Remember your training

rememberyourtrainingI had a small anxiety attack last night. I’ve been sick for three weeks and couldn’t sleep ’cause I was coughing so badly, and worried about my parents, and worried about our world, and my heart started beating too hard and I started thinking things that aren’t true, like:

Nobody likes me. Everyone is mad at me and probably talking behind my back about being mad at me. I’m a mess, and this panic attack is proof of it.

I didn’t believe those things, but my body was reacting as if they were true, panicking, trying to fight or to flee. But I remembered the things I’ve learned about anxiety and put them into practice. I took deep breaths — through my mouth, since my nose was hopelessly stuffy. I breathed Psalm 23 in and out: “The Lord is my shepherd” (in) “I shall not want” (out). I got through the psalm and I felt a little better so I did it again. Then I used my phone-a-friend lifeline and texted Gina. Good job, she said. Psalm 23 is what you pray when you can’t pray anything else. Then she prayed for me. I still felt unsettled, but my heart rate had slowed, and I knew that things would look better in the morning. Or at least that I would be able to think things through more clearly in the morning, and figure out if there was any reality behind the thoughts.

And sure enough, when I woke up, once two cups of coffee had staved off the cough medicine hangover, I asked myself: Do you really think your friends are mad at you? Do you really think they’re talking about you behind your back? And, no, I said, they’re not. And do you think a panic attack means you’re hopelessly messed up? No, I said. Everyone has bad moments, and we all have to get through them the best we can.

I love what Jen Hatmaker wrote on her Facebook page today:

Our family went to a Texas basketball game last week, and as always, it is hilarious to sit by Remy. She doesn’t understand sports and never picked up on proper cheering, so she has her own special brand of yelling. One of my favorites from last week was this (always said with full sincerity):

“Keep trying! Make it into the basket! Remember your training!”

LOL. Wondering if any of you need to “remember your training” today? Nine times out of ten when I face a dilemma, I already know what to do. I know what to choose. I know what to apologize for. I know what to hand over to God because He knows how to run his own world. I know who to call. I know to get my nose in the Bible. I know who to forgive. I know what to stop doing. I know who to speak up for. I know its time to get over myself. I know how to act like Jesus.

It’s all right there in the training.

Keep trying, sisters! Remember your training. Most of us know what to do; it’s just the doing of it that is hard. And truthfully, it isn’t even the doing of it that is so hard as much as the DECIDING to do it part. The worst of the battle is usually borne out in our minds; once we put our hands to it, we discover relief, healing, joy, peace.

I’ll go first. I have gotten sideways with someone and I am going to call her today. I could not, because women especially know how to fake it and sidestep and let unresolved conflict weaken a relationship until it is a ghost of its former self, but I’m going to press in. (WHEN DOES LIFE GET EASY??)

Remember your training. Do the thing that needs to be done.

When the depression and anxiety got really bad ten years ago my mom and various therapists tried to introduce me to breathing exercises, cognitive behavioral exercises, and various prayers like the welcoming prayer. I tried them, but at first they didn’t work. They seemed like such weak tools in the face of such strong emotions. It wasn’t until I’d practiced them for a while that they started working. When I read Remi’s exhortation to “remember your training” I thought of last night. It was because I’d practiced so much and sharpened my skills — by praying, meditating, doing yoga, and walking myself through the bad times — that I was able to perform the play I did last night. Even sick as a dog, coughing and going through tissues at an alarming rate, my training kicked in. To be honest, I didn’t really think it would work when I started breathing deeply and reciting the psalm. The anxiety felt too physical, too irrational. But just as the muscle-memory from years of training kicks in when an athlete feels the ball in her hand, my body remembered what to do. Deep breaths slowed my heart rate, the words of the psalm calmed my thoughts. Contact with Gina made me feel loved and important. And trust in the morning to smooth the rough, shaky angles of the night got me through.

Puffy eyes warm heart. :)

Puffy eyes warm heart. 🙂

How are you all doing? Is there something in your life you know how to do right now, but you just have to remember your training? Or do you need some more practice before it becomes second nature? Do you have all your life-lines in place? Should we have a team meeting before the big game? Alright, my metaphors are becoming jumbled, and it’s time for me to take some more cough medicine and go to bed. Hang in there, friends. Its winter, but spring’s a-coming.

Love,
Jessica

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Oh, and here’s the full Psalm 23 if you need it.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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God will make clear to you: On disagreements and doctrine


This weekend I’ve been thinking again about how often the question, “What do you believe about X?” is used to determine whether or not someone is truly a Christian — X being any number of things such as homosexuality, abortion, heaven and hell, universal heath care, which political party is more “Christian”, and on and on. It is a question that goes all the way back to the Anabaptists and whether baptism should be given in infancy or at the age of understanding and profession of faith, and back before that to the split between the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church over whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son or just from the Son, and back even further than that to the early church over whether non-Jewish Christians had to be circumcised. When I share a perspective that challenges my readers, they often respond with a doctrinal question aimed at clarifying whether or not I am a “true” Christian. The idea is that if I answer the question correctly, they will consider what I’ve said, but if I answer incorrectly, they will dismiss me as a false Christian, and gladly dismiss the uncomfortable feeling that there might be something to what I have said.

I love these readers, actually. They are some of my favorite people, because even in asking the question they are taking a step outside their comfort zone. I get a lot of commenters lecturing me, scolding me, and scoffing at me, but the ones who ask questions, even if the question is aimed at discrediting me or putting me in a doctrinal box, show an openness to a response. A question opens up the possibility of a conversation, and a conversation opens up the possibility of a relationship, and a relationship opens up the possibility of finding common ground, not necessarily in doctrine and beliefs, but in our spiritual orientation, the direction in which we are facing and the person towards whom we are moving. For Christians, the common denominator is not our stance on heaven and hell, or our views on baptism, or the way we vote. Our common denominator is Jesus, “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2.

So when one of my readers asks me, “What do you believe about X,” I first of all thank them. I am genuinely grateful that they have read my words, and thought about them, and taken the time to respond. And then I tell them this:

I am a professed Christian, and have read the Bible many times. The thoughts in this post and in all my writing reflect a deep, life-long meditation on God’s word and a continual seeking to conform my life to my Savior’s. Over the years, I have come to feel that, “What do you believe?” isn’t as helpful a question for us Christians to ask each other as, “How are you directing your words, your actions, and your life towards Christ?” You and I have different interpretations of some parts of scripture, and have come to different conclusions about X, but we are both seeking to know, love, and serve God through Jesus Christ. So we have the most important thing in common! I cling to the promise of Philippians 3:15, that, “…if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” If we both keep our hearts and our feet turned towards Jesus, our steps will move us nearer and nearer to him. And even if we are in very different places doctrinally, if we are both moving towards Christ then we will somehow, mysteriously, be moving closer to each other, too.

Love,
Jessica

A busman’s holiday: On volunteering and finding my purpose

 

photo by Christopher Jones

photo by Christopher Jones

For a few weeks now I’ve been volunteering at a homeless shelter, leading a play group for two hours so the parents can attend classes. I signed up for it last summer when the Planned Parenthood videos were breaking, not as a political statement but as an attempt to do something other than talking, writing, and debating. My Facebook feed was thick with posts that mostly demonized the other side, as well as calls for people to take a vocal position on the matter. I didn’t want to choose between the labels “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” If I had to be labeled, I wanted it to be, “person who works with kids at a homeless shelter.”

When I signed up last summer I had Wednesdays off, but by the time I did the training and received my placement I had started working Wednesday afternoons. So now I nanny Monday afternoon, then for ten hours on Tuesday, volunteer with kids Wednesday morning, pick up kids from school Wednesday afternoon, work another ten hour nanny day on Thursday, and then a six hour nanny day on Friday. It’s a lot of kid time, and I wonder if it might be too much. The wonderful woman who co-leads the play group with me called it “a Busman’s Holiday,” that wonderful old-fashioned expression that means that you do the same thing on vacation that you do for work. I love the kids — all of my kids — but I definitely find my blood pressure is a bit higher, the tension in my neck and shoulders a bit tighter both during and after my shift.

I struggle with it, because I’m good with kids, and it seems right to offer my best skills as a volunteer. But to be honest I’ve been wishing I could do some volunteering that involves lying in a dark room with my eyes closed and no one talking to me. Maybe medical testing? Donating a kidney?

Glennon Doyle Melton says that people often ask her how to find their life’s purpose, and she asks them, “What breaks your heart? That’s your purpose right there.” Whenever I ask myself what breaks my heart, the first thing I think of is old people. Except, I think they break my heart too much for me to be helpful to them. I think too deeply about how sad, lonely, and confused they must be, their bodies giving out on them, maybe their minds as well, not being able to go out and do things like they used to, being stuck at home or in a home. I feel it too much, and it doesn’t energize me, it makes me sad and depressed.

I can't figure out how to remove the "sample" stamp from this clip art, so I'm going to leave it as an ironic statement.

I can’t figure out how to buy this to remove the “sample” stamp, so I’m going to leave it as an ironic statement. This is a sample of a person trying to drive considerately: Actual drivers may vary.

But I have figured out one way to channel that particular heartbreak into good. When I’m driving in Boston, and people cut me off, swerve, make weird lane changes without signaling, or generally act as if they don’t understand how driving works — or how 2000 lb vehicles crashing into each would work — I try to imagine the drivers as little old ladies or men, nervous and confused, maybe having trouble seeing over the dashboards. And I tell myself that my job is to help the little old ladies across the street, providing as safe and encouraging an environment for them as I can. If someone cuts in front of me, I step on the brakes carefully and avoid the instinct to honk. Poor Gertrude, I think, she is just trying to get to the store to get half and half for her coffee. If we can see each other I give a smile and an encouraging wave. Here, dear — let me take your arm and help you across.

For now I’m going to keep going to the Wednesday morning play group for as long as I can. I’ve seen the dangers of pushing myself too hard, so I want to be aware of my energy level and my limits. But I’ve quit so many things in my life, and it would feel so good to see this through. So I drag myself out of bed Wednesday mornings, have my coffee with low fat milk and hop in the car for the half hour drive to the other side of the city. I can’t really do it, but I’m doing it anyway, for one more week at least. And while I’m driving to my Busman’s Holiday I step on the brakes whenever someone cuts me off, smiling and waving when I can (the coffee helps with this) and helping dear old Mathilda to get safely to her bridge game.

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We must love one another or die

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This is the thought that has haunted me for months now, and has become more and more urgent as the primaries approach and things get more and more polarized: How can we listen to each other? Brilliant writers and theologians have done their best to parse and explain and preach, but I wonder who is really listening? Those who lean towards the left, towards what is called liberal or progressive theology and politics (I’m speaking as a Christian here) write essays and op-ed pieces which are shared by other left-leaning folks, and those who lean towards the right and what is called conservative theology and politics write and share essays and op-ed pieces that say the opposite things, and those are shared by other right-leaning folks. And the left gets left-er and the right gets right-er. But is anyone really listening to each other?

It’s hard, it’s really hard, I know, to stay open to people you disagree with. I want to block them all and unfriend them all, and live in a world where everyone makes what I call sense. It’s so reassuring to scroll through Facebook and Twitter and read posts and essays that support my views. But even if that were an acceptable way to live, it’s becoming destructive now, played out in America in truly dangerous ways.

I do think we have to stand up for what we believe in. I agree with my friend Laura Parrot Perry that we have to speak up loudly against injustice and racism and fear. Yes. And, I think we also need to be asking, Why? and How? Why are people afraid? If we assume that even those we disagree with are acting out of what they think is true and right, then why do they think that? What information or misinformation do they have that is making them think these things? And how can we address their fear and misunderstanding in a way that they may actually hear us? I just don’t think I’m changing anyone’s hearts and minds by posting article after article that supports what I believe. I think they are just blocking me, unfriending me, or tuning me out, as I am tempted to do with them. But how can I speak so that they will really listen? I don’t know, but it may start with listening myself.

Yesterday Jen Hatmaker joined many other Christian leaders in speaking out against Donald Trump and his statements about Muslims. I was grateful and proud that she took that stance, since I think many of her readers are more conservative than those of other writers I follow (like Rachel Held-Evans, Jonathan Merritt, John Pavolitz). And I was grateful, too, for the opportunity to read the comments. I would rather not have. But I settled myself down with a cup of tea and prayed to be able to set aside my own fear and anger and just listen. It was hard. But I learned a lot. I learned that many people think my views are ignorant and dangerous and ill-informed, just as I might think theirs are. I learned that there are rumors going around about Syrians that many believe, that they regularly rape young boys and that US soldiers have been commanded to overlook this out of political correctness. I already knew that people believed that most Muslims endorse violence and want to kill Christians and Americans, but I got to read some of the statistics that were being shared. It was really hard, but I’m glad I listened.

But now, I am frustrated with my own limitations, my big-picture mind that doesn’t hold on to details very well, my lack of energy to do much beyond working to pay the bills. I’m frustrated with my introversion that makes any kind of conversation challenging, much less impassioned debate. I’m frustrated by this bad cold that is fogging up my brain. I am frustrated by my lack of resources, that I don’t have the statistics on hand to counter what I believe to be false claims. I’m frustrated because I see what needs to be done next, but I don’t know how to do it.

I was reading comments several months ago on a Facebook post by Glennon Doyle Melton. I forget what the post was about (sorry, Glennon – it’s my big-picture brain), but I remember one of the comments was from an angry conservative who believed that all Muslims were violent and out to get us. And, somehow, Glennon’s sister Amanda and I managed to respond to that woman with gentleness, affirming her perspective and her value as a member of Glennon’s community, and also sharing what we knew about the peacefulness of most Muslims. I expected that either she wouldn’t reply, or that she would reply angrily. But she responded with gratitude. She had been expecting anger in response to her own anger, and our loving replies surprised her. And she actually heard us. She said she didn’t know that about Muslims, and she appreciated us telling her. She said she just never heard that perspective in her circles. Overwhelmed, I messaged Amanda, “Did you see that? LOVE WINS.” We saw each others’ humanity, and acknowledged that we were all trying to do the right thing, as best we could. And love won. Listening won. Theologian Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

So I know it’s possible. I’m just not sure how to do it on a larger scale. Of course, in one sense, it’s not possible on a larger scale, because it took that individual attention and love to make the difference. But there has to be a way to magnify it, because it’s only that love that can get us to listen to each other. What W. H. Auden wrote 76 years ago at the start of World War II is just as true now: “We must love one another or die.”

I really don’t think we have any hope in America unless we learn how to bridge the gap, to stop the polarization process, and to really listen to each other.

I think I and my fellow progressive Christians are really good at following Christ’s mandate to “love your enemies” when we see our enemies as foreigners, as people of other religions, as people different from us. But I think we have to take Jesus’ words and apply them to our fellow Americans, too. What if those Jesus is calling us to love are actually the people who hurt and anger us the most? What if the man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead is actually a conservative Christian, sporting a “Make America Great Again” cap? What would it look like for us to love that man, to succor him, to bind up his wounds, even though he stands for all that we despise? What would love like that mean?

I really don’t know the answer. I’m posting this in case someone else knows. Maybe I have one piece of the puzzle, and someone else can take it and fill in another piece. Wouldn’t that be just like the kingdom economy of Christ, who said that we need each other, every one of us, just like a body needs not just a head and hands but feet and ears, too? Maybe my big-picture brain needs to be complimented by people with detail-oriented brains.

What do you think? How can we listen to each other? How can we speak the truth and also love each other, be bold and gentle, confident and humble? How can we learn to love each other, before we all perish?

Love,
Jessica

My body is not a message to men

bodymessageEliel Cruz, an amazing writer that I follow on Twitter, tweeted from church this morning:

“As soon as he said, ‘Ladies, we have to be careful what messages we send to men with our bodies…'”

Eliel, thank you for calling this out.

Male pastor, and men everywhere, listen, because this is important:

My body is not a message to men. It is not a message any more than your body is a message to women. Our bodies are what we use to move about in the world, to walk and run, to lift and carry, to feed ourselves and others.

Our *words* are what we use to communicate. If you want to communicate with me, use your words, and I will use mine.

When you tell women that they are responsible for the message their bodies are sending to men, you are also telling men that they are not responsible for talking to women, for listening to their words and respecting them. You are placing the responsibility on women to protect themselves from abuse and rape, and letting men off the hook for abusing and raping women, so long as the men perceive that the woman’s body is giving them the message that rape is okay.

And you are perpetuating the message that we women receive from the world that our bodies and our sexuality are the most significant thing about us, that we have to be pretty but not too pretty, sexy but not too sexy, that our hips and breasts and legs are offensive and we should hide them or lose weight to make ourselves smaller and less sexual, less seductive. You are perpetuating the message that, above all, it doesn’t matter how smart or loving or funny or spiritual or creative we are, all that matters is men’s opinion of our appearance.

This is the message that we are already receiving from the world; it should not be the message we hear in church.

Pastor, I am so much more than that, my body is so much more than that, and my sisters’ bodies are so much more than that.

Please consider this post the message I am sending to men, regardless of what they think my body might be saying.

Sincerely,

Jessica Kantrowitz, writer and proponent of using her words

Bake for them two

canstockphoto9505469In Jesus’ time, the nation of Israel was under Roman rule. The Israelites were allowed to live there and practice their faith for the most part, but they had to pay taxes to Caesar and obey the Roman laws.

To the Israelites, the Romans were evil and ungodly. They had no place ruling over God’s chosen people in God’s chosen nation. That land had been promised to Moses and his descendants when God brought them out of Egypt. Their very presence in the land was blasphemous.

One of the Roman laws stated that any man could be required to drop what he was doing and carry a Roman soldier’s equipment for him for up to a mile. In the Sermon on the Mount, with his followers gathered around him, Jesus referenced that law and told his followers what they should do in that case:

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” ~Matthew 5:41

Go with them two miles. That was not the advice that most of the people in the crowd that day had been hoping for. That was not the conclusion that they would have come to on their own, following this man that they hoped would lead them to victory over the Romans. That was certainly not respecting their religious beliefs — go with them two! What if their neighbors saw! What if seeing them carrying the Roman’s equipment caused other Jews to think the Roman oppression was okay? What if there was other work that needed to be done — good work, charity work even, but they spent all that time carrying equipment for the evil oppressor? But Jesus is not worried about any of that:

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also,” he said. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Christians, our Jesus said, “Go with them two.”

If you believe gay marriage is immoral (I don’t, myself) and a gay couple comes into your shop and asks you to bake a cake for their wedding, what should you do? If God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the wedding days of straight and gay couples, then what is our responsibility? If it is against the law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, but you believe strongly that their lifestyle is immoral, what should you do?

Christians, our Jesus said, “Go with them two.”

If you are wondering if it is worth being sued and losing your business to stand up for what you believe is right, if you miss the look of hurt in the couple’s eyes when you refuse them and only see an angry, media-driven, ACLU-led mob attacking the small business owner who is only standing up for what you believe in, what should you do?

Christians, our Jesus said, “Go with them two.”

Jesus said, not only should you follow the law of the land — the law which in America for the most part prohibits discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation — not only should you do the minimum you have to do, you should go the extra mile. (Yes, that’s where that expression comes from!) Do *twice* what the law requires.

If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two.

Christians, our Jesus said to not only follow the law, but to rise to a higher standard of love. Christians should be the FIRST people baking cakes — for everyone who asks us. We should be known for our cake baking. People should be saying, “There go those crazy Christians again, baking cakes for everyone. They just won’t quit!” Then, when we share the reason for our wild, all-inclusive love, people will want to hear it. “Let your light shine before others,” said Jesus, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Christians, when we dig our heels in and insist on our right to discriminate, we are hurting people — we are hurting so many people, so deeply. Behind the ACLU and the liberal media are real people, who have been hurt again and again in the name of Christ. Christians, you and I have hurt them. I know most of us have really good intentions, but we are making Jesus the last thing they want to hear about.

If we “snatch one person from the fire” by refusing to condone behavior we believe is immoral, but send hundreds and thousands of others fleeing churches and Christianity entirely, what have we really accomplished? Someone else will make that cake and fewer and fewer people will look to Christianity for love and hope. We will have won a battle that we were never called to fight in the first place, but lost the war.

*****

Friends, after receiving more than 1500 comments this past week, I’m closing the comments section on this post. I want you to know that I value all of you who took the time to leave a comment, even those who disagreed with me, and especially those on all sides of the issue who vulnerably shared their stories of hurt and healing.

If you would like to read other Christians’ perspective on this issue, or find places for further discussion, I have shared some resources that have been helpful to me here: BFTT follow up and resources.

If you are curious how I came to support gay marriage and full inclusion of LGBT Christians in the body of Christ, you can read about that here.

If you have felt rejected or unloved by Christians or the church because of your sexuality or gender identity, please read my post We choose you.

And please check out Faithfully LGBT and their wonderful photo series of LGBT people of faith.

Love,
Jessica