Sunday, November 11, 2012

Two Down and Counting

It seems as though I am losing friends at an alarming rate.

Last month, I lost my dog, an incredibly traumatic experience.  A couple of weeks later, I lost a dear friend, a thoroughly confusing experience.

A week ago, I lost a family member.

A few days later,  I faced the potential of losing my sense of security and well-being at work.

In the midst of all of this, I've been struggling with the effects of PTSD.

And so it was, that when looking at the only situation in which the outcome was not yet determined, I uttered (or rather typed) a very simple prayer.

My status update on Facebook was simply this:

"Dear Jesus,

If you truly love me, please do not let the big, bad, terrible, awful happen.


What followed was a theological cluster-fuck, some of it hostile, most of it incredibly supportive.

The responses went something like this:

1) A menstruation joke from my sister

2) My reply to her that I enjoy menstruating

The rest, I will not paraphrase, but post in whole:

3) [From a seminary colleague]  "I don't think Jesus is partial to one person's prayer and not another. There are a lot of people whose houses are gone, who are in the cold, who lost everything in the hurricane. And if children still get cancer, then I'm sorry MB, your prayer just aint (sic) gonna cut it. But I have to believe that Jesus truly loves them and you too."

4) [My response and final post concerning this]  " I do not believe that there is anything wrong with petitionary prayer, nor is there anything wrong with questioning the divine or divine love. It is, however, extraordinarily cruel to denigrate or invalidate another's experience or tell them that their prayers are in any way insufficient."

5) [Same seminary colleague from comment 3]  "I did not denigrate or invalidate you, MB. But I do have an issue with prayers that assume that God is in one person's corner, and not in another person's corner; that God somehow gives me preferential treatment, because 'I'm a believer and God loves me;' like the movement in the 80's (sic) of being a "King's Kid" and how that helped "Christians" get good parking spaces. I have heard an evangelist say that a person's cancer did not go away because they didn't "have enough faith." That is a horrible twisting of God's message and it turns God into a facetious, conditional gigolo instead of an unconditional lover of all creation."

This is the point at which I stopped engaging the conversation.  In large part because I'm having a hard time and I have no interest in defending my prayers.

To a lesser extent, I just didn't want to get into a theological or semantic cluster-fuck on Facebook.  First point being, I never indicated that I had been denigrated or invalidated, but that my feelings had been, in that my seminary colleague compared my (unknown to her) experience to those who lost much or all of their material possessions in the hurricane and children who are stricken with cancer. 

Secondly, I never asked God to favor me over anyone else.  I never asked God to stand in my corner and grant me anything over another person.  I simply asked that something truly awful not come to pass.

Thirdly, I'm not an evangelist, and I'm not Evangelical.  I've never claimed that anyone is beyond the love of God.  I've never claimed that God does not answer prayers because people lack faith, and I've never claimed that unanswered prayers for healing and restoration, and thus that sickness, injury, and death are God's will.

All I did was express my fear, frustration, and hopes in a very simple prayer.  For very specific reasons, I could not go into detail about the issue I was struggling with in a public forum.  However, I was confident that those friends who read my post would offer their own prayers or even reach out to me personally in the event that I could share more with them privately.  It was never my intention to ignite a battle on social media.

But, alas, a battle did ensue.

And it seems that everyone else was in my corner.

6) [My sister--I'm so grateful for her!]  "Wow, P. I'm shocked. I was taught that Jesus loves everyone regardless of their stature, age, race,etc. Just because one person is going through something doesn't make it any better or less than another person's struggles. God hears all our prayers no matter how big or small, how great or insignificant and he acts in accordance for what each individual needs.  MB, your prayer makes the grade."

I'm so proud of my sister's ability to clearly articulate these most basic sociological and theological points!

7) [My sister again]  " Tonight, I'm going to pray to God for the guidance for others to have open minds and open hearts."

8) [Aforementioned seminary colleague]  "Wow, R, I'm stunned and so disappointed. I was taught that God is not a vending machine or a puppeteer, but I guess i'm (sic) wrong. ... Jesus, if you love me, please let me win the lottery..... Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz..... Jesus, don't let my aunt die today.... Jesus please do this, Jesus please do that ..... Jesus please heal those poor sinners of homosexuality..... And we know you will grant our prayers 'in accordance with our needs." The great cover phrase that gives you a way out if 'you don't get what you pray for." And I'm sure that tomorrow, everyone will have open hearts and mind, because R prayed for it. Amen." 

How the hell did this devolve into a discussion of prayers for wealth and status?  How did this become a debate on homosexuality?  At what point did this suddenly become an all-out war over the theology of prayer? 

I expressed a need, a heartfelt desire.  I acknowledged a fear.  My (unstated) preference in this prayer, was that I would not be forced into a situation in which I would regularly be subjected to emotional abuse and bullying by a superior I have no immediate hope of escaping because of economic necessity.  Suddenly my crisis has become a circus.  Suddenly a single petitionary prayer has become the platform for lambasting the types of petitionary prayer that some people find offensive.  How the fuck did that happen?

 9) [My sister, with a level of snarkiness that may not be fully appreciated outside our immediate family] "Oh the maturity and wisdom of the elderly truly shines through......."

10)  [A second seminary colleague]  "Fortunately, Jesus doesn't seem to need anyone to screen his calls, or sort his mail."

This may well be one of the best responses I've ever read.  Witty, clever, and hits home the point.  Thank you, LD!

11) [My sister's final comment] "Thank you, LD. A family member passed away earlier this week and while that isn't the issue at hand, I'm sure the event and the upcoming funeral are weighing upon her greatly and causing added stress."
12) [Second seminary colleague again] "Praying for you and your family tonight, MB! Philippians 4:6."

Love and support in the midst of circumstances that are very trying for me.

13) [A very dear college friend] "
I usually pray for the same M, without the "if you" and a "and if it still happens, give me strength to cope with it" added on to the end.
I hope you are doing ok!
Love and miss ya! Looking forward to when we can hangout again!

Sorry for adding my
2 cents but...
@above Tough Love lady: I believe that it is the truth that "God does not see as we see nor think as we think" So we really can't make such statements. Nor does this prayer ask for favor over another. It is a simple prayer much like Jesus in the last days (paraphrase) "If possible let this burden pass from me" just humans crying out to God in our hearts sadness. There will always be someone with a more difficult trial to face, but it does not lessen the ones "we" face at the moment. I hope you can be a bit kinder with your advice to my dear friend."

I understand that it may have been my "If you" statement that ruffled feathers.  The simple fact is, though, that I included it because, you know, I'm human.  I'm not perfect.  Sometimes, my emotions do no match up with my thoughts or intellect.

14) [A work colleague]  "M, I hope that what ever it is that is terrible will not happen or will pass very quickly. The great thing about Jesus and God is that They love us all and do so equally. I know that you know this. Do not let the judgement, hate, and/or bitterness of others sway you. I will be thinking of you and, if you would like to talk (or even vent while I just listen) you know where to find me. In the meantime, chin up, you're strong and I know that regardless of what it is, you'll pull through."

(Yeah, I've got some pretty rock star friends and family).

Sometimes, I fear I might be wrong in what I believe.  Sometimes--when things get difficult, when life is hard, when tragedy strikes--despite all of my brains, all of my training, all of my education, all of my stringently held beliefs, all of my faith--which I actively choose--sometimes, I actually doubt God's love for me.  Not because I didn't win the lottery, not because I don't drive a Mercedes-Benz, not because a loved one died. 

Sometimes, I doubt God's love for me, because I've been conditioned by our society to believe that only certain types of people are worthy and deserving of love; and I don't fit the mold.  I'm too fat.  I'm too smart.  I'm too female.  I'm not feminine enough.  I'm too bold.  I'm too loud.  I'm not perfect.

I've been told by the church most of my life that God rewards those who are good and punishes those who are bad.

When tragedy strikes in the wake of some unrelated mistake I've made, sometimes I struggle against a deep-seated belief that God is punishing me.

When I'm struggling to maintain my sense of safety during a episode of PTSD, despite having a home and a bed and material possessions, when the reality is that I do not have safe places but safe people, and when all of my safe people are hundreds or thousands of miles away, and I'm faced with the possibility of being forced into a situation that I experience as having potential to be incredibly dangerous to me personally, I question whether God loves me, and I wonder if I've done something wrong to warrant such a change in my circumstances.

I'm human.  I'm far from perfect.  I have weaknesses, fears, doubts, and insecurities.

People tell me how strong and capable I am.  But I'm only strong because I've had to be.  I'm capable because circumstances dictated that I become so to survive.

But some days, I'm just tired, and weary, and I don't want to have to be strong anymore.  I don't want to have to be capable of bearing up under one more virtually untenable situation.

In those moments, I acknowledge that I fear I am not loved by God, and I plead that if such a situation might be thwarted, it would be.

In those moments, when my family and friends gather round me to defend me and my simple prayer of petition and hope, I feel buoyed by their love, support, and uttered prayers.

That first seminary colleague, though, has unfriended me on Facebook.

I'm not really sure what I could have done differently in this situation (or in the situation last month).

I believe I did nothing wrong.  I prayed a prayer.  For that small act, a woman I know, who is a fellow Christian, who affirms the love of God, and the worth and dignity of all people, ended her friendship with me.

People confuse the hell out of me.

This whole situation leaves me wonder who's next.

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