Not a challenge but a gift

Out of the blue a potential client has appeared, and all of a sudden it looks like I might win an important, big (for me) contract. The work is technically interesting, and very well-paid, and the company is nice.

Hard on the heels of elation comes anxiety and insecurity — the work will be difficult and there’ll be a lot of it: will I measure up? There’ll be younger zippier people on the team (without families to look after! Better looking!). Piles of unironed clothes and unwasked dishes surround me — and it’s my turn to cook the dinner.

Now I’m in the mood for shelter, it occurs to me that the work will involve semi-regular short periods away — long dormant demons begin to stir.

I need a way to snap myself out of this downward spiral.

What is certain? God has made this happen to me.

The thought of this client as a challenge from God gave me a bit of a boost, but ramped up the anxiety too: could I measure up to a challenge from God? Better, I thought of it as a gift.

  1. How can I think of this as a gift from God?
  2. How can I respond appropriately to this gift?

1. It will be a financial blessing certainly, and we are struggling financially at the moment. I could even say this is an answer to my prayers over money worries. The work will be interesting, in a new area I need to get to know better; it will tone up skills that have been lying fallow for a while. It will enable me to simplify my work life: I’ll be able to jettison a time-wasting client, and be more assertive with another; I shan’t have to scrabble around after contracts.

2. Say thank you: pray thank you to my Lord for this gift. Look forward to enjoying the work. Think back to similar challenges in the past that turned out to be gifts. Enjoy and give thanks during the work too.

Do you know relevant Scripture or other reading that can help with work anxiety and insecurity?

What are your favourite Thank You psalms or prayers from the Bible?

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Handling episodes of failure

Any real-world system will fail occasionally. A robust (resilient, sustainable, etc.) system must not only avoid failure as much as possible; the system must also handle whatever failures do happen. This post is about handling those failures.

A failure might be more than a single event. There might be a losing of one’s balance, then a period of being out of balance, then balance being restored. By an “episode” of failure, I mean this whole process, with three phases:

  • falling in the hole
  • being in the hole
  • climbing out of the hole

The whole episode might be over in minutes, perhaps it might be hours, or even days, or longer, …

n.b.: examples in this post will be from temper loss or cigarettes (I used to smoke, from early 80s to late 90s). The actual failures I am dealing with are to do with using pornography.

Falling in

At the time the fall might be too sudden to notice until after it’s happened. Looking back, the fall can be seen as a drawn out slide. The first thing then is to learn to recognise what is happening as it happens.

I should recognise what is happening. I shouldn’t kid myself on that something else is going on. If I am gradually losing my temper, I should recognise that and acknowledge it. I shouldn’t allow myself to make up some story to explain away what I’m doing.

I should try to identify what has pushed me on to this slope. It might be tiredness or boredom or enfored tedium at work; it might be a verbal battering from my wife; the ensuing feeling of a lack of agency; it might be something more idiosyncratic or even random.

Once I have recognised that I am on the slippery slope, I should fight back. There is no need to lose my balance completely over every nudge. Throw in diversions: go and eat an apple; physically remove myself from the situation: go into another room, go for a walk; find and do a small well defined task: wash the dishes, reply to an email. The smartphone or tablet is an easy portal into sin – oil for the slippery slope — make sure it is parked on the other side of the room. Always resist.

I can resist, I can fight back, and I might be able to claw my way out without falling all the way in.

However, sometimes, at some point, there will come a time when it is better to concede defeat rather than to battle on. Two examples from giving up smoking:

  • desperate for a fag I am raging about in a foul mood and can think of little else but whether or not I should have a cigarette. This is helping nobody. I should have a smoke, clear my head and improve my mood. The thing here will be to have a consciously “remedial” smoke, recognise that as “completion” (see below), and to climb back out of the hole asap.
  • nights out on the town were always the hardest for giving-up smokers. One thing I (and some others) did, was to have a cigarette late afternoon before going out. This would stop cravings, and strengthen will-power during the night out. A stitch in time saves nine.

All through the resistance I should draw strength from having Jesus by my side, turn to scripture and Christian, encouraging texts, be open to the Spirit moving within me to lift me out.

However, once I have conceded defeat and realised/decided that I am falling in the hole, I should not leave Jesus behind. I would fall in and be away from “all that” and not want to go back. I should grab hold of Him and drag Him in with me.

This idea has only just occurred to me and I don’t quite know what it means. I should remember that my sins are forgiven — not at some time afterwards, but forgiven already. Even while I sin I am forgiven already and being forgiven. I should remember that, not as a licence to sin, but as a way of infecting or contaminating the sin, and my urge to sin, with God’s grace. Practically, that might put me off the sinning, or it might lift me out of it sooner rather than later.

Dragging Jesus down into my own little hell sounds desperate, yucky and upsetting for me, and even evil, but there it is. It’s an idea.

Being in

Once in the hole I wallow there, indulging and nurturing my bad mood (replace with sinful behaviour of choice). I have turned away and separated myself from Jesus and I don’t want to turn back.

Why do I do that? I feel as if turning back would be a defeat. Really it would be a victory.

Once I have fallen in the hole I should recognise — admit explicitly to myself — what has happened. I should recognise it as a defeat. If I didn’t manage to drag Jesus down with me I should call on Him now — either to lift me out or to just be with me in this little hell.

I should not fear judgement, and I should not judge myself.

I should not dig myself deeper into the hole. As soon as I realise I am in there I should start climbing out.

Climbing out

An episode can have a false finish — I think I am out but I quickly fall back in — so climbing out means *really* climbing out.

I sometimes think: something caused me to fall in the hole; some “issue” must be “resolved” before I can climb out properly. But often, e.g. if I am nursing a bad temper, something quite random and irrelevant will lift my mood away; sometimes I can lift myself out by reasoning or by dwelling on something else. Perhaps thinking I have to stay in the hole until I can “resolve” something is a trickery to keep me in there.

I *can* just decide to climb out. I *can* decide to stay out.

One easy opportunity to climb out is at the end of the day. Unfortunately, for me, these episodes can last several days. That means at some point in the morning, I decide to continue my sinful behaviour.

I should overcome my reluctance to turn to Jesus while I am in the hole. I think my desire to stay in the hole is some kind of generalised resentment. If I can convince myself that, even in the middle of it all, Jesus can be there for me — he didn’t cast a stone either, after all the others had gone — it will be easier to pray in the evening, and hand everything over to God, and in the morning to take pleasure in being out of the hole.

Once I am out of the hole, I should recognise the end of the episode — I should assert it, draw a line under it. At the first opportunity I should reflect on the episode as a complete thing: with a beginning, a middle and an end. I should pray in explicit detail for forgiveness (C. S. Lewis makes that point in Mere Christianity), and give thanks that I am out.

Resisting temptation for the wrong reasons. Does it matter?

Let’s say someone has a craving for chocolate. They are beset by temptations in shops and cafes. They do well to resist these temptations. However, the reason they are resisting temptation is because they want to be skinny like the models in the fashion magazines. The person cuts down on unhealthy food — good — but this very success allows their deeper motivations to remain unexamined.

I am like this with lingerie.

I threw out all my dressing up things at the end of August last year (see Total Purge) and since then have not dressed up or bought any new lingerie. I have felt the temptation, more than once (e.g., Passed a test), but I have successfully resisted — but, perhaps, at least partly, for the wrong reason.

My “wrong reason” is that I don’t like the new crowd, and I don’t want to be associated with them.

I first ventured online as a crossdresser in the mid-2000s. There were various sub-cultures of crossdressers, transvestites, sissies, transgender fetishists, transexuals, etc., and I soon found my place among them.

The “new crowd” is a new subculture that has emerged in the last five years or so. I’ll call them trans activists or TAs. They seem explicitly (though superficially, imho) political, and I think they are belligerent and ugly. I disapprove of them politically, psychologically, philosophically, morally, aesthetically. I find them repulsive.

I think my judgement of these people is correct, especially when judged as a social movement. I have been working on curbing my resentment.

At least part, and perhaps all, of the reason I haven’t gone shopping is that I don’t want other customers, or shop assistants to think I am a TA.

So, I haven’t bought any more knickers, and I can’t see myself shopping while I feel like this — good. The TAs are doing me a favour by being so repulsive. I am using them to get what I want (freedom from this fetish/habit).

On the other hand, … I know I would still like to dress up occasionally. I know if I hadn’t thrown them all out I would have slipped into panties and bra a few times this year. Just recently en route to/from Dad’s I felt a pang of nostalgia walking past Accessorize, gazing longingly at their display of special Christmas knickers.

Perhaps having the reason “I don’t want people to think I’m a TA” is allowing my deeper motivations to remain unexamined. Perhaps that doesn’t matter, and the deeper motivations will fade away. Perhaps those motivations are not so deep after all.

Does it matter that I am resisting temptation for the wrong reasons?

Jesus Inside

In How can I be a good husband? I wrote:

Jesus is inside her and when she speaks to me, Jesus speaks to me. Loving and supporting my wife is loving and supporting Jesus.

What do I mean by that?

First of all I use it as a metaphor to promote a way of treating people — how to listen or attend; how to value them, even in their weakness.

But I do think it is more than a metaphor, that it is true in some way.

Here are two ways:

  • I think of the “body of Christ” as humanity as a whole. So every person — Christian or not — is part of the body of Christ.
  • One way I think of Jesus is as the perfect human. Jesus is the ideal in whose image we are all created, and which we strive (knowingly or not, Christian or not, consistently and effectively or not) to realise.

In both senses every person has Jesus inside them in some way.

The force of the argument is similar (imho) to Romans 2:15 when Paul writes of the Gentiles that, “the work of the law is written on their hearts”.

I would say the Holy Spirit inspires everyone too (to a greater or lesser extent, etc.). This is manifested in the “striving” I mention in the second point above. Sometimes I think of the Holy Spirit as a kind of force, like a force of gravity, that wants to pull or turn us toward the light.

Obviously God acts on everyone too.

Part of “being a Christian” (imho) is being conscious of this reality — while secular thinkers will be unconscious of it, or describe it in other ways, or deny it — and to try and live in accordance with it.

We

It’s easy to say “I am a Christian” (online at least, using a pseudonym and not showing my face) but am I really? How would anyone (apart from God) tell?

I thought I would look at the Nicene Creed and check how I felt about each of the statements (I quote the Creed in full below).

The first question mark to hit me came with the very first word:

We believe in one God,

Who is “we”?

When last summer I was at the Eucharist service at Abbey Town, as part of the congregation, we recited the similar Apostles’ Creed. Then, the “we” was “we, the congregation”.

The rest of the time, I am just I, there is no “we”.

I could just replace that “we” with “I” — and I think I read that some versions of the Creed do use “I” instead of “we” — but that feels like a cop-out.

Does it matter than I am alone and not part of a community? I have a hunch that it does. Why? What would I get out of it? (not that it’s going to happen any time soon)

  • I think having somewhere where I could “live out” — or better, “share in”, so that somewhere involves interacting with other people — /being/ a Christian, would help me “be” a Christian when I’m in private. I don’t necessarily mean being “called to account”. I mean more like practising or developing a habit of thinking, acting, living in a certain way.
  • It would be nice to find friends IRL like the friends I’ve found online.
  • Ritual confession, spoken out loud, … would be horrible … but probably in a good way.

There are obvious downsides to latching on to a particular community. Equally, if I as an outsider can just choose any “community” as if from a supermarket shelf, in what sense is it really a community, and in what sense am I really becoming part of it?

Perhaps community is something I have to find in a more profound sense, or even create.

Do you use a Creed like this?

Does yours have “We” or “I”?

The Nicene Creed

I looked on the Wikipedia, where there are several versions of the Nicene Creed. This one is the (an?) Ecumenical version taken from the 1979 Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer.

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

Confession

No doubt some of my readers predicted this.

** What is the point of confession?

I feel I should write this confession “for the record”, but (a) I don’t feel a great deal of remorse, guilt, disgust, etc., (b) I don’t want to “show off”. I’m not quite clear about what is the point of a confession.

I’m putting this bit first in case readers bail out early :D

What is the point of confession? The wikipedia page mentioned the acknowledgement of sins as sins (i.e., contrition), and penance. It mentioned three points: disclosure, contrition and satisfaction. It sounds almost like filling in forms.

It feels too mean to myself to condemn this as sin. Just describing it as sin adds to the punishment and anxiety that I’m running away from.

Who is the person wronged? “My wife” is the obvious answer. The idea of confessing all this to her horrifies me, and I can’t imagine what use it would be.

So, contrition and satisfaction, not yet. Any guidance on that appreciated.

But this at least is disclosure.

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Breath

More on the Holy Spirit.

In my Big Book about the Bible, it says the Holy Spirit is described mostly as a kind of breath or wind. It also said that Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

The book doesn’t say so explicitly but the descriptions are undeniably sensual, even sexual (obviously in the case of Mary).

This is striking for a number of reasons:

  • I don’t think of Christianity as a sensual religion at all. Compared with almost any other religion I can think of it seems very un-sensual indeed. Just think of the food (Jewish food, Muslim food, Hindu food, Buddhist food, … Christian food?). Attempts by Christian bloggers (e.g., Intentional Today) to celebrate sex “within marriage” are not convincing.
  • I like sensuality (obvious to long term readers of my sex-mad blog). I think sensuality is good. Part of the point of this new perfect71ps persona is to unify spiritual and sensual feeling. I love exercise like Yoga and Pilates.
  • Submitting myself in prayer, or even doing more mundane things like writing here or reading religious writing, seems to involve more than just my mind or my emotions. It seems to involve me completely. My body feels it too, almost a faint arousal. I don’t know if that’s an inappropriate intervention from some other part of my psyche. But it feels like it’s part *of* what’s happening rather than taking away from what’s happening.

[update 2015/06/23: I crossed out that sentence about Intentional Today as it just comes over as sniffy and unkind.]

I like the idea of breath being Holy Spirit. Just like the feeling of falling into it, I like the feeling of breathing it in. But what is breathing out?

Are they who or what?

The point was raised on LisaNotes recently that the Holy Spirit should be thought of as a person. That’s not at all how I think of the Holy Spirit. I thought I should try and sketch out how I do think of the members of the Trinity.

Please forgive the scrappy writing. I plan and polish and I never publish.

Please fire questions (as hard as you like) in the comments.

n.b.: Now that I’ve found this new world, I love to hear from other people about their faith. This feeling is so new and intimate to me it feels like such a privilege to hear. I hate it when people lay down the law, but it’s always a treat to hear about faith blossoming and it always enriches me.

** God

God is just what is.

Spinoza’s definition of God in his Ethics is what gave me permission to look into all this more intimately. Spinoza often wrote about “God or Nature” and was against anthropomorphic conceptions of God (the Jews sent him a particularly nasty excommunication for atheism, but from his writing he himself clearly believes in God and especially in Jesus).

[references available on demand]

So I don’t think of God as a person. I think any conception will be limiting and wrong. I think of God as everything that is, including things like time.

I do pray to God. I say, “Dear God, …”. I can’t really describe what happens then. A feeling comes over me, or I sink into a feeling. I might say some things, ask for help. Of course, it feels partly like being in someone’s company, or having a conversation, but only partly and I don’t know if (for me) that’s the most useful way to think or feel.

I have noticed that, as praying has become more of a habit, and as I fall into the practice of “talking to God”, that feeling of being in company has faded.

** Jesus

Jesus is the ideal or perfect human.

I mean this in the sense that Jesus is the “definition” of a human. We should follow Jesus and try to be like him, not in order to reap a reward or avoid a grisly fate in an afterlife, but just because that’s what we are really like.

** The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is a kind of “pull”, pulling people towards Jesus.

I think of it as a kind of gravtiational force.

Or it could be a kind of voice, encouraging, giving ideas (inspiring obviously). The voice is always there if we can only hear it.

Could even be a dog like Lassie in those films. “I think she wasn’t us to follow her!”

The point is that becoming like Jesus is in some way “natural” (like an apple will fall to the ground), but there are always other forces pulling in other directions.

** notes and queries

A couple of obvious questions I can think of right away:

So if Jesus is the only person, why don’t you pray to Him instead of to God?

Because I don’t think praying is really talking to someone. I think it’s deeper (and it feels deeper when it’s good). Delia Smith in “Journey to God” said that praying is something God does. I don’t understand what that means but I like the idea.

What about heaven and hell?

I haven’t thought about them much and they don’t seem important to me at the moment. Recently I thought of a heaven-type afterlife as “residing in God’s presence” and I’m happy with that for now. Hell I don’t know about yet.

Gifts

[updated 131110: tried to answer some of the questions a little]

I believe everything that happens is an expression of the will of God. I can’t imagine anything happens that God doesn’t “want” to happen. Everything that happens is what God “wants”. I put quotes around “want” because I don’t imagine God having human desires. It’s more like what is and what happens is just part of what God is… but that’s not the direction I want to take here.

When something nice happens to me, I thank God for bringing me this gift. Equally, when I do something, achieve something myself, I thank God. I take that as a gift from God too.

Although I say thank you when I pray, I say thank you at the time too.

This giving thanks is not a duty or a chore, to be ticked off. It really is a joy. It’s also not something separate, a commentary on life. The saying thank you is part of life, part of the enjoyment of what has happened, or what is happening.

Any old excuse to share some time with God, to feel Jesus near me. They are really among the nicest times.

Saying thank you for nice things is easy. But all the horrible things are part of God’s will too. Stubbing your toe, losing your job, the Sichuan earthquake, the Holocaust. They are gifts from God.

How can I say thank you for gifts like these? How can I accept them and think of them as gifts?

A pragmatic approach might work for the little things: stubbing your toe is God’s way of saying slow down. But the bigger the gift, the clearer is the crassness of the pragmatic approach.

Actually, some of the “nice” gifts can be too big for a simple thank you too: you find a true love; you welcome your child into the world. Jackpot prizes in the EuroMillions lottery can get up to hundreds of millions of pounds.

I think of a verse from Luke’s nativity. The shepherds have just heard the news from the angel, and they’ve come to Bethlehem to look for the saviour. Soon the town is full of amazement. Then Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary treasured up all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

That gives me the impression of taking everything in carefully, without missing or damaging anything, without analysing or deciding; recognising, appreciating and meeting the gift that is being offered.

It might be worth having a quick look at the about page, or even the about page from my other blog (especially the bit where it says “panty fetishist”), before you read this next bit.

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