Condemnation and the Anxiety of Guilt

I think The Courage to Be speaks to me in my theology because I am an individual who often experiences those existential anxieties that are associated with the human experience.

Doubt? I’ve been there. Meaninglessness? I’ve been there. I will probably see the anxiety of doubt again at many different points in my life. I’ll again feel that way. It will happen. How hard is it for an engineer – who is an individual who spends most of their time assessing systems and seeing machines as sums of parts – to simply just see themself as a sum of parts and as a part in a larger machine? I’ll be there again; I’ll again see the machine without the mysticism and I’ll again be blind to the sacredness of the material and the natural.

Fate? I’ve been there. Death? I’ve been there. Who doesn’t fear illness or imminent danger? It is a very human experience to come upon the realization that we are all, in many ways, at the mercy of forces beyond our control. It’s terrifying. That anxiety will return to me again in the future, and I again will definitely have to face it with my racing heart, irrationally anxious mind and everything.

Recently, though, I have had to face an anxiety of guilt. An anxiety of guilt of the realizations that, in various scenarios, I most certainly did not act in the best, or perhaps healthiest, manner. And that I am not the only one who might have had repercussions of my actions in missing the mark. I have felt the guilt of realizing I may have terribly hurt another.

And this anxiety is scary, especially as it approaches condemnation, and as my mind races and my sense of value and merits deteriorate, and then everything in me begins to feel cold. It is scary to feel that freezing fear in my soul. How much hurt have I caused? How can I even see myself as a force of good, when I may have done so much bad? Can I forgive myself? These are all questions that haunt me.

Historically, it can be argued that a widespread human experience of the anxiety of guilt reached its apex at the onset of the Reformation. It was at that moment when humanity grappled with the anxieties related to failure of virtue and the realization that we often fail to do what is just and right and moral.

And while we have gone far in progress – we have done so much to learn how to treat each other better, and to do what is right and honor each other’s rights – we still even now we see the most toxic behaviors in our humanity exhibited every day, as is evident in our social media, and in the countless news stories published each day. We see it in our colleagues and in our governments and in the hatred spewed.

A champion of the Reformation – but also most certainly a man of many troubles and hatreds and sins that I, with others who hold to a Protestant identity, must grapple with in examining our history – Martin Luther was said to have done great strides in shifting thought and relationship to the existential dread of anxiety. Sola Fide and Sola Gratia. It is solely by faith and grace. Psychotherapists many centuries later confirmed the existential power of such lines of thinking.

I accept myself, despite the fact that I am unacceptable. I will hold my faith to that.

But, when it’s not sucked into dread of meaninglessness and overcome with the Courage to Be rising from the Ground of Being, the anxiety of guilt and the dread of condemnation rise up in invasion repeatedly until a sense of reconciliation is achieved or until one can courageously hold to the faith of grace. A psychological phenomenon that Martin Luther reportedly felt throughout his life was of an image of Satan telling him that his whole sense of grace and faith and acceptance was a meticulous lie. He often reported facing this, a phenomenon that is fairly consistent with observed psychological experiences related to accepting and moving on from guilt and condemnation in the fields of psychotherapy.

And, that’s what I am facing. The dread returns like an existential shadow that follows and haunts me. I accept myself, and need to trust that I am accepted despite the fact that I am unacceptable.

But perhaps there is other work that needs to be done. Perhaps personal rational acceptance is not it. Or perhaps I actually do not accept myself.

Perhaps I need to reflect on this guilt more, and perhaps I need speak to more people who I trust about my guilt and anxieties.

Let’s pretend that a human’s life is a power system, and an inductive load in this power system is like a moment where one is growing, changing, and really living life. The reactive power that arises and is lost in this inductive load is like the existential and psychological harms that we experience as a result of this load. If we keep on going with this metaphor, then an offsetting capacitor is like the theological and psychotherapeutic ideas and practices that help us cope and overcome the harms to our psyches. In most power systems, there are tons of inductive loads, as a power system usually has multiple transformers and loads running to and from the grid. Each of these loads require a new and different capacitor, as each load is unique and different in each unique grid. As I face this new load, then I might need a new capacitor. As I face this awful and scary dread I have been feeling the last few days, I perhaps need more than an internal lip service to the idea that “I accept myself, despite being unacceptable.”

And perhaps this idea or practice will arise in the theological stream from waters unfamiliar to the ones I usually draw from.

Life is a Highway

Growing up, my family regularly took road trips-mostly to visit relatives. The average trip was ten hours, if you didn’t like long trips that was too bad. For most of my life, it has been my job to stay up with the driver. I’ve spent a lot of time staring through windshields, both front and rear.

I think it’s because of these car trips that I latched on to the idea of life as a journey. There is growing space behind us; as we turn the bend on another mountain we are leaving things behind. There is the seemingly endless road ahead of us, which sometimes we cannot get through fast enough, charging towards the next turn, the next climb. There are also the people with whom we share the road, other families on other journeys to unknown destinations. There are the trees and the mountains, the sunsets and stars that surround us even as we barrel past them. But more than anything, there are the people in the car with you-singing songs, talking, helping to navigate. Sometimes reading, sometimes sleeping but always close enough to know they are still there. In my mind, these are the people who journey with us-sometimes we are sharing space, sometimes we are celebrating, sometimes we are stopping to rest, but because of them we are not alone among ever-shifting scenery.

I’ve been blessed with really great people to share my figurative car . As we have traveled,  I’ve had the extreme pleasure of laughing with them, learning the road with them, celebrating their triumphs, and sitting with them in times of sorrow. And they have done the same for me.

I’m really grateful for those journeys, both figurative and literal, for the places this road has taken me, for the promise of road yet to be traveled and for the people with whom I travel. I could not be more proud to share this space with them.

 

Presence

This Sunday, Dean Hill preached a sermon on the concept of “Welcome.” One of his main points included that presence and invitation were vital to a welcome.

I was lucky enough to welcome my Dad back to Boston this past weekend. Once I got out of class on Friday, I walked back to my dorm and greeted my Dad with an embrace. We quickly hopped into our rental car and our first stop was food of course. After lunch, we headed to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. My dad has always been into art and I thought he would really enjoy seeing the museum that I have frequented since my time in Boston.

As we looked over the hundreds of paintings and artifacts adorning each room and breezeway, I felt closer to my dad than ever. We would sometimes exchange words about a painting or a sculpture, but in reality we didn’t talk a whole lot. I felt filled with an immense feeling of gratefulness that we were sharing our presence with each other. As we continued our journey through the weekend, I kept seeing how just being present made our connection grow stronger.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned at Marsh, it is that presence inspires. Presence inspires others to to listen more closely, to laugh more heartily, to think more deeply, and to live more fully. Marsh embodies the concept of presence, and I strive to be more present each and every day.

Is God Good?

I sat in my religious thinking of Howard Thurman class and someone asked is God good? Moreover, can God be good, when there is so much bad and because God is everything how can he be good. I wrestled with that for a while. I went to the idea, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” But there was something in the back of my mind that wouldn’t let that simple idea be enough. I’v decided that God is hope. He is the possibility of greatness, he gives us the opportunity to live according to his will and live a life like Jesus. We choose, to follow his will or go down another path.

Day in and day out we feel examples of people choosing something other than love. I stopped “seeing” people choose hate awhile ago. I feel when they choose to go against God. It’s extremely personal. God is my hope, he is my confidant, the person that knows me best and so when I choose to go against God it hurts me more than anything. No matter how many projects, papers, and commitments that feel overbearing, I don’t lose hope. Because God is my hope and he’s always with me. I’ve had moments where I’ve felt alone, surrounded by people and things that didn’t matter to me. During these times I didn’t feel God, but I know I couldn’t have made it without him. So my question is who is God to you? It is an extremely personal question, God can be anything you need him to be.

Dealing with death

I really appreciated Brother Larry coming to talk to us on Monday about how to deal with emergencies and death. My friend passed away in the summer and I was not quite sure what to do after feeling the initial state of shock. It is tragic to see someone with as much potential as her die due to sickness. I still remember talking to her of the possible career paths we want to pursue. The first thing I was thinking after shock was, ‘what was the exact cause of death?’ I realize now that the specifics is not as important as remembering the person when he or she was alive. I will remember my friend for being the kind,  graceful, and driven person that she was and am thankful for how she changed me.

It is difficult to process how someone you saw a few days ago would no longer be around. I cannot imagine the heartbreak her close friends and family are going through, and I want to help and understand how people deal with death. As we talked about during our Monday evening discussion, being the calm, unwavering rock, being present can be so important.

As Rev. Rebecca W. Dolch shared in her sermon “Talking About Death” in August: “Death is normal, God is in charge, talk about death, use humor, grieve, celebrate life at the time of death, kindness is the greatest gift, and God works in ways that seem impossible. Bear witness to this truth.”

No RSVP Necessary

At the first service of the semester, the Dean preached a sermon that I think will stick with me for the whole year, maybe longer. He told us to think about the people who remind us who we are at our best. I’ve never considered myself to be a leader, I’ve always been content to let someone more charismatic or extroverted to take charge while I just agree. “Throwing them a ‘like,'” if you will. But I wonder, so I start thinking about my own heroes. Did Tina and Kate and Trevor know they would show us that we could call attention to important issues while making people smile? Did Gillian and Geena know that when I saw them on the screen I’d come to believe that I could be anything? Did Sara and Chance and Lin know they would write songs that would teach me how to feel and make me want to be better? Did Barack know he was going to be president? Did my parents know that their commitment to bettering their communities and standing up for what’s right, even if its something small, inspires me every day?

It wasn’t until this Sunday that I started to realize how I could become this person. The Dean was preaching (so I guess it’s the Marsh community that really reminds me of who I am at my best) about ministry as service. This doesn’t have to be ordained ministry, or even my smaller-scale intern ministry. Ministry can be kind words, attentive presence and the practice of compassion in your everyday life. Dean Hill encouraged us to accept invitations. When an opportunity is presented, take it and put forth your best work. When a friend invites you to be part of something, so and participate with your full self. When you have an idea, challenge yourself to see it through. I think that’s how those people above became leaders, they said “yes.” So my challenge for myself this week is to say yes and accept those invitations. I think I’ll meet some pretty amazing people. Maybe even myself.

I hate leaving

“ You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again”

I spent the weekend in New York City at board meetings for United Methodist Women.

Last week was a crazy week, I had so much work due  and got very little sleep. By the time I was heading to New York I was so exhausted I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the weekend.

The minute I walked into our offices that melted away. As I greeted these people who I have come to love and appreciate throughout the past year, I felt my energies revive. We laughed, sang and danced. We caught up on each other’s lives and dreamed together. We engaged one another in challenging but rewarding conversations. We reminded one another that we were under construction, that this is scary and exhilarating and okay.

As the weekend progressed I could feel myself being renewed. It was a powerful and healing reminder of who I want to be and who I am. I could feel myself stretching and growing and it was an amazing time.

By the time Sunday rolled around I was absolutely not ready to leave. I hated leaving, I almost cried in the airport…and I don’t cry. It was bizarre. I still wish I was there. I hate leaving.

As hard as it can be, it’s really important to leave. I’m going to carry this with me, my outlook and goals are different now.  I miss that time and place, and who I was and the people around me and the joy and assurance I felt there. However I know that I am under construction, this weekend will undoubtedly inform the finished project but it’s not the only place work is being done. Work is happening here, I am surrounded by incredible people here and that  is challenging and exhilarating and beautiful too.

So I’m lucky to have people and places that are so hard to leave, but I’m also so lucky to have people and places  to come back to.

The End of the Baseball Season

Unfortunately, the Boston Red Sox fell to the Houston Astros last night in the fourth game of the ALDS. The end of a season. A year’s worth of work, sweat, dedication, and hopes dashed with one last out.

I have a similar feeling about school at this point. Sometimes I put in copious amounts of work and practice, however I fall short. Much like the Red Sox this season, I achieve some success but ultimately I feel as though I don’t attain the best. I am still trying to understand whether the process is more important than the end result. I am getting tired of falling to second place when I feel as though I am working for first. How exactly I overcome these feelings is something I have struggled with my whole life. But I am now trying to remind myself to trust the process and continue to work towards advancement not perfection.

I’m reminded of the John Wooden quote…

Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

…but I wish I could remember it more often.

Here it Comes

I am a huge Chance the Rapper fan. The shift in focus Chance has had in his music since the birth of his daughter has connected to me in ways I could never had imagine. A few weeks ago Chance premiered a new song that I’ve finally got around to listening to. After listening to the song a few times I took away a simple phrase, “here it comes.” The negative and challenging parts of life have always been consistent things I think about, but regardless of what I do, “here it comes.”

As I was picking apples for the first time, I thanked God for the silence and the rain. I’m hoping to be better than I am. My head is constantly changing with emotions. I didn’t shed a single tear when I heard about Vegas. It seemed normal and what this country has deemed as acceptable behavior. I thought hard about why I only felt sad for so short of a time. I miss home more than I ever have before and my mama.

 

I’ll end by sharing 4 songs that continue to get me through everyday.

  1. Ribbon in the Sky by Stevie Wonder
  2. Blessings (Reprise) by Chance the Rapper
  3. Blessed by Daniel Caesar
  4. The Best in Me by Marvin Sapp (crucial)

Humanity

Everyone suffers from addiction at some point in their life. That sounds a little crazy and shocking, but everyone at some point becomes addicted to a substance, idea, or entity; however, it does not need to be negative. Personally, I grew up in an area where drugs were around, but they weren’t the only thing. I myself have suffered from addiction and seen people I love fall victim to a substance.

Today I went to the American Red Cross food pantry in Roxbury. Its a fulfilling experience giving food to those in need, especially when you have not eaten yet). On my walk back I saw a lot. I knew the walk back to campus would take an hour and I was going to go through an area very different from what BU offers, but I also knew the walk would give me fresh air and help me see what i have not seen in a while. On the walk I saw one man putting crack into a pipe, a few used needles on the ground, three people shooting heroin in between a few trees, and one individual cleaning fecal matter from his body. It was a long walk and an eye opening experience. It made me feel disgusted, but understand that we have no right to judge, as we too suffer from addiction. The walk reminded of Tay (from the Boston bridges Program), who mentioned how helping those who are imprisoned and in the inner city were important to him. I realized that I am in a position to help them as well and that is all I want to do with the world.

Today I am addicted to God, my family, those who I have the privilege to call friends, my studies, volunteer work, and coffee (but I can stop whenever I want, I swear). I can use the world around me, what I am addicted to, to create a positive force for my community and subsequently the world, and that is all I want to do.