Devoted but not Loyal

I’m starting to get burnt out on church again.

I’ve been going to church every week for the past two months: compared to my previous record of once or twice a month. It was great for a while, but the last few weeks I’ve just felt stagnant. And I don’t know if it’s a stagnancy I need to wade through or one I need to change.

When it comes to Christianity, I’m devoted, but I’m not loyal. I believe that, if God/the Universe/the Life Stream is everything–is the beginning, middle, and end of all that exists–no religion, and definitely no church, owns him. Therefore, if a method of connecting to him isn’t working, there’s no shame in leaving and trying something else.

Before I returned to church, my Sundays were spent quietly with coffee and toast, listening to a sermon or other spiritual teaching while playing video games. On mornings when the weather was nice, or when God had something particularly pressing to speak with me about, I would go on a walk or go to the woods to meditate.

I miss those mornings. But at the same time, when I had those mornings, I missed meeting with other Christians and the spiritual stability that church brings.

I need to find a balance.

For now, I think I will continue going to the church I found in Tokyo because I do have good friends there. I’m only here for four more weeks and I want to make the most of the time I have left.

 

not like this

My best friends’ dad died today. He left a wife and four children, two of them in middle school.

As I was trying to get ready for the day, weeping, I heard God speak. “This is why you are going back (to America),” he said, “to be there for them. Improve your empathy, because they will need it.”

I like finding out what my next step is, but not like this. Not like this.

Acceptance

Reality works like a mirror. Whether you take this as literal truth or just a helpful metaphor, it still holds true.

This is why some people seem to have good luck and some bad, and why people who like themselves often end up being liked by others (and vice versa). There are endless applications of this on every conceivable topic from relationships to health.

For me, now, it has been showing up with regards to my self-image. The more I learn to accept and enjoy myself, the easier it is for me to accept and enjoy other people.

I used to be very prideful and very cynical. I disliked people, as a species in general. (I still do a little, if I’m honest.) And the fact that I was part of this species felt like a dirty secret to me. I always wanted to tack on a qualifier in my mind. “Yeah, I’m part of humanity, but…”, or “Yeah, I’m a girl, but…”

Qualifiers do more harm than good, I think. It’s only in taking them away and accepting what and who I am that I have been able to see more clearly what my true potential is. And by extension, that of other people.

Meditation Corner

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about getting better at prayer and meditation was from a speaker at a conference I went to in high school. He advised us to create a “sanctuary in our room.” In other words, create a nook you can go to that is only used for prayer or meditation. In that way, you will be better able to focus and hopefully spend less time playing “tie down the monkeys” with your stray thoughts.

There used to be this tree a short walk from my house that bordered a wheat field. It had long, drooping branches and in the summer, its thick leafy branches touched the top of the wheat, creating a secret little spot in the shade. I went there to meditate as often as I could manage.

When I couldn’t manage, I took all the pictures off of one of the walls in my room and set a chair there, facing the corner.

These days, I find sitting on the floor in the dark, or with a candle or incense, more effective than the chair in the corner. But I still prefer to meditate outside when possible, if I can find somewhere I won’t be disturbed.

The Killing Kind

I used to have no problem killing bugs I found in the house. But I’m finding it harder and harder to do so. Which is ironic because the idea of death doesn’t actually bother me all that much (I see it as a necessary part to the cycle of life). Nowadays, when I kill bugs–out of fear or because I was too lazy to find a more humane solution–I feel a deep sense of shame.

Killing for defense, I understand. Killing for food, I understand as well. But killing a creature because it is trespassing, even when it poses no great harm to you? Yes, it’s within my rights to do so, but I can’t get the idea out of my mind that I should be the “bigger person,” so to speak. I am the sturdier one. I will live longer and fewer things will threaten me. I am built more resilient.

Shouldn’t I use some of that resilience to make the short life of smaller creatures just a little better and a little longer? What does it cost me really?

I’d probably be singing a different tune if I was in the midst of an infestation. But for now at least, while choosing mercy doesn’t put me in danger, I’m going to put my bug friends outside.

The Agreement

I am in Japan on a Tourist Visa, which means I cannot work while here. And, because I cannot work, money has been tight. I have to think about the remaining months, I have to think about rent and other bills and food and transportation, and make sure that the money I saved earlier this year covers all of that.

Needless to say, it’s a point of stress for me. Especially when things keep arising that I hadn’t budgeted for.

But in this season, as in all seasons, I know God will take care of me. It was part of our agreement, after all, when I welcomed him into myself. I will use all my resources to follow him, and in return, he will take care of me in the way he decides is best.

He has been surprising me with little gifts lately, as is his way. Just little things to show his support. An entrance fee was refunded to me. My friends’ party ended up being smaller than expected, so the “chipping in” cost was removed. I even found almost 200 yen ($2) in the bottom of my purse.

They were all nice surprises, but the nicest thing about them is knowing who they were from, and why they were given to me. It’s as if God was saying. “See? I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to worry.”

So I won’t worry. I’ll try to trust instead.

Sin as Contextual

Determining whether something is sin is a lot like determining whether two chemicals mixed together are going to explode: it depends what you are mixing with what.

Some chemicals are prone to explode on their own, and some actions are bad news for whoever participates in them. Things like murder. That one’s pretty cut and dry.

But most chemicals only explode when mixed with specific other chemicals. In the same way, whether or not something is harmful differs from person to person. What is harmful for one person is just fine for another. What is fine in one situation is not fine in another.

For example, it was noble to lie to protect Jews from Nazis. But it is not noble to lie to protect myself from embarrassment.

Another example is porn. For some people, it adds to their intimacy with their partner and helps them explore their sexuality. For others, it fosters harmful fantasies and thoughts.

To make matters even more gray, there may be things that didn’t used to be okay for someone to engage in but they are now, and vice versa.

Actions and thoughts affect each person differently. That’s why there’s no point to judging others.

Good Possession

I’ve come to realize that not all spiritual possession is bad or harmful. Like most things in life, it seems to come down to who is involved and what consent was given.

We have all heard the horror stories of harmful possessions by demons, etc. Possessions that cause the host to lose control of their body and hurt themselves or others. Possessions that require long, intense exorcisms. Those are forced possessions, where the spirit decided to possess with no input from the host.

What we often forget is that a lot of religion, especially Christianity, encourages a kind of possession as well. But it encourages possession that is consensual, loving, and built on trust.

In Christianity, it’s commonly called “asking Jesus into your heart” or being “born again.” You ask a manifestation of God called the Holy Spirit to enter and reside inside of you for the rest of your life, influencing how you think and act, guiding you to become more like him.

He doesn’t force his way in. He is gentle and attentive, and keeps a dialogue going the whole time to make sure you are 100% on board with what he is proposing. And if you aren’t, he takes a step back and you go back to discussing, to see why you aren’t okay with it and whether you truly want to continue.

Personally, I didn’t understand the “born again” concept until I started thinking about it in terms of possession. It sounds creepy put that way, doesn’t it?

Everyone is different and everyone finds different paths towards their own enlightenment. But for those who think they might want to give that kind of intertwined existence a try, I encourage them to.

But listen to me babbling on. I’m such a lovestruck flesh-thing that I think everyone should give it a go. Don’t listen to me. Go at your own pace (or don’t go. It’s your choice). But if you have any questions about it, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message and I’ll answer the best I can.

Envy

I am reading through a book my friend lent to me and while it is a great read, it has also been stirring up uncomfortable feelings surrounding an already uncomfortable topic for me.

Among other things, the book is about how evangelism isn’t about converting people to a list of doctrines so much as just being there to do life with them and help them in any way you can. That’s great. Totally agree.

Except, I’m not a “hanging out” kind of person. I’m not a talk-with-strangers-on-the-bus kind of person. So…what does that mean for me? What do I have to give?

While I’m not good at being friendly and inserting myself into people’s lives, I am better at other things: like learning, listening, and creating.

Part of being okay with being a good listener and not a great befriender is accepting that I can’t be good at everything. To have a healthy view of myself and others, I need to be okay with my own failures and my own embarrassments. I’m not a god in skin. I’m just a human: one that has trouble relating to other humans a lot of times.

Envy comes when you feel ashamed because you aren’t good in areas other people are. And while self-improvement is good, that self-improvement can’t come from a place of shame. It has to come from a place of acceptance, love, and curiosity.

God’s Little Gifts

All spirits have their own trademark qualities and God, being a spirit himself, is no different. It is an interesting exercise pondering which characteristics God has, especially those that aren’t explicitly listed in literature.

One that I am continually reminded of is how he likes surprising his church/hosts with little gifts. These are often unnecessary and unrequested extravagances. Just little gifts to surprise us and make us smile.

Some branches of religion get caught up in these gifts, which is sad because it misses the point. Following God for his gifts would be like marrying someone for their house.

But the fact remains that God likes to give those little surprises. Like a mother who picks up chocolate bars for her kids while grocery shopping, even though her kids are at home and weren’t expecting anything. The gifts are an expression of love. And, though he doesn’t give expecting anything in return, his love makes us want to surprise him back.