get distracted by our physical lives ... and even by the so-called "spiritual" baubles that sparkle enticingly. Maybe sparkles are easier to handle than Your overwhelming brilliance, glory, power, Presence. Maybe we do like the darkness, the "shadowlands" we dwell in. Maybe we fear the sunshine that the early rays of morning, of dawn, promise—yet which seem so far away in the long night of our earthly existence. Maybe we'd rather settle for little rays of flashlights (usually ones whose batteries are flickering) rather than stretch out, work toward, open our hearts and arms toward Your brilliance that is promised just beyond the mountaintop horizons of our earthly journey.

Do you really open some people's eyes and hearts more than others? It does seem like those least distracted by both the physical baubles of life (wealth, power, respect, good physical health, human intelligence, human relationships) and even spiritual baubles (all that double-speak that our human ideas of "spirituality" and  "religion," and the "light side" and "dark side" too) which offer themselves as a ready, shiny alternative ... those least distracted by these baubles are the the ones most attracted and open to You. The ones that have the "least" of this world's attractions. I can see why Jesus loved the poor. I can see why they were drawn to Him while he sojourned here on earth in a so-limited physical body (yet still filled with Your Spirit).

Maybe it's true that we have to be like little children. That the least on earth are the greatest in Your kingdom, because they are indeed humble and have had to learn to trust You completely, to lean on You fully.

Maybe I am fortunate in a way to have had that childhood training in "being humble" and avoiding anything that would make me "proud." It so often feels like an "albatross hanging around my neck." And yet ... I am attracted to being praised and glorified and admired. To be approved of and accepted and embraced. And it is terribly easy to be distracted by those moments. To want to be a "little god" even if the footlights are flickering at best but always just strong enough to keep my eyes drawn downward to the cheering crowds (and to my self-adulation and pride ... and to the enemy who really does dress himself as "light") instead of lifting my eyes to the promise of Your glorious, eternal, perfect light waiting just over the hilltop for the Son-Rise that is so near, that is available even now within my spirit if I welcome Your Spirit in, and let go the so-limited, so temporary and flickering floor-level lights drawing my eyes and heart down to the tinsel promises of earthly glory ... which will be burnt up along with the dead branches and broken ornaments of the momentary sparkle of the Christmas tree moments of our existence.

You'd think we'd be able to recognize those moments as promises, as glimmers, of the eternal glory You offer. Yet our eyes and hearts seem most apt to become glued to the Christmas tree, the symbol, instead of being drawn upwards to the star at the top of the tree ... and beyond, to You, where the star is pointing. Why do we worship the tree, which starts drying up and dying the moment it is "born" by being cut from its roots, instead of seeking out You, the root, the source, the very Life of our existence and the only promise of Life eternal?

It is the poor ... in wealth, power, health, spirit, in all things this world offers, who are blessed because they understand that You are the only true choice.

Listening for Your voice is hard for me in the clatter of this world. I find it so much easier to listen to the voices of TV, radio, internet, books. The distractions. Sometimes the voices of friends and family too. I don't like the silence of those tossing and turning hours when I wake at night. I don't like moments of deep quiet, of peace. It's like I want them filled in, filled up ... no matter how inane, repetitive, even ridiculous the words are that I turn on with the flick of a switch to block out the quietness. Oh dear God, please help me accept the quiet moments. To long for them. To sit patiently and wait ... for Your voice. For You. Please.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

So many gospels that aren't God-focused

(journaled October 16, 2018)

Maybe we've presented a gospel that is too easy and too "me-centred." On the other hand, it seems like religious groups that demand "good works" and utter consecration and dedication and FEAR of God are more likely to hold on to their adherents—and control them. Maybe that's why some churches really focus on good deeds and fear of hell and such.

But I'm wondering if we've gone too far the other way. Celebrating our "freedom" and "happiness" (which is sometimes joy, but not if it focuses on us and our own happy-clappy feelings) and "love" (but to whom? me-centred or God/Jesus/Holy Spirit centred and then reaching out to others?).

What about the cross and persecution and servanthood and humility (and rest in You in the midst of the storm?).

How can we see our culture, western ideas, politics (and their marriage to Christianity) as Godly? Is there any part of our lives — and "values" — that are truly God-focused and believing, following, trusting?

What about my life? I'm feeling more and more ashamed of the shallowness of my "belief" in You. And the depths of my attraction to the world's "values" and "philosophies" — even the ones that seem "Godly" or at least seem based on "godly principles." Maybe that's it. Maybe we've grasped our "reasoning" and rejected Your Spirit and guidance.

I have found it so hard the past few years to follow You. I just seem to be so distracted by everyday living. And the bewildering, rapid changes in morality and politics. And even in the church.

There was a time when I was younger and really didn't want to die. But now, while I don't have any urge to die, I am not afraid of it and sometimes I look forward to it, for I will get to see You face to face. (I will, won't I? So often I wonder if my lack of deep relationship with You is acceptable by You or not. I know You don't give up on us ... but are You disappointed in me? Do you sometimes want to cut me off from the vine? Sometimes I seem to cut myself almost off, and sometimes I do feel cut off.)

Friday, 19 July 2019

Early conditioning and its life-long effects--art

(originally journaled Sept 30 2018)

"Many of our present-day losses are connected to our earlier conditioning..."

The following journal notes are a response to the prompt, "As a kid, my dad thought my art was..."

Did my dad (or mom, or church community, or even school...) think about my art at all? What art? We just didn't do much art, that I have any recollection of. Even at school, art class was a rare occasion.

Sadly, I don't really recall my dad having any interest in my childhood efforts that were not intellectual/academic, or Christian, or housewifely. I expect Mom probably said nice things about my occasional drawings or whatever. But to be honest, many arts (drawing, painting, creative writing) just were not encouraged. Our church walls and windows were relatively plain, and most "art" on our walls at home was landscape paintings--though photography was a favourite hobby of my dad's, focused on family, friends, events, historical locations, and some landscapes.

Some arts were definitely discouraged or not allowed at all: dance particularly. I never did understand how dancing, especially square dancing and folk dancing, even in PE class, could be so evil since there was plenty of it in the Bible ... used as worship! (David's wife got pretty severely punished for being annoyed at David dancing before the Lord, so you'd think that there must be something good about worshipful dance, at least).

Sculpture was another thing to be avoided. I suppose because it was considered "too Catholic" and besides, a lot of famous sculptures were of naked people (think the "David" statue...).

Drama and theatre were pretty much seen as evil, too. We were not allowed to go to the movies at all, and drama/theatre was almost nonexistent for us unless it was a "church youth group play" or something. We didn't have a TV until I was 15 or so when my dad inherited my grandparents' TV, and even then it was kept in the closet a lot of the time. All of which is kind of funny, come to think of it, because Dad was really happy to get to teach drama later on. Oh, we were allowed to do funny skits at church kids' camp, andof course, there were Christmas pageants.

Music was the "Christian" art (sculpture and paintings and architecture were "Catholic"), even for those of us who weren't particularly musical. My grade 7 band and art teacher (a Christian, by the way) encouraged my parents to have me take art instead of music in high school, but Mom definitely insisted on band/music because it was Christian (though I certainly wasn't encouraged to join Glee Club--I suppose their songs were too worldly, but they were mostly the cool kids so I wouldn't have fit in anyway, no doubt).

It really hurt my feelings, though, when the church youth group only allowed me to do reading parts in their "Christian musicals" because according to them I wasn't musical enough (though non-Christian or new Christian kids could sing even if they were totally tone-deaf, in order to "encourage" them to be Christians. Well.)

I wonder why a "Bible-believing church" could be so opposed to so many things found in the Bible, like dancing, clapping during singing, instruments other than piano and violin (which weren't even invented in Bible times), story-telling and creative writing, literature, poetry ("non-Christian" story-telling and writing, lit, poetry, that is)--in other words, creativity that is a gift from a Creative God? Why were we never encouraged to enjoy even classical music like the great operas, so many of which were Bible-based? (Except of course, Handel's Messiah? All the church ladies in town got together every year to put it on in concert at Christmas). Never mind jazz, R&B, and, horror of horrors, rock 'n roll. (Well, some old-timey folk songs were okay ... outside of church events).

By the way, I loved taking English Literature in grade 12. Discovering all those amazing poets and writers--so many of whom, as it turned out, were Christians and based so much of their writing on their Christian beliefs. Surprise!

Maybe there was a fear of anything that might distract or tempt people away from being a "serious Christian," I guess. Christianity in my childhood was a very serious business. (Come to think of it, school was a pretty serious business, too. So little of the arts [or PE] in elementary school--and our parents got to choose which arts we could take in secondary. So it was academics for me, and playing clarinet in high school band, which I never got very good at).

I wonder ... would my life (choices, decisions, directions) have been different if I'd been able to enjoy a wider variety of the arts, and develop my creativity more? And would it have had any differing effect on my spiritual development? Hmmm?

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Look up - Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

(originally journaled Sept 30, 2018)

This morning at the Anglican Church I was thinking about how I have felt so "apart" from God. I was looking at the big stained glass window, the picture of Jesus on the cross - and I suddenly realized I was looking at the bottom half, the people around the cross, but that I didn't lift up my eyes. It was like I heard Your voice, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus." And I realized that's a real problem for me. My eyes are too much on people and on "the church" and on prayers and devotions and even on "Father God" and perhaps the Holy Spirit ... but I haven't truly been looking at Jesus' face.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace."

As Hebrews 12:1 says, "Looking unto Jesus."

Monday, 1 July 2019

As A Kid I Missed Out On ... or Not?

(originally journaled Sept 23, 2018)

1. As a kid, I missed the chance to ... dance! and pursue competitive stuff ... and join "non-Christian" groups like Girl Guides and sports

2. As a kid, I lacked freedom to ... make more personal choices

3. As a kid, I dreamed of ... being a Girl Guide, a meteorologist, a biologist, a journalist, a star or winner at something

4. As a kid, I wanted ... a pair of those shiny plastic toy high heel dress-up shoes

5. In my house, we never had ... enough encouragement to be ourselves (but maybe that was just the time, culture, religion, etc...)

6. As a kid, I needed more encouragement and freedom to .... try out things I was really interested in ... and permission to excel for myself in things I was passionate about rather than be expected to fulfill other people's plans for me

7. For years, I have missed and wondered about what would have happened if ... I did go on to get my Doctorate, or even get to continue in Major Work Class (gifted program at school), or take art instead of band, or have the chance to do Creative Writing in school instead of always serious writing

Would I be so conflicted and resentful (as I "should not be") about Christianity and church and all if I hadn't been so restricted in childhood? (No dancing, Guides, makeup, all those little "thou shalt not" rules...)?

The thing is, I never really felt like I was missing out on "things." I was loved and protected (maybe a bit too much of the latter) which was always wrapped in the limits imposed by church - or at least some people's interpretation of it - and - yes, I feel guilty to say it again, but my dad's ideas of what was good, interesting, etc. (And other people's ideas of what they wanted for/from me, which wasn't the adventure I craved...)

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Questions and doubts

(originally journaled Sept 12 2018)

Reasons I sometimes have had doubts about Christianity, or at least the religion of it:

1. I can't imagine why so many people are condemned to hell because they don't even know about Jesus' salvation.

2. I'm confused about the Kingdom of God - yes, it is within us, I get that. But what about heaven? Where is it, really? When? And is there really hell, and if so, is it really like it is so often presented? And is it bad of me not to be so sure about things other people seem to be so sure about?

3. If You know the future (okay, if You're outside of time and see it all at once ... or however that works) and You were able to see how rebellious we'd be, why would You want to "save" us (or even create us)? Has it been worth it?

4. Did you mean for Christians to have so many different opinions/ interpretations--and to be so sure they are right and everyone else (including other Christians, of course) are wrong? Or is that perhaps a hint that You are so much more immense and incomprehensible than our little minds would like to box You into?

5. Was the Bible ever (like in its very original writings) more or less infallible or whatever? Just because it's "inspired," does that mean it's perfect (seeing as how it was written down by dozens of obviously imperfect humans, and tells the stories of so many other imperfect humans)? 

What questions do you readers have?