Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Fascinates Me Today

Many of you, my bloggy friends, know that I am a Christian. You probably also know that I am in seminary. Alright, so I've taken one class so far. Shut up! I'll start another one in August. You probably also realize by now that, unless something strikes me as though it would interest y'all, as well as myself, I'm not going to bring it up here. This isn't a "Christian" blog per se. It's just a blog about me and what fascinates me in life. Ceramic cows fascinate me. Shut up.

But this morning I was reading something and can't help but share it. It's not actually the chapter verse stuff, but some guy's introduction to a book, and it took me by surprise. Here, see what you think:

"When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude that there is nothing to the religion business except, perhaps, business - and dishonest business at that. Insiders see it differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners. Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It's similar with sinners outside the church.

"So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced, and dealt with."

We all have our levels of sick, right? I know where my weaknesses are, difficult as they sometimes are to admit. I know where I'd just plain call a spade a spade and say "This is sin. Plain and simple." For me. For instance, I struggle with being lazy. Whew! There, I said it. But underlying that, I know, is the need to be right. Yes, the two tie together. You'll have to trust me on that. There's just no humility involved in having to be right, whether I am or not. It sucks.

But what all of this brought to mind is my new job. Y'all know that I work with a group of women who have eating disorders. They're obviously ill. The more I learn about eating disorders, the more I see that there are many, many people walking around outside the walls of our hospital who have eating disorders. They are either undiagnosed, disguised, or they refuse to admit they have a problem. Their disorder works for them, thankyouverymuch.

The people inside the hospital? It's a very difficult thing for them, battling the ED. They are faced with knowing that the disorder is not who they are, but that it grips them, trying to kill them (eating disorders kill more people - women - than any other mental disorder - highly fatal). They work very hard to understand who they really are, learn what the ED thoughts look like so they can combat them.
They form new habits as a group. They fail a lot. To the staff it sometimes looks as though they WANT to fail. They confront each other when they fail - especially if the one failing is trying to hide it. They support each other. They leave treatment, sometimes to make it in the real world, often to relapse and come back. Some are there for years, needing the support they don't get from their family and friends, sadly.

These women are dependent on each other, on the staff, while learning to be strong. I don't think, though, that they make it outside those walls without the support of people who understand their disorder, who love and support them. It's very much what I hear it's like to be an alcoholic in recovery.

I think one of the things which people misunderstand about "The Church" is that it's full of very broken people who can't get their crap together. People who need support, understanding, love, the strength of others, or they'll die. In so many ways, we die without these things. And I think that a large number of people IN the church either forget this or don't understand it. Won't look at their own crap. Much the way I see some of the girls in treatment looking down their noses at another girl when she screws up and practices her ED. The haughty ones act like the ED IS the girl. And like they have it all together. It's heartbreaking.

Then I remember ... wait ... I do the same thing. With people just like me. And I think I know everything and am always right. I conveniently forget that I screw up. That sometimes I intentionally hurt people. Well ... yeah, I've intentionally hurt people (I can think of one person right now that I'm playing mental games with and she has no idea, and I'm reveling in it). Or have been selfish and refused to see that I'm hurting people I love. I'm grateful that I have friends and family who understand, who have been there and experienced the forgiveness of others and God, who will gently remind me that the universe doesn't revolve around me. That this ugliness isn't who I am, but the sickness which is slowly killing me.

So the introduction is to the book of James, a very short book near the end of the Bible. The version I'm reading is The Message. I understand it much better than anything I've read so far. Here's an example of what I mean, from the first chapter: Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God, the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

See, that I understand. It makes sense to me. So I'll be reading the book of James every day for the next week or two. It amazes me. If you'd like to read it as well, here's the link to it in this version.

Thanks for hanging in there with me today. Until I write again ...



Anonymous said...

Really interesting writing, particularly linking behaviors from both church and ED.
Very thought provoking...

Beth said...

"Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world."

I love this. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. You made me think and I like that.

Anonymous said...

I love this post! And your comparison is brilliant. (And I apologize in advance for a very long comment!)

And you know what? I HATE talking about religion. I adamantly avoid it with everyone but Mr. Mom (because he agrees with me), but I'm going to talk about it with you because 1) you brought it up, and 2) I sense you'll understand better than most. (No offense intended to any other readers.)

You've probably noticed from my blog I don't consider myself a Christian. I don't go out of my way to say that because it's controversial, it's offensive to many people I love dearly, and -- HELLO -- I live in Oklahoma. But the fact is I'm not a Christian believer and pretending to be just to get along (or being half-hearted or non-practicing like so many) is something I can't bring myself to do. BUT, I do appreciate so many things about the Christian faith and I find that so much of its tenets resonate with other faith traditions, and even with Buddhism, which I most closely identify with. So, I tend to use universal terms (prayer, God, faith, grace, etc.) to talk about spiritual matters in an attempt to learn from and relate to others who might be put off if I were more explicit.

All of this is preface to my real point, which is that my biggest spiritual hurdle is my distaste for "organized religion." As a child with a limited understanding, I saw the Christian church (in which I was raised) as hypocritical. Your comparison to a hospital with "sick" people is so much more nuanced and understanding of human frailty and the path to spiritual understanding. And even though I've long come to understand this as an adult, I still find myself repelled by "communities" of faith. The result has been that I've "gone it alone" and I haven't joined a congregation of any kind. AND I KNOW this is so shortsighted. So hypocritical. (I'm not perfect but I expect others to be or I can't join them?) And I keep telling myself that -- whatever your faith -- learning from others, helping others, being helped by others in a community of faith is central to the journey. And all I've done is thrown out the baby with the bath water.

Thank you for this gentle reminder today and for -- as always -- your intelligent posts.

Mayberry Magpie

Anonymous said...

What a great post and an amazing parallel.

Flea said...

MM - thank you. :) I'll pop over to your place as well to thank you.

I found myself, having grown up in a particular vein of Christianity, being repulsed by it. Maybe it was my parents' teaching, maybe just God holding me close, but I was able to determine that the ugliness in the church was not at all what being a Christian is about.

Granted, my journey with God, with Church (organized religion) and other believers has been torturous at times, discouraging, frustrating. There was a time I threw up my hands and quit. Questioned everything. Was angry with God. But couldn't see any way around Him either.

Everyone's journey is their own. Even in the Gospels we see people come to Jesus and ask how to have eternal life. He seems to give each a different answer. I think He's responding to who they are, how He made them, what He sees in them. What He knows about their hearts.

So very, very often we want to give pat answers. We want to make the journey the same for everyone. It's just not. The gate may be the same to get in (I believe it is), but the journey there is not.

Thanks for responding so honestly and thoughtfully, Maggie. You are refreshing. :) And I appreciate you.

CanadianMama said...

I knew you were playing games with me!
Seriously though this was a very honest post. Thank you for the reminder to live more thoughtfully. It is so important to take care of eachother isn't it!

Laura ~Peach~ said...

great post... great comments... I am so glad I was led to your blog :)
HUgs Laura

Mom Knows Everything said...

Wow! That is really good and very interesting! I liked this post alot!

Karen Deborah said...

I think this is the best post you've ever written. (that I've read) Being real and speaking truth takes guts, thank you,
love K.D.

Mental P Mama said...

Very thought provoking. Beautiful correlation...

Connie Pombo said...

I love the book of fact, in Bible college I memorized the entire book ('s a short book!). And later when we taught the Bible in Sicily for six years, I memorized it in Italian. So if our Bibles are ever taken away form us--perish the thought--I will at least take comfort in the fact that a portion of the Bible is in my heart forever!

Umm...a seminary student (you rock Flea!).

dlyn said...

"couldn't see any way around Him either" I just want to hug you and give you a big old kiss! Don't get me wrong - I adore this post, but this line from the comments is what really "got" me today. How I would, at times, love to see a way around Him, but of course there isn't one - not for me anyway.

imbeingheldhostage said...

ok, here's where I left off (caught up now, my silence is broken). I read this quickly when stupid stuff was going on in my house, and I completely misunderstood what you were saying (which sometimes happens when one speed reads). KNOWING you are a Christian, I wanted to come back when I could really read this and may I say-- it's one brilliant piece of work. Great writing Flea, and very thought provoking post.

Wineplz said...

thank you for posting this...refreshing to see an easy to understand way of explaining what a church really is. Thankfully I went to a great church with a wonderful church family growing up. After my dad left, they took care of my mom and us kids. They took up a food collection for us at Thanksgiving; they took a Love Collection to help at Christmas; at Fellowship Dinner each month for a good year they insisted we come and not worry about bringing anything to contribute. They watched my brother and I so my mom could go to nursing school to get a job. When I was hospitalized, they brought me books and toys and visited me when my mom or other family couldn't be there. Of courese, since these wonderful people were people, they each had their own sins and vices, but what mattered is that we supported each other, forgived them and helped them ask God for forgiveness and for them to forgive themselves. We helped each other by frequenting each others' businesses/medical practices. It's one of the biggest things I missed moving down to college, and again when I came to DC. I have yet to find a good, close church family, that though flawed, still love each other and love God.

Unknown said...

I did a search for anyone who quoted:

"So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open, faced, and dealt with."

That's how I found your blog...I was excited! :-)

If you want to read my entry on that, feel free (or read anything else in my blog)...and comment! :-)