"Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until this disaster has passed. I cry out to God Most High..." Psalm 57...
And I'll stop there, because I simply am NOT feeling the rest of that Psalm. But I will go with two other passages that have been in my head as of late.
"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice," Hosea 6:6
"And what does YHWH require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8
I also have two other quotes. These are from secular artists, but they will help illustrate the point I will try and make.
"Give me release, witness me.
I am outside.
Give me peace.
Heaven holds a sense of wonder,
and I wanted to believe that I'd get caught up
when the rage in me subsides."
From the song "Silence," by Sarah McLachlan
"When you're depressed,
happy songs don't make you feel better.
Sad songs make you happy."
That's a very bad paraphrase of something Rikki Lee Jones once said.
I don't know why for sure, but since mid July I have been feeling really, really low. There have been a few bright spots along the way, but the fact of the matter is that it really hasn't gotten much better. Mostly, it has just gotten darker by the day.
I could theorize as to why I am feeling this way. Lack of the type of career that I would really like to be in. That ever-present chemical imbalance in my brain. The change in the season almost certainly has an impact. There is plenty of other stuff too, I'm sure. Probably the worst of all is that I really haven't felt a consistent presence of God. In fact, I'm pretty sure that this is the main reason for my funk.
He isn't talking to me, that's for sure. And I don't feel him near at all. And I hate that feeling more than words could ever possibly express. At best, it feels like he is simply spying on me from a distance to see how I'll react to the next round of pain, and then stand silently as I do something stupid again...and again.
I hate, hate and hate this feeling of his absence, but I don't think I'll bother to hash anything else out of it. Not much point, other than to give more people more ammunition to look down their noses at me...and/or worry.
Mercy is a rare commodity. Oddly enough, I often find a great deal more mercy being offered by Non-Believers than I do from those who call themselves "Christians." (I'm probably pretty guilty on this count, too.)
One of the books that has had the greatest influence on me is "Un-Christian." http://www.unchristian.com/ (Buy it. Read it. Take it to heart.) Among the six areas that the book spells out that people outside the church accuse American Christians of being is that we are Hypocritical, Judgmental & Sheltered. (Which my own experience has taught me is very, very true, more often than not.) I would really like them to add UN-Merciful to that list. The church in America is really bad...really, really, really bad at showing mercy to people.
Don't believe me? Try looking at the current political candidates and their stump speeches. They drip a lot of Jesus-sauce on their platforms, but I don't see much evidence of mercy. (I DID see a lot of the glorification of death, though, at the TEA Party debate that was on about a week ago.) But I'll stop there, because this post is rather personal, and not about politics.
Like I said, I've been feeling incredibly down for a long time now. And the simple fact is that I have been shown very little mercy by anyone who has noticed this about me.
I'll tell you what I have been shown during this period, though. I've been told lies. I've been offered unsolicited advice ad nauseum. I've been condemned. And just last evening, I was told by numerous people that I am a bad, bad, naughty "Christian." (Actually, I get that a lot...always by other "Christians.")
In all of this, I have learned a few things.
#1. The first thing that I have learned is that...other than mercy being in very short supply...most people who tell you that they want to help, and thus will listen to you, don't really mean it. Maybe initially they want to "Listen," but the truth is that if that is the case, then they don't really want to ultimately "Hear" you.
What they really want is to offer you some handy phrases to perk you up. Then they would like to go and offer advice that you didn't ask for. Then, at least in my case, they will round it all off with some sort of insistence on an action plan that will fix everything...despite the fact that they promised ahead of time that they were not going to do that very thing.
Is it just me,
or do you lose any interest in talking to people like that
after a couple of rounds of this scenario?
And then they are puzzled as to why you don't want to talk to them about anything of significance. Hmmm...
Maybe they actually are trying to be well-meaning. But the fact of the matter is that this doesn't help at ALL. Truthfully, it only makes things worse.
Perhaps this is just my experience, and so this is only my theory, but when it comes to most of what passes for christianity in America and it's ability to actually listen to some one in severe pain... (Turn up the volume on your computer before you click the video.)
The truth really does hurt. And the truth is that when someone is in pain, they say uncomfortable things that make the hearer itch all over. Christians in America don't like that very much. It forces us to go deep into our psyches and actually be real. This should never be encouraged.
TANGENT! Let me throw this out there:
Let's say that you are out mowing the lawn. You accidently slip and get a toe sliced off. (Actually happened to a guy I know.) Naturally, you will probably scream so loud that the next county will hear you. Odds are, some of the screams coming out of your mouth with be rather profane.
Now, when the neighbors come running over...and then the paramedics, would any of them in their right mind look at you in severe pain and say something along the following lines; "Now listen Mr., that naughty language has simply got to stop! We're not doing a thing until you cut that out, buster!" OR, would anyone rushing to your aid expect you to say something along the following lines; "Owie, owie! Mommy, this bad boo-boo stings!" (You'll find this works better if you read those lines out loud with a nasally & effeminate voice.)
Anyone who would say that to the guy who just got his toe lopped off would be considered a heartless prick for saying such a thing. Yet we do it all the time to people in severe emotional pain.
Shocking as it might be to hear this, but I cuss. I don't do it flippantly, but I do do it to make an extreme point when I don't believe other words will work. I try to do it around people I trust, and not just in everyday conversation. (Yeah, I blow it there, too.) But when I am in pain, be it physical or emotional, I can let them fly. (Feel free to condemn me for this for what ever reasons you think are suitable for your own personal subconscious needs.) The point I am trying to make is this...
Pain is PAIN!
I actually lost a friendship over this once. I never trusted the guy from that point on. I might lose a few more friends. That's probably for the best...
Anyway, what I need from someone when I am hurting is an ear that will actually listen, and/or a shoulder to cry on. And that means that if you care about me, then you will just let me vent. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but that's the way it is. Whatever you do, please do not put boundaries around my pain for the sake of your own issues. I would try do the same for you.
Either be an actual friend to me when I am in need, or stop pretending. I can always talk to you around the water cooler or at family reunions. There, we can speak of the weather, sports, and the newest fashion trends...and all other manner of items that are of such consequence & weight. While having a conversation like this, I promise not to say anything that will ruffle your delicate feathers, or force you to actually think or display empathy. But at the same time, do us both a favor and don't lie and say you care.
#2. The other thing I learned during this time is what an impact music has on me. I've always figured that to one extent to another. However, the power that music seems to have is that the notes of a song can capture my thoughts & feelings in ways that words simply cannot.
Saturday I was having a truly awful day. My mood was a very dark gray, and so was the weather. So I was out for a drive and had the radio on to what I believe is one of the most creative stations in the country. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/services/the_current/ They had just announced the death of a famous person who was a friend of the station. In turn, they began to play a lot of sad music. Each and every song fit my mood to a "T." It actually made me cheer up a little bit. (Rikki Lee Jones appears to be correct on this point. When you're down, sad songs seem to cheer you up.)
One song in particular really hit me. It was a song called "The Last Living Rose" by P.J. Harvey. I wasn't even sure what the song was about, but the mood and groove of the song really got to me.
If you bothered to listen to it, you may have noticed that the song begins with the words, "God Damn Europeans." For some reason, that just hit me & fit me at that moment, on that drive, on that day. (Frankly, it didn't sound any different to me than what I heard most Americans saying about Europeans during the Bush years...including "Christians.")
I made a terrible mistake by going home and posting that on my FaceBook page, with those lyrics. What a storm that caused! Sunday rolls around, and by the time I got home from another miserable day, I had a bunch of comments via FB & e-mail condemning me for writing the phrase "God Damn."
You know what I didn't get?
I didn't get one single person asking me "Why."...not ONE!!! "Why did you put that song up, Joe? Is everything OK? That's some strong language. Is there something going on?" I didn't even get a "Wow, that was a cool mini-film. But the mood was pretty dark. You need to talk?" I got plenty of snap judgments and condemnation. No mercy offered, though. Nope, no mercy.
For the record, I don't really want God to damn most Europeans. I find Europeans to be cute and cuddly, and they make great techno music. (Not sure about the French though. They only go through one bar of soap a year, apparently.) However, I do ask God to damn other stuff all of the time; such as poverty, greed, indifference...and Pharisees. I shall continue to ask God to damn those things...especially the latter.
In particular, one "Friend" told me in no uncertain terms that essentially I was a terrible "Witness" for writing such filth. (You want un-godly filth, go listen to Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry give their Presidential platform.)
Well, for the record, I do NOT witness. Nor do I want to go out and be one. What passes for being a "Witness for Christ" in this country usually consists of handing out tracts to strangers, engaging in heated arguments, brow beating and bible bashing others. So no, I do not want to be a witness. But I would, however, kinda like to be open and honest with everyone. This should never be encouraged.
I see no reason what so ever to go out and force your self to BE a witness. If that is what you have to go out and DO, then it is something that you are NOT on any normal, given day. It has been my experience that people may not always see eye to eye with you, but they will respect and appreciate you a whole lot more if you are just you...warts and all. Why should a total stranger give a crap about some tract I would force into their hand? I would rather be genuine and have a relationship with another person so that they can see both my good and ugly side...and thereby see what Jesus might be doing in my life at that moment. Even if this is not always pretty, it is at least honest. This should never be encouraged.
#3. In these past few months of my time of darkness, where God seems to be refusing to speak to me, and withholds his presence at the same time, I ask myself why all of this is happening. I don't have an answer. My guess is that it is another one of his tests that is supposed to build character and teach me something. (Something about loneliness & isolation, I'm thinking.)
One thing that has become clear to me, is that I really don't like most people who call themselves "Christians"...again. I tend to hang out with more non-believers on a day to day basis thanks to work. I tend to find them more interesting than most American "Christians" I have known & know. I also find them to be more genuine, AND most of them...not all, but most of them, tend to extend more mercy to me on a daily basis. (I have all sorts of theories as to why that might be.)
In this time I have also learned that there are only about 2-3 people that I can actually talk to that they will be there for me...warts and all. (Sorry, no names.) They will listen to me and actually Hear. Sometimes they will just "Be" there with me...even when I am silent. Because at this point, I am rather "Talked Out." So I just want someone to stand there with me in this silence and keep the pie-hole shut.
Yeah. I have learned that only 2-3 people will show me that kind of mercy when I need it at my worst.
Like I said at the beginning, Mercy is a commodity in short supply.
I'm in chapter 9 of "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne. This chapter, "Jesus is for Losers," begins with a story by Shane.
"A few years back, I was talking with a homeless guy in an alley downtown, and he started sharing with me about God. He was familiar with the Bible but kept talking about "the Christians" in the third person. A little confused, I finally asked him, "Are you not a Christian?" "Oh no," he said. "I am far too messed up." I asked him what he thought a Christian is, and he said, "Someone who's got their stuff together and has things figured out." I confessed that I must not be a Christian either and that I wasn't sure I had ever met one, and we laughed."
I'm not laughing.
And this is the picture that the church in America has painted for itself...
for those both inside and outside the body.
I don't really want to be a witness to anyone, because I don't really want people to become a "Christian." I would, however, like them to follow Jesus. More and more, I see that there is a significant difference.
Being a "Christian" seems to be rather easy to me. There are all sorts of lists of "Don'ts" that you can follow that will make it easy. Christians in America have been taught to be very, very religious. We have been taught that it is important to wear our Sunday Best to church. A part of this wardrobe is a very large mask to put over our face. That way, you can pretend that you have it all together & figured out...and then judge, condemn and show no mercy to those who don't. (Particularly to those inside the church.)
According to Jesus, I am Salt & Light in a rotten world. I don't feel like that most days. At best, I am probably a light that gets too close to your eyes, and salt that stings a sore in your mouth.
Trying to follow Jesus is hard. I have a very weak faith. I can explain a lot about the God of the Bible and believe in him in an objective sort of way. However, feeling him in a subjective sort of way is really difficult for me. Not to mention the fact that I am a walking mess who is a loose cannon, with a very big and stupid mouth. I guess that means that I am not a "Christian." At least not according to what I see around me.
I'm OK with that. Like I said, I really do not want other people to become a "Christian" either. But I DO want to follow Jesus into his kingdom. And I would like others, especially "Christians" to do the same. Like I also said, I think there is a big difference.
I'm sure that I'll trip and stumble the whole way there. But maybe someone somewhere along the way will show me a little mercy. I'd really appreciate that, thank you very much.
P.S. I know that this post will probably be a downer to most who read this. At least I'm honest, though. This should never be encouraged...it bothers people too much.
As I said in point #2, music hits me pretty heavily. It can express emotions & thoughts that words cannot. So, I'll leave you with a song I like. I was surprised when I found this video, because it illustrates something very dear and deep to me. If...if you can put away your neo-fundamentalist lense for a moment, and simply go with this, then you might just understand my point.
If...if Jesus can be portrayed as the woman in this video...then I am that man who is tied to her wrist. She is running as fast as she can over dangerous terrain, eventually jumping off a cliff. I am that man. I am trying to keep up. I am being pulled, dragged, and stumbling the entire way...and I am scared out of my mind.
I AM that man. (Hey, at least the beat is perky.)
"Give me release, witness me.
I am outside.
Give me peace.
Heaven holds a sense of wonder,
and I wanted to believe that I'd get caught up
when the rage in me subsides."