Tales from the Crypt

What is truth?

Wow. What an amazingly pretentious beginning to a blog. I have no shame. Let’s go there.

Philosophers have pondered its meaning, and religious groups have claimed to possess its sole source. Almost everybody in the first world experiences some form of eye-rolling at its mere mention. I don’t care. I keep thinking that the concept of truth is a good place to start.

About fifteen years ago, I began asking God to tell me the truth, as much as I could handle, as much as I could comprehend. Why would I do such a thing? Perhaps there existed within me a need, a desire for stability. Living is a precarious endeavor. We all have our illusions, the stories we tell ourselves that help us go to sleep at night. We like to believe that we are essentially good, that the things we do are reasonable and rational. In order to be a good, reasonable, rational individual, I must believe that the way I view myself and others is the correct way. This illusion, this story, becomes my personal truth.

But if this peculiar life philosophy, this truth, lends itself not to my benefit, but to my harm or the harm of those who are important to me, I begin to question my version of the truth. This is the situation in which I found myself fifteen years ago. My version of the truth wasn’t delivering. My life felt empty and purposeless. Even though I had aggressively embraced mainstream American Christianity, I felt lost and confused. All I wanted was the truth, because the fabric of my reality was unraveling and wearing thin. Whatever the truth could be, however painful its revelation, it had to be better than the nameless dread that haunted my once-comforting bedtime stories.

That’s what I thought, anyway.

I relate quite well to the rich young ruler who approached Jesus about eternal life in the book of Matthew, chapter nineteen, verses sixteen through twenty-two. The young man had created his own truth, but it must not have been working for him, either. Something felt wrong, and I believe he was sincerely seeking answers. Jesus knew the heart of the Seeker, just as he knew the real answer the man was seeking, even though he didn’t offer it, right away. He gave the young man an out, an easy answer, because the Master knew that the young ruler already knew the truth. The scriptures tell the reader that the young man went away, sorrowful, because the truth was too costly. For all the comforts that surrounded him, he could no longer afford his own illusions.

I suspect, like the rich young ruler, I already knew the truth. Abba gave me an out, an easy answer, because He knew I wasn’t ready to give up a good night’s sleep. He knew that I didn’t want it badly enough to let go of my illusions and trust Him.

How badly do I want the truth? What am I willing to sell to acquire it (Matt. 13:45, 46)?

Get Ready

*Note to my peeps: Don’t panic. You’re in the right place. I thought it was time for a new look.

As a recently reestablished resident of the Metro Nashville area in Nashville, TN, my husband and I have been engaged in the disheartening activity of finding a church to attend. Here’s a little background:

Once Upon a Time

I have been a member of a church, either in Tennessee or Texas, for most of my life. That means I have regularly attended, tithed, and served in different capacities in various mainstream denominational and nondenominational churches throughout most of my fifty-year lifespan. My family has been, traditionally, some incarnation of conservative Baptist. As a young adult in the 1980s, I switched to nondenominational, which has been the mainstay of my religious observance from that time until now.

My husband’s family attended the local Baptist church, as well, confining the bulk of their attendance to holidays and other special occasions. Because he is twelve years older than me, his experience of “Christian America” may entertain a slightly different vantage point, but not enough to affect a noticeable difference in our spiritual perspectives. Another important point to be made is the fact that we are newlyweds—a precious story for another time—which is certainly a factor in this discussion.

Where Do We Start?

Several weeks ago, we began our search on the Internet. Nashville has undergone a massive transformation from the city of my youth. Upon my return from a twenty-plus year tour of Texas, I encountered a beautiful, albeit alien, terrain. Thank goodness for Google! I can’t believe I used to drive around without it. Churches are everywhere so crawling the web helps to narrow the choices down a bit. Of course, prayer has been our key resource.

From sanctuaries and auditoriums, bleachers, folding chairs, and pews, I’ve engaged in enough congregations to have honed a specific criteria of what I’m looking for. Oddly, this list has become shorter over the years, which is noteworthy considering how church programs seem to be steadily lengthening. Confession moment: I should disclose the fact that I have spent the better part of the last decade in a weird sort of disillusionment regarding the Christian church in America. I found it increasingly difficult, at times, to attend. In his own life over the years, my husband, who became intensely involved in the Renewal Movement of the mid-nineties and active in prison ministry, eventually became discouraged, as well, preferring to worship privately through biblically sound, teaching tools (podcasts, recordings, etc.) and prayer. In my experience, no matter how sweet the people, how sound the teaching, or how moving the worship experience, I consistently came away with a growing sense of loss, like we were missing something—something important.

Now What?

More and more, I find that I am not alone in this unsettling revelation. I am an avid reader and researcher concerning cultural shifts within populations. The American church is an endless source of observable data. While the Focus of our devotion is unchanging, our expression of His worship exists in a perpetual state of regeneration. Why, then, are so many once-committed Believers now choosing football and sandwiches over the wine and the bread (Hebrews 10:24-26)?

I would like to end this installment, here, and ask my readers to reflect upon this discussion. I will leave my comments section open. In the past, I have closed it, enabling me to read the content before allowing it to be seen by the public. Because I intend this to be an open discussion, I’m taking the safeguards off. Remember, we are discussing the Bride of Christ. No matter her state, she is His bride and we must treat her with the same love and respect that our Bridegroom has so graciously extended to all of us. We are flawed and imperfect, but we are loved beyond measure or human understanding.

One more thing: there’s a point to this extra-long entry. More is on the way. I want to not only start a discussion, but bring up an uncomfortable, yet foundational, component that I believe is one reason for the discouragement and subsequent exodus of so many faithful hearts (Matthew 24:12). Stay tuned. This could be good.

Bad for Me

Why do I read the news, and why do I eat cheesecake? I’m beginning to suspect that neither of these practices are particularly beneficial. I tell myself that keeping in touch with world issues allows me to stay informed and relevant, an active member of the world. Eating cheesecake is a pure luxury of which I take advantage, simply because I can. “Clean your plate, Connie. There are starving children in Africa” (i.e. without cheesecake).

Who Knows Anything?

Every morning I check the news to see what fresh atrocity Donny T. has committed, or else review the latest liberal tantrum. That’s the news, folks. I join a large percentage of the American populace in my low regard for the mainstream news outlets. Did I call them news outlets? Let me be more specific: bias, whiny, soapbox rants. Where are the neutral journalists? Where are the facts? Why do I have to wade through article after article about what some entertainer thinks about this or that, when we all know that those are the people least likely to have a realistic perspective on anything? Talk about living in a bubble…

Just the Facts

We are all aware of media bias, but somehow, we’re all okay with this. We freely acknowledge that Fox News has a slant and that CNN has a slant, so we console ourselves with a statement like, “I read/watch the articles from both outlets to get a full picture.” Nobody gets a full picture from two extreme positions. When I look at black, and then I look at white, I don’t conceive gray. Or, if I do have some ability to merge the two, is it unreasonable for me to conjecture that there are an infinite number of varying shades between the darkest gray and the almost white? No wonder the American public is so frustrated and fractured. No wonder we have almost completely lost the ability to reach our own conclusions based on unembellished facts.

Pleasure and Pain 

Dairy gives me gas, but that doesn’t put a crimp in my cheesecake eating practices. Loads of sugar make me a little insane (FYI, I’m enjoying a piece of double chocolate death, even as I write this bit, which explains my current unhinged frame of mind). The creamy texture and the choco-sugar porn is what makes the experience so pleasing. But later, as the breakdown occurs in my aging digestive system, I will be filled with regret.

Living and Giving

I’ve been feeling pretty down since I moved away from my grown children. This is understandable, considering that my move from the panhandle of Texas to Nashville, Tennessee came on the heels of a divorce.

From July, 1988 to December, 2014, my entire life focus was centered around my husband, sons, and local church. Sensing that the hands-on segment of the “Mom” years was nearing a conclusion, I directed my industry toward the next phase of life in a new career that would, hopefully, provide my husband and myself a comfortable living as we prepared for retirement.

Despite his best intentions, Mr. Holmes couldn’t get into it and found something (someone) else to get into, instead. These factors led to an almost immediate, forced march into adulthood for our sons. At least, that’s how it appeared at the time.

My sons are aged twenty-two, twenty-five, and twenty-seven. They’re grown men, and yet I have suffered a tremendous amount of guilt in their sudden launch. All three were still living at home, more or less, when Benedict Arnold decided to defect. All three remained at home, helping me pay the bills, after the divorce. When my move to Tennessee became imminent, all three engaged in an apartment search and moved themselves out.

This action brought about mixed reviews from friends and family. Among older people, I received a sound, “well done.” From my peers, I received a solemn, downcast look, shaking of the head as if to say, “God, the pain.” And, believe it or not, I also experienced a general sprinkling across generations of, “I don’t even understand what you’re talking about.”

We sure don’t.

We don’t understand letting go of our youth. We don’t understand volunteering for a front row seat at our now-grown child’s disaster parade. We don’t understand embracing the pain of separation for the long term good of the separated. We don’t understand who we are outside of being someone’s parent. We don’t understand that, after a lifetime of self denial and sacrifice for the sake of our offspring, we are simply required to walk away. Where’s my prize? Where’s my thank-you? I don’t understand. Don’t I at least get a certificate, or something? Where’s the reward? Somebody owes me something for the late nights, the laundry, and the stretch marks. After everything we’ve done for you, where are you going?

I love my sons, and my heart breaks every day because I miss them so much. My greatest privilege in life has been to raise and instruct three amazing young men. As a parent, if I’ve done my job right, my children will leave me to have families of their own. They will make mistakes and occasionally fall, but that’s how they learn to get back up again and succeed. I was younger than my youngest child when I started my family, just a child, myself. They taught me how to trust my own instincts, make my own decisions, and selflessly care for others. They gave me my life, and now I must give them theirs. They don’t owe me a single thing.

Bowling For Santa

Christmas has been a little strange for me, this year. I don’t know, the thought of all that work just sucks the joy right out of me. Most years I spend the greater part of November and December going through boxes, shopping with money that I don’t have, fighting strings of lights and wads of ornament hooks, pretty much by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but I usually end up with too much staging and not enough merry.

It’s probably got something to do with my kids growing up that has squelched the customary fervor. I’m not grinchy, on the contrary,  I’ve really enjoyed the season much more without all the frantic decorating and shopping. I haven’t even put up the tree and, strangely, nobody has noticed. I told my family that they were welcome to do the do this year and I’d be happy to help, but there were no takers. I don’t mind and, apparently, neither do they. It is giving me a tremendous sense of joy and relief to know that I don’t have to face that titanic clean up at the first of the new year. It’s very liberating.

I like to talk about the big show that we put on in church every week, but what about the one we host every day? We put on our costumes and rehearse our parts. We arrange the lights and work on our timing. Line, please! Looking and acting a certain way in order to please the public is utterly exhausting. It’s no wonder that there are so many of us suffering sickness and depression. Pulling off that production every day is too much and the stress of it is overwhelming. Please and thank you is nice enough and being considerate of others is nice, too. But where did we cross the line and take on all of these bit parts? I’m this way at work and I’m that way at school and I’m something else at the doctor’s office. Where does it end? Who am I?

At the bottom of it all is my fear of rejection. If I don’t put a spit shined version of myself out there, if I don’t conform to the will of the masses, I’m sure to be judged harshly as I deserve to be. If I don’t follow the crowd, if I don’t do what I’m told just because it’s the way we’ve always done it, if I don’t dance to the beat there’s going to be a problem. There’s going to be a disaster, someone’s going to get hurt. God forbid that I think or behave outside of the social consensus. There will definitely be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Rubbish.

Don’t you know? Everybody’s way too into their own show to notice any kind of a hitch in mine. It’s true.

This holiday season I spent more time actually watching Christmas movies with my family, visiting with people that I absolutely love, I even learned to knit. Who knows, I might get to read Dickens before it’s all over with. I haven’t had a real worry or care. Sometimes I feel one trying to crawl up my sleeve, but I just shake it off and have another glass of eggnog.

This Christmas I didn’t want to pull out all of those decorations and guess what? Nobody really cared. Just like the Who’s in Whoville, it didn’t stop Christmas from coming, it came. Somehow or other it came just the same.

Three’s A Crowd

I’ve been thinking a lot about joy.

As Christians, that should be one of our biggest selling points. I don’t see very much of it, though. I’ve been listening to a great old album, George Harrison’s ‘All Things Must Pass’. It was released just after the Beatles’ break-up (I’m really showing my age, here). It contains some of his biggest solo hits, What is Life, and My Sweet Lord, etc. By the way, you know he was singing about Krishna, right?  It’s just such a joyful album. It makes me dance. That guy really believed what he was selling. Why don’t we?

The people who are on staff at my church don’t look very happy. They’re the sweetest people in the world. They’re good people who love God and each other. I know that joy isn’t something you necessarily wear on your face, but it is something that can’t be contained. True joy shines out and can’t be hidden. Where’s the joy? Did it get lost somewhere? Did it die? Can we get it back? Did we ever really have it to begin with?

My personal opinion (for what it’s worth) is that we’ve crowded it out. We fill our days and minds with so much shit that I can’t even believe it. Our agendas have become far more important to us than our love. Why is it so imperative that things be done a certain way? Why do I feel like certain things must be done at all? Ah, the doing. I wrote an essay several months ago about ‘doing it for God’. I’ll dig it up and repost it, sometime. Anywho, the point is this. Who am I trying to impress? Who am I trying to save? What really gets accomplished when I put transitory situations and ephemeral things before people? It takes up all the space in my heart and leaves no room for joy. The big building, the big show, who is it for? I don’t think I want to know the answer to that, and yet I do know the answer and so do you.

Maybe that’s why Jesus was more or less homeless for the last few years of his life.

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Luke 9: 58

This verse appears under the heading, ‘ The Cost of Following Jesus’. What I have to ask is this: what will I pay to experience true joy? We say that we want happiness and joy but our actions don’t match our philosophy. You know, giving up the things only hurts for a moment and then the pain is gone. It goes away because joy floods in and fills the empty space. Get rid of something else and joy grows. The next thing you know, you have so much joy that it pours out of you into and through everything and everyone you touch.  All those things, buildings and study groups and basketball goals, are just gonna burn anyway. All things must pass.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  1 Corinthians 13: 8

Here’s what Jesus is selling: (and he’s practically giving it away….)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.  Luke 21: 33

Are we buying it?

I Miss Your Face

Well, long time, no post. Sorry, but there was just nothing to say. Nothing to say, that is, until the holiday season set in. (Insert dramatic music here.)

Just exactly where do we lose our fight? Almost everybody has a little scrap in them, but somewhere along the way it gets lost. We settle. Just give me my recliner and my tv remote and let me stew. Babies, children, teens and young adults spend the bulk of their time learning. There are hard lessons and easy lessons, but everyday they learn something new. Somewhere in our late thirties, we cop the attitude that we’ve been there and done that and our minds and hearts start shutting down. We become limited access people. Nothing new under the sun.

I’ve been wondering where I lost my scrap. When was the last time I saw it? I think I left a little of it with that goat I was telling you about just a few essays ago. I’m certain that there’s a big chunk of it sitting on the banks of a causeway in Tampa, Florida. But I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of it has been scattered among wooden pews and cushioned folding chairs. I gave my life to Christ and then I just plain gave up. All to Jesus, I surrendered. I became dead to myself, and alive in Christ, right? Right?

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Romans 6:11

Hang on, hang on. What’s all this, then? How did ‘dead to sin‘ become ‘dead to myself‘? Hmmm, let us probe a little deeper, shall we?

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,  Colossians 2: 13

Okay, correct me if I’m way off base, here, but this tells me that sin = death and encourages me to be dead to sin and the sinful nature. Could it be that all these years I have been laboring under (excuse the pun) a grave error? I’m sure everybody else has this one in the bag. I’m sure that I’m the only person who has misinterpreted this teaching. In any case, I am seeking to correct this unfortunate misunderstanding.

I’m me. All the lovely, awful, wonderful, horrible pageantry of God’s glorious creation walking around with a face. Sure, some of the factory settings have drifted and there’s some wear and tear, but He put a brain in my head and a fight in my spirit that marks me with His unmistakable thumbprint. To be anything less than who I am is an insult and a tragedy.

Dead to sin, yes, but dead to who I am, dead to the fight? No way.