Haters for Jesus

Haters for Jesus

I haven’t been writing much lately for a variety of reasons related to a very rough transition to my new life, such as it is.  I’m still reading though, and one of many blogs I really enjoy is A Life Overseas: The Missions Conversation.

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Seriously, it’s a cool blog and worth your time — a variety of thoughtful voices on life and work as a missionary overseas.

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This morning I found a post that gave me real pause — so much so that I considered breaking my “nothing but original content, no reblogs” rule over on St. Val the Urban Monastic. The post is Are you playing to win, or playing not to lose?, and is on a topic I speak about frequently in context of attempting to explain my position on various political views in conversations with various (generally annoying) individuals trying to recruit me for various causes. My comment when I posted this on Facebook (knowing it could set me up for a cat fight or two) was as follows:

The sad thing is, that there are so many people who have been indoctrinated to this who don’t even know they are — essentially — doing the devil’s bidding. I have a name for them: Haters for Jesus. I know what they are AGAINST, and they often use scripture as an excuse to justify their behavior. Trouble is, I never see or hear about what they are “for” in any way because they never seem to be “for” anything, just really, really, really, really angry…about basically everything.

My point being, don’t let this be you (though I seriously doubt this is applicable to my regular readers, you’re not prone to mindless indoctrination).

Sidebar note: Prayers appreciated for my [new] roommate (who is a long-time friend) — she is very sick, and Ideopathic Intracranial Hypertension, combined with a few other things, is making her life a living hell this week. There are too many doctor appointments and ER trips for this poor young woman.

Things the Bible doesn’t say: Seek justice where it suits, love mercy if it’s attractive and easy, self-righteously flaunt it all

Things the Bible doesn’t say: Seek justice where it suits, love mercy if it’s attractive and easy, self-righteously flaunt it all

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If the administration of social justice were applicable to only “desirable” populations — irrespective of individual case or individual character — every damned one of us would be bleeding out naked on the Jericho Road, every single one of us would be starving to death in a pig pen, every single one of us would perish in the wilderness without grace or mercy. There is absolutely no wiggle room whatsoever — Old Testament or New Testament — to condone partiality and discrimination in the administration of social justice. In-fact, often we are commanded explicitly to love and care for those we would rather not deal with and would prefer to zap off the face of the earth with lightning.

Any perspective apart from this, especially with respect to refugee populations, is squarely against God’s position as expressed in the Bible.

And as a Christian, any rhetoric or dialogue in the direction of partiality with respect to administration of compassion is just wrong. True justice, in that case, would be if God judged these individuals by a rule and a standard similar to their own.

Congratulations, you have brain cancer!

Because Livvy’s blog is wonderful and because ED awareness is something I care deeply and passionately about.

I weighed in on the original BMI BS post. To be clear, eating disorders are the biggest killer among mental illnesses, but also the most profoundly treatable…and yet the DSM definition is based solely on weight (further fuelling the numbers game). Thus, if a person suffering from anorexia nervosa merely gains weight to beyond a certain point, he or she is “cured” by the DSM definition, even if nothing else about his or her mental/emotional/spiritual self that led to the development of an eating disorder in the first place has changed. And if it is purely weight and not psychological what is it foing in the DSM in the first place? Further, it isimpossible to be at or above normal weight and suffering from anorexia. The whole thing is madness, Livvy’s analogy is a good one.

One Illness, One Name.

How it really is

How it really is

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How it really is…

I’m pretty socially networked.  I’m socially networked because the accident last December generally cut me off from being actually networked.  My one thread left has been to my church family, and that thread is precariously fragile.

I’m not particularly keen about entertaining the idea of no longer having a church family.  I ended up stranded 25 mi. from church after the accident (which might as well be the moon for lack of public transit).  I can say with absolute authority that I have visited all of the local Protestant churches within a reasonable distance to my present location (e.g., I can walk there in under an hour) except the church where my sister’s family used to go (and I support “used to”).  There isn’t a single one where the congregation “has room” for folks under 50 — in this part of the Valley.  That doesn’t stop me from attending Bible Study with 70-somethings, but it’s frustrating — few of them have room for me as a sister-in-Christ, only as a curiousity.  Is that harsh?  Maybe, but I don’t have a place to fit in their world.  Young people in this part of the Valley are not in church locally on Sundays, and unless you grew up in a certain congregation, you’re not welcomed in the sense that there exists much to support you or welcome you in congregational life; there is also little by way of Christian Education (either nothing at all, or you have to choose between  Worship OR Sunday School…which is inexcusable in any Christian church).  The closest churches that are viable options for my own denomination are 10+ mi. away, and at least an hour or two by bus (making participation in congregational life at those places pretty impossible).

At that point, what’s the point?  I’m not a “show up to show up” kind of person.  The Roman Catholic church down the street is fine, though I am not Catholic and would be partially excluded from some service opportunities there because of it.

But since I still have no idea where I will end up, what’s the point?  Contemplating the threat of falling out of church as you’re about to fall out of the rest of life isn’t the best way to go.

That would be me giving up; I’ve been close lately. Very close.

But the original purpose of this post was to rant about the recent disaster at Social Services a week ago Thursday…

Backing up, I was in a horrible accident last December that left me with a broken shoulder, no car, no job, and no possibility to work because of my profound disability.  I went to Social Services to be rejected for one type of medical coverage, but found out I qualified for food stamps (a debit card program for grocery purchases).  Really?  I’ll take it, one less thing to think about.

Except the program makes no sense.

My maximum allowable monthly income — as a single person — is $1,100/mo. to remain on the program.  For awhile my roommates’ family (a family of five) was receiving benefits from this program, but their maximum allowable income was $2,000/mo.

Given that the cost of rent for a space big enough to marginally accomodate a family of five — rent alone, not utilities — is about $1,400-$1,500/mo, don’t ask me how or where one is expected to live.  Nothing about the program makes any sense.  If you really want to know the truth about the insane mismanagement of this program, go hang out in Social Services for awhile — everyone there knows they are going to be stranded for hours, it can be a chatty place for how to work the system not to game the system, but to get your wait time under three hours at various agencies (talk to this place, fill out this form, etc.).  Ain’t nobody else watching out for the poor, the poor take care of their own.

I wish I were kidding, it’s deplorable and unacceptable.

So, I’d been getting letters in the mail that they were going to terminate my benefits if I didn’t provide my disability income information.

I’d offered them this information twice (once as a bonus to the trip I had to take when they terminated my benefits because they lost the paperwork I turned in…in-person).  That’s two trips at $5/each in bus fare (though the Social Services office is not actually served by public transit, it is four long blocks to the nearest bus).  I took a third trip out, and my worker had no idea why I was there (this is the man that made me fill out all my paperwork myself with a broken right shoulder three days after I broke it; I now have a new worker and the world is a better place).

If you’re counting, that’s three pointless trips at $5/each (plus about five hours of waiting) all because Social Services can’t get their act together.

Also, I was still getting the letters.

A few months back they took away our ability to directly communicate with our workers (this was when I had my worker changed).  There is just a toll-free number to a call center.  I called and the worker (not my worker) who answered the phone looked at my file and said that my former worker was shoddy on the data entry side and forgot to check a box in a form in their system.  Eventually, some days later, my new worker called — problem fixed, you shouldn’t be getting any more latters, but please turn in your QR7 when you get it.

What is a QR7?  A QR7 is the form required for income and employment eligibility requirements to assess if you qualify to receive continued benefits from the program or programs from which you receive assistance.

Q…stands for “Quarterly.”

R…stands for “Review.”

7…is a reference to the 7th Circle of Hell (Violence) from which the employees in the QR7 department escaped (but deserved) after getting lost in their botched escape plan from the 8th Circle of Hell (Fraud); these employees belong resolutely in the 8th Circle of Hell.  Social Services is actually one portal to the 5th Circle of Hell (Anger), which becomes abundantly clear to anyone who has ever spent any time there (it really would improve Customer Service if the security guards just handed out complementary Xanex after they screen your bags).

Right, so…”Turn in my QR7 for the reporting month of April when you receive it in the mail.” Got it. Waited for my QR7. Mailed the 30th of April, received the week of the 6th of May — late — and thus assumed it was therefore due by the 5th of the following month June, and didn’t really give it much thought. I would turn it in the next time I had to run errands in that direction.

Got a letter on Wednesday the 15th of May with a notice that my benefits were being terminated (again) because I failed to provide income information. Now all those dumb letters said they needed the disability income information they didn’t need by the 7th of May. I thought the letter was related to that, well, since I needed to make the trip out there, might as well turn in the QR7 too.

Then — filling it out — noticed that it had actually been due by the 5th of May, not June (a pretty fancy feat for me to do since I didn’t even have the form at the time).

Went to Social Services, walking nearly two miles because I also needed to stop at the Post Office on the way). Got there at 1:50 PM. Security screen, waited in line, checked in, was called by my worker within five minutes. Explained the situstion, can I turn it in, I also need to file an affidavit to document filing for a pending disabilty extension (in March, which I hope to see by June). She called the QR7 department, yes someone would come down to meet with me, please wait and they will call you.

Was okay for the first hour, but then my blood sugar dropped dangerously. At an hour and a half went back to the reception window — are they coming, do they know I’m here? They called my worker again. Getting up made me realize I was almost at a place of passing out. Had some almonds and a sugar packet (all I had in my purse). Asked the guard about vending machines — yes, a soda machine in the next building (no good, I had to wait here). Was there a problem? Yes, hypoglycemia. Ten minutes later he randomly showed up with a piece of candy (which actually, probably saved the day).

At two hours total wait time, my worker called me again.

“You’re stiil here?”

“Yup.”

“Didn’t they call you?”

“Nope. At an hour-and-a-half I went back to the reception window.”

“Let me call them… They say they already met with you.”

“If that were true, why am I holding the forms I want to turn in? I just need to fill out the affidavit for my disability status and turn it in.”

[Long pause]

“I’ll call, no…you know what, we’ll do it here. If I get you the affidavit form you can fill it out?”

“Absolutely, but I have a question about what I need to put, which is why I am here.”

Got everything straightened out, took the time to fill out a comment card to document my visit, finally left at 4:30 PM. Walked up the street and caught the bus just before 5:00 PM. Two-and-a-half hours, an hour of walking off the bus line, and $5 in bus fare because other people cannot do their jobs (for which they are paid) correctly.

It is at this point that I would note that there are probably people who game the system, but the majority of individuals in that office have a profound and legitimate need. Often the legitimate need is a short-term transitory need for a few months, maybe a year. With respect to food stamps, it’s impossible to actually eat well because you’re bound to get by on $5/day or less for food.

You can’t eat much worth eating on $5/day, but it will keep you from starving to death. Lots of “poor people” food — peanut butter sandwiches, quesadillas, protein never gets to be a mainstay. Corners are cut. Regular and herbal tea bags “count,” so often I get by with cold-brewed herbal tea instead of juice (which works out to about $1.52/two quarts compared to $3.00+/two quarts). “Juice cocktail” is also cheaper than 100% juice. Some drink mixes (Gatorade, Kool-Aid, etc., but not sure which) also seem to be covered — also cheaper than juice.

Pre-cooked food is not covered.

I have a friend whose favorite example is that when she was homeless she could buy a raw chicken (which she had no way to prepare) but couldn’t buy a pre-cooked chicken from the deli section. It’s true, the restriction to “ingredients” make life a challenge to any homeless or near-homeless or even folks living in room-for-rent situations where storing and preparing perishable food is impossible. I haven’t had a kitchen since 2005, I haven’t had access to a safe refrigerator since 2007. I live in a world of eternal breakfast — fruit, nuts, dry cereal, juice, and tea…occasionally with crackers. Life is one long preschooler snack, and has been since mid-2007 (as even though the food stamps is a recent thing, in room-for-rent situations you eat like this anyway; some would add ramen noodles to that list).

But I digress, what is on the approved list of things you can buy makes no sense. Often, it is a brand difference. Sometimes the name brand qualifies and the store brand doesn’t. Sometimes one brand qualifies but its other name brand equivalent doesn’t. I am hypoglycemic, and was stranded at the mall on a 100°F+ day needing to eat. It took three tries before I gave up trying and used a single banana as my litmus test in Target — none of the single items I tried to buy, including a box of the store brand granola bars, was approved (which meant I had to also stop at a neighborhood market for the perishable stuff on my way home). Was it because the granola bars had chocolate chips in them (with dried cherries)??? It is possible to buy a bag of chocolate chips, it is possible to buy cookies, it is possible to buy some varieties of candy (I have been told this about candy, but I have not tried it, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth). Granola bars? Hit-or-miss. Ice cream? Also hit-or-miss. Deli-prepared fresh food (e.g., those roast chickens), never.

And never, ever, ever, ever soap, toilet paper, shampoo, laundry soap, female sanitary supplies, etc.

No one would choose to live this way.

No one would choose to put up with the bureaucratic ineptitude, the total degredation of being treated like a sub-human or unintelligent by many social services employees. The world operates with a single story on aid recipients, but it was never really true, and is especially false after 2008 when entire job sectors disappeared (including mine) and will never come back.

Ever.

I wonder if people who only know my writing, who can only see my mind, “get” how far below the U.S. poverty line I live. I am very well aware how rich American poor are, but I’ve variously gone without things most people take for granted — indoor plumbing, potable water, access to a refrigerator, heat, natural light, ventilaton, access to sanitation for trash, a bed, cleanliness enough to be able to turn off the lights without being swarmed by roaches. I don’t remember the last time I regularly ate dinner, probably sometime in 2000.

On paper, I am not worthy of your consideration as a person of value given my dossier, résumé, etc. — an entry-level struggling nobody.

Is that who I really am?

This is not a rational lifestyle choice, people in my station end up here, it’s not an aspiration. It’s a hellish way to live, no one in this place stays here a moment longer than absolutely necessary. And yet I always come up against stereotypes and people with impractical/unhelpful “advice.”

I’d seriously like to give them a year of this to see if they could survive it.

This is how it really is. A girl sitting on acceptance to a prestigious university (can’t go), food insecure, marginally employable, on the cusp of homelessness again. None of it adds up, this is not the Reagan-era ideaology that if you work hard in school (I am an honors student with very nice grades and a beautiful long list of community service and ministry work), you will do well.

I got 99 problems, and 73 of them can be fixed by throwing money at them.

I don’t think the American Dream is dead, but it is unconscious and bleeding in a back alley somewhere.

This is how it really is: but for the grace of God go you.

On meme culture and the Patriot’s Day 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

On meme culture and the Patriot’s Day 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

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Taken Saturday, 16 April, 2011 in Danvers, Massachusetts

My mother’s family is from Boston, we have deep roots there.  Two years ago this weekend we were all celebrating my sister’s wedding.  My Facebook feed — full of news organizations, ministries, and many Massachusetts friends and relatives — started lighting up like a Christmas tree early this afternoon with news of the Patriot’s Day bombing at the Boston Marathon.

And the entire media and social media world followed with the typical array of stories, memes, condolances, love, and prayers — posted from all over the world.  In the face of disasters and tragedies, our society now creates the digital virtual equivalent of an on-site memorial shrine.  It’s quite striking actually.
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I don’t know if the first “digital disaster” in American consciousness was the World Trade Center bombings of September 11, 2001 or not.  It was the first major American disaster in quite some time, and both captivated and horrified the world in a way I’ve not seen since.  By 2001, e-mail and internet was something most people had, and those were the first event-oriented memes I remember seeing in e-mail forwards.  Meme culture has been a common tribute response to disasters ever since, and like I said, it’s quite striking.

Now, I definitely collect memes — mostly for use in blog posts or as a source of encouragement to others — but I question their value somewhat.  I reject the use of memes by people who use them as a soapbox to run off at the mouth with hatred, vitriol, disrespect about some perceived injustice to one’s sense of entitlement in the world.  Okay, you keep polluting my eyes with disturbing and toxic images and rhetoric, who — exactly — is served by that anger?  What makes me most angry are people who expend a lot of energy on vitriol and outrage against a certain issue, but do absolutely nothing to affect positive change in the world to make any meaningful impact toward righting that apparent wrong.  I have no love for people who do nothing but stand on street corners holding signs and shouting either, but meme culture is far lazier.  If the beginning and end of your campaign for social and political justice is to vomit memes all over your social media feed?  I promise you, pictures of sleeping kittens would bring EXACTLY the same level of effectiveness…but would be ever so much more pleasant than ire, fire, anger, vitriol, and hatred.
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But I think memes do have their place in our culture.

In our high-speed, 4G, data saturated, sound-byte culture of speeding through life at a furious clip with a 24-hour news cycle chirping along in the background as we tweet and text our way through the day, memes invite us to take a breath: memes invite us to take a breath, hold a thought in our heads, have a simple mental and emotional response to a graphic, and then resume our day. They make us laugh, they make us smile, they make us angry, they make us nostalgic, they make us reflective, they make us think…

Memes make us reach out and touch our own humanity in a collective response with others. And while they may or may not be the most effective or productive response to any given situation, they are a response. May our thoughtfulness, our love, our compassion, our joy, and our hope not begin and end with mere memes. My background is steeped heavily in the study of history, and the notion is very often raised “those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” That’s true enough, but in our high-speed, search-engine-driven, wiki-culture, what does “remember” even mean anymore? I pray it does not mean the fleeting graphic equivalent of a sound-byte without genuine depth of thought or care.

Do you remember the 26 January 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India? I happened to be stuck home in bed and seriously ill that month with what ended up as pneumonia. The house where I was renting a room at the time was located at the base of the foothills of my city, at the mouth of a cañon. I had no television, and radio reception was dodgy. I did, however, have internet. I quickly found a passion for the BBC World Service, for when the NPR stations switched to music overnight, the events and stories of life around the world still went on — and were reported — as North America slept on through the night. I remember the extensive coverage of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake clearly, as it was the main story for weeks on the BBC World Service. I remember one interview with a local Gujarati man who was thoughtful and mused that it was good that the world was taking note of Gujarat, but would the world still remember Gujarat in a year?

I don’t think the world did, but I have never forgotten it.

We say our love, our hearts, our prayers are with the people of Boston. I hope that is really true. For me it is true because — on some level — there is an aspect of ancestral “home” to Boston (though that particular city has never been my own home). I hope it is true that our love, our hearts, our prayers are with the people of Boston in a lasting and meaningful way…not merely as the latest selection in the *Disaster of the Month Club* meme-fest. May our words to each other encourage, uplift, inspire, and bring hope — and may they do so in a lasting and meaningful way.

And of all the thoughts, prayers, memes, and tributes to mark this shocking and tragic day, the following one (posted by my friend Linda) gave me the most pause. Thank you and bless you Mr. Rogers, yes — “remember the helpers.”
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Another friend remarked:

“Numb….just plain numb….this tragedy in Boston….it’s not going to end, is it”

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To that, my reply will take us to Flanders, to France, and to Gallipoli in the years that followed the great battles of the Great War. To read the story of the origins of the Flanders Fields Remembrance Day Poppies in more depth, click here, but the gist of it is that the poppies that grew alongside the fields of grain in the beautiful farmlands that became ravaged wastelands in the battles of the Great war grew best in the churned-up and turned-over soils created by the battles that raged. Beginning in 1915, the battlefields began to bloom with poppies. It was this story in my mind when I replied to my friend:

“Life is beautiful my friend, but sometimes it takes awhile for the wildflowers to carpet the battlefield.”

Life is beautiful, and though some days all you can see is the mud before the poppies, there is hope…and God is still on the throne. — VKS

Wind in my sails

Wind in my sails

(This is painted on a cross hanging on my wall...)

(This is painted on a cross hanging on my wall…)

“When I stand before God at the end of my life I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” — Erma Bombeck

I’m in a temporary small group study for Lent right now.  I am a demographic misfit — an unattached and unencumbered “young person” (Protestants tend to drive these people away, but that’s another discussion).  I was the elected leader of the young people at a previous church.  I was grumbling to a dear friend of mine last month that I would just as soon start my own small group study and volunteer to host and facilitate it if my life were in a better place just to get out of dealing with the seasonal misfit group.

My life is not in a better place.

Some of the reason I’d happily avoid the whole thing is a particular difficult personality.  I’m not a gossipy person, not gonna go there.  To steal a line from the late pastor friend of a pastor friend of mine: we are not called to be “fruit inspectors.”  I’m a strong personality too…moving on.

And yet, for various reasons, my cranky butt keeps showing up every week.

Last night’s topic was “Spiritual Gifts” — what are our gifts and how can we best use them?  I know what mine are, I use them.  A hiccup has been the accident that required me to resign from all of my various ministry activities because I am no longer in-charge of my own transportation to church, but I’m working on trying to figure out “What next?”

Because unless you’re dead?  There is always something in God’s kingdom to be done, even if it is just the dishes (which I totally ROCK at, by the way).

I was writing to a friend this morning (and she will know who she is when she finds this):

Last night’s class didn’t go well for me (and yet I keep showing up…), but was a great session for others.  I really am lost at trying to explain to people that if the Holy Spirit is the wind in your sails it doesn’t matter what you “can” or “cannot” do, because it won’t be YOU doing it.  It just baffles me how many people can’t wrap their heads around “Lord, make me an instrument if thy peace.”  It’s not that hard, it really isn’t, you just need to make room for God to move and let God be God.  Maybe I really am foolish in the same direction as St. Francis of Asissi?  I feel sorry for the next human who intones the name of Mother Teresa in the context of “someone so unattainably great I’m off the hook,” because I am going OFF on that person.  I’m sick of it.  People say she was a living saint.  So what?  She doesn’t get to carry the torch for all humanity, she is just one example of what is possible if a person takes seriously the call to do God’s work in the world.  I think if I went so far as to declare that we are ALL called to be living saints, I’d be run out of most churches.  Because it’s true, and because we are…though how that call manifests in the lives of each of us differs.  I just don’t have an answer for this frustration.

And I don’t.

Many years ago a very dear friend of mine wrote in a letter to me that if we don’t use the gifts God gives us, it is like spitting in God’s face.  She’s right.  There is a big difference between talking about how and where “it might be nice” to serve and actually making the inquiry “How can I be useful?”  If the communion of saints is God’s cheering section, there are no positions for the vocation of keeping the bleachers warm in the Kingdom of Heaven (sorry to disappoint — the job classification doesn’t exist — try hell…).

Life is a matter of life and death, it is not a matter of muddling through.  I have heard some people say that “God grades on a curve.”  Actually, no just God grades on a curve, not really.  You can still be fully acceptable to God with imperfection, but God isn’t going to change your grade on the grading scale by throwing perfection out and grading on a curve.  Grace?  Totally.  Mercy?  Absolutely.  Just?  Unquestionably.  Our imperfection will stand as our score, it’s the judgment as to whether that score of our heart (whatever it is, low or high) is acceptable (Christ as intercessor helps here).

We are doomed to imperfection, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best.  I am having a series of small battles with one of the small children in my world who will ask for help before she tries.  That doesn’t work with Miss Val, and trying to scrape through life without trying or applying ourselves doesn’t work with God either.  If the toddler in my world scribbles on a coloring page and declares it “done,” it’s great because scribbling is all she can do.  If the kindergartener in my world scribbled the same scribble it would be unacceptable to turn in to his teacher because he was being lazy and can do better work.  In the Kingdom of Heaven, the perfection of the work is not the thing…what matters is the effort and motive behind the work.

And so yes, I have the argument with Christians quite frequently (I have it so often it’s starting to become an essay): “God is not calling me to be Mother Teresa.”

Really?  Hmm…you don’t know much about Mother Teresa, because, yeah…he kind of is.

Her line was “do something beautiful for God.”

She didn’t set out to become Mother Teresa either.  She was a nun, she saw a need, she asked a question: Can I leave the convent to help the people?

They thought she was a nut (this is NOT DONE!!!!!); the Vatican had to get involved.

She left to help the forgotten, invisible, discarded, poorest of the poor…one person at a time.  She had two hands and two feet and a loving heart and the power of the Holy Spirit, what else could she need?

How about the courage to walk out the door and follow God?

What I say to people is that all Mother Teresa did was do what she could (the best she could) with what she had where she was…with the power of God.  That’s all God can ever really ask of us.

And what happens when people heed the call to follow God outside their cozy, comfortable box?  They “do something beautiful for God.”

Because the truth is that if Jesus Christ is Lord, he can’t be “Lord” without submission to his authority and our service to him: this is the backbone of Christian discipleship

Post-script: As I think on this — just to be clear, this is a general frustration with humanity, not any particular individual or group per se, but so many conversations on this topic have happened over the years. It never really changes. I also certainly don’t have it all figured out. — VKS

Little “fishys” and lost souls

A post on Facebook from the Public Health Education department (a department that shared offices in the county building where I once worked for a couple of different county departments) put up a link to an article this morning reminding me that it is “Eating Disorders Awareness Week.”

Thus sayeth Val: Be Aware.

Seriously.  Be aware.

I don’t know if there is a “ribbon” for Eating Disorders.  Maybe there should be, maybe not.  I know cancer survivors who cling fiercely to their respective ribbons.  I suppose it is their right.  Personally though, I’ve always paused to wonder what clinging to a ribbon really means.  Maybe I’m just dense on this one, but wouldn’t being able to wake up in the morning and know the day and live life be reminder enough that one is a survivor?  And what does being “a survivor” really mean anyway?  Are you promoting your own strength or thanking God for his grace and mercy?  By no means would I dare discount anyone, but…the more I think about it, the more I agree with the idea that the two components of a human life are “dust” (the earthly, mortal, part) and “soul.”  Our dust has little strength of its own against the creative forces of life and death.  Seriously.  I’m a survivor too…but I take no credit for it. Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory.

Cancer ravages the body before it steals your life.  Eating disorders steal your mind and your soul before they ravage what is left of your body.  It’s no way to live, and it is an incredibly painful way to die — by torture and assassination of the soul.

All eating disorders work similarly, but anorexia nervosa is the one I’ve seen up-close, a devil I know well — I will thus frame my awareness in terms of and with reference to anorexia nervosa.  Anorexia is not about food — it never was about food, it will never be about food.  The food issues are merely an outward manifestation of a much deeper problem.  As the body wastes for lack of food, it is only following in the footsteps of a soul dying for lack of love on the deepest level.

The soul goes first.

It’s not about food, it’s not about being thin, it’s about self-control being run off-the-rails in the direction of self-destruction.  There is an evil element to that which defies description.  The most basic truth is that where there is a VAST space left in a person’s life (usually “girl’s life” in the case of anorexia nervosa) , great darkness moves in and takes over.

What anorexia nervosa does to the mind, soul, and body (in that order) is among the closest things in life I’ve ever witnessed that could arguably be classed as “demon possession.”  The audio and video feed of every failing and inadequacy you’ve ever experienced in your life (anyone who is not a narcissist has this) never shuts off and eventually takes over.  I say we all have this?  We do, but honest perspective and love can usually shut it off.  Anorexia comes where that love is absent, moves in, and whispers that it will keep you safe from everything in the world that can hurt you — your strength against the weakness of hunger will help build your strength against the pain, emotions, people, and situations that are trying to destroy you.  You need it, trust it — don’t be weak and let the hunger, the emotions, the pain win.

It’s all a lie, but it comes in a very pretty culturally-endorsed package — if “thin” is beautiful and “exercise” makes you “healthy,” why not worship on that altar?  The air-brushed and drug-soaked fashion and celebrity universe seems to support it, why not?

Because it is a lie.

I once heard a speaker remark that a person with anorexia is the kind of person who, if she resolved to drink eight glasses of water a day, will stay up until midnight to drink eight glasses of water in the last ten minutes of the day if she forgot just because she resolved to do it.  Not everyone suffering from anorexia nervosa is a Type-A personality, but if there is a Type-A personality suffering from an eating disorder, I won’t even bat an eye to leave any wiggle room for possible speculation: 100% of those individuals are battling anorexia, it’s the only one that appeals to a tidy, methodical, meticulous nature.

And that’s the cruellest part — the type of person who gravitates toward anorexia nervosa is typically an extremely intelligent, capable young woman with a lot of talent, potential, and often leadership ability.  Were their heads on straight for self-perception and self-care, these are women who could justly and capably rule the world.  Anorexia nervosa snuffs out the best and the brightest by design.

I don’t know if there is a patron saint for those suffering from eating disorders.  Mary Magdalene, however, comes to mind as a potentially just and beautiful choice.  She was healed by Christ from seven demons.  It doesn’t say much more than that about the nature of the situation, but here was a woman who we got to quietly follow through various little snippet accounts in the Bible as a person who did not forget what Christ’s compassion, love, and healing did for her and meant to her life.  She followed Christ’s body to the grave.  She was given the beautiful gift of being the first person to know of Christ’s resurrection.

Stop.  Just stop.  Stop and think about that for a minute.  This was no random thing, there are no coincidences.  This was not her good luck — one lesson to learn in  the Bible is that God doesn’t work in terms of “luck.”  Just stop and consider that of all the people Christ loved who loved Christ, he picked Mary Magdalene to be the first one to encounter his resurrected self.  That’s huge.  Not Peter, not John, not his mother…Mary Magdalene.  If you want an argument for “least” being “greatest,” there’s one.  Now, there is a lot of weird mythology around Mary Magdalene (I believe none of it, and neither should you).  The three explicit references were that she was healed from seven demons, she was present at the crucifixion and followed the body to the grave, and she was the first person to learn of the resurrection.  That is what we know.  What we also know is that this is a woman who understood — and never forgot — how much Christ’s compssion and healing had restored her to life.  She loved Jesus of Nazareth and became his disciple.  She was favored with the honor to be the first to experience the wonder and joy of the resurrection.  That’s huge.  This is a woman who got up every day with the knowledge that Christ was the one who gave her both life and hope.

I can’t think of a better person to flesh out the hope of a life healed from something like anorexia nervosa.

But while we’re on the topics of saints, I need to make one thing absolutely clear: anorexia mirabilis is made-up and garbage.  There is no “holy” absence of hunger, but anorexia nervosa can actually phisiologically re-wire a person’s brain to “turn off” hunger.  There is a sub-class of ascetic saints who suffered from this “holy” disease with some pretty disturbing behaviors and outcomes.  There is no starving yourself to death for the glory of God, it just doesn’t work that way.  I have no love for the veneration of these particular saints (Catherine of Siena among them).  I cannot venerate the faith of anyone willing to worship at the altar of death.

If you’re reading this and looking for answers, maybe you’ve found them and maybe not.

Maybe you’re the one who is suffering, maybe it’s someone you know…or maybe you’re just one of the wonderful friends God has blessed me with in my life who makes it a joy to get out of bed in the morning.

I have a friend who is one of my confessors and prayer partners, she is custodian of a very large piece of my soul and I love her very much.  I was praying for her and for her family as I was waking up this morning.  She is a grandmother and has another grandchild on the way.  I was praying for this little one a prayer that is the best prayer for all children — that they may live a life where they always know (and never, ever, ever doubt) that they are loved.  If I am praying for your children or grandchildren, that’s one of the things I’m praying.

The alternative is — quite literally — a living hell.

If you or someone you know needs help, please…do something.  Praying is good, but this kills and destroys in horrendous ways.  Please get help.

I’m just a pilgrim, but I’ve battled my own Apollyon, as it were.  Survivor?  Yes.  Recovered?  Yes.  Perfect?  No.  Loved?  Without question.  I am not a therapist, I am not qualified in any professional capacity, just a pilgrim.  But I also happen to know that the fishy site is one of the most praise-worthy and amazing places on the web for resources.  They have support boards there too, it’s wonderful.  The site is well-run and well-moderated.  The fishy site is the real deal (though by no means a substitution for help in real life).  For more information:

http://www.somethingfishy.org