Monday, July 29, 2013

I'm not special.

Luke 18:10-14, I Peter 2:9-25, Matthew 23:25-28, Romans 7:15-25

When I was a kid, my mother had a car with a bunch of Christian bumper stickers on it, including this little gem: "I'm not perfect, just forgiven!"  Which I always thought was a perfectly lovely way of declaring your faith while maintaining your right to drive like a moron.

It's also the most humble Christian bumper sticker I've ever seen.  Lately, I've been really irritated by self-righteousness, especially my own, and in a combined spirit of confession and show-and-tell, I would like to point a finger at you and four back at myself and say: Christians aren't special.

Christians aren't special.  Christians aren't nice.  Christians aren't good people.  Christians aren't smart, certainly no smarter than anyone else.  We are not self-aware, able to change, or willing to admit our mistakes.  We are not charitable.  And though we excuse our own failings by claiming grace and forgiveness, we do not extend those soul-saving gifts to anyone else.  Christians are sinners.

Yes, even after salvation Christians are still sinners.  We still sin constantly, and more so because we believe that grace has covered us.  Because when we believe that we are covered, we all too easily fall into a subsequent belief that being covered makes us better people, better than other people.

Let me clarify the Christianese: Christians believe that God forgives all their sins.  But instead of being grateful for forgiveness, we take advantage of it.  We start to shrug off the ways the we hurt other people and hurt ourselves, after all, our sins can't be that bad if God forgives them so readily.  Our sins must not be that bad.  We are not that bad.  Certainly better than that other guy, who goes around without any forgiveness in his life.  We use what is called : "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics."  I did this one big good thing, becoming a Christian, now I can relax about everything else.  It's enough to make you not want to join this club, simply because they would have you.  

But God forgives everyone's sins, whether they acknowledge sin or not, whether they acknowledge God or not.  Forgiveness is available to everyone.  Being forgiven doesn't mean you're special.  Being forgiven means you did something that required forgiveness.  Being forgiven means you sinned.  Being forgiven means you're a sinner.

Even if we try not to sin; even if we succeed in disciplining ourselves to be healthy, loving, and wise; there is one hurdle left: pride.  It gets me every time, and I can see it getting you, too.  Just when I think I'm doing really well; I did all my push-ups and only had one ice cream bar, I did a favor for someone who dug themselves into that hole, and I didn't say anything bitchy about the mean customer and her awful hair; I start to feel good about myself.  I get really smug.  I start congratulating myself on being a good, kind, and gentle person.  But the self-congratuation is a sin in itself!  How can I escape?

And really, I may be prideful and self-righteous and walk around constantly comparing myself favorably with others, but at least I'm self-aware.  I may be a hypocrite, but at least I admit it.  Does that make it any better?  No, it does not.  Self-awareness may be a post-modern virtue, but unless it leads to real change, it gets real old, real fast.  Self-deprication is funny the first few times, but as a constant it becomes equally pathetic and self-serving, and all-around off-putting.  (Like a paragraph with too many hyphens. (As well as the acknowledgement of those hyphens.  (I have to stop this before I become the literary equivalent of M.C. Escher.)))    

We have to stop congratulating ourselves for being Christians.  We have to stop believing that God's grace makes us special.  There are literally billions of Christians in the world, and billions more people that God also loves.  (All of them, basically.  He loves all of them.)  We are not unique in our discovery of the the one right way to live, the one correct destiny that leads to eternal life.  This is not a theological question about which religion is true, but a human question about what is love, and what is kindness, and what is goodness.  The place we believe we hold in the natural world as keepers of the light is granted to us by God who grants it to us despite the fact that we are sinners, we have no cause to be smug about it.  We have no cause to be smug about our beliefs, or about the fact that we believe them.  

As writer Ashley Cardiff says in her book, Night Terrors: "Then again, telling people not to be shitty is kind of the problem, too.  To my mind the solution is this: better oneself where possible, but don't marginalize others for failing to do the same...Try especially hard not to shame or judge people..."  So that is where we stand: after getting this all off my chest I'm going to try to stop getting all uppity about how nice I've been to everyone, and you're all going to stop making jokes about gays and Buddhists and Democrats.  Agreed?  No?  Okay.    

Monday, July 22, 2013

This really happened.

Jonah 4: 5-11

I'm guessing you all noticed the big gap I left in my blog from April to June, the reason is I kind of cratered a bit in mid-April, the day I saw my doctor and decided to have my second surgery in six months.  It was a big decision, and I know it was the right one, but I immediately went into a sort of emotional hibernation and became unable to write, until after my surgery.  Which is a real shame, because after the doctor, I went to the grocery store.  And you will not believe what happened there.

Before I went into the store, I put some gas in my car.  I pulled up to the pump, turned off the car, got out, opened the panel, took off the cap, put in the nozzle, pumped the gas, took out the nozzle, put the cap back on, and with my hand on the panel, I finally noticed it: a giant red wasp, and a teeny, tiny nest inside the panel over the gas cap on my car!

The only thing that saved me from a terrible wasp sting was the glorious weather.  It was the last cool day of spring, and the wasp was still very sleepy clinging to his little single-cell paper nest.  I gently closed the panel, got back in my car, and found a parking spot far away from everyone else at the store.  I am proud of myself for what came next: I knew that this would be the last cool, sleepy day for this big wasp so no matter what kind of day I was having, I had to take care of this right now.

I went into the store and bought some wasp spray.  I took it out to my isolated little infested car, and opened up my cell phone to try to get a picture of this.  Then, cell phone in one hand and spray in the other, I used one finger to open the panel.  The big sleepy wasp was getting kind of wiggly, so I took a couple of quick shots with the phone, then a couple of long shots with the spray.  The wasp went down to the pavement, and I snapped a couple more pictures, then used some more spray on both the wasp and the little nest.  Then I used the shopping bag to close the now dripping panel, and looked at my pictures.  They were terrible.  Way too much glare.  I should have parked on the other side of the lot.

I know, this would have been a much better story with pictures.  I'm sorry, I have a crappy phone.  But I took care of the wasp and the nest and then proceeded with my shopping.  I was so upset about the day that I spent almost the whole time in the store on the phone with DH telling him about the surgery and the wasp.  I was probably very rude, no one likes to hear about strangers' medical problems, that's why they all come to my blog, but it made me feel better, and isn't that the point of loud public cell phone conversations?

Anyway, it really happened and I'm just sorry it took me so long to tell you all about it.    

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I'm a potato.

Galatians 6: 2, Mark 5: 25-34

So, five weeks out from my surgery now, I'm starting to try to get back to normal.  It has not been easy, but I've been back at work three weeks, I've written a couple of posts, and I'm trying to get back to exercising every day, just a little.  I am, for all intents and purposes, back to normal.

And I'm going to call this surgery a success.  I have achieved a new level of livability, my body dictates my life less and less and I want very much to focus on getting stronger and getting back into as much of a routine as I can manage with my job.  Besides, I think I'm done with surgeries for a while, not just because I don't need them, but because I don't want them.    

Surgery is no fun.  Okay, I'll admit, the first one was kind of fun.  It was minimally invasive; my doctor is not stingy with the pain pills; I got to take a week off work during the busiest, most annoying season in retail, and I got to spend a guilt-free week on the couch drinking juice boxes.  It wasn't perfect, but it went as well as a medical procedure can, I guess.  Except that it didn't work.

This surgery was awful.  I had to do a bowel cleanse the night before.  I had a bad reaction to the anesthesia, and spent an unplanned night in the hospital.  They let DH stay with me all night and he took on a lot of the nursing duties, so he was fairly popular with the staff.  It was good practice for him, since when I got home, I was an anxious, pain-raddled wreck who refused to be moved from the couch for three days.  I also would not allow the television to be turned off, but cannot remember anything I watched.  He was a saint about the whole thing.  Never left me alone or got annoyed with me.  He's the best nurse I've ever had.

Everything I did for two weeks came at a steep cost.  My entire recovery was two steps forward, one step back.  Even five weeks out, I can feel the effects, and one of my little laparoscopic incisions is lagging behind in healing process.  I'm still a little itchy, too.  I want more than anything to get better, better than before the surgery, to make up for all the lost time my condition cost me, but it's a lot harder than I though it would be.

I have a bad habit of minimizing my feelings and experiences, so that I have trouble gauging an appropriate response in myself.  I will limp around depressed for weeks over something that I keep insisting is no big deal, except if it's not a big deal, then why am I still dragging around about it?

It is hard to admit to myself how much time and energy I lost on my condition, arguably unnecessarily.  It is hard to admit how difficult this second surgery was for me to get over, physically and emotionally.  It is extraordinarily hard to admit how worried I was about my surgery and how much pain I was in before it.  It is still hard to go on with my life, keeping track of how I feel everyday, making sure to push myself not too much, not too little, but just enough.  Monitoring myself so closely brings it's own set of problems.  I feel like every time I check in on myself I suffer a mini-flashback, not to put too fine a point on it, but I think I've got PTSD of my own period.

What helps?  Exercising every day.  Ice cream.  Flowers from BIL and SIL.  Netflix queues and DVD play-alls.  I think poor DH could probably recite the entire disc one of Frasier season four, "The Two Mrs. Cranes" being the best episode of the show, but I can't help that nothing makes me happier or comforts me faster than that intelligent, eccentric family.  Doing chores, and writing blog posts help, too.

One thing that helped far more than I expected was depending on some really good friends, Captain Princess and his wife, Lime Water.  They provided excellent relief care when we needed them, and then took us on a wonderful outing that revived my spirits and helped me turn a corner in my healing process, just when I was beginning to wonder when I would start feeling better.  We are both grateful to them.

I know that I am at least better enough to have worried about my behavior when I was feeling my worst.  I asked DH the other day if he had minded taking care of me, if I had been difficult for him, and he looked at me with so much love and affection and said: "You were a potato.  You were so easy to care for, you don't have anything to worry about."  It's okay, I laughed about it, the best laugh I'd had in a long time.  It made me so grateful to my doctors and nurses, to DH, and to all our friends and family.  And I know I'm getting better, and will keep making progress.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sandra Bullock's come a long way, baby.

Proverbs 31: 30

I saw "The Heat" today with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, and I loved it.  It was a great buddy cop comedy, with a comfortingly predictable plot and more jokes than just the ones in the trailers.  But Bullock's character in particular reminded me of another movie she made just thirteen years ago: "Miss Congeniality."

In "Miss Congeniality," Hart is an uptight, competent FBI agent, out of touch with her feelings and femininity.  She comes into her own as an agent and a woman by going undercover in a beauty pageant.  Getting pretty not only solves the case, it also helps her get the guy, played by Benjamin Bratt.

In "The Heat," Ashburn is an uptight, uber-competent FBI agent, out of touch with her feelings and femininity.  She comes into her own as an agent and a woman by hammering out a rough working relationship with a tough, nasty cowgirl of a cop, Mullins, played by Melissa McCarthy.  Together, they solve the case, take out bad guys, and solve their career and family problems.

Guess which movie I liked better.  Go on, guess.

Not only has a buddy cop movie been made with two female leads, but it is a good buddy cop movie.  Both Bullock and McCarthy are comedically gifted, and this script gives them some solid material.  They face down johns, dealers, drug lords, hookers, vengeful families, and sexist colleagues.  There is never a joke about female cops not cutting it in law enforcement.  There is never a joke at the expense of womankind in general, just the foibles of the characters, jokes that would be funny regardless of subject or source.

Just one more thing, before I become a total feminist killjoy, I want say that as funny as I once found "Miss Congeniality," I now know that things can get better.  I am so glad that Bullock and other actresses have more options now.  I am so glad that not every movie has to have romance as the end goal.  I am so glad that Melissa McCarthy is in movies!  Any movie!  I love her so much!  Anyone who can honk a car horn with her ass just for the laughs is aces in my book!  I was going to title this post: "I love Melissa McCarthy." But you have to admit, the Sandra Bullock thing is funnier.

The lessons the characters in "The Heat" learn have nothing to do with fashion, or men, or beauty, or desirability, or how to downplay your abilities and accomplishments to win over both men and women.

The other day I was shoe shopping and I did it again.  I forgot how to respond appropriately to a compliment from another woman.  Another woman in the store looked at the shoes I was trying on and told me they were cute.  Instead of doing what I was supposed to do, find a way to denigrate the shoes and myself while complimenting her, I said: "I know, right!"  She didn't really respond, but I think we are all lucky that they were the wrong size, and I did not buy them.

In "The Heat," Ashburn and Mullins have issues with each other, to be certain, but focusing on the case pulls them together.  Both are social misfits, emotionally incompetent each in their own way, so they just scrape and catch on each other's rough edges, and keep trying to move forward.  They compete openly, for the good of the case.  They just come out swinging, never bothering to circle each other the way most women do.  I wish more real women could be like that.  Because that's how they got to be sisters by the end of the movie.  By being real and strong; seeing and raising each other's realness and strength.

I simply don't have the time or the inclination to learn how to play the nice girl games.  And most of the time, I pay for that; socially, emotionally, and professionally.  Lately, though, I have been making inroads, finding better women to be friends with, and now it's just a matter of making the time.  Even though "The Heat" was just a movie, it gave me hope for women, on screen and off, that we can be real, and funny, and righteous, and wrong, and insufferably smart, and in the end, still get the girlfriend.