Recalling a Sermon on Contentment

I haven’t listened to many sermons in the last few years, but I did tonight. It was a simple message, but it helped me see some blind spots.

The preacher shared a quote from Voltaire. It basically said ‘God created man in his image and man has attempted to return the favor.’ What this means, is that we try to create a version of God in our mind that fits our life. If we value financial stability and providing for our family above everything, we twist God into this being that understands when we hoard our money and don’t give with open hands to the poor. If we value romantic relationships above everything, we twist God into this being that understands and welcomes our sexual sin.

The preacher said we should twist ourselves to align with God instead.

“There are things about Jesus that I don’t like,” the preacher said. “There are commands that Jesus makes that are hard for me. But we cannot twist Jesus into something we like. We must twist ourselves instead. Die to ourselves and learn to cling to Jesus more.”

He went on to say that Jesus was radical. Jesus didn’t know where he would eat the next day. Jesus didn’t know where he would sleep the next night. But he still relied on God. Because Jesus was radical, we should live radical lives too; giving our security away so our brothers and sisters can eat, abstaining from sexual immorality when the world promotes lust.

The preacher said the reason we are not content is because we don’t really believe that Jesus is enough to sustain us.

These are things I have been hearing in church circles for a long time, but they struck me tonight. Dying to myself is hard. Believing ‘Jesus is enough’ all the time is hard. But twisting God into my own image does not work.

One creative expression a day

One creative expression a day. That’s what I’m hoping for. Some folks put deadlines and disciplines between them and creating. If that’s what helps you, do you. I haven’t put deadlines on myself to create ever, but I’m not saying it won’t happen in the future. I’m pretty good at being consistent and I like to alleviate stress there.

I’ve been painting and drawing and writing songs and performing and recording music and writing poems and submitting articles. It’s been a good, hearty season for expression. I’m teetering on the edge; do I plummet, submerge myself and go ‘all in’ or do I find other work and keep creating as a hobby?

I’m gunna go all in.

Reminder

There’s a song called ‘Hazelnut Butter’ by Medium Troy. One line says, “I want everyone to call their mom right now and let her know that she’s the shit.” The first time I heard the song, I called my mom directly after. “So, you think I’m the shit?” she said laughing. My mom passed away last year. All I’m saying, is every chance you get to tell someone that you love them, do it. I’m glad I did that day.

Megaphone

It is not until I’m seated in a reclined position that I realize how heavy the mental burdens of the day have been. Then I can see how unwieldy they really are. 

I’m wondering out loud a lot to my fifth grade definition of God. “Why all this pain? Why all this broken and bent and tragic? What are we doing? What are You doing? Do you love us, still? Did you ever at all? 

Basically, it boils down to : this life is really hard. A real slog at times. 

God doesn’t like to be asked direct questions, it seems. He likes to whisper in the wind and speak in a mourning dove’s song. I’mma be honest, I get pretty tired of discerning meaning from the breeze on a blade of grass (that’s a joke). 

How about some megaphone responses? Maybe he does that too in the face of tragedy, but I’m talking some straightforward, not cryptic, unmistakable commentary. I mean all of this light-heartedly (for now), but it would be nice to see some road signs marked, “Tyler, go here.” 

I’m in a life-lull for the moment and a big, clear push is welcome. 

 

Fly Away – a meditation

“One bright morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away.”


I want you to notice how soft that line is; how light and divine. It’s like the sentence is angled into a crescendo somehow; like the end of the sentence is taking flight above the clouds.

Sing it over and over in your head. Get lost in the idea of flying away. Pick up and leave every heavy thing behind. I don’t have to name the heavy things. We all know what they are. We recite them again and again until the area between our brow wrinkles.

But letting go of every heavy thing sounds nice, doesn’t it? All those recitations suddenly forgotten completely. And instead, that line above replaces them. The morning is bright, the race is run, I’ll let go of everything and just fly. 

No need to overcomplicate things; just flight and a new perspective from on high. 

 

Are you free?

Are you free?

My first answer is: “more than most of the world.” I can travel as I please and communicate easily and keep my contacts close. But on second thought, I don’t know if that’s entirely true. In America, we seem bound to our screens and our commercialisms and our need to be well thought of.

Do I feel like I am enslaved? You have to know there is a problem before you can solve it and maybe asking the question in reverse can force an answer. Personally, I do feel enslaved and as I look around, I see everyone else is also.

Even leaders who proclaim a message of freedom, they’re enslaved right along with the rest of us. Folks who preach Jesus still enter their cells at the end of the day. People who propose confidence secretly rely on internet message boards. Popular artists need followers in white-walled museums.

I am enslaved to lust (that’s one sin that will throw a hush over a crowded fellowship mall) and the idea of a stable relationship. I dwell on these ideas; ruminate and bargain with God that I might have a taste of the sweet dessert of marriage. I feel that I am not complete unless I have that kind of partnership and I cope with the void by filling my head with lust at times.

I am imprisoned by appearing successful. It is not even being successful it’s appearing successful. I want my community members (reaching all across the country via social media) to think I’m very busy; making money and contributing. This slavery is not as pernicious as some others in my life, but I wonder what freedom could do to alleviate my ‘keeping up appearances.’

I am held captive by depression and mental illness. There are times when I do not get to choose when I am deeply sad, instead that state of mind chooses me. Now, there are things within my control (what I eat, how much sun I get, how much quality time I spend) but there is also a great force working against me no matter how well I’m caring for myself.


All my peers, (and unfortunately my heroes as well) are enslaved. They turn minor inconveniences into unscalable mountains. They work relentlessly and lose their family. They compare and self medicate and rage and cheat and lie.

I have grown weary of those who propose quick solutions to the problem of these shackles; snake oil salesman who flash a remedy but act in hypocrisy. I see their quick temper with their children while they act pious on Sunday morning. I see their struggle with alcohol while they preach sobriety. I see their unconfidence masked as boisterous clamouring.

All this to say, I know that the people of this world are human; friend and stranger alike. I have no problem embracing their humanity, but it is when they masquerade as free and stable and confident that I take exception.


So in a world where I see slavery, what does it mean to try for freedom despite?

Do I need a:

  • Retreat to recenter myself and learn new coping techniques
  • Life coach to point me in an ambitious direction
  • Therapist to uncover childhood trauma that I could then overcome
  • New church small group filled with people in my same season of life
  • Deeper connection with my friends built on accountability
  • Social club to connect with like minded people and explore a hobby

The answer is probably yes, in part, to all of those things.


I have had deep struggles with God and before I talk about faith issues, I want to approach the topic with realness and rawness, because I do not want to sound cheesy.

An idea has been presented to me countless times as I have grown up in non-denominational churches: Don’t rely on anything in this world for freedom, rely on God.

I recently have been thinking a great deal about perfection and how Jesus is the only idea that has ever been presented to me in that way. To me, a perfect person seems like good inspiration in the quest for freedom.Even if I have to think of him as a metaphor at times.

What if I could take my messed up life – filled with depression and comparison and lust and shame, work on those things through therapy, ect. and take on God’s perfection and freedom for myself.

I don’t think freedom comes without work. We have to remember where our security and stability comes from when someone else degrades us or humiliates us. However, moments of pain are small matters compared to retaining personal freedom.

I also want to be prepared when it’s my own mind that’s doing the attacking; attempting to tear down and damage me.


Is my salvation secure? Can a person who struggles with lust lose their salvation? What does it mean that I’m not attending church regularly anymore?

These are all questions that swirl around my mind. The church at large has said a lot of things on similar issues, basically scaring congregations into believing it’s Jesus plus something else (like three devoted quiet times a day or consistent church attendance) that’s required for us to be saved.

But it’s just Jesus that paves the way for our salvation. Just his perfection that grants us freedom and what I’m trying to say in this piece is that we can partake in that perfection and in that freedom; not relying on our own work.

It’s not, “Is my faith good enough?” it’s “Jesus lived a perfect life and that’s what God sees when he looks at you.”

It’s not, “One too many fuck ups and you’re out of the club,” it’s “Jesus died for all past, present and future sin.”

It’s not, “I’m not a confident person so, I must not know God,” it’s “Rely on God solely for matters of worth because all other things are fleeting.”

What do you want to be free from?

And what has the power to set you free?

If Jesus is for the poor…

As I was about to take communion in a church in Findlay, Ohio earlier this year, I was struck when the pastor quoted Paul saying, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” Paul goes on to say we should “examine ourselves” before we partake.

I took a hard look at myself and wondered about my standing with God. I thought of all my doubt. I thought of my trials and when I shook my fists at the heavens in anger; beating my chest was not even a metaphor. Times when I’ve said ‘Fuck You’ to God and really, deeply meant it.

I wasn’t sure exactly where I stood.

There was an uneasiness during this part of the ritual that I had not experienced before. Was I unworthy? Was I going to ‘drink judgement’ on myself? I felt unsteady on shaky ground.

Then I thought about the person of Jesus, looking for things I knew for certain. There is no one else that has been presented to me as perfect. Not even fictional characters, that I can think of. Maybe more than that, there was no one who even came close. No one who is thought of as spotless and wholly righteous. Other religious figures claimed to be prophets. Claimed to be enlightened. But Jesus claimed to be God – and also claimed perfection with that lofty statement.

My mind seemed to ‘settled in,’ remembering all the teaching and studying that I have done; my footing seemed to manifest under my feet again. “If I am going to hitch my wagon to anything,” I thought, “It might as well be perfection.”

Then I also traveled down another road in my mind.

If Jesus is for the poor, then I am for Jesus.

That thought seemed to anchor me down to earth, because I do believe that Jesus is for the poor. There are these counter-cultural aspects to Jesus that I love – the idea of an ‘upside down Kingdom’ where the lowly and oppressed from this life are exalted on high in God’s Kingdom and placed on the same plane as the Almighty Throne.

If Jesus is for the weak, then I am for Jesus. If Jesus is for cancer patients and widowed mothers and suicidal addicts and paralyzed children and abuse survivors and the mentally ill and the hopelessly hungry and the war-torn refugees and teenaged girls contemplating abortion…

then I am for Jesus.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I have to think of God as a symbol because I can’t wrap my brain around the mystery of ‘existence.’ I get caught in my own head a lot; questioning everything at every turn.

My disorder is difficult; a very fickle thing. I run the gamut of emotions – all in a given day. I struggle with thoughts of suicide as I have mentioned before. I struggle – wrestle and writhe and twist and grapple – with knowing my worth; wondering if I am a contributing member to society.

Sometimes I need to simplify my spinning, swirling ideas and this thought seems to help: If Jesus is for the poor, then I am for Jesus.

After that I took communion and was glad it wasn’t a mindless act as it had been at times in the past.