Feeble Knees

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Do you ever get discouraged?

I'm down today. I've read a few things in the last twenty four hours or so that really got me down. One was one blogger taking on another, threatening to report a post to several ministries with the stated intent to expose and correct. It struck me instead as spiritual bullying - The threats to expose and bring shame, the sanctimonious tone - it totally depressed me. It's like a Christian Gestapo. It gives me chills. Whatever happened to the biblical prescription for going to your brother and discussing the problem one on one first? Doesn't that still apply?

The second thing that I just ran across while looking something up was a site by a person who has completely forsworn Christianity and Christ. He had some bad experiences, including some time spent in my former denomination. Now he's chucked the baby out with the bathwater. Some "Christians" have since attacked him for going public about this, and it has had the horrible effect of hardening his heart even further. Nice going folks. Way to go. I hope they're proud of themselves.

Not long ago I finished reading The Secret Life of Bees. It was ok, though I have to admit all the Mary worship freaked me out a bit. Though I'm not sure what flavor of Christian I am at the moment, but the Protestant in me recoiled to read the part about baking cakes for the Queen of Heaven on Ascension Day.

But leaving that aside, I've been thinking about the one character that intrigued me more than the others, and that is May. (I'll try to prevent leaking any spoilers for the sake of anyone who hasn't read the book yet who wants to read it). Why did May stick with me? Part of her reminds me of me.

May's defining characteristic is that every wrong, every painful thing cuts her to the quick. There is no distinction between big injustices (violence) and smallish slights (family quarrel). Everything upsets this girl's apple cart. What other people could shrug off sends her careening into an emotional tailspin.

Part of my difficulty in church stemmed from my an overly keen awareness of and sensitivity to sinfulness in all its forms, and my total inability to overcome it. I frequently despaired over my own sorry state - I may have overcome a thousand sins and tearfully repented, but my heart broke over my and others' inability to live up to all that a good Christian life should be.

My holiness paranoia has a parallel in Jainism, a radical derivative of Hinduism. Jain monks are hypervigilant in their efforts to kill no living thing. Some employ brooms to sweep any living things out of their paths for fear of unintentionally treading upon them, killing them. Some take this to the extreme of suspending themselves above the ground, tormented by the thought that there may be organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye that could be dispatched by one careless footfall. Jain monks do not bathe, knowing that would kill organisms living on their bodies. They cover their mouths to refrain from breathing in airborne microbes. They go to every extreme and extent within their means to do no harm.

I learned about the Jains in college, while studing eastern religions. I figured it was a good idea to know about what else was out there, not because I wanted to pursue any of it, but I didn't want to be an ignorant Christian. It was ironic then that years later I found myself comparing my own strident efforts to lead a sinless life to the paranoia of the Jains.

Looking back now, I see that my feelings of paranoia and failure stem somewhat from early childhood experiences that left me filled with constant shame and and a deep longing for acceptance. Though in my heart I knew I was forgiven, some deep part of me still felt I must be that loathsome insect Johnathan Edwards preached about. The particular fellowship I belonged to didn't do much to allay my fears or reassure me that I was "accepted in the Beloved". Some saw my constant state of tearful repentance as a good thing. Few ever stopped to think that maybe I was taking everything a little too hard. Perhaps they just thought it meant that they must be good preachers, for me to be walking around in a perpetual state of conviction for several years. They didn't realize that my grief over my sin and theirs was setting in and deepening, causing me to despair.

One of the good things that has come of my departure from that church is that my faith in God's forgiveness was tested to the breaking point. Not only did that faith survive, but it has been strengthened. I no longer tremble, wondering if my attempts at holiness are pleasing. I don't wring myself out anymore. I've given myself permission to be human again and allowed God to take the lead with regards to my sanctification.

But I still struggle some days, like today. I read about the difficulties other Christians face, of one Christian attacking another, and still more who have left the faith in droves. It's almost enough to make you despair.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance. Psalm 42:5

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