On the Utility of Faith

For those of you who don’t follow the majesty that is @sphughes99 on Twitter…this sort of stuff pops out from time to time…

Thread on the utility of faith.

Most of the intellectual energy around faith and people of faith is focused on the institutions of faith. And it’s pretty negative. Rightly so as the institutions are riddled with bigotry, abuse and hypocrisy. So little else gets said.

Beyond that though, it’s hard to overstate the positive impact faith has on people on a personal level. That people endure the negativity of institutions to organize around their faith is telling.

For me, faith is foundational. And it’s worth unpacking the mechanics of that a bit.

I’m a parent and caretaker of of a special needs child. The grind that involves is consuming. I write this, not coincidentally, at four in the morning, the time he decided to get up today. I’m up with him because he’s not entirely safe without some supervision. He’s 12.

Hence some reflection on the utility of faith.

The grind of this life is consuming. And like all grindingly tough things, hard things with the added aspect of having no end in sight, the notion of unfairness plays a central role in the battle for your state of mind.

What my family lives through is unfair. It’s unfair to my child. It’s unfair to my family. It’s unfair to me. Over time, focus on that unfairness turns healthy & honest sadness to bitterness. It’s not unique to special needs parenting. It’s a common cycle because life is hard.

Special needs parenting is just a certain type of hard that makes for an acute illustration. There is difficulty. And there is no way out of it. And there is no end in sight. No end until the end.

In such instances, faith and it’s central role is clear.

I asked BJ Miller of Zen Hospice about the advice he gave to the caretakers of long terminally ill loved ones. It occurred to me that much of the emotional pattern I was experiencing with my son was similar to what my family went through with my mother’s 3 yr battle with ALS.

He told me that one of the central enablers of sustainment for caretakers was the ability to see themselves in the suffering and need of others. And to see themselves in the care they gave. It’s an intentional frame of mind. And without it, fatigue eventually yields resentment.

And resentment yields the bitterness. And so the critical shift is to move yourself out of the center of the problem, the unfairness of it all, and into the care being provided.

It’s easier said than done. The amount of times I’ve patiently whispered “quiet voice” to my son since 4 this morning so he didn’t wake up the rest of the house, eventually starts to draw on me. And so there’s some energy I have to put into seeing myself as an expression of the care I’m giving. In my experience, that energy is best focused on faith.

The central message of my faith as a Christian is simply put, to put God at the center of your life. And that the application of doing that is through loving others.

I’ll pause for a second to acknowledge: So many churches are horrible. And so many Christians hare horrible.

And so much bad has been done in the name of religion that the hypocrisy on an institutional level is bad enough to turn anyone away. Try, if you can put it aside. Because one of the great tragedies of that horribleness is that it blocks people from their faith.

But if we can put that aside and focus on that message of service & love & the underlying messages of grace, it takes us back to the critical utility of my faith. The world needs me to see myself in the care I take of others. The application of my faith reenforces that message

It reenforces a message that I am not at the center of my world. And that this world is unfair and cruel and fallen. But mine is not to spend much time on what that means to me. But instead to serve and to give and to love. And in that service and love, is where I find myself.

And finding a community of people who believe similarly and fill my days with encouragement and reminders of the message makes it easier. Saying out loud what we believe, together, makes it easier. It keeps the wolves of bitterness and self outside the camp.We’re wired for it.

And I know that there’s plenty of smart people who think my belief in God is a silly superstition that is at odds with my analytical Bayesian views of the world. I simply don’t know how to get through the day without it though.

I came to this belief through exhaustion and surrender. And it has changed my life to look the only way it can to survive. Therein lies the utility of my faith.

And now, it’s 630. And it’s time to start today. And this small version of outward expression of faith an 18 tweet prayer thread if you will, has helped. Enjoy your day everyone.

If you know anyone struggling to keep up on the journey of special needs parenting, tell them to check out what we do at Care For Us. It’s all free. And we’re always here.

Merry Christmas, From Me to You

If you check the comments section on just about anything that resembles political commentary online, you see a pretty predictable pattern. Some people weigh in with agreement. Others cast dissent. A few people start to disagree with the agreement or dissent. And then the emotional rhetoric comes out and eventually the name calling gets going. It speeds up for a bit as others join in. At some point some anonymous person tells another anonymous person they’re a communist or a racist and that both are lucky this is just anonymous online chatter or one would get beat up, anonymously. Then the once rowdy party dies down to a trickle until only the rugged few are left slugging it out over the only topic that’s left. Which is of course, abortion.

That one never really goes away. It just goes and goes. It’s one supremely principled person using their side’s principles to argue with another supremely principled person using their side’s principles to argue back. It is the ultimate cosmic political debate. It has no answer that could ever be agreed upon that would satisfy either side’s principles. I have my own point of view on it. You can read about it here. But I refuse to engage in a debate with anyone on it because it’s a big damn waste of time.

There is something I’d like to say about it though. Not just the abortion debate. But all the fun debates wrapped up into the great religious finger wag-abortion, same sex marriage, religious tolerance, transgender bathrooms and so on and so on. So here goes.

I’m sick of someone telling me that I’m not a real Christian if I vote for a candidate that doesn’t want Roe -v-Wade overthrown. And I’m sick of being told I’m going to hell because I have gay friends who are married to each other and I’m genuinely happy for their happiness. I’m sick of people telling me that if I don’t condemn the entire religion of Islam, then I’m not really an American or a Christian. All of that sounds extreme to some of you. But man, it’s out there and it’s noisy. And I’m over it. My Christian faith is at the center of my life. Not passively either. What excess time and treasure I have goes to it. What help I offer my fellow man goes through it. So I’m over hearing how my points of view offend your relationship with God. Because that’s a you issue. Go condemn someone else. Maybe even yourself for forgetting the message of love and inclusion at the heart of OUR faith.

Fervent liberals, hold your applause. I’m not done yet. Because there’s something else I’m sick of. I’m sick of the guy with the neck beard and the shitty tattoos telling me I’m stupid for believing in God. And I’m sick of being told that I’m a homophobe or a bigot for being a Christian. I have degrees from schools most of you couldn’t get into, a job most of you couldn’t get an interview for and a salary most of you probably won’t ever see in an industry most of you probably wouldn’t understand. (clearly I need God’s grace working the humility thing) I believe in dinosaurs and science and figuring out a way to go to Mars. And wine. Wine because it helps me love my fellow man more. And I believe in modern medicine and probably even aliens. And yes, above all of it, at the top of all of it, I believe in God and the story and teachings of his Son Jesus Christ.

It can be done. All of it can be true at the same time. Here’s why:

Somewhere in a deep dark hole in my life after years of war and anxiety and family tragedy, I found my way to faith. It wasn’t a happy path. It was my last chance before I checked out. The message I responded to was one that told me that no matter who I was or what I had done or what I was doing, that I mattered and that there was a God that loved me. It was a message that told me that even though I was broken, and I was very, very broken, it was ok, because we all were-one way or another. The message told me that there was a group who had to love and accept me no matter who I was or what I did. Because the belief that they had to was core to their very existence. And when I heard that message I made my first turn from the darkness to the light. And that’s when the healing began. I didn’t have to qualify by being perfect or believing a laundry list of dogma. If I had, I wouldn’t have made it and I don’t know where I would be right now if anywhere at all.

Somewhere there’s a kid in pain, forgotten by the world. Or a father beaten down by the hardness this world has shown him. Or a woman in a cage, real or imagined. And they can’t hear that message of the power of faith right now. Not just my faith, but any faith. They can’t hear it for a million reasons. But one that doesn’t have to be one is our politics. Because the politics, just don’t matter that much. Not compared to the healing they can’t find. It’s already hard when you’re in the darkness to feel anything other than pain. So stop making it harder. You’re not going to convince anyone. And you’re not going to help.

Maybe this week, when Christians like me everywhere celebrate the birth of Christ, take some time to listen to His message. Actually listen to the love and tolerance and acceptance in it. And see how it squares with your own.