dweller by the river

sojourner of earth attempting to understand the journey home

Tag: Church

Embracing A Fresh Start

So… the husband and I are getting Confirmed as Anglicans in our new church of choice this Sunday. It’s a major milestone, a fresh start, a new commitment, the first official step of a brand new journey, the next chapter in the story of our lives.

So it’s nice that while taking a few minutes’ break to rest my brain a little while working on stuff in the office, I came across these sites/pages that I thoroughly appreciated:

Right Reason: The Blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy and Social Issues

The Diocese of Singapore

Anglicans Online

Anglican Communion

The Anglican Catholic Church

I’ve also resolved to keep more up-to-date with The Rabbit Room.

Look Around, Look Ahead, Now What?

So we’re supposed to have been pondering these questions for discussion tonight: Where am I in my spiritual journey? Which area in my spiritual journey do I think God wants me to focus on in 2018?

Where am I? The short (and safe) answer would probably be: At the start of a completely new phase but having to get back to the basics and relearn some things I’ve forgotten in the past couple of years.

I can’t really see how else to sum it up. The long answer requires elaboration of historical context, and the listing of a truly complex web of factors including relationship/marital issues, emotional and mental health concerns (possibly mild clinical depression), stress and fatigue. It’s not that I’m denying culpability in the decline of my own spiritual health – I’m saying that I’m probably a classic specimen of a woman who’s had to (or took it upon herself to?) carry both hers and her husband’s responsibilities for some time, and crumbled under the weight of it all.

I’m not supposed to be the leader of the household, I shouldn’t be the one pushing for a lifestyle that integrates more with what we say we believe. I’m not supposed to have to be the spiritual barometer in the household, I’m not supposed to be the one pushing for some sort of regular family prayer or scripture reading time.

I shouldn’t feel awkward singing worship songs to or praying over my child. I shouldn’t feel out of my depth and anxious about wanting to pray as a couple or a family over anything, good or bad. I shouldn’t have to feel left out and lacking, wishing that my husband would pray over me like I know other men pray over their wives. I shouldn’t be battling tension and anxiety and insecurity about whether or not I actually married a Christian in the first place, or whether being Christian really means anything real to him at all, and whether that is grounds for divorce.

But I do. All of it. And I’ve spent much of the last few years pitying myself and letting my anxiety and frustration grow to a point where I’m having trouble with resentment and bitterness and finding it hard to give him the benefit of the doubt in anything. And it was probably definitely and obviously a stupid move but I deliberately let my own spiritual discipline slide in the process, thinking that if he realised how absolutely shitty things were getting, he’d finally wake up and get his act together.

I’m struggling to reconcile the need – and the scriptural command – to submit to him (and to the grace and mercy of God), and the staring-me-in-the-face-screaming-me-in-the-ear need to hold up the crumbling foundations of what should be a God-centred, Spiritually-led household. At least, what I think makes a household a God-centreed, Spiritually-led one. I think that what we are now, is not… I don’t really think I’m wrong?

I’m struggling to reconcile “wait”, “rest”, “trust”, “hope”, and “submit” with the physical situation staring me in the face – the fact that in a lot of the ways that matter, we’re really no different from a family of atheists or agnostics.

So… what does God want me to focus on this year?

I think it means something that we’ve made the decision to settle the family in this church. I think it means something that all the signs are pointing to it being the right move to quit my job despite the risks and uncertainty. I think it means something that we feel this is the right cell to stick with. I think it means something that the cell mainly comprises families that are a little older and more experienced than us. I think it means something that we both feel a connection with the cell leaders, a sense that it is safe to trust them. I think it means something that he’s been willing to attend a 7.30am men’s meeting.

I think the sense I’m getting is this phrase: Hold on.

You’ve come so far. There’s no turning back. Hold on.

And there’s this part of a song (Eyes On The Prize) by Sara Groves that’s coming back to me now:

I got my hand on the gospel plough
Won’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Ain’t no man on earth control
The weight of glory on a human soul
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow, and we’ve so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

When you see a man walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee

When you see a child walk free
It makes you dream of jubilee

When you see a family free
It makes you dream of jubilee

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.

Undersides of Unfinished Tapestries

Where to start? I don’t even know where to start taking stock of my own life, it’s like looking at the underside of a tapestry (or an unfinished piece of crochet with hundreds of loose ends to weave in). But it’s amazing how just one encounter can be a pivot between frustrated despair and awakening hope. Perhaps that in itself is a sign – as close to a shout, I suppose, from a God who hasn’t been listened to for some time.

A month and a half ago I was forcibly transferred to a senior position at my current workplace. There were no direct threats, of course, but when one is taken out into the office corridor in mid-May and told, “Management has decided that you will be going upstairs to XX department from 1 July,” and when one’s queries to the HR department about a new contract with terms and compensation commensurate to the new position are met with evasive refusals to discuss, and finally a dismissive, “This is normal, it doesn’t count as a promotion and it doesn’t merit any change of contract, you didn’t request or apply for the job, we are just redeploying staff; it’s just the way it is here,” a mere five days before the official move, it’s quite obvious what the company’s view of you as a person and an employee is.

Barely four and a half weeks into the job, an additional account is thrown into my lap. And then, last week, just as I was starting to get into the swing of things and preparing to officially take the reins of this third assignment, I’m told that management is considering handing my current favourite account to a colleague because one of her accounts has been cancelled – and I might need to “help out” with another, particularly annoying, account in order to continue “justifying my employability”.

Wow.

Friends and colleagues have advised me to stick it out until the end of the year so that I at least have six months’ worth of official experience in the role on my resume, and also so that I have something to show for my pains (a few issues with my name in the credits). My rational side totally agrees, of course – I mean, I’m pretty much the sole breadwinner now and we have a kid to raise – but that old feeling of being sickened by the thought of continuing in this particular work environment that I last felt in 2009 is back. It’s not the disgusted frustration I felt when I decided to leave my second workplace, or the exasperated fatigue I experienced in my last weeks at my previous workplace. It’s that creeping sense of illness, of wrong, that drove me to leave what I had initially thought was my life’s calling – except that this time, I’m under no illusions about my current employer’s suitability as a long-term career partner.

Yesterday, during our third visit to a church we’re considering attending, we asked for prayer with one of the pastors. He said a lot of things that stunned me, both before and during his prayer. He asked if I’d taken any practical steps to ascertain my position and options while waiting for a clear direction from God, whether I’ve heard from God about whether to stay, and if yes, for how much longer, and prayed that I would not make decisions out of fear that I will not have/find another job.

Frankly, I’ve not been listening much, so even if God has been speaking, I’ve not heard. I’ve been angry and discouraged and not asked for His input. I have been afraid of making the wrong decisions financially. And when the pastor said those words about God’s direction and call for my career, I had a flashback of a church camp prayer/ministry session from years ago – I can’t remember if it was 2003 or 2004 – when I was fully convicted of a full time ministry call on my life. It was also the first time I experienced being “slain” as the charismatics like to call it – I prefer to simply call it falling under the power of the Spirit. I have not thought about that session for more than eight years now. The last time was when I was leaving my full-time position in that church (my first job) for a secular job and feeling like everything had been a lie, or that I had misheard God terribly and brought disaster upon myself.

I realise I really don’t quite recognise myself any more. Where is the woman who told her husband to go ahead and take a sabbatical to decide what it was he really wanted to do, when it was clear he was miserable in the IT industry? Where is the woman who was unafraid to confront company management over unfair or unethical practices, even to the point of being willing to leave if they refused to capitulate? Where is the woman who supported her husband’s unorthodox and seemingly impractical – even foolish – decision to go into massage/acupressure therapy, because she believed God gifted him with that skill, bent and interest for a reason?

Where is the woman who did all these things because she was entirely convicted that God would provide, so long as we were serving Him and doing our best to remain in the centre of His will? Where is the woman who fearlessly met every disapproving or discouraging word with, “It is written, ‘I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.’ Psalm 37:25,” and, “It is written, ‘Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.’ Philippians 4:6?”

I must find her. She must still be there, somewhere, half asleep, waiting to be woken. She has to return to the surface. She must.

When Family is the Problem

Last last week I met up with JH, old friend who was in the country on a whirlwind one-week stopover enroute to her honeymoon destination. She was here with her fiance (goes without saying), and her parents who were on their way elsewhere. I had last seen them in 1998, before the entire family moved to the US (for ministry purposes – JH’s father is a pastor).

We haven’t really been in regular contact over the years, but our fondest shared memory of our real-time physical friendship remains the long walks we took at the landscaped canal path that was halfway between our homes. I have a handwritten note from her father too, thanking me for being a friend to her because she was somewhat unpopular at first when the family first joined the church I was attending at the time. But it seems that after all these years, her parents have forgotten who I am – I had to be reintroduced to them as my mother’s eldest daughter (I hated that, to be honest).

That said, it was a pleasant enough meeting over dinner, though I spent more time entertaining a mutual friend’s eight-year-old daughter than actually catching up with JH. We promised to keep in better touch. What nearly spoilt  the evening was when her mother suddenly asked me what church E and I are currently attending. I hesitated to tell the truth – that we aren’t interested in attending church at the moment and aren’t in any hurry to change our minds – and said that we’re currently in-between churches. She immediately gave me a look of pitying concern, advised me to make a decision as soon as possible, adjured me not to deprive my family (especially my children) of fellowship with the body of Christ who are important extended family, and said that she would pray for us not to backslide or lose our relationship with God.

I know she meant well, but I bristled and had to fight really hard to laugh lightly, thank her blithely, and change the subject instead of telling her to mind her own damn business.

It’s not that I hate church or that I no longer value the larger Church. It’s not that I don’t believe that fellow believers are our brothers and sisters in Christ (metaphorical and spiritual family members). It’s that I’ve almost completely lost faith in organised religion, the Christian church in particular. I have no issues sharing and worshiping with others; it is having to adhere to a man-made hierarchy of spiritual authority and practice that I baulk at. Being part of a community of believers is mutually beneficial in many ways, with the caveat that it is important to frequently and regularly evaluate the mutuality of that relationship and redraw boundaries where necessary.

Blood family isn’t sacrosanct either.

I’m aware that these beliefs may come across as selfish to some., but then they’ve not walked in my shoes. I know the saying about how you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, and the one about blood being thicker than water, but such statements no longer carry much weight with me. I no longer believe that the simple circumstance of being related by blood (whether genetic or metaphorical/spiritual) is reason enough to keep trying to build bridges with individuals who refuse to hold up their end of a relationship by behaving decently. Actions speak louder than words, and if by either or both word and deed you’ve communicated to me enough times that I don’t matter (but that what you can get from/via me does), then don’t be surprised if I steadily reduce contact to a level that I’m comfortable with.

Take the past eight years into consideration. Individuals in various churches have proven time and again that their meticulously set-up illusory badges of honour, or the reputations of their particular institutions, are far more important than the mental/emotional/psychological/spiritual health of “troubled” persons or actually carrying out clear directives found in scripture. We have been betrayed, deliberately misrepresented and accused, maligned, written off and cast out; deceived by false appearances and shocked by revealed vices; forced to undergo rites and accept policy changes we did not sign up for and which were nowhere in existence when we agreed to sign said membership contract; lured by outwardly pastoral behaviour that hid multiple narcissistic traits which eventually came to light. Take the fact that evangelicals in the US – even people we know and respect – are able to throw their support behind Donald Trump and still face themselves in the mirror.

Take also my history with my mother. She aborted what would have been two elder siblings and was on her way to abort me when she had a panic attack about losing her fertility due to having had too many abortions. She told me this shortly before my wedding, which incidentally she declared nobody would be interested in attending, yet demanded seating places for a number of guests that, if I had actually accommodated, would have filled more than half my entire venue’s capacity (and I didn’t even know who 80 per cent of them were). Her first three questions when my then-fiance and I announced our engagement were: “Is it shotgun?”, “Is the diamond even real?”, and “Who paid for it?” She gave him, via me, a bunch of old stamps from her decades-abandoned random collection as a wedding gift (his mother gave me gold jewellery). She tore a tendon in my neck by wrenching at my head because, according to her, my keeping still in one position because it hurt to move (I slept badly) was just me being dramatic; even after I ended up in the hospital, she insisted that I was just playing things up. She accused me publicly of hating and disrespecting family and having never loved my grandfather just because I wanted to attend a friend’s wedding in the morning before attending his funeral in the mid-afternoon (my friends were fine with it by the way).

Those are just a few of the big, standout events. I no longer initiate any contact, and when she does, I am careful to keep my boundaries clear. I do not volunteer any personal information, I do not expand on my answers to questions, I block all meandering in conversation. I do not allow her to be with my daughter unsupervised; it is preferable that they interact at a distance, if at all.

So you could say that my concept of “family” is drastically different from what it used to be when I was younger and much more naive and idealistic. Right now I adhere to this definition by author Jim Butcher (in Proven Guilty):

I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.

I’m very thankful that I get along well with E’s family. I have a great MIL in his mum and his brothers are sweet. 🙂 Certain friends and ministry partners are family too. 🙂

Community Irritants (Can Teach Us Something Too)

Recently, I got very annoyed with a member of a tillandsia-related Facebook group I am a part of. It’s a free-to-join community where tillandsia lovers can share photos and information, and ask for help, suggestions or advice on their plants and growing areas.

I joined the group in September 2013, when I bought my very first tilly, and have been rather active. I don’t post or comment a lot, but I check out what’s new every day. This is because I adopt a “don’t say anything unless you’re sure” and “listen/read first, talk later” approach to any new area of interest.

Mr X popped up just about three or four months ago with a self-announcement that he was an enthusiastic newbie. He then proceeded to dominate the group’s wall, posting long, technical spiels about his artificial growing environment (he keeps his plants in a specially constructed box with specialised LED grow lights, because after obsessively measuring the various aspects of wind/humidity/light intensity/temperature around his home, he was dissatisfied with the natural surroundings available in his personal habitat).

Quick on the heels of that came incessant posting and commenting: posting “before and after” photos of his plants (to show their significant growth in his customised environment), and answering questions and dishing out advice as though he were a long-time connoisseur.

Initially, I just took it as someone being really, really, really enthusiastic. But it got irritating because on the few posts that I chose to respond to, he would jump in immediately after I said something and make it sound like my information was half-assed and that he needed to save the situation with his superior understanding.

In the most recent incident, a long-time collector expressed frustration at being unable to prevent her tillandsias from being repeatedly infested by ants. As she’s been doing this for more than two years and has a significant number of plants at home and in her office, it’s probably safe to assume she would have already tried most of the usual remedies. In fact, she mentioned two methods that she’d used repeatedly without success.

I thought I’d share an alternative method that most tillandsia growers wouldn’t have heard of – essential oils (EOs). You see, normal oils (like neem oil or white oil that work well for growers of other species) cannot be used on CAM plants like tillandsias. Normal oils create a surface film that would smother a CAM plant. But 100% essential oils aren’t oily, and they don’t leave a surface film – they are absorbed almost instantly because their molecules are so small.

In any case, my advice was to apply peppermint EO across the ants’ trails and in a rough sort of circle around the tilly growing area – not only would it kill off ants and spiders, it would also deter them (and quite a few other pests) from returning. I have, though, tested peppermint oil both neat and diluted directly on an ionantha’s leaves and it suffered no harm whatsoever.

Mr X immediately jumped in (literally a couple of minutes after I commented) and said oh, no, ants normally coexist with tillandsias in the wild, there is no need to remove them, and anyway, oil cannot be used on tillandsias because it will suffocate the plants to death. He then proceeded to insist that the presence of ants does not harm myrmecophytes (pseudobulbous tillandsias are a sub-group), and spew out paragraph after paragraph on why cinnamon powder is the best and safest method.

I chose to say nothing in response. I sent the asker a private message to ensure that she got the right meaning of my suggestion (not what Mr X implied).

Anyway. I was just thinking that this could very well be seen as a microcosm of today’s church world. The plants are the people, and the collectors/growers are the church leaders (scripture does say we are also co-labourers with Christ in the fields and vineyards). And certain church leaders can’t seem to stop themselves from thinking that they’re the only ones with accurate insight, or clear discernment, or fresh revelation… and that everyone has to hear what they say (and be persuaded to agree).

I wonder what God thinks and feels about denominational and independent church leaders bickering and fighting, knowing that none of us has it a hundred percent right? Heck, we can’t even agree on an individual basis whether a person’s personal walk should be left as a personal walk – some pastors will tell you, for example, that you cannot possibly have a healthy spiritual life if you’re spending time praying and worshipping in gardens instead of in church. They will tell you that not being a member of a church means that you have backslided and are in danger of apostasy. (I’ll talk more specifically about church another time.)

Come on already. We’re all finite and limited, really, and our knowledge – of anything – will never be complete. That includes the knowledge and understanding of God, of what a perfect relationship with Him is like, and what true communion with the Spirit is, among others. What makes any of us think we know better than others? If we’ve happened to be in a situation that taught us something that another person hasn’t had an opportunity to learn, what right do we have to feel superior?

There are always going to be people who know more than you and people who know less than you, and there will always be people who think they know more than you. It’s just a fact of life. You can never control their thoughts or actions. What you can control is yourself – your knowledge (you can ensure that you keep on learning), your actions (be humble!) and your responses (be gracious). And even in that you need the Lord’s help, because as always, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.