Blamelessness

Note that “this week” means two years ago…. I’m trying to clear out some drafts…

This week in our small group we are talking about blamelessness.  In Genesis 17, God reaffirms his covenant with Abram.  God says, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.”  Out of context, it would appear to be an impossible command.  Considering the previous chapter is all about Abram and Sarai’s indiscretion with Hagar, definitely impossible.  However, in the next few verses, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham as well as Sarai’s name to Sarah.  Their identity is changed.  What is added is a breath, a “ha”, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

This is a sign for us. To walk blameless, we need to have our very identity changed by the Holy Spirit.

Matrix Revolutions

Watched Matrix Revolutions the other day. I think I figured it out. Neo lets Agent Smith take him over. Smith thinks he’s won. But it’s only through taking on Smith’s form that Neo is able to spread his essence to all the Smith duplicates and shatter them, leaving behind the people (and programs) they once were. Reminded me of I Cor. 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

Because, in the same way, Christ took on the sin of the world and died. Right then, the power of sin and death was broken and the veil was torn, allowing the Holy Spirit to spread throughout the Earth.

The Ugly Stepsister – Part 3

Trigger Warning: Emotional Abuse, Self-Mutilation, Suicide

To me, the Ugly Stepsister represents a spirit of religion. She is incapable of receiving unconditional love. She’s incapable of recognizing individuality and unique talents in others. She molds herself to the religious culture of the day. In the Bible, Jesus talks about cutting off your hand if it offends. People think this means that we should cut out any pleasure or activity in our lives that might offend even the tiniest notion of some imagined rule.  Jesus was NOT advocating self mutilation. That’s horrific. He was saying that if you follow the law, you must do these things.

Jesus didn’t preach Grace. He preached the Law on steroids. Oh, you don’t commit adultery? Have you ever lusted after someone? You’re not a murderer? Have you ever hated someone? He revealed that sin was a heart issue, not a moral or ethical issue. Some great atrocities have been committed under the guise of ethics or morality. It doesn’t make them right. Following the Law can only fix the superficial issue of right versus wrong. It can’t fix the heart. So, with that mindset, it makes sense to cut off your hand or foot to fix some offensive part of yourself. Just like the Ugly Stepsister felt she needed to cut off her toes and heel to fit the shoe, we feel the need to cut off anything that might make us offensive to God. But God is saying that he gave us those things for a reason. Stop trying to wear someone else’s shoes!

A great teacher I listen to repeatedly says that the spirit of religion and the spirit of suicide are one and the same. The enemy of our souls would love nothing more than to work us to the bone, until we are nothing but dead, dry bones. But why does someone commit suicide? Because they tried and failed to hold themselves to some standard. The problems that arose from holding this standard appeared insurmountable.

The Ugly Stepsister is the epitome of working to earn someone’s love. We think it’s sad and desperate when a person does it for another person. But, for some reason, we think it’s noble and praiseworthy when we do it for God. She even goes so far as to physically mutilate herself. How many people these days are suffering from eating disorders and shelling out millions of dollars for plastic surgery? And why? Most of them think it will be the final piece of the puzzle that will turn a switch on. That when they are “thin” or “beautiful”, they will suddenly be confident, they will suddenly be loved by someone that matters. But the more they sacrifice, the worse they feel. Some feel their breakthrough is after the next hurdle. When they jump it, their standard has changed and they are nowhere close to it.

And we do the same for God. We fast from food or the internet thinking God will come closer when we give up our pleasures. Let me tell you now. It’s not necessarily impressive. Jesus gave up his Godly nature and was brutally murdered to be near us. Maybe, just maybe, if you can match that, Jesus would be impressed but I doubt it. Obviously, some things need to go like drug and alcohol addiction. However, it’s not a prerequisite to be loved. It’s arises out of true repentance. The nature of repentance is to gravitate towards Jesus and away from everything that takes your eyes off him. It’s nature is of simply turning on a light to see in the dark and realizing a poisonous snake had been waiting for you to come into the dark, familiar kitchen.

I’ve said before that the story of Cinderella has a  great prophetic significance. Whatever the origins of the story, it has come to symbolize the greatest story to me. As believers, we are like Cinderella. Our transformation comes from the Holy Spirit like Cinderella was transformed by the Fairy Godmother. Prince Charming searches for his bride just as Jesus searches the mountains and valleys looking for us. The stepmother represents Satan trying to steal our inheritance. Her daughter/s represent trying to earn love through dead works. The Prince doesn’t even acknowledge it to the consternation of all that would try.

The Ugly Stepsister – Part 2

Trigger Warning: Emotional Abuse, Self-Mutilation

So what does this have to do with The Ugly Stepsister? Whose stepsister am I talking about and why is she ugly? Well, in most tellings of the Cinderella story, the main character has a mean, ugly stepsister. Nobody really gives her much thought when hearing/reading/watching the story. We’re mostly focused on Cinderella and her journey. We give almost no thought to the fruitless journey of the stepsister. We forget that she has goals and life aspirations. She has ideas on where she wants to end up in life.

The ugly stepsister ($USS$ for short) is the daughter of a gold digging aristocrat. Her mother ($USM$), presumably after bleeding her last husband dry, sets her eyes on another wealthy aristocrat, the father of Ella. $USM$’s goal is to live comfortably and secure a nest egg for her daughter. Her new husband is bled dry physically and financially, leaving behind Ella to deal with $USM$ on her own.

Ella is merely an obstacle. $USM$ doesn’t want Ella to inherit her father’s estate (or what’s left of it). She wants it for herself and her daughter. $USM$, being the master manipulator, slowly nudges Ella out of the picture. The years go by and people have forgotten about Ella, the aristocrat’s daughter, and now only know Cinderella, the poor servant girl who can’t seem to quite make $USM$ happy but is kept around supposedly out of $USM$’s compassion. Meanwhile, $USS$ is fighting her own battle. $USM$ is ultimately a narcissist. She has her “golden child” and “scapegoat”. You can guess which is which.

Being the “golden child” is not as fun as it seems. While Cinderella is learning that the world is cruel and unyielding, $USS$ is learning that to be loved, you have to perform, play a part, and be a shell of your true self. Nobody will love the real you. Nobody cares about the real you. The only thing people care about is what you can do for them. She sees the example of Cinderella and how she was punished for daring to be herself, for daring to ask for unconditional love and affection. Seeing Cinderella’s position taken away, $USS$ is quick to play the role as happy daughter from a wealthy family lest the same happen to her.

It’s really a sad life for both the true daughter and the stepdaughter. Both are being abused although in vastly different ways.

When the invitation for the ball comes in the mail (or by courier, or carrier pigeon, etc), they both react in regards to their upbringing. Cinderella dreams of a one night escape but does not, in any way, shape, or form, expect real lasting change. She puts together some scraps from old dresses and manages to look somewhat decent for the occasion. She has no thoughts of even looking at the prince, let alone touching him or talking to him. The whole time, she is being punished with extra chores for daring to have a desire outside the four walls of “her” estate. You can read “Midnight Again” for more details.

At the same time, $USS$ brushes up on her acting skills. She needs to play the part of a beautiful, cultured heiress worthy of the royal hand. She buys the most elegant gown and the most glamorous shoes she can find. She works on her elocution. She practices the most modern dances. She gathers intel on possible competition. Remember, love is a competition. Especially when you’re basically the same as the next dame. And, to them, the prince is just the same as any spoiled royal brat that only cares about a pretty face and good hips for breeding. So it’s really only fair that they play along.

When it’s time to leave, they have molded and trimmed their personalities and individuality to be a perfect princess for the prince. All regardless of what they want or like or how they feel and totally without regard to the feelings of the man they want to seduce. The prince is just a means to an end. They don’t want love. They really want power and security. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible wish to have but ultimately destructive when it means manipulating the feelings of a flesh and blood person.

You can imagine their shock and confusion when a new “contender” enters the arena, I mean, ballroom. Anybody who is honest with themselves knows there is only a handful of well-connected, manicured women of noble descent who are a good match for the prince. This woman walks in with a gown that outshines the most elegant of the elegant and crystalline shoes that sparkle like twilight. Remember that this is Ella who everybody has forgotten about. If there was anyone that the competition shouldn’t have worried about, it was Cinderella. Cinderella! The servant girl who tended the sheep and maybe was a little too scrawny, with a vacant face most days, and was always covered in pig shit and soot.

The prince is immediately enamored. He dances with her and her alone. The rest of the girls are seething. All their preparations were for naught. It’s all down the drain for a stranger that has never shown her face in court or society in general. If only they knew the true transformation that was beginning in this girl’s heart. For Ella, it’s not a transformation that takes away her soul. It’s a transformation that reveals it. She’s put no work into this at all. She’s paid no money, taken no classes, made no connections to be there. She’s not even looking for the prince. He’s the furthest thing from her mind. She doesn’t even realize who she’s dancing with!

However, midnight comes along. Fearing great punishment from the mysterious woman who brought her there, she flees. The other girls’ relief is short lived when the king and prince call off the rest of the dance to find her. After everyone is gone, they find the crystalline shoe.

The news spreads. The prince is looking for the owner of the shoe. The shoe is custom made. It will only fully fit one girl’s foot. The palace guard is going home to home having all suitable women try on the shoe. Most women have given up on the idea of marrying the prince so they try on the shoe with a morbid curiosity. However, one family has not given up. $USM$ and $USS$ are determined to fit $USS$’s foot in to that shoe. I’m sure if they had Google, they would have researched foot binding. But they can’t predict whether the foot will be too big or too small.

In at least one version of this story, $USS$ is cutting off her toes and heel to fit in this shoe. She literally has no concept of individuality and uniqueness. She completely misses the point. She’s thinking, “Fit the shoe and win.” She’s thinking that if she makes this one last sacrifice, she’ll get love and security. The prince, however, is looking for that face, who has a hint of recognition when she sees the shoe, who looked so exhilarated to be dancing and having fun. A face that doesn’t look like the person behind it is on a mission.

As we all know, Cinderella fit the shoe and also had the other shoe. Depending on what version you read, $USS$ suffers many different fates, from living as a spinster to becoming Cinderella’s servant to having her eyes plucked out by a bird. I’d like to think Cinderella forgave her and counseled her on what she learned from her own journey. And, after a few years, $USS$ became a little less ugly and a little more her true self and found someone to share her life with. I’d also like to think that $USM$ learned the roots of her control issues and and received love and security from her daughters.

The Ugly Stepsister – Part 1

Trigger Warning: Emotional/Physical Abuse

Have you ever tried to make someone love you? It is a pretty exhausting business. You fall all over yourself to make them happy and it never seems to be enough. There is always a part of them that is closed off to you. You deny yourself and sacrifice your desires to keep that person happy. Soon, you can’t even remember what you used to enjoy by yourself. Your being becomes wrapped around the existence of this other person. You smile when they’re happy and frown when they’re sad. However, you’ve forgotten how to register your own emotions. You don’t even realize that the other person rarely, if ever, does the same for you. Their happiness or sadness just doesn’t depend on you.

I see three possible outcomes of this behavior and none of them end well.

One: The other person is completely oblivious to your actions. They go on about their lives while your personality and individuality is eroding away more and more each day. They register no effect. However, you’re now a shell of a person. When they eventually leave your life, you become unglued. They were literally the glue that kept your identity together and he or she vanished. You have no choice but to break.

Maybe you find something or someone to glue it all back together but you’re never the same.

Two: The object of your affection DOES notice all the sacrifices you make for him or her. But this person is unscrupulous. He or she just sees you as a servant, a way to get his or her needs met and nothing more. This person cares nothing for your needs and makes no sacrifices for you. You feel that if you just make one more sacrifice, he or she will open up their reserves of love and affection.

This often turns abusive. With you becoming a doormat that he or she can wipe their dirty, diseased feet on. They take total control and you are so ready to let go because you’ve been practicing for the months or years you’ve been pining for this person.

Either they kill you (physically, emotionally, or spiritually), or get bored of you and move on. Either way, the other person has stolen an irreplaceable part of you. You lose your trust and faith in humanity. After all, you’ve poured yourself out and have gotten nothing back.

Three: VERY, VERY rarely does it work out that the other party receives this attention with open arms and returns the affection. And what I mean is that this person went from not acknowledging your existence to loving you in one leap. And what does this person get? You’re hollowed out from trying to emulate him or her. You’ve lost parts of your personality. You’ve spent months, maybe years, warping your personality to match the other person. Your true self is not going to magically re-emerge now that you have your lover in your arms.

At first, it would probably be a very exciting experience. Your lover has someone that focuses their attention on them constantly and all your hard work has paid off. But you don’t have that spark that makes you stand out from the rest. After all, many people could do what you are doing for them. You’re just as capable as the next doormat.

It gets boring and you both drift apart. Again, your life is in pieces. It’s worse than a flat out rejection from the start. You think that if they loved you before, you can work even harder and sacrifice even more to keep them in love with you.

And it should be no surprise that we treat God the same way. We have 24/7 prayer houses.* We organize fasts and feasts. We have our traditions and rituals which read more like spells and bewitchments at times. “Maybe if we plead the blood of Jesus five more times, because five is the number of grace, this wart will finally fall off! I really feel that this is the Lord’s leading!”

*What is the idea here? Do they think breaking the 24/7 cycle will bring about the apocalypse? But, wait, don’t they WANT the apocalypse to happen so Jesus can come back? So confused. Anyway…

Religions have risen and fallen all based on the idea that if we do things just so, God will begin to love us. God will come and be with us. God will come and speak to us and teach us.

Christianity (and most religions) will never come right out and say it. I mean, we have a verse in our holy book that says, “God is love.” So, it’s not like we can come right out and claim that we need to work for God’s love. But we twist and torture our holy book to make it say the dumbest things. My mother used to tell me that interracial marriage was against the Bible. Lord knows what she would have said about gay marriage. It’s been 20 years, mom, I still haven’t found that scripture. RIP.

What’s even more amazing is that we KNOW that it doesn’t work in human relationships. We’re always telling abused partners that you can’t change your significant other. But we think God is so foreign and so alien that he’ll fall for it. We forget that he created us in his image. We are his image. He is more like us that we can ever imagine. Jesus was both fully God and fully man.

It’s not that God doesn’t love us. Far from it. However, he has never ever been impressed with our efforts to earn his love, or woo him, or turn his eye to us. He knows that we are finite beings. He knows that we can only pour ourselves out so much before we are bone dry. He also created us with an individual personality with unique gifts and talents. And it breaks his heart when he sees his children molding themselves into some cookie cutter model of a Perfect Christian ™. It saddens him when we give up our unique talents and pleasures because they don’t fit in with the current religious culture.

He also knows that the god they are molding themselves to doesn’t exist. They mold themselves for a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and/or genocidal god. They pride themselves on being white (or the dominant ethnicity of that region) or being rich, or being straight. “Surely, god loves us more because we’re not part of ‘that’ group over there. In fact, I think god would be pleased as punch if we just eradicated them all. In fact, it’s just being kind to put them out of their misery.” I said before on this blog that evil (link) is simply the idea that God needs our help in running things. It starts out innocently enough, like a junior high crush on the star quarterback or head cheerleader. But, before you know it, there’s the Spanish Inquisition. They are not as unexpected as you may have been led to believe.