Monday 26 February 2018

Those People

(originally journaled January 29, 2018)

I woke up suddenly from a dream in which 3 or 4 "street people" I am friends with were sitting in my house visiting and having coffee. This house was in the downtown area, and looking out the kitchen window, we could see other street people milling around down on the street.

As my friends got up and were leaving, lots of other street people came rushing in. But instead of going upstairs to the kitchen/living room area, they rushed in the bedroom area on the main floor where our family sleeps. I was nervous because these people sat down on our beds and easy chairs, and some of them had wet themselves and/or were dirty, and I was worried about some of them taking away personal items because I didn't know them.

I had to run upstairs to get coffee and food from the kitchen and then bring it downstairs to serve them. And some of them didn't seem to think I was hurrying fast enough. One lady I didn't know came and asked me for uncooked rice to take with her, and I told her I only had what I'd already cooked for my family for supper. She kept pushing me, being really insistent and demanding, and as I woke up, I was thinking, "Oh, I need to signal a couple of the people here who I know to come and rescue me from her," because I used to do that when I was with the God's Kitchen street ministry, and it always helped.

Then I woke from my dream and my stomach was churning and my head hurting, and the details stayed so strong and clear. I tried to distract myself by checking Facebook and even wrote a blog article on a totally different topic.  But I still couldn't shake the dream or settle my tummy. So I decided to write in my journal as that usually helps me unwind a bit. It did help me stop shaking but I still was feeling flustered.

I guess my concern for street people and others in various difficulties is deep within. And I still feel badly for stepping out on the God's Kitchen street ministry when my health was very poor for a time. In fact, I had to step out of all my activities other than family and work at that time, so I shouldn't feel guilty, should I?  I really was overwhelmed. But that was some time ago, and I've restarted a variety of activities, but not the street ministry which, when I think of it, exhausts me just to consider it. And to think that for a long time, I found it so energizing and joyful. What happened?

Sometimes I also feel guilty because I get annoyed about people who are pushy and demanding and feel entitled--but don't make any effort to change things or do things for themselves (or so it seems to me). I believe that we, as Christians, are to help the poor, but I feel conflicted about the poor who seem to actually enjoy their lifestyle, including drugs, alcohol, panhandling, and so on, and are really demanding to be served and taken care of.

There was a time when I wanted to be able to invite street people into our home for coffee. And I did, sometimes, at least the ones who were relatively safe, in my judgment. But my husband and children were really opposed--and probably for good reason.

My mom, when I was growing up, invited all kinds of "strange" people into our home for meals and events like Christmas, and fed them and gave them clothes, but they were people who were at least clean and had some kind of roof over their heads (ie. they were not living rough, though they were often very poor), and those who weren't overly disabled made some effort to be self-sufficient. They were always really grateful and I only ever remember one man (and his adult children) who was demanding and seemed to feel entitled. They also were not "drunks," and I don't think we actually knew any "druggies," although some of my friends my age were using marijuana and speed and such, but I don't think my parents had any idea about that.

So our family was helpful and kind to "odd" people, but I think those with addictions or really "non-Christian" lifestyles were just so outside our church/social circle. There weren't a lot of "drunks" in our small town, or at least they weren't really apparent to us. I don't even think it was a "religious" separation. We just lived very different lives, and even lived in different areas (the old saying, "living on the wrong side of the tracks," was a reality at that time). I know, looking back, that I was really ignorant and naive about students at school who came from "rough" backgrounds. I knew they were there, but they were in different classes/streams, and they tended to drop out as soon as they could.

Students from "those families" seemed to live a separate existence from the rest of us, and we didn't do anything about it because we really didn't recognize it--and I suppose our parents and other adults in our church/social circle were doing their best to protect us from evil influences? My parents were not "racist" or "upper class" or anything. And they certainly didn't intend to be prejudiced. In fact, most people thought my parents were a bit odd because they invited in all those "weird" people, and had friends of all different races and economic levels.

So I wasn't really even aware of people living rough, or on the skids, or addicted when I was growing up. When we'd go to the big city of Vancouver, we'd go downtown shopping at Woodwards, in the area now known as the Downtown East Side (DTES), and we might see the odd person passed out on the sidewalk or hanging around drunk at the doors of bars, but we felt safe, pretty much, and really didn't have any real connection. I suspect there may have been a lot of alcohol abuse back in the day, even in "church" families, but people kept it hidden in the closet.

Things are so different now. So many more people on the street, so much more obvious. So many people with drug and alcohol addictions, and it seems like nearly every family experiences to some degree the fallout of addictions from someone in their family or close friends. It seems like everything is out of the closet now, and though that really is a good thing in some ways, it perhaps means that with that knowledge, we have an increased responsibility to do something about it.  But still, with all that staring us in the face, it is so easy for so many people to live separate lives and fear and look down on "those people."

I'm grateful for those years I spent with God's Kitchen. I'm seeking God's direction on whether to return and help out again there. I got to know so many street people as dear friends. 

But then I have dreams like the one I just described and I realize that I still struggle with the ones who (it seems to me...) are demanding, greedy, entitled, pushy ... and yes, lazy...

Grant me Your wisdom and love, dear God. Please.

Saturday 24 February 2018

Talking to Father about Heaven (and Hell)

(originally journaled Jan 24, 2018)

I was just singing "What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see, When I look upon His face, The One who saved me by His grace..." and I think I may have figured something out ... about why I'm so ambivalent about the whole idea of "heaven."

While I DO WANT TO BE WITH JESUS, I've found myself avoiding (sometimes almost "doubting") about heaven; yet it hasn't really seemed like doubting. As I was singing this hymn, it suddenly occurred to me that one reason I avoid thinking about heaven and even avoid singing songs like that, is maybe that's where people like my mom and dad and other loved ones are. And if I don't think about heaven, then I don't have to think too much about, and miss, and feel lonely for those who've gone on before.

And (getting to the core of this), not have to deal with my regrets, and with my guilt for not having been loving enough, and having been somewhat regretful about caretaking.

And by avoiding thinking about heaven, I can avoid remembering people when they were "falling apart" like my mom with her dementia and my dad when he was so disappointed to find out he had terminal cancer and would die at 82 instead of 90 like he, for some reason, had planned. And, yes, I can avoid thinking about myself growing old and possibly falling apart one of these days, too.

To be honest (just facing this, right now), it's also easier for me to think of people as "just gone" than to think of them still alive somewhere. And it really bothers me to think of them "looking down" at me--with all my failures. So many people seem to take comfort in that idea of their loved ones looking down and continuing to take care of them or whatever. At least that seems to be a really common Facebook theme! Though I tend to think it is unlikely they'd be doing that, because I can't find any Biblical reference to such a thing, to begin with; besides, if it's true that "there is no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear, no more sickness, no pain, no more crying over there" as the song lyrics say and scripture seems to back up, they couldn't be seeing our miserable world, could they? Could they?

I guess the other reason I have trouble thinking about heaven is that it then brings up the whole question of hell. It seems like most people I know don't even believe in hell anymore--though the ones that do, seem to hold with rather extreme "hellfire and brimstone" scenarios. I mean, maybe it's good not to "scare people into getting saved" by holding terrifying descriptions of hell over their heads, but it just seems that people have either decided that "God loves everyone and He's taking them all to heaven eventually," or, if people are really, really bad, maybe they'll go to hell, but it will only be those "very worst" people. (But I wonder, where then does one draw that line?)

I guess some people just believe that this life is "all there is"--but the thing is, most people I know (including people of many different religions, or at least beliefs or spirituality or whatever) do believe in some kind of positive after-experience, even if it's something like being absorbed back into the great spirit, or into Mother Nature, Gaia, the universe, or even nirvana, nothingness.

It's a negative eternal alternative they don't want to believe in. Even many of those who most strongly claim that this life is all there is, suddenly seem to waver when they lose someone close to them or are forced to face their own mortality when cancer or whatever strikes (though in the latter case, they may try even harder to act tough about their "this is all there is" belief and stick to their theory as desperately as possible.

But: is there a hell ... whether it's a fire and brimstone place, or a waiting for judgment day place, or even "death and separation from God forever" (which IS scary and we seem to want to avoid that, too, even if we claim to be secular and just another kind of animal)?

I was brought up to believe in a very real, vivid, forever hell as a place of great suffering, surrounded by demons and very evil people. And yes, it is very hard to deny, or even soften up in some way, what you've been taught from birth.

But I DO struggle with the thought of people--most people, in fact--who:

  • haven't heard the gospel (and that's my fault, right?)
  • have been born into terrible families and brought up very badly
  • have died before being old enough to understand the gospel and be saved (and/or baptized)
  • have been trained up from infancy to believe strongly in another religion or in a semi-Christian sect (or no religion at all)
  • have lived way better lives than many so-called "born again Christians"
  • have loved the Lord and followed Him all their lives but don't happen to belong to "our denomination" and don't believe and follow God exactly like "we" do...
I DO struggle with the thought of people like this getting thrown into that eternal suffering and punishment I was taught about. And it seems that as long as I feel unresolved about that, how can I feel joyful and anticipatory about heaven? 

On the other hand, if people have this happy-clappy idea that everyone (or almost everyone) goes to heaven or some other happy place, then will they personally feel any need to really follow Jesus?

Though, in my experience at least, I wouldn't want to live THIS life without Jesus--never mind eternity without Him. So maybe that's another reason I don't think so much about heaven: because the Kingdom of God IS here, now, something to be enjoyed, lived in and with already, with Jesus, Father, Spirit every day. Yes! In that sense, heaven isn't just the goal, the reward, something to hope for a look forward to; it's a present, living reality, too, even as we are surrounded by all that is not heavenly. 

"Hell on earth": what about that?

Please help me, dear God, to know the truth. Please. Thank You.

(And then I opened my Bible and there was Matthew 18:7-9....)

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Simplicity and Fasting

Today is "Shrove Tuesday" (yes, we're going to a pancake supper!) and tomorrow is "Ash Wednesday" and the beginning of Lent. So the following journal entry I wrote on January 8 (a month or so ago) is appropriate, I think.

My Christmas break wasn't quite the "fun holiday" I was hoping for. We had unusually cold weather, and my old slipped disc injury resurrected itself and I spent a good part of the break in big-time pain. And nobody even wanted to play Scrabble with me (sad, eh!).

But what I'm really thinking about is that I'm having a hard time spiritually. Yesterday at our home church gathering we discussed fasting (we've been studying the Spiritual Disciplines). Traditionally, of course, we think of fasting from food, but in my case, I'm seriously thinking about fasting from electronics. It would be hard. I feel so "hungry" if I'm not turning on the radio (when I wake up during the night, or driving in the car, or whenever) or checking email or Facebook or news on the computer. I don't turn on the TV myself (I don't know how to use the remote and the Xbox controller--on purpose; and we only have Netflix, not cable TV), but hubby loves it and turns it on frequently. If I'm doing something focused (tutoring, editing, writing) I can mostly ignore it, but as soon as I'm done whatever I've been focused on, I get so drawn in to the TV, especially programs about forensics or detective programs--and sci-fi, too. Yesterday was Sunday and could have been a restful time with You, but I ended up watching episode after episode of CSI New York. I also did a bit of email and Facebook (which I always promise myself I won't do on Sundays, but more often than not give in to at least a bit).

On another note, I've had an opportunity to join a "Mastermind" book writers' group, but honestly, while I do want to dedicate time to something (other than my business and family time), writing a book is not it. I do think I want to write, but I don't know what topic. I do want to do something focused on You (whether or not that includes writing, I don't know).

And I'm not sure what "writing Christianly" might mean; what You might want me to write about? Even "tutoring Christianly" or whatever else I might focus on doing "Christianly"?

Lord, I long for freshness and joy and peace (and some measure of happiness) in You. But I feel, more and more, my helplessness--and loneliness for other believers.

I do want to draw closer to You. I do want an assured firm knowledge of You and sense of Your Presence. And yes, I do want to know the joy of Your salvation.

Yesterday, when we talked about fasting, I longed to go deeper. And I am willing to fast (including from food. I do want to eat more healthy--fresh fruit and veggies, etc.) and to exercise and to majorly declutter my life in so many ways. (That was my big "plan" for the holidays: declutter. Ha! Constant pain interfered in a big way...).

I'm feeling overwhelmed by "clutter" -- even in my tutoring/editing/writing office. So many supplies I truly don't need or want.

My life feels cluttered.

I want simplicity: "the arrangement of life around a few consistent purposes, explicitly excluding what is not necessary to human well-being." (Willard).

Fasting seems like a good way to approach simplicity (with You). Please guide me into what You would have me do. Thank you.