Tag Archives: Psychology

How To Erase The Smudge

Redemption stories are popular, but they’re usually more obvious or straight forward in fiction than in real life, and naturally, the main character is the focus. Real life redemption stories are usually much more nuanced because real life people are more complicated than they are in fiction. If a person messes up or does something that hurts them or others, it can take a lot to make things right. Furthermore, redemption doesn’t look the same for or to everyone.

More often than not, redemption is more like a web than a ladder in the sense that one doesn’t simply climb out of a mess they’ve made. It takes the assistance, and sometimes invasion of other people. From a quick Google search, I found this definition for redemption: “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” For a kid, this usually translates to having to say “I’m sorry” to a sibling or a friend they’ve wronged in some small way. A lot of times for adults, the thing being regained might be their reputation, or in worse cases, their freedom after committing a crime and spending some time in prison.

Sometimes, redemption looks like regaining right-standing with a specific person or group of people who have been wronged. In this case really, the focus of a person’s real life redemption story seems to actually be the person wronged. Everyone is part of a redemption story, whether it be their own or someone else’s. It is easy to assume that one’s redemption has to be earned, and to some degree, I think it does because it involves regaining a person’s trust; but redemption is only possible when forgiveness is offered. This means that it isn’t always possible, and why forgiveness is so important.

The person wronged has scars, sometimes really terrible ones, but whether they know it or not, the person in need of redemption also incurs them as a result of what they’ve done. If someone asks for forgiveness, and it isn’t granted, their wound will likely be made worse. This can often result in them doing something else that hurts them or another person, or adopting bad habits. Sometimes someone will realize they have done something wrong to a specific person or group of people, but will attempt to redeem themselves in a way that does not involve asking for forgiveness. The problem with this approach is that a particular problem (a wound) is not engaged with, and cannot be solved (healed).

Redemption is a relational matter. If a person attempts to redeem himself/herself without asking forgiveness, they are ultimately ignoring the real problem. This could be a simple matter of forgetting that they did something wrong, or they could not realize that there was a problem in the first place. In this case, it is a matter of perception. What might be a serious grievance to one person, might be trivial to another. Either way, the problem needs to be dealt with, and in that case, the person who has been hurt might need to be the one to initiate a conversation. Unfortunately, that means looking at old scars that don’t want to be looked at, and it might not mean that the person in need of forgiveness even asks for it.

Either way, forgiveness must be offered, and ultimately, regardless of whether the person in need of redemption asks for or even accepts it or not, for wounds to be healed, it needs to be granted. This is because, as already stated, redemption is a relational matter, and a person’s redemption story isn’t ultimately about them. A person’s redemption story is about the person wronged. When forgiveness is not granted, old wounds fester and remained unhealed. When it is granted, even if it takes a while, at least for the person wronged, the problem can be allowed to slip into the past, and no longer has to remain an ugly smudge on the present.

Building The Box

I don’t like to talk or write about this because it’s a sensitive thing for me, but a few people I know are dealing with some heavy stuff, and I think this could help. I’m writing it for them, but I’m posting it here because maybe it will help some others as well.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I have muscular dystrophy and epilepsy. About ninety percent of the time this is almost irrelevant unless I forget that I need my ramp to get into the mosaic store to get supplies, for example. Occasionally, because I happen to wake up “on the wrong side of the bed,” or for some other small reason, it gets to me, and though I hate to admit it, I’ll have times when I feel sorry for myself. About a month ago, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and because I couldn’t make my own coffee and had to wait, I got a little pissed off.

After sulking in my room and praying for a while–really for far too long–I snapped out of it, and I realized I needed to find a way to deal with the ten percent of the time when it is a problem. I needed something practical, so I built a box with a lock, decorated it, and made a key, which I promptly handed over to Jesus. Then I said “This is the Let It Go Box. I’m going to put stuff in here, and I’m giving you the key so that once something’s in here, I’m not allowed to touch it.”

For me, it’s not a physical box. It’s something I made in my head. I initially had the idea of getting a physical box and writing things down on pieces of paper to put in it, but I knew that I’d be too tempted to open it. I did get a physical key that I wear on my necklace chain and got it blessed. When you get something blessed, it means that thing is “set aside” for God to use. For me, having a physical key to symbolize that I handed it over has been helpful. I also wrote a list. It’s ultimately “dependence” that makes me so angry at times, and I knew I couldn’t hand that over all at once, so I broke it up. I wrote all the things that I can’t do on my own that annoy me the most, and it took me a few days, but I eventually managed to hand all of it over.

There are many instances in the Gospels when Jesus uses an unpleasant, difficult, painful, or even tragic situation to bring about some good, and to glorify His Father. One instance is when he heals a blind man. In that instance, His disciples ask, “Did this man sin, or was it his parents?” Jesus responds by saying (I’m paraphrasing), “This isn’t the product of anyone’s sin. It happened so that God may be glorified.” Then He heals the man, which indeed, brought a great good out of a bad situation, and obviously, by the miracle, glorified God. I reflected on this last week, and it occurred to me that He must somehow be doing the same thing with my situation.

Obviously I’m not perfect, and occasionally things that I can’t do, or can’t do strictly on my own start to bug me. The real key is one carefully crafted in prayer, but I wear the symbolic one to remind myself that I’m not allowed to take it back. The fact of the matter is, I have the patience of a gnat and the pride of a lion, so when I have to wait for someone to help me with X, Y, or Z, I remember the key, and offer the waiting and the fact that I need help in the first place to God to do with as He sees fit, or if there’s something pressing–if someone I know is suffering in some way–I’ll be more specific.

The key has actually taken on meaning in the weeks since I gave it away. Revelation 3:20 says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” Yesterday I was meditating on the fact that the Mass is going on somewhere in the world at all times. Since the Eucharist is truly Christ Himself present in the world, it means He’s never really left; He’s just not here in the same way. I haven’t looked for it, but I’ve heard that images inspired by Revelation 3:20 usually depict the “door” without a handle on the outside.

The key I gave away initially went to the Let It Go Box. Since then, it’s become the key to my heart, and my door has a handle and a lock on the outside. I find myself at various points throughout the day saying, “You hold the key to my heart. Do with me what You will.” It’s been incredibly helpful.

At this point, I should probably do some explaining. In a sense, I probably did things a little backwards, or at least came to understand things in a backwards way. I gave the Lord permission to start “housecleaning,” as it were, a long time ago. Up until now, though, He’s had to “knock” when He wanted to come in. By way of advice, I’ll put it this way: if your heart is a house, then the Let It Go Box is in a room set aside as a workshop for the Lord. You have to let Him in to have access to the workshop. Since giving Him the key, for me at least, it’s like He’s become a Resident, and not a Guest. If you’re not ready for that, you can give Him the box, and permission to work in the workshop as a Guest. What I mean by this is that once something is in the Box, it’s not like it just stays there. It doesn’t lay dormant. He’s doing something with it or to it. What that is, I don’t know.

My next advice is to get a key and get it blessed by a priest. I got a piece of jewelry; it doesn’t actually open any lock, but I have it with me at all times, and it’s pretty. Maybe it would be helpful for you to get the key to your house or your car blessed because actually using it might be a good way to remind you of what it’s for. The physical key isn’t the point, though; the physical key is a symbol. The real key is one you have to carefully craft in prayer. When I say you have to be careful, I mean it. Giving this key to the Lord means whatever you put in the Box is no longer yours.

Lastly, you should be thoughtful when building the box. If having a physical box is more helpful for you, then build or buy one. Make it personal, though, regardless. If you get a physical box, decorate it in some way, and remember that you’re giving the box to the Lord along with the key, so get that blessed, too. If you don’t use a physical box; if it’s something you construct in your heart’s workshop, actually think about it: how big would it be? What would it be made of? What color would it be?

When you’re finished, prayerfully hand the box over. If it would be helpful, write something down and put that somewhere. Either way, you’re agreeing on something with the Lord, and He’ll be faithful to your agreement. Some things you won’t be ready to put in the Box right away. That’s okay. Maybe you’re like me and it’ll be helpful to break a big thing up into smaller things and start putting those smaller things in slowly.

I’ve since found the Box extremely helpful, and even small things have gone in it. Being able to spiritually put things in a container, even though mine isn’t a physical one has been a huge relief. Even though I’m not allowed to take things out, He is, and He can transform those broken things into something beautiful. I don’t know what He’s making, but that’s okay. It’s a matter of trust, and I can trust Him with the things in there. Build the box and give it to Him. You’re not obligated to put stuff in it, but I really think you should.

Forgive Yourself As God Forgives You

I usually go to Mass on Saturday afternoons instead of Sunday mornings at our church. This Saturday I showed up a little bit early because I had decided to go to confession. I woke up that day with this thought in my head: “Forgive yourself as God forgives you.” I can hear over and over that God forgives without limit, but hearing it like this helped me to understand it better. Jesus told his disciples when He entrusted His mission to them to love others as he loved them.

The fact of the matter is, there are times when I feel like I shouldn’t be forgiven for one reason or another. I’ve messed up one too many times, or I’ve done something that must be beyond redemption. I know I am forgiven, but it often seems downright ridiculous. I’ve said before that I’m really hard on myself. I’ve been told multiple times that I’m too hard on myself. That in itself is problematic.

Forgiveness involves two people. God offers forgiveness, and I have a choice. I can accept His forgiveness, or I can continue being overly scrupulous and feeling sorry for myself. Accepting His forgiveness inherently involves forgiving myself because I’m His. If I’m going to live like Him, I have to forgive like Him, and because I’m messy, it means forgiving myself, and seeing who I am past the mess.

Nothing Into Something

Although I generally think abstractly and look at the big picture, when it comes to certain important issues, I can be at least reasonable, if not totally logical. The reason I say this is that I’ve been anxious lately. This is mainly because I’m impatient and I’ve had difficulty getting a meeting with my priest to discuss some things. I really want to figure out where I’m going or what I’m supposed to be doing or who I’m supposed to be talking to in terms of my next step in my spiritual life. While I’m waiting for my priest to call or email me, I’ve started doing some of my own research. He has suggested some things to me, so I’m not totally flying blind at this point.

In doing so, I’ve realized some things. The first is something I absolutely can handle and fix easily. I need to approach prayer better. In other words, I need to approach it less as an extra to-do list, and more as a structured activity that I’m doing with my God and Friend. The second thing is that I see myself as too broken for this. That is not an easy fix. When I say “broken,” I don’t necessarily mean sinful. I know that I’m spiritually messy like anyone else.

The fact of the matter is, I still have insecurities from when I was younger. Before college, I was one of the most unpopular kids in school. I was not actively picked on. Instead, kids acted like I didn’t exist. They ignored me. This made me feel like a waste of time and space. That makes it hard to accept that the God of the Universe might want me to be his in a particularly special way.

This, however, is tied to my other fear. I was treated the way I was for two reasons. The first was that I was friends with kids who were actively picked on, and I stood up for them. The second, however, is likely because I am disabled, and therefore, odd by default to any elementary or middle school kid. I question why God would want someone to intimately follow and serve him who is physically incapable of doing quite a lot of things.

I’ve probably explained this before, but my book started as a thought experiment. I was working on another project and hit an impassible wall. I said, “Well, I can’t stop writing,” so I just started writing off the top of my head. I ended up writing a very strange creation story. I thought it was interesting, so wrote another story. Two stories turned into four, so I wrote a list of ideas for more stories. I wrote some more and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t a list. It was a table of contents. I wrote some more, and shortly after I had written a few more stories, I prayed. “Lord, this is complicated. If this is going to be a book, I’m going to need your help. It’s yours if you want it.” Apparently he wants it, because he keeps helping.

Jesus died for me, so I have to live for him. I owe him my life, but I owe him more than that, and I don’t know what I can really give him. That’s ultimately what scares me. When it comes down to it, though, the truth is that love scares me. His love scares me. What’s really scary is that I can say, “No.” I’m not going to, but the choice scares me. The fact that I had a choice scares me. The fact that I ignored the choice for too long annoys me. The fact of the matter is, I started down this road when I was twenty one, but I didn’t know where I was going. Now I know a little better. I’m saying, “Yes.”

I have to remind myself that Jesus doesn’t always choose the most capable, exciting, influential people. His first followers, and many of the saints were basically nobody’s in the beginning. One of my favorite saints, Saint Faustina, started as a poor farm kid. She had trouble finding a convent that would accept her because in the early twentieth century in Poland, where she lived, a nun had to have a dowry. She didn’t, but finally the mother of a convent said she would let her in if she could pay for a habit. It took her a while, but finally she saved enough to pay for it. Through Saint Faustina, Jesus conveyed, in new and really amazing ways, his message of mercy that we will always need. She was a nobody, and now, just about a century later, she is super well known. This is just one example of what God can do, and I trust that.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

P.S. I may be renaming the blog in the near-ish future, but don’t worry, I’m still here, and I’ll still be writing largely the same stuff.

Broken Heart

On Thursday I went to Adoration like I usually do, and I went to confession like I often have to. I confessed that I’ve been struggling with a certain temptation, and I sometimes give into it, but I don’t think I’ve given in lately. I also confessed that a very long time ago, when I first came back to God, I didn’t understand the sacraments and that I felt like I sort of misused them because of that, but that this was something that I just hadn’t confessed because I keep forgetting to. I also confessed that sometimes, after I know God has forgiven me for something, I have trouble forgiving myself. The priest absolved me, and told me that I’m a holy woman.

A lot of people have been telling me that lately. My best friend has told me that several times. I sort of wrote it off because she’s agnostic. Then another friend who I don’t really see very often told me the same thing at her aunt’s wake. My mom has told me that I’m a holy person, but I kind of thought she was joking. My godfather has implied it. Now my priest is saying it. I don’t think I’m a holy person. I’m working at it.

I recently read a horribly depressing article. It was about what crucifixion actually does to the human body, and how people who were crucified actually died from asphyxiation after horribly long periods of time. It said that Jesus most likely did not die in this way because Biblical and scientific evidence suggest that he most likely died from heart failure. The really horrible part came next. It explained that heart failure can be the result of deep longing, loss, and/or rejection. This is especially common among elderly people who have lost a partner they have loved and been with for a very long time. In other words, people can die of a broken heart. In other words, Jesus died of a broken heart.

Jesus died for sins I haven’t even committed yet. When he was on the cross, he knew I was going to leave him. He knew I wasn’t going to care for several years. I don’t care that I was seventeen. My instinct is to say that I’m sorry. The thing is, I’ve said I’m sorry more times than I know, and I know he’s forgiven me. Peter rejected him three times; pretended he didn’t know him, and Jesus made him the first Pope. Last night I had a thought. “I’ve said I’m sorry, and he’s forgiven me. What do you say when someone’s forgiven you?” Then it hit me. It was stupid, really. “You say, ‘Thank you.'”

Holy Week (Tuesday)

What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of life? People generally ask these questions, or some variation of them, explicitly or implicitly. Some will assert that life has no purpose or meaning, and will therefore live and act according to whatever seems most pleasing and/or convenient. However, others will assert that the actual purpose of life is to live in the very same way to attain the maximum amount of pleasure, or what have you. The purpose of using this kind of philosophy is to illustrate that though people often have different ideas about what the meaning or purpose of life is, they often can reach the same conclusions.

I found an article today that grouped various ideas about the purpose of life into several different categories. In short, they all tended to be relational. Some find meaning in life by focusing on themselves various ways: to live as long as possible, to get as much as possible, to experience as much as possible, to reach one’s full potential (in general or at something specific), or to survive, seeing the world and life as a challenge that must be constantly overcome. Others find meaning in symbiotic relationships, meaning that these relationships cannot be entirely altruistic. There must be give and take. Still others find meaning in altruism, which may or may not be connected to spirituality. Finally, some find find meaning in worship.

Still, this may only generally help some in discovering their own life’s purpose. It begs the question, does everyone have a specific purpose in their life? Is there one particular thing that everyone is meant to do or meant to be? I think I would have to say yes and no to that question. As intelligent, thinking beings created by God, we are meant to grow in holiness; i.e. to become more like him and get to know him better. The Catholic Church also asserts that everyone has a primary Vocation and a secondary vocation. One’s primary Vocation has to do with how one relates to God and the Church, while one’s secondary vocation has to do with how one relates to other people and society in general. Ultimately, though, both relate to how one is meant to live before God’s kingdom comes.

God created us each differently, though. Some of us are good at writing or public speaking. Some of us are good at teaching. Some of us are great artists. Some of us are highly successful at whatever we do for work, and are therefore very altruistic. It seems that part of our life’s purpose is to discover what it is we love and what we’re good at, and figure out how God might want us to use these skills and knowledge. It seems, then that the purpose of life is, in part, to find God’s purpose.

Of course I am answering this question from a Catholic standpoint because I am Catholic, and I believe in an absolute Truth that I am striving to reach and understand. However, the same question could be answered from the perspective of anyone who strongly believes in any faith or philosophy. Interestingly, it would seem that, according to different faiths or philosophies, it would be easier or harder to answer this question. I would imagine that to someone who believes life has no purpose, it is easy, provided this is satisfying to them. At the same time, it is easy for me to say that my life’s purpose is at least in part, to worship God and enjoy his presence.

I would ultimately have to say that finding life’s purpose is a process. Do I definitively know what my ultimate purpose is? No. For all I know it changes over time and I’ve fulfilled one and am working to discover the next. It wasn’t until I graduated college and wrote half of a novel that I could comfortably say that I am not just a writer, but a good writer. My suspicion is that I am meant to write. Right now I write about personal stuff, spiritual stuff, and (not on this blog), a mythology. By the time I’m forty that could change drastically. What I write about is less important than who I write for, though. I do what I’m good at, and I do it for God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

Holy Week (Monday)

This week is Holy Week. Friday is Good Friday. Even though I know what comes after, I’m dreading it because of what happened on that day 2,000 years ago. This post is not about that, though. What I intend to do, Monday through Friday of this week, is to write precisely about what Good Friday tried to destroy. Life. What I mean is that Good Friday stood for Death. It stood for hopelessness.

Probably some, and possibly many will take my posts this week as political. I urge you not to. Some of the things I will post about are tied to political issues, but they are not political issues in themselves. All that being said, I’ll get started on my first topic.

What does it mean to be pro-life? What does it mean to live life to the fullest? These two questions are closely related. As many readers already know, I am pro-life. Yes, I do strongly oppose abortion and the death penalty, but that is not the extent of what it means to be pro-life. It means supporting discussion and if that fails, civil disobedience when it is necessary. It also means helping disadvantaged people in constructive ways that build relationships and boost confidence. It involves being creative. It requires time, effort and sacrifice. My dad used to use a cliche every so often: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” Do I always know how to “teach a man to fish?” Nope. Am I always capable of it? Nope. I do, however, think that there are people who are willing and able, and that this is the best solution to dealing with a multitude of social and economic problems. Again, this is getting borderline political, so I’ll leave it at that.

However, none of this addresses what it means to be pro-life on a spiritual level. One of the most commonly known things that Jesus said to his disciples was, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” Jesus is our connection with God the Father. Another Christian cliche is that we’re meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Relationships are a two-way street. He can chase us forever, but if we’re not interested, he won’t force us to pay any attention to him. To be spiritually alive means to enjoy the relationship that Jesus is offering us. To be pro-life from a spiritual standpoint, then, is, I think, to simply encourage people to acknowledge the invitation, and if they choose to pursue things further, to help them along. People never have only one relationship. Everyone has to ask for advice or direction in many relationships. A relationship with God is no different. What strengthens a relationship with God is worship (both individual and communal), prayer, and reading. Even fiction can help. Let God enjoy life with you, whether it’s playing with your pet, or taking a walk, or eating too much ice cream.

This addresses my second question. What does it mean to live life to the fullest? To an extent, this is a matter of opinion and preference. However, it also depends on one’s personality in general, and one’s overall situation. Some are happy living with the bare necessities, while others strive for extravagance. However, when one cannot attain what they want or need, living life to the fullest means accepting what one has and what one can attain. It also means being able to adapt and go outside one’s comfort zone. This will mean something different for every person. Sometimes it will mean watching a movie in a genre you might not usually pick. Sometimes it will mean skydiving. Lastly, living life to the fullest means allowing one’s self to let loose, and let go of one’s ego. It means learning to laugh at yourself with genuine joy.

Of course living life to the fullest also has a spiritual dimension. To address this aspect of it, I think I need to ask another question. What constitutes a full or fulfilled life? Every person will have a different answer for this, but I think it is possible to find a partially objective answer. Every human requires and seeks a handful of things in life. These are reflected in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with physiological/biological needs being the most basic, and self-transcendence being the highest. Self-transcendence refers to the need to give oneself to something outside of oneself. As an example, he specifically refers to spirituality. Maslow also describes his idea of self-transcendence as “ends rather than means” to oneself, significant others, and even the cosmos. In other words, oneself is something sought after by things outside oneself. God seeks us out. God is infinite and perfect. We are not. God has no actual need for us, but he has a desire for us. It seems that to respond to that desire positively is exactly what Maslow means by self-transcendence.

However, there is one aspect of this that I have not addressed. In both sections on our relation to God, I have primarily focused on what God gets out of it. What do we get out of it? I think the best way to close this off is to address that question personally. Strengthening my relationship with God has made me more creative, more outgoing, more honest, more altruistic, and more patient. It has raised my self-esteem, and given me immense comfort when things aren’t going quite right. It has made me more positive and less egotistical. That all has happened in the span of seven or eight years. I certainly won’t claim that my life is perfect, but it’s good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

 

Cry

I have a hard time being vulnerable. The trouble is, I’m kind of sensitive. I take certain things too literally. I let things get under my skin. I over-analyze. Sometimes I’m too critical of myself. I used to just let things build up. I would hide my emotions. I would refuse to cry because I was stronger than that. Instead I would block out the world and play violent video games while silently hating everyone.

The reason I’m writing this is because I saw a post on Facebook today that said “When life gives you a hundred reasons to break down and cry, show life that you have a million reasons to smile and laugh. Stay strong.” The problem with this idea, is that this is exactly what I used to try and do, and I don’t think it’s healthy. If you have one hundred reasons to cry, then you should cry. You should cry your heart out because that’s what you’re truly feeling.

Sometimes you do simply have to disregard perspective. You might have a million things going for you. You might have a pretty darn easy life compared to so many millions of others simply because you life in a first world country, etc. While that’s important to remember, it’s also important to take care of your emotional well being, and if something really crappy happens, it’s perfectly okay to forget everything else, go to your bedroom and cry.

It also helps to have someone to cry to. For you it might be a friend, or a parent, or a pet. Personally, I still don’t like people to see me cry, but I’m comfortable letting God just be with me while I cry because he knows I’m upset anyway. Sometimes you’ll want to talk, and sometimes you just need someone to be there. It’s important to have someone like that.

I don’t claim to know much about psychology, but burying reasons to cry in reasons not to does not seem like a good idea to me. If we widen the scope beyond our own lives and the things that directly impact us and the people around us, we see almost nothing but sadness and devastation on the news. In the past several months I am guilty of almost entirely ignoring the news for a multitude of reasons. Staying uninformed is a method by which one can bury reasons to cry in reasons not to.

Powerlessness is an unpleasant feeling, and waiting for results is hard. We watch the news, and we think, “What am I watching this for? I can’t do anything about it. I can’t end a war. I can’t bring those people back to life. I can’t change (insert social justice issue).” The thing is, on your own, no, you can’t, and even if you get organized with a bunch of like-minded people, change takes time. Peace takes time. It’s just the dreadful truth.

When you scale it back to your own life, though, the dreadful truth is that crap happens–crap that is out of your control, and maybe you have to lose a battle to win a war. You don’t always have to impress everyone. You don’t always have to be perfect. You don’t always have to agree with everyone. You don’t always have to be liked. When crap happens, sometimes you just have to let go and recharge so to speak. It’s counter intuitive, but I have found that allowing yourself to lose is often the only way to get through.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

What Christianity Is Not

To figure out what Christianity looks like, I think we have to figure out what it doesn’t look like. What actually makes someone a Christian? What are the duties of a Christian? What does it mean to practice what we preach? Why does it sometimes seem like the church is dead or ineffective? As I said, I think the best way to answer these questions is to first figure out what Christianity is not.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians have to prove that God exists, yet the Church spends ludicrous amounts of time, effort, and sometimes money to do just this. The fact of the matter is, it’s not our job. It is our job to tell people the “Good News.” However, I think even Christians themselves have lost their sense of what this actually is. Salvation is not about where you end up when you die. It’s about knowing that you are a sinful person, and that you are forgiven, you are loved, and you will never be alone.

Being Christian does not give you license to judge anyone. Look at the U.S. in particular, however, and you will find that some of the most judgmental people call themselves Christians. In fact, many will judge other Christians very cruelly because they belong to the wrong denomination. The Church is supposed to be the unified body of Christ, not a house divided against itself. Every denomination has something about it that is imperfect. We can not adequately emulate Christ if we are fighting among ourselves or even being downright cruel to people who adhere to different ideologies than us.

Christianity is not at war with philosophy or science. It can and should inform our understanding of both, and both can give us a more concrete understanding of how God works in the world. God wants to be known, and the fact that the world and the universe can be studied and understood by the human mind is a testament to this. He can never be known completely in this life, but he gives us clues through philosophy and science as to what he is like. For example, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. Genesis says that the universe was created when God said, “let there be light.” I once read that at the moment of the big bang, there was most likely a tremendous flash of light. I also recently read that scientists discovered a zinc spark–a kind of flash–that occurs at the moment of conception. Every human mind is unique. It’s like it’s own little universe. Chew on that for a bit.

In a similar vein, Christianity should not be afraid of art. I am unashamedly very Catholic. I am also a science fiction writer, I hang out mostly with atheists and agnostics, I watch movies and play games in which religion is out of the question, or other gods exist and have real power. Art never, under any circumstances, brings God’s  truth or omnipotence into question. Some genres portray sinful behavior as normal or even good. It’s up to the individual to decide whether these portrayals are personally problematic on a spiritual or emotional level. If they are not, then there’s no reason why the story as a whole should not be appreciated and enjoyed. Art should be primarily judged for its artistic quality.

Lastly, Christianity is meant to be personal, but it is also meant to be active. The reason why the Church often seems boring, outdated or “dead” is because many have completely internalized and abstracted the faith. It is true that Christianity encompasses a philosophy or a set of “rules” by which an individual should live. However, Jesus said that the most important thing is to love God and to love our neighbors. Love is communal and concrete. At the very least, two people must be actively involved. Love obviously can take many forms, whether it’s a work of charity, the act of forgiving someone, or a selfless personal relationship with another. Love involves giving of one’s self, but it is often misconstrued as something like an abstract, impersonal respect, particularly when it comes to acquaintances or strangers. Put simply, people just don’t pay enough attention to each other. Christianity demands that we start paying more attention.

People have lost faith. There are plenty of reasons for this, but I think the simplest is that we are no longer willing to believe the unbelievable. Why don’t we see miracles happening anymore? It’s because we doubt their validity. We see them as “magic,” and magic is directly opposed to what we know and are capable of through science. We have more faith in doctors and engineers than we do in God. I am absolutely guilty of this, so while I’m pointing the finger, I’m pointing at myself, as well.

Further, society has lost its sense of what sin is. Sin is a refusal to do what is right, and what is asked of us by God. By extension, it is separation from God. God is the ultimate good, and the true manifestation of love. Therefore, separation from God is separation from love. Sin isn’t always as concrete as people might think. It’s complicated. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect….” Obviously no one is nor can we be perfect, but it is something we must strive for. Union with God brings peace and joy. I’ve realized that something I have to overcome is impatience. Sin does not only refer to specific actions. It encompasses sentiments and ideas as well. What I want to emphasize is that being sinful does not make someone a bad person. It just means that one is imperfect and therefore, apart from God.

So what does Christianity look like in an actual, practical sense? We are given specific duties. I think these duties can be summed up in three commands.

1: Love God. Worship him and honor him, and pay homage to his kindness and greatness.

2: Tell people about God and about salvation.

3: Be kind. In other words, be self-giving.

It sounds straightforward, but actually, the way in which we do these things involves some creativity. This makes the task more personal, but can also make it more difficult. Furthermore, they are all intertwined. In doing one, we tend to accidentally, or intentionally do one of the others to some degree. Truthfully, we can’t love God without loving other people because God has infinite love for all people. Therefore, worshiping God involves spending time with people and being kind. Then there is communal and informal worship. Communal worship is what we do in church. Informal worship is more personal. Prayer is a kind of worship, and again, this is somewhat structured, but is still more personalized. Completely personal worship is when we do our work or create something in order to honor God. Loving other people and loving God requires that we tell about salvation because we should want people to know about the greatest love there is.

This is often difficult because people have been force-fed the wrong message and mistreated by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The message that we ought to be spreading is actually rather simple. All we really need to tell people is, “What you believe is between you and God, but I want you to know that the God of the universe loves you, and you can know him and he will always be with you because Jesus paid for all the evil in the world and he is alive now. Everything will be made right.” The point is there is nothing negative in that statement. We can’t start with sin. Starting by telling a person that they are sinful does not work in a relativistic society. People have lost their concept of objective morality. We have to start with love and move towards a concept of sin, emphasizing all the way that we must strive for the good, but that we are safe.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Intensity Of Head-Space

Today is Star Wars Day, so of course I have to write about it. There’s so much I could write about. Realistically, it’s an absolutely amazing story. It has so much longevity, and as far as I know, it’s the closest we’ve got to a parallel universe. What I mean by that is, for one thing, it exists in several genres. Regardless of the quality, one can read, watch, and play Star Wars. This has been true since the very beginning. The universe exploded with A New Hope, and it’s still expanding. What is also significant is that is the amount of contributions from fans. The people who love this story shape what happens in its future and in the parts of the galaxy we wouldn’t otherwise see.

The latest RPG I’ve been a part of is a Star Wars rendition of Dark Heresy. We decided to go this route because we understood and cared about that universe. The time period our game takes place in is the height of the Empire (between Revenge of the Sith, and A New Hope), far away from where the “main story” is taking place. Before this, I had been part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I hastily threw together my characters, not thinking too much about who they really were, what they cared about, or where they came from. This time I took time.

My character’s name is Sky Turin. Before becoming a Jedi padawan she lived with her father on the lowest level of a planet similar to Coruscant, though this was not where she was originally from. Her parents were from the Sky, which was the wealthiest part of the planet. Think of Cloud City. The Surface, where she lived for most of her early life was the poorest. Her parents were what would probably be the Star Wars version of missionaries, working to empower the poorest people on the planet. When Sky was nineteen she rescued a Jedi, not much older than herself, who crash-landed in her neighborhood while in pursuit of a Dark Jedi. Dark Jedi, if you don’t know, were force-users who were not directly allied with the Jedi or the Sith. They generally minded their own business, but the few Jedi who remained after the Empire took most of them out pursued them, either to bring them over to their side or detain them if they could.

While Sky was helping Val escape, Val discovered that Sky could use the Force, though she didn’t know what she was doing at the time. Sky went with Val to the remaining Jedi–none of them officially masters–and was permitted to learn the Force and become a Jedi herself, as the Jedi were desperate for recruits. After some preliminary training with a light saber, Sky and Val went to a planet similar to Earth to investigate a possible meeting of Dark Jedi in a mountainous area, similar to the Rocky Mountains. While they were there they were ambushed and captured. Their captivity didn’t last long, however, because Val was extremely powerful with the Force. They were able to escape, but had to leave in separate ships. When Sky returned to the Jedi council, she discovered that Val had not returned. The council would not permit her to look for Val, so she left and began searching against their will. This is where I entered our campaign. While I don’t know the specifics of where the story is going, I do know that Sky is assertive, hates the Dark Jedi, hates the Empire, and mistrusts the Jedi themselves. She has been taught that the Dark Side is evil, and will lead to her own destruction, but she’s so obsessed with finding Val that she will most likely not always stick to the Code entirely. She’s also impulsive and will probably make some stupid decisions.

I considered writing Sky’s story in full detail. In fact, I tried, but she’s too distant from me, for lack of a better way to say it. Ironically, I think I have trouble creating a story in an already existent universe. My novel takes place in a future version of the U.S., but almost everything about that world is my own. It feels awkward to me to write about a universe that someone else made, even if I’m inventing most of the details of a story that is otherwise original. It feels weird to talk about the Force and the Empire and the Jedi as if they were my own. It feels invasive in a way, like I’m invading someone else’s creative space. At the same time, the Star Wars universe has always seemed very inviting when it comes to original ideas. I think what this ultimately comes back to is that I’m much better at coming up with characters than I am at coming up with plot. I’m great at writing their past, but when it comes to writing their present, I often get stuck.

I’ve written two hundred pages of my novel thus far, and I’m about fifty pages into Part 2. Part 1 was a lot easier to write. So far I’ve had to write two battle scenes. I think they were both okay, but they both need work. I have trouble with timing and intensity. Right now I’m working on a captivity situation. I have to deal with the head-space of a character who has just been captured and is about to be interrogated by an evil government. This kind of scene is slower, but I think, just as intense, and I’m much better at writing this kind of thing. I think Star Wars is a very action-oriented story, and maybe this is why I have trouble writing in that universe.

One of the greatest stories I’ve ever read is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most of that story takes place in dialogue and internal thoughts, which one might assume would be boring, but it’s anything but. Solitude, in particular, can make for some seriously intense character and plot development. Head-space, while mostly metaphorical, is still space, and in that space, anything can happen. In that space, a character can go insane or overcome impossible odds. A person’s psychology makes them who they are, and plot can’t exist without characters. A world without people in it doesn’t matter.

I’ve seen some great and some terrible post-apocalyptic movies. I’ve noticed two things regarding these, and regarding my story. First, the movies that are good have more people in them. It’s hard for a story to maintain its momentum when no one is around to keep things going. Second, what I’ve noticed, and sometimes want to smack myself for, is that I keep creating more characters. My story takes place over a very large area–basically the entire United States. I’ve noticed that the space in which a story takes place tends to correspond with the number of characters that are needed to keep the story going. Sometimes great movies or great stories take place in one house, or even one room. Sometimes there are only two or three characters involved, and these stories can be great. Some of the most intense scenes in my story are conversations or even internal monologues.

Interestingly, in the case of Star Wars, we really don’t get to see too much of the characters’ head-space, at least not directly. Their personalities come out in how they react and adapt to various situations. This is clearly effective because we know and love characters like R2D2 and Chewbacca, who never even speak a word of English. However, I think to get to know characters in this way, there needs to be constant action. There isn’t a lot of time, or even good reason to slow down. Finding a happy medium is definitely difficult. I think the few exceptions are the exchanges between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi, but even these are short and almost invariably turn into light saber fights. The thing about dialogue is that it has to be executed well. There are far more longer exchanges in The Phantom Menace-Revenge of the Sith, but they’re often not well written. They’re either boring or cheesey. If there had been less talk and more action, I think they would have been better movies.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!