Give & Take

On this particular week—a week sandwiched by an ominous presidential inauguration and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m looking forward and wondering what I can do. Perhaps it has been a perfect storm that has pushed my thoughts: First, I … Continue reading

We the People

A rich white man just got what he wanted and people are surprised. Why? Perhaps you think he doesn’t deserve it. Perhaps you think he hasn’t earned it. So what? Taking is the foundation of America. This country was founded … Continue reading

Being a Social Introvert

Lonely isn’t a word that frightens me. In my personal lexicon its connotations are positive, not connected to sadness, emptiness, or boredom. I like being alone. I desire silence and solitude. I am at home with myself, within myself, and … Continue reading

Like Any Emotion

I’ve never seen my father loose his temper. I’ve never heard him raise his voice or witnessed his silent anger. Not once. Not ever. And while my mother was a more passionate presence in my life, I’ve never seen my parents … Continue reading

Confronting My Criticism

Criticism comes easily to me. I have judgmental tendencies. It’s one of my vices—one of my uglier qualities. Usually, when I judge (and then criticize) it’s because I’m writing someone else’s story rather than learning his/her reality. Perhaps it’s human nature. Perhaps it’s just my nature. I use appearances to fill in the blanks. But appearances are just that—they are how things seem. Quite often how things appear is very different from the truth that lies beneath.

In confronting my criticism, I usually find that it’s come out of either ignorance or insecurity. It’s when I’m least happy with myself that I’m most regularly guilty of judging and criticizing. I project my own insecurities and ideas onto other people. For example, when I’m feeling unhappy with my own body, I start to pay more attention to the bodies of others. I see someone who is thin and I make assumptions. I see someone who is heavy—perhaps eating a large dessert—and I judge. But the truth is I don’t know the truth. I don’t have the full story. Not all overweight people are gluttonous or lazy. Not all skinny people are disciplined or healthy. It is unfair of me to use someone’s exterior to define and/or criticize that person’s interior. It’s not my job to judge or make assumptions. It is my job to become comfortable with myself and my choices. That leaves me freer to accept how others choose to live. It prompts me to ask instead of assuming, and to wonder instead of judging.

I have to regularly remind myself that not everyone sees or experiences the world the way I do—and that what is right for me isn’t necessarily right for everyone. This was illustrated for me in a powerful way just the other day. Two people were asked to stand back to back and describe what they could see. Each participant, although standing as close as humanely possible to the other person, had a completely different view. Too often I forget how well this illustrates much of life. You and I can grow up in the same family, neighborhood, country, or era and experience all of it differently because we are two different people with two different perspectives, personalities, and predispositions. What you find thrilling, I might find frightening. What you experience as a freedom, I might experience as confining. Where you see risk, I might see opportunity. Looking at the same words, one of us might see an insult while the other sees something complimentary.

I get in trouble with criticism and judgment when I forget that everyone is doing the best he/she can with the resources (physical, emotional, financial, et cetera) he/she has. If I don’t understand another person’s actions, it’s probably because I haven’t tried to understand that person’s perspective.

I do believe that some things are right and some things are wrong. But I believe more things are right for some and wrong for others. There is a big difference between right or wrong for me and right or wrong as absolutes. It’s important that I assign those designations with extreme caution—and remain flexible when I do.

As a Christian, I am called to love—not to judge. It’s not my job to police humanity—to expect others to act, feel, or live the way I do (or would in their position). If you asked one thousand people to draw a flower, you’d get all sorts of varieties and colors. That’s what criticism often forgets, that diversity is natural and different doesn’t mean wrong.

 

“The only thing that counts is

faith expressing itself through love.”

~ Galatians 5:6b

 

Note to the reader:

This is a slightly different version of a piece I originally wrote for The Body Is Not an Apology.

 

We Need God for Life

Sometimes when I’m feeling inadequate, I think about bananas and plantains. Bad bananas make the best banana bread. Similarly, when a plantain looks its most rotten (black and shriveled and dusty), that’s when it’s sweetest.

It is from this that I draw some understanding of redemption, not only the saving of our souls, but the good that can come from the corrupted.

I am aware of how much in Christianity (or faiths claiming to be Christianity) has been contorted into cruel and harmful words, practices, and beliefs. Even with the best of intentions, anything touched by human hands is inherently lacking. We’re all imperfect beings.

What I find truly miraculous and hopeful, however, is how we broken people, we sinners, we betrayers of love, can be used for things that are better than the sum of our lying, stealing, coveting, conceited, violent, or otherwise unloving parts.

We are like rotten bananas in God’s hands. He doesn’t erase our weaknesses (although sometimes that is exactly what happens), often He leaves us flawed and puts us in a position where that event, experience, or characteristic (e.g., a past hurt, loss, or mistake) is beneficial in some way. Like rotten bananas making good banana bread, because of (not just in spite of) our hurts and imperfections, we inspire each other, support each other, guide, confide in, and advise each other. We gain and share wisdom and empathy. We are role models. We are cautionary stories.

Years ago I was watching an episode of Wife Swap in which a God-fearing, black woman was switching places with a white (multi-colored, actually—she had so many tattoos) atheist. One thing the atheist said reverberated in my mind: she accused Christians of using God and their faith in Him as a crutch. I had heard that indictment before, and it had never sat well with me, but this time I heard it from a different vantage point: Who says needing a crutch is a bad thing?

God is indeed my crutch, and that’s a good thing. I am limping through life because I am broken. I need His support. He literally sustains me every day. The atheist on Wife Swap was acting as though humans are completely healthy—emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually—but we’re not. Everyone in this world is broken in one way or another—internally or by an outside force.

We all need a crutch to get through life. Some of us develop defense mechanisms like sarcasm or seek insight through therapy. Some of us turn to hobbies, addictions, or habits—anything that keeps us in the shallows of our minds—distracted. Some strive after wealth, health, popularity, perfection, or knowledge. Others try to feel better by making others feel worse. There are a lot of things out there that people can cling to in an attempt to prop themselves up. We’re all self-medicating something. I choose God. I am broken, and He is my benevolent crutch.

Like a crutch, God is not necessarily an instantaneous fix for what ails us (although that too is possible). The crutch is not the cure; it is a complement to the healing. The crutch is there so that as our body mends, we’re still able to make progress—to proceed despite our pain and injury. Similarly, God comes to support us, to bear us up so that—despite our brokenness—we can move through life. And as we lean on Him, we find that the healing is able to begin because we’re not putting all our weight on whatever part of us isn’t able to bear all that pressure—the burden.

Now most people need a crutch for a discrete amount of time. Unfortunately, what’s wrong with us (humanity) isn’t temporary. We’re maimed for life. So we’re not like the woman who has broken her leg and only needs crutches for a finite length of time. We’re more akin to the man with cerebral palsy or someone who’s had an amputation. We need God for life.

And here’s the brilliant thing about God—the thing that makes Him infinitely better than a crutch—He uses us just as we are. We’re not sidelined by our flaws or benched because we’re not good enough. He sees us limping along, trying to depend on Him, but not quite comfortable in that position—still wanting to assert our independence—perhaps even resisting Him, and He uses it all.

Consider how much we’d praise a physician who could not just heal patients, but use their maladies to improve the prognosis for others who are ailing. That’s what God does. He uses hurting and broken people to help heal the hurting and broken. He empowers the damaged to repair the damage that has been done to, by, and for others. Ignorance, intolerance, inequality, violence, exploitation, addiction, abuse, and more—all the things that have broken our world, the broken are trying to fix them.

Don’t worry that you’re inadequate or flawed. Learn from, but don’t dwell on, your past—what you have or haven’t done. Just as you are, you can help. All of who you are—the good, the bad, and the broken—is relevant. We’re all rotten bananas—soft, bruised, and blemished. But if we’re honest and loving, we “bad bananas” will make good banana bread.