Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I Missed the Heaven Off-Peak Special

Right before she is shot in the head, high school student Casssie Bernall answered "yes" to a question posed to her by one of the Columbine shooters. The boy asked her if she believed in God. In a biography about Cassie called She Said Yes, her mother, Misty Bernall, marvels at the fact that her daughter had wanted nothing to do with her religion (Christian) while in middle school. Back then Cassie was an unlikely candidate for martyr. At the moment she answered this deadly question, she had only started going back to church and attending youth group. Cassie's "yes" is such a powerful lesson for all Christians. I can tell you honestly that there have been moments in my life where I've denied my faith when much less was at stake, to avoid embarrassment, a possible loss of friends, an argument with someone.

A work of fiction that I just finished reading called The Martyr's Song by Ted Dekker also addresses the idea of denying one's faith. Set in a small village in post WWII Bosnia, women, children and a priest are tortured by a group of deranged soldiers when they refuse to deny their belief in Christ. This book was so gripping, I finished it in two hours. Both The Martyr's Song and She Said Yes made me reflect on my own actions in regard to my faith.

I've reached a point in my life where I just don't want to hide my faith anymore. It's part of the core of who I am and at the root of my struggle to find meaning in life. This is a risky, damaging decision for me, it's much more comfortable to remain neutral. I just can't. If I want to be true to myself, I have to be genuine about my beliefs, and not back down out of fear. This is hard to do.

As Rachel Barkey says in her video Death is Not Dying, "just because I haven't committed any heinous crimes doesn' t mean I'm a good person, worthy of heaven." I'm not entitled to anything from God. Everything is a gift from Him with no payback or thank you note expected. I don't deserve my loving husband, parents, children, all my possessions and blessings. When I forget that I am not entitled to anything, those are the moments that I am in trouble spiritually. Those moments are plentiful. The truth is, there is no "package deal," no "off-peak special" to heaven. When I meet God face to face, I can not argue his judgement of me. I can't ask to see His supervisor or appeal His opinion. I only get one shot at life. The truth is, following Christ is hard if you really seriously try it. When I reflect on my own attempt, I know I could do better in many areas.

Am I being too hard on myself spiritually? After all, I live in a society that believes it is entitled to happiness, service, the option to take over the decisions that belong to God alone. It's no wonder that I fall into the trap of denying my faith with that kind of pressure around me. I don't accept that excuse from myself because it is lame, and I am pathetic when I deny my faith in God. I am wretched when I call my self a Catholic, specifically, and then do not defend or try to make sense of the teachings of the Pope.

St. John the Baptist addressed the idea of entitlement when he said to the people who were approaching him to be baptised:

"Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father." Luke 3:8

How do I deny my faith? Well, there are large and small ways. Many small ways can add up to one big wall between me and God. The big ways are obvious, spreading hate instead of tolerance, making the world worse through my actions. I don't do that, so I'm good right? Wrong.

All of the small ways hurt me, and put a brick between me and God. For example, messed up priorities that do not put God first is one way I screw up sometimes. Another thing I do is become complacent in conversation, not standing up for my beliefs because I don't feel like "rocking the boat."Then there are the the times I have sent out a holiday card that has no mention of Christ, my core reason, personally, for celebrating the holidays, because I didn't want to appear too religious or offend others of different faiths. Finally there are the strangers, friends, and family I have treated poorly out of impatience, fear or anger.

I am imperfect. I try to be good and I fail. I pray about it, quietly, pick myself up and try again. Perfection is arrogance, so I'm that too, (arrogant), in seeking perfection. Writer Anne Lamott, addresses the pursuit of perfection in Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

"Perfection means that you desperately try not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. ...Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. They keep us moving and writing in tight, worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way." (28)

Only God is perfect. God doesn't want me to try to be perfect. I think this is my most practiced small way of denying my faith. It feels good to hang this fault on the clothes line and stare at it. It feels good to try to work on growing spiritually. Just like Cher said in a cheesy weight-loss commercial in the 1990's "No pain, No gain." It's that way in my relationship with God.


jen said...

YOu've hit on something here that I think few Christians want to talk about and that is that following the teachings of CHrist is very hard. We can only do it through the strength He gives us. The other day I was standing in teh shower wondering why people are so afraid of Jews, homosexual, Islam, Buddhism. I thought of my own witness and wondered, "Should I be afraid? Is something wrong with me? And, then God whispered, "Perfect love casts out fear." (I'm not saying you're fearful by the way, just sharing.) I prayed to have that kind of love. Because, I think it is irresistable. I think it inspires people to reach for God. He takes care of the rest. Having said that, there are times we must state our beliefs, but God appoints these times, and for me, they have been fewer than my appointments for mercy, love, understanding - and an offering of hope to a broken world.

Loren, more than any other blogger on the planet, I connect with your passion for Jesus and the Christian walk. And, I read a lot of blogs...

I wish we lived closer. =)

Loren Christie said...

Jen, I agree about the times for showing mercy and understanding being plentiful. Being a Catholic is very hard because the Pope takes a strong stand on certain issues. I do struggle with some doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church. However, I am saying in this post that it is wrong of me to speak against these teachings and call myself Catholic.

I think that having tolerance means being kind,generous and open-minded. The really hard question is: How do I love others without condoning or promoting actions that are against my religion? Well, I know I can have a get together with neighbors, friends and family with whom I disagree morally, and we all live through the celebration and even enjoy it without promoting or even addressing eachother's beliefs and lifestyles. I try to focus on the generous,loving qualities of others with whom I disagree. Thanks for writing and for the warm comments.

Loren Christie said...

Jen, By the way, Don't people think of the craziest things in the shower?

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Saint Peter denied Jesus 3 times. I think that story is important because there is a little of St. Peter in all of us. The important thing is that he was forgiven and went on to be the cornerstone of the Church. I wouldn't dwell on things you can't change about the past but fold up that laundry and start a new day. As usual your honest sharing is both humbling and thought-provoking.

Loren Christie said...

Hi Elizabeth,
In our humanity we make mistakes constantly and I think we have to be mindful them in order to grow past them. Beyond the recorded "three times" I'm sure St. Peter messed up even more times in his attempt to follow Christ. Forgiveness is a constant give and take. I agree with you that a person needs to forgive himself after he has sought forgiveness. I like the laundry metaphor, perhaps because I fold so much of it.

Todd Lemieux said...


I love what you did in this post. You really drove home a key point, which is that we constantly settle for a mediocre relationship with Christ by saying, "I didn't murder anyone!"

That is like going on the kiddie rides and thinking you went on a roller coaster.

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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