Monday, April 21, 2008

"After all, you have a degree in God-bothering."

Today, I shall return to thinking and writing about life with the Christian God. The other stuff was very boring for me.

Saint Patrick's Church made a retreat in southern Kentucky this weekend. I was able to spend a little time with some of the people that I usually don't see apart from Sunday mass, and of course several folks that I see very often. I really enjoyed the opportunity to "get with nature" and just relax with friends.

I took the opportunity to think on some difficult things, that I'll be ruminating over for some time. I've come to the slow realization over the past few months that much of my spiritual life has been characterized by a certain degree of self-pity. About two years ago, I was deliberately sabotaged by a friend who decided his role as a Christian leader and God's self-appointed representative (a protestant layman!) was to expunge me from the life of God's Church.* It grieved me tremendously that I had somehow turned this individual's dedication and camaraderie into hatred over a very very short span of time. I say "sabotage," because it worked. It got to the point where my friends in Oxford asked me not to correspond with anybody in the United States. I learned over time that the reason this hit me so hard was that both I and my friends already struggled deeply with the evil that this fellow thought he'd so doggedly uncovered in me - it was like telling a drowning man that he shouldn't have gotten so close to the tide.

The reason I was so vulnerable - aside from distance, culture shock, and the stress of my studies - is that someone I had trusted decided to speak God's condemnation into an aspect of my life where I was already desperate to receive God's healing. My problem - the real one, I think - is that I took it as a word of condemnation from God, even as my theological mind rebelled against it. Over a period of many months, I gave into the temptation to abandon myself, as I was no longer certain that God had not. Many of my decisions were colored by self-pity, and ambivalence toward this Christian God, whom I had believed up until this point to be saving me.

I had bought into the evil things that others had spoken into my life - not just this one Christian leader, but the evil things that several people had prophesied over me. I faltered severely in my discipleship, and struggled for quite some time over whether and how I would pick up the pieces. At some point, I changed my mind. As I continued in the life of the Church and in encouraging friendships, I gradually changed my mind. If I have hope, and if I have a future, it's with the Christian God. Over the course of the last several months, I've finally been able to articulate some of the things I'm learning in this.

1. It's really difficult to think of oneself as being self-pitying. I couldn't deny it, however, when all of my rationalizations for sin and sloth sounded just the same, and I realized how totally self-centered and coddling of myself I had become. Poooor Kyle. When self-pity offers a story, it sounds like The Sordid Tale of that Awful Thing Someone Else Did. I found that much sin in my life that, serendipitously, could be traced back to The Sordid Tale of that Awful Thing Someone Else Did. Why am I skipping evening prayers tonight? Really, when it comes down to it, I'm justified/excused/allowed because we remember back in the Sordid Tale of That Awful Thing Someone Else Did, much greater evils were perpetrated, so really there's no big deal at all.

It was in our Lenten reading of the Orthodox Christian penitential text, the Canon of Saint Andrew, that God invited me to take full responsibility for my own actions - all of them - and to really think about what that means. This is when I realized that all my actions seemed to hinge upon That Story. When I got up, when I laid down - I might have put it down on a scroll and put it on my forehead like the Pharisees of old. I realized that I had to quit recounting The Sordid Tale of that Awful Thing Someone Else Did. Yes it was awful. No, they weren't sorry. No, I don't imagine that I've been vindicated just yet. It's not that it wasn't evil, and it's not that it wasn't an injustice - rather, I had given That Story power as an explanatory narrative.

2. The other Important Lesson clicked into place for me this weekend. Lots of people in this world will claim to represent God. Some people are even supposed to. Many people will call themselves "fathers," and for some, their fatherhood will be derivative of the fatherhood of the Christian God. For many, it will be derivative of the Evil One. Here's the rub: any representation or interpretation of a "god" that doesn't look like the man Jesus nailed to a cross in suffering love for broken people is a lie. The saints and martyrs stand with the Christian God in judgment against any explanatory story that depicts God as any other than a God who loves sinners with deep and passionate love. Our priest pointed out to us yesterday as well that any faithful proclamation of this God will be Eucharistic - men and women allowing themselves to be broken like the bread and poured out like the wine in gratitude to God, and for the sake of the world.

More will follow, but that's enough for today.

*Don't try to guess who, because you won't. I've never mentioned him on the blog, and only about 8 people know the details of the situation.


+ Alan said...

That was very very good. I mean, that was the real deal story from your insides. I am oddly, and hopefully appropriately, proud of you. Your sharing of this will help others get it as well. I'd bet money on that. I love you my brother.

Sam Charles Norton said...

That was very helpful for me, thank you (I'm wrestling with something similar).

God be with you.

#Debi said...

I started to resurrect our old saw about how I love you like a son, but of course we both know that I don't really know what that looks like, not having children. I think that I shall just say now that I love you And that's better, I think.

Hugs and peace to you.

Kyle said...

Thank you for the kind words, as always. They mean a lot to me.