Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Sweet Discomfort of Humility

Over the last few days, since I wrote my post about being godless and criticizing faith, I have been sitting with some pretty rotten feelings. 

In the practice of yoga there is a place of growth they refer to as “Sweet Discomfort.”  This is the place you go to when you push yourself more than you thought you could but not too much that you will wish you hadn’t.  It’s uncomfortable but it’s not painful.  It’s challenging without breaking you.  It’s that moment when you say, “I want to quit!” but you just stay.  You know a new strength, a new experience a new you is on the other side of staying in sweet discomfort.  It’s the only way to get stronger.

Well, I created a place of sweet discomfort for myself by exposing my anger, intolerance and self-righteous arrogance.  I try, when I write, to capture how it feels to be human, to be emotional, to be troubled and to be present.  I had some valid points and some strong feelings when I wrote my last post.  But I sinfully savored my bad mood too much.  I indulged myself with a nice big cup of superiority.  It was wrong, and I’m sorry if I hurt you or made you feel that I am always feeling that judgmental or that critical.

But I must admit that I am deeply conflicted. 

I spent my entire childhood steeped in faith.  It was a faith so thick you couldn’t see through it.  And I’ve spent the last ten years trying to find my way out of the fog.  Now that I see clearly I am riddled with anger for being deceived for so long.  And I am extremely frustrated by the way I see so many people basing their lives on a concept of God that is problematic.

I do feel at times judgmental, wrongfully so.  I feel intolerant.  I feel confrontational.  And I feel that, when I do say something, it falls on deaf ears.  It wells up within me, and I feel the need to shout. 

But no one listens to someone who is shouting.  No one hears someone who cannot listen. 

But I’m glad I wrote the post. It gave a keen awareness to some of my most awful characteristics.  Several friends boldly confronted me and helped me see my own attitude.  I was forced to sit back and exchange my cup of superiority for a nice, hot slice of sweet uncomfortable humility.  And this humility has made me notice things.  I’ve put on my listening ears and heard things around me quite differently.  Here are a few examples of what I’ve heard.

I heard Cat Stevens sing, “I let my music take me where my heart wants to go,” and I felt humbled for not having been more beautiful with my words instead of ugly.

I flipped on NPR and heard someone say, “You can criticize without tearing down.”  Marco gave me a look for that one. 

And I heard the characters of Clifford the Big Red Dog talking about respecting other people’s differences.  Geez, even a cartoon is nicer than me.

And I’ve been really, really thinking about faith and what makes people believe in a god.  I’ve been trying to sit with my anger long enough to let it soften me into a place of understanding.

I might not be there all the way.  I’ll admit that this is a struggle.  I’ll admit that the PTSD from Christianity is still raw.  And I do believe that I have some really valid points for criticizing the concept of God in the Bible.  I’m not done talking about that.  However, I promise to do so in the future with much more respect and love.
I don’t think this love and respect comes from a god.  I do think we all have the capacity for the kind of deep learning that comes from the humility of being in sweet discomfort.  We ALL have The Spirit of Truth with us all the time. 

Thank you to my dear friends for not letting me stay and pushing me.  
I love you, and I’m sorry I was a bit of an ass.


Sarah Park said...

Apology accepted! I think your honesty is a beautiful and rare thing, and that we need more of it in the world. Everyone has their areas of passing judgment. I try extra hard not to do it with religion, due to Christianity's rep, but then I turn around and am blatantly critical of vegetarians. (You're not a vegetarian, are you?) Brandi is probably laughing, if she reads this. I mean, I try to respect that it's a lifestyle and belief-based choice, and I cook that way for guests, if need be... but I continue to believe it is a truly poor health choice for the long haul.

Okay, didn't mean to open a can of worms with that one... just wanted to confess that I can identify with the desire to pass judgment.

Heather Minter said...

Clearly I have a problem in this area. I have a whole list of things that bother me that I left out of the post...

I started sounding like Peter Griffin..."Another thing that grinds my gears is when I can't find the droids I'm looking for."

kc said...

Having grown up in an incredibly liberal family, I don't know what it would be like to come out of a really religious or rigid upbringing. I also don't know what it means to have a "thick faith" as you report surrounding you. That phrase in general--- "thick faith" ---strikes me as altogether oxymoronic. I know I'm not supposed to say that. . . .hymn lyrics are rushing to the forefront, contradicting what I wrote . . . ."On Christ the solid rock I stand. . . " and "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine."

But frankly, faith so often feels very flimsy. I mean it's scary as shit to put all your eggs in one basket and it calls for a dependence, surrender and trust that I honestly believe only children are capable of possessing very easily. How can any faith, by nature, be so sure? So definite? How can it be so resolved and thick? (And I use the word faith here in a liberal sense---Christian faith, atheist faith, etc.) I take what you shared in your blog as your faith and it's just as valid as my Christian faith.

I suspect you'll be okay with some Christian references. I relate to the disciples who were on the boat with Jesus and freaking out because of the storm. Jesus, meanwhile, was sleeping. He just calmed the storm with his words and rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. But my life, too often, is like theirs! I'm often wondering to God, "WTF are you doing? Are you even paying attention?" I'm scared and not certain. I can't think that the hemorrhaging woman wasn't just a little scared that it wasn't gonna work when she grabbed Christ's cloak. Or the blind man. . . was he so sure he'd regain his sight? And I'm sure Jacob got a little tired of hanging on to the angel, waiting to be blessed. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn't so much about them having a thick faith as it was that they weren't sure what else to do and they were desperate enough to go for it.

Faith by definition, lacks some degree of certainty. It has to involve a desperate going for it, a holy hunch, if you will. We can't know for sure. We can't see it. Bill Warrick of Williamsburg Community Chapel used to always say the opposite of faith isn't doubt, but sight. Faith involves not seeing.

In consequence, of course it's frustrating when we encounter people who make faith out to be so clear. This sometimes leads to people putting down others' faith (which can range from silly comments, to absolute judgment, to holy wars). It also sometimes leads to people who seem to give themselves cart blanche to do what they want in the name of God. You've mentioned before that you've been frustrated by people who say things like "God told me. . ." "The LORD is leading me. . . " etc I share your skepticism of this kind of talk---- and frankly I think God does too! (In Jeremiah, He calls it a perversion to claim God tells you something when He doesn't.) Maybe it's just human nature, maybe it's because we live in a world where Christianity is just one of many belief paradigms, but we want to be sure. We want to know without a doubt. We want to be right. We want to be confident in what we believe, are experiencing, and are doing.

I've come to believe that some people just don't have enough faith to let there be some wiggle room and some darkness. And I try hard not to judge them for that.
We all have to try to accept that faith (again, whether in Christ or whether decidedly not in Christ) has to involve not-seeing. (Buechner calls it "whistling in the dark"). Faith has to involve not fully knowing, not being so sure. And if we all could just surrender to that not knowing (whether we're Christian, atheist, agnostic, Jewish, Muslim, etc), I think we'd be a lot nicer to each other. We'd also be a lot less arrogant, judgmental, and smug.

I love you.

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