Forgetting, forgiveness

I know a lady who refuses to go to a certain church because they are OK with gay people. And by OK I mean the denomination not only welcomes gay people but also has gay ministers.

She says that homosexuality isn’t Christian.

I asked her what Jesus said about homosexuality. She got a little defensive and paused. She then admitted that she wasn’t completely familiar with all of what Jesus said. When I told her that Jesus said nothing about being gay, but said a lot about loving other people and a lot about not judging, she got even more defensive.

I wasn’t winning over a convert here. She thinks I’m wrong, and I think she is wrong. She thinks I’m twisting the rules to say that something that she has been taught is wrong isn’t actually wrong. I think she is using religion as an excuse to be a bigot.

The ironic part is that she is living with the father of her child, but they aren’t married. Their daughter is three. So by the same bag of rules that she was handed by society, she too is a sinner.

But she isn’t. And neither are gay people. Or, we all are, and that debt is paid.

No matter how you do the math, it is OK.

On one side, Jesus gave us two rules – love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. If whatever you are doing honors those things, then you are good. If it violates these things, then stop doing them.
But then here’s the other side. Jesus paid for all of our sins. All of them. For all time. Jesus totally got that it is really hard to be perfect. He got that it is very hard to be human. We make mistakes. We try. We fail again.

When Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” he might as well have said to us “That’s OK – just try again to do it right the next time, but I know you won’t get it right, and that’s OK too.”

This doesn’t mean that we are off the hook. This doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want and forget the consequences. We need to be mindful. But we need to also be patient with ourselves because we aren’t ever going to get it perfect.

Alexander Pope said “To err is human, to forgive divine.” This bears remembering.

Perhaps what people are afraid of about gay people being welcomed in church is that they think there won’t be room enough. They don’t want to share space with them. They think there won’t be room for them to be in church with all gay people there. Maybe they think that church is only for perfect people – ones who have it all figured out and are living a blameless life.

Maybe they forget that nobody’s perfect, and we are all forgiven.

Maybe they forget that we are all called to love, in the same way that Jesus loved us.

This, too, is forgiven, this forgetting.

You have control over your moods.

If you are feeling anxious, your breathing will become shallow. However, once you notice this you can change things. You can change your feelings with your breath. Breathe in slowly and calmly and deeply and you will start to feel better. Intentionally shift from shallow breathing to deep breathing and your mood will shift. You have control.

We have control over depression too. When we are depressed, we tend to eat a lot of “comfort food” that is high in carbohydrates. Bread, desserts, potatoes, pasta – you know the routine. We also tend to not exercise. Sadly, this is a terrible cycle – we feel bad, so we eat more of the things that we think will make us feel good, but they actually make us feel bad. We take time off from exercising because we just don’t feel like it, then we feel worse.

Just like with anxious feelings and breathing, you can turn around depression by eating better and exercising.

Sometimes I wonder what causes what. Are we not mindful about our breathing so we start to breathe shallowly, then we feel anxious? Or is it that we feel anxious and then we breathe shallowly? Do we slack on eating well and exercising and then we feel depressed? Or do we feel depressed and then sink lower because we start to eat badly and stop exercising?

Does it matter, if we have this key? We can improve our moods by being mindful. We have control. We no longer have to suffer the randomness of our emotions.

You don’t have to do anything complicated. Go for a walk. You don’t have to go on a run. And the walk doesn’t have to be long – twenty minutes is good. Can’t do twenty? Then do 10. Now, don’t think you can get away with five – that’s cheating. What you put into it is what you get out of it.

I know people who say that they don’t have a safe place to walk. Walk inside your house. Walk around the kitchen. Walk down the hallway and back. Then when you feel brave, go outside and walk to the mailbox. And back. And back to the mailbox. And back to the door. This trick also works for those people who think they don’t have the strength to walk a long distance and are afraid of getting stranded out far away from their houses. I know a lot of people who think this way. Another option is to drive to a large public place – the hardware store is one of my favorite suggestions. Use their large area and air conditioning to walk. No gym membership needed!

Your body isn’t a car. Well, it is, kind of. It is a machine, albeit an electrochemical one. It is a vehicle for your soul. And you need to put good fuel into it if you want to get anywhere. But you don’t really run out of gas. You may get tired, and if that happens, just slow down and wait until you feel better. You’ll get stronger for the next time. Soon you’ll surprise yourself.

We are so good at making excuses for why we can’t take care of ourselves. Trust me; taking care of your body is a great investment. It is all you have. It is more important than your car or your house or your neighborhood. It is where you live, in the deepest sense. Make it strong.

Eat more vegetables and less meat. Skip the fried stuff. Drop sodas and go for water. Try to go for natural, unprocessed food. Sadly, this is really hard because we’ve been taught that food comes in little packets with writing on it. Rather than eating an energy bar, have an apple and some almonds. Try something organic. Go for colorful food – green, red, yellow – let your eyes be delighted by a rainbow of food.

Sure, there is a lot of fear in changing. And your mind try to trick you – you’ll think you want to eat whatever you want and not exercise. This is your inner two-year-old saying “NO! You can’t tell me what to do!” Tell it to shut up. Two year olds aren’t known for making good decisions.

Don’t be at the mercy of your cravings. They aren’t real. You don’t need a soda. You don’t need pizza. You don’t need a candy bar. You don’t need fried chicken. You think you want them – but they all leave you feeling flat. Deep down you know this.

They are like a bad boyfriend, all flash and pizzazz, but no substance. And just like with the bad boyfriend, you think you are being a rebel by hanging out with him. Really, he’s no good for you.

Lessons from kindergarten – you can’t do your own thing.

Here’s another reflection from kindergarten. Part of why it is so hard is that you can’t do your own thing. Well, you can, within limits. You can pick what color you want use, but you have to hold the crayon in your hand and you have to draw what you are assigned to draw. You can write whatever words you want, but they have to be about the topic that is assigned.

It is about learning to be in community. It is about learning to dampen down your individuality. Sure, you are still you. Sure, you might figure out how to be an individual within the confines of the assignment. But you can’t do your own thing all the time anymore.

This is really hard if you are an only child or if you have doting parents. You think that the world revolves around you. You think that you are special. And yes, you are special. But so is everybody else.

Part of being in kindergarten is that there are a lot of other people there. Sometimes there are over 20 other kids who are also trying to learn the alphabet and count to 100. A good teacher makes these tasks seem like games, but they aren’t. They are deadly serious things. If you can’t read and write, you are doomed. If you can’t use numbers, you are in big trouble. You can fake it for quite a while, but after that if you can’t do these basic things you are sorely limited as to what kinds of jobs you can get. Because of that, you are limited to where you can live because you can’t afford good housing. Because of that it will affect the kind of school your child will go to. If you can’t master reading and numbers your whole life is affected. School is the key that unlocks a lot of doors.

Another part of being in kindergarten is that you have to learn how to get along with others. Remember how you are special, and so is everybody else? A lot of kindergarten is behavior modification. You have to learn how to sit still so that everybody can see and hear the teacher. You have to learn to keep your hands to yourself. You have to learn how to share. If you are a child who is used to having her own way all the time or bossing around younger siblings then this is going to be a hard time with a lot of adjustments.

Some lessons are harder to learn because they aren’t spelled out.

Some children take toys from each other. Some children hit each other. Some cut line. Some say mean things. There are a lot of adults who do these things too. I have a suspicion that if they learned better as five year olds they would do better as fifty year olds.

I’m all for individuality. I think it is important to be the person that God made you to be. But I think it is also important to learn how to fit into society. I’ve read that in Japanese culture there is no word for “privacy”. It just isn’t a concept that exists. I’ve heard that part of that is because there are so many people living in such a small area that privacy just can’t happen. It is essential that everybody conform to a social standard. We aren’t as crowded here in America, but we certainly aren’t spread out either. In the “wild west” times people were much more spread out and there was much more individuality. People took the law into their own hands. When more people move into an area, that just doesn’t work out and it is time to establish some sort of authority. People had to learn to let the sheriff handle disputes rather than do it themselves.

Going to school teaches you to submit to authority, to a teacher, to rules. It teaches you how to not disturb others. You might learn language, math, history, and science too.

It doesn’t teach you how to be yourself, but be honest – nobody can teach you how to be yourself. Only you can figure that out.