Risk: Exploring Light and Shadows

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Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of judgment. 

These have been a source of paralysis to many, afraid to live their lives.

Why?

It’s a question over the years I have been learning to apply a variety of these different fears, and believe me—I have no short supply of encounters with them!

I started to push back against fear after I was challenged in college with repeat encounters with God’s goodness. Why did I believe what I believed? Why did I have it as my normal? Could my normal be wrong? I had lived so much of my life under  . . . dread.

My instinct as a child was to run towards my Creator before religion taught me that He was scary and that I should be afraid of Him. I wanted to explore God in this place of innocence. It was the most natural thing. But then I started hearing stuff like “sin separates you from God” and “make sure you are right with God.” I thought the pastor of my childhood and other church-going adults were the God-experts, so I listened to them. I listened to them, and I became afraid. There was this consistent chipping away at my sense of security in my relationship with God. Was I ever doing enough? Was I ever believing enough? On top of that, I heard people talking about the rapture and end-times and judgment, and I became even more afraid.

Now, somehow deep inside, I knew that God was good. Walking out on God was never an option for me. I wanted to please Him. I wanted to obey. But that closeness, that safety, that trust . . . somewhere deep down inside–-it felt violated. I suppressed questions I had because I mistakenly equated asking questions with “doubting” and “unbelief.”

The trap that religious people often fall into is that of believing that by preaching fear and converting by fear, we are somehow serving God well. We way underestimate God’s goodness and live afraid that He’s more concerned about number-crunching. We make Him out to be so small and so dependent on us. But what kind of God are we leading people to?

Ever try to have an intimate moment with someone who you think could snap at any second based off of your performance and kill you? Or worse, throw you in a torture chamber? Ummm . . . hell, much? And yet, we are extolled in worship to have intimacy with such a being. No wonder it is so half-hearted at times! No small wonder we deal with hypocrisy! It is the equivalent of sending a woman back—time and time again—to an emotionally (and potentially physically) abusive husband and saying, “Go on, then! Make love!” Yeah . . . she’s really going to put her heart into that, isn’t she?

So, back to my encounters with God’s goodness in college. The Christianity that I thought I knew was completely turned on its head, and I have been exploring this topsy-turvy world ever since. Or rather . . . should I say I lived in a topsy-turvy world, and now it’s right-side up?

But who else know that paradigms are paradigms?

The God of my innocence—the playful Creator God—knocked to tell me that He isn’t what religion had made Him out to be. His very essence is relationship—Trinity. He is more about relationship than legalisms. He absolutely adores humanity! He is joyful and does happy-dances! He is not someone I have to be afraid of—at least not like I was taught! If I fear Him, it’s that His goodness might very well overwhelm me!

I have had  to toss out some of the paradigm that was handed down to me. I did keep some good core stuff. The basic Nicene Creed—awesome. No problem there. The living in fear of God’s wrath bit? I can’t with it anymore. Especially now that my paradigm says that God’s wrath is for me, not against me. Especially now that I see God’s anger directed at that which would destroy and molest me (a. k. a. sin and whatnot), not me. I am dearly loved.

Knowing that, I can risk. I can tell fear to get the hell out of my life. I can start challenging it every time it rears it’s ugly little head. I can stop giving a flip about whether or not I look like a trembling little idiot when I choose to share my heart and be vulnerable. I can process through rejection and judgment and realize that while people are fantastic, loveable little things—at the end I answer to Jesus. I am not bound to human opinion.

Besides, people often judge each other out of not knowing how loved they are . . .  so, it’s pretty much a write-off 🙂 We can forgive that silliness and have a good laugh at it later on. (“You thought I was a cantaloupe? No way, man! I love you; you’re hilarious!”)

There’s a lot you can be brave about when you know that you are loved.

Until next time,

The Joy Detective

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On the Subject of Things That Go Bump

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IMG_0820Fear. An intriguing topic. A strange topic.

Fear. It’s been accepted as a norm. People are expected to be afraid. It’s the only reasonable sort of thing to do when faced with certain things. Certain things like the dark, the unknown, things outside your control, mysterious supernatural happenings, that one cockroach that just jumps out at you, those people who dare think differently, eschatological theories, immigrants, Donald Trump, Democrats, Republicans . . . and—most frightening of all—YOUR OWN REFLECTION!

But, why?

Are we simply going to accept that this is the sort of way we must live our lives? Just believe it because we were told this is just the way it is? Frankly, I find this bothersome.

I once heard a story about this one man from a favorite preacher of mine, John Crowder. Crowder said there was this fellow who was being martyred for his faith. (I think it might have been St. Lawrence.) Burned to death, to be precise. But was he doing as the “end” drew near? Joking with his persecutors. Dude was so full of joy that he didn’t flippin’ care he was being burned to death.

Now, that is what I call living!

I remember the first time I had an open vision of “the forces of darkness,” if you will. I was inside this magnificent old church. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I believe. Huge dome. Beautiful pipe organ music and incense. My first visit to an Anglican church. Everything had been going wonderfully. I was feeling so sensitive to God’s presence. So peaceful.

Then, out of nowhere, we switch from that ambience to the pipe organ playing something akin to “Phantom of the Opera.” It was so random. I see these two sizable shadows moving up on the ceiling. I look around to see what they could belong to, but there was nothing. They just kept flitting around on the ceiling while this music played.

I laughed.

I realized something then. God is very big and very real and very good. These things are like a joke. Their presence (or lack thereof) couldn’t drown out the awe and the majesty of the imminent and transcendent one. I didn’t have to be afraid of them.