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.

The truest sentence

I feel alone more than a lot.
My friends love me and I’m lucky for that.
They don’t know how alone I am though, they can’t even comprehend it.
They walk around with all these connections and loved ones and spouses.
They wouldn’t know how to define the word.
Some people say ‘depression’ cause they want to be part of the club.
Some people can’t stop ruminating about killing themself.

Like, I have a bad day and I make plans to end my life.
But what surprises me, is that I make plans on the good days now too.
Like dying sounds kinda peaceful and nice and I sigh a contented sigh when I think about it.
I never asked for this life.
I didn’t go around begging for it.
But here it is.
This big, crazy mess of sad and tired and confused and alone.

There’s some good in there too.
And despite my most concentrated efforts and furrowed brows and clenched fists, I keep right on living.
Sometimes I wonder if the ones who really want to live, like have big gusto and whatnot, die young and their time gets added on to the end of my life.
Is that how God works?
Whatever you want real bad, he gives you the opposite to test you?
Kinda seems like it.

When I was 6 years old, I thought life was just about Jesus.
That was it.
No other things.
Just me and Jesus talking about how much we loved each other in our sunday school shoes.
I didn’t know there were any other things you could believe (my little kindergarten self shrugs his shoulders).
I told people I would die for Jesus.
I was very sure of myself back then.

Sometimes I think God really loves me.
Sometimes I think I’m growing from my suffering.
I like to look at the world through that lense, but sometimes I’m bad at it, ya know?

Randomly, I’ll think of God as one of us.
Ya know, a fallible human that’s just real big and powerful who’s trying all these different experiments and he keeps messing them up and he feels really bad that he’s messing up so he just gets stressed out and cries a lot.
This makes me have compassion on this human-God I’ve imagined.
But, if I’m honest, I don’t think God is really like that.

God is this real complex idea/being/creator/force/power/grace that we have boiled down to something really simple so faith doesn’t scare us so bad.
“I can’t believe in a God who would do that!,” we all say at one point.
But I bet he’s so much more than a figure head in the sky or an old man that our mom told us about when we got scared in elementary school.
I bet he’s the connecting tissue to every living thing.
I bet he whispers to us when we look at a big tree and say, “That is so beautiful.”

My friend said she knows God is real because “there are small bugs that light up hot summer nights with magic, and they’re slow enough to be held in our hands.”
She said that she knows God is real because, “The trees turn a soft pink and deep red twice a year with no other colorful purpose than to be enjoyed.”
She said that, “there are one million types of laughs and my friends bring out my heartiest.” And lastly she said because, “My friend went into the darkest depth of a mental hospital and knew in his core that his job was to love people there.”

That last line was about me.
The funny thing is, my friend who wrote those lines four years ago, doesn’t believe in God anymore.
I think she sometimes believes that there could be a God, but she definitely doesn’t believe that he is good.
And haven’t we all been where my friend is right now?
Haven’t we all said, “There’s no way that goodness is at the center of all of this chaos.”
I’ve been there, in her position, earlier today even and I bet I will be there again tomorrow any some point.

Maybe if you think of God as a metaphor for goodness, it’s like taking a step.
And hugging a stranger who’s crying is like taking another.
And sweeping a child up into your arms is like jogging a bit.
And talking a friend out of suicide is like quickening your pace.
And telling a friend your painful story is like running.
And then you’re hugging and sweeping and talking and telling and loving and kissing and helping and singing and hoping and praying
and then you start thinking.

I want to be about goodness.
I want it in my life.
I want to help and I want to grow and get better.
I want to be about goodness.
I don’t really care what you call it.

Hold it in

 

Peace, for me, is this fleeting thing. Most of the time, it seems just out of my grasp, like a favorite something dangling right above where I can reach. There are times when I even hate the thought of it because it seems to mock me. I can see it on passerbys’ faces when they hold their significant others close and laugh about these universe secrets that I’ll never know about. ‘Why not me?’ I ask God or whoever is holding down the fort. He is usually pretty quiet and unassuming.

It’s funny though, because I seem to have caught a bit of it right now; peace that is. It feels so nice to wear peace like a christmas sweater – with all the dangling fuzzies rubbing up against my neck. It kind of tickles even. My whole body is missing this swirling, frantic feeling that I have normally – like I’m late to a very important appointment that will determine next year’s salary or something.

I don’t know how peace strikes you. My guess is that it is quite different for everybody. The way I experience it happens first in my chest. Normally, there is this big pretzel knot that squeezes and constricts my heart and other surrounding organs, but then peace comes like this massive set of hands and kneads the dough back to its original state – into a fine pasty, putty that could be molded into whatever I suppose.

That’s always the first step and right after, I can breathe better and more fully. Then peace does something to my eyes. There’s a cloudiness that covers my sight most of the time and after a while it grows thick and hazy – until I can hardly see anything at all. But peace comes and spritzes something like windex into them – only its organic, I think, because it only stings a little – and I can see farther and clearer. I can almost see the future and when you can see that far, you start to realize that, mostly, everything will be alright, and if it’s not going to be alright, then there’s something else in control that’s pulling the strings. Maybe that’s when I realize, whoever this stringpuller is, He or She or both, is more subtle than I thought and I kind of like the delicate nature of it all.

Lastly, Peace grabs a hold of my mind and massages it like when Bugs Bunny opened up Elmer Fudd’s head and played with his brain. Peace kind of rubs the creases and all this tension gets released.

Basically, once Peace has done what it wants, I realize the “big” worries in my life aren’t so big and there are only a few things that are important and I know their first names and get dinner with them a bunch. Oh, and my shoulders relax too, which is nice.

Epiphanies

I had an up and down week. There have been some real down, dark moments. In the middle of that, I sat outside at the end of the day, today with a glass of whiskey and a cigar and enjoyed the nice weather. I came to a couple epiphanies. 1: My religion is basically this – Just do your best. And 2: I’m not sure what the Bible means a lot of the time, but if a guy named Jesus came down to earth and died and took our place so we could have a relationship with God; I think that’s beautiful. Maybe I’ve been overcomplicating things. Maybe it’s way more simple that I thought.

Better Story

At this moment, at 1:54 am on a Saturday, I wish God was telling a different story. I wish he would have called me into his office before he gave this life the green light; I would have shut the whole series down before the pilot episode.

I’m tired. Just tired. Of the pain and pulling and tugging and tearing and weeping and wishing and caving and crying.

Struggle. I’m tired of struggle.

Perhaps wanting things to be easier sounds like a cop-out. Maybe it sounds like I don’t want to work hard. That I think good things should just be handed to me. Well, it is a little of that, truth be told, but it’s also that I just want more moments of peace and clarity and contentment and they don’t seem to come.

I know it’s not just me. I see every person wrapped in self doubt and insecurity. People that have dreams and can’t make them happen. People who are abused. Rejected. Run-down.

There is a thought that flashes through my mind when I hop on this train. It usually hits me about now … what if this is hell? What if this is eternal separation from God?

God feels like something we all want, but can’t reach. We want things to be better, but we know this is as good as it gets. I call out to God, but the phone is disconnected or I forgot to pay my bill or something.

Don’t get me wrong, we, the human race, we are resilient. We laugh when all we have is taken from us. We sing through the loss of life. We create. We adapt. We love.

But the struggle is still there.

Every night, I ask God for a new tomorrow. For an event that will change my life in a radical way. A peace that transcends all understanding. A paradigm shift.

But so far, it hasn’t happened.

Then, I think of stories of a New Heaven coming down and resting here on earth. I think of God wiping away every tear and abolishing death from every grave. I think of an end to every sadness. An end to hate. An end to struggle.

I want you to make sense of my struggle, because it has cost me my joy almost every day and my life almost every night.

I am upset with you, God, that you knew how bad this life would hurt me and you pushed me in without my consent anyway.

You expect so many things from me everyday. I’m just letting you know, that now, I expect some things from you.

-TS

Neither – Tyler Strittmatter

I deal with a mental illness of extremes. An illness of war and peace. I wrote this poem about the sinner and saint living in me. I am in a period now where I don’t really know what faith means anymore. I feel it is neither bad nor good. Wrong nor right. I still love this poem even where I am at now. I am proud of what I write and I always will be.

Tyler Strittmatter: Neither Jesus nor the Devil from Christine Shrum on Vimeo.