Sunday, September 4, 2011

Notes from Northstar (church)

The point was raised today that in today's church, there is often a focus on the giving of "testimonies," and that the testimonies are expected to go like this:

"I once was lost, but now I'm found...and now I'm fine."

But life doesn't work that way. And so those of us who hear such testimonies and believe them and put stock in them find ourselves trying to match them--and failing. And when we fail we hide, and when we feel the need to hide, we feel ashamed. So there has been created, rather than a culture of love and hope, a culture of falsehood and dishonesty. It isn't good.

So here was the point:

It was never about perfection. It was always about relationship. When will we stop making it about perfection?

She said that when she was young, she heard a preacher say that "God helps those who help themselves." And at the time, being young, and "not knowing Genesis from Revelation," she thought, "well, it must be true, because he's old." But then when she grew older and studied for herself, she realized that there's no Biblical basis for that kind of thinking at all. Instead, there is a common theme of God helping those who are unable to help themselves--and that's all of us.

This reminded me of a whitewater rafting trip I took a long time ago, when I was seventeen. There was a flash flood on the river, and I and several others were thrown from the raft and nearly drowned. So here I'll start copying from what I wrote down in my notebook toward the end of church. (Excuse the melodrama. It happens more when I'm writing by hand and am feeling emotional at the time. Reliving this rafting thing brings back the residual PTSD stuff that I've still got going on sometimes.)

This reminds me of the rafting trip: this "God doesn't help those who help themselves! He doesn't make us pick ourselves up and climb, swim, crawl back! He helps those who cannot help themselves: all of us. So, the rafting: I fell out of the boat, off the wagon, into the dirty raging water, and I sank and I let it pull me down into its tumultuous, dark depths. I did not call out for help. I did not cry out to God. I did not even think to. I tried to swim against it on my own, and I could not. I could make no progress. I could not avoid the hidden snags and currents that repeatedly pulled me under. I did not know where I was or where I was headed or whether I would ever be able to snatch another breath of clean air again.

Still, in my stubborn and fearful silence, I was protected. In the midst of the flash-flooded, filthy, debris-filled torrent into which I had fallen, I was protected. I was not driven into an inescapable crevice [as commonly happens in such scenarios]. I did not dash my foot against a stone. [The whole time, the only things I touched were the things I was holding and the raft.] I did not run out of air, or time.

And when I finally realized my utter powerlessness and lack of direction, and when I finally saw that my death was literally inches and moments away, and I accepted it and asked for help, for breath, for direction, they were given to me. Instantly. I knew where to go and kicked up into the air with all my strength. And at the surface, still in the river, I was on the edge of the exact thing I needed: an eddy in the current, and a rock to which I could--just barely--cling.

And here it comes in again: help when we cannot help ourselves. No more than we can handle.

Treading water there, barely clinging to a sheer cliff face, I saw no help coming. I saw only rafts rescuing others--all too far out of range to help me. I was quite literally steadying my breath and mentally preparing myself to swim out to the only help I could see--which would certainly have meant my death--when a raft--the last raft--sailed around the bend in the river and pulled me in, and carried me to safety.

Of the four of us that fell in on a river that was so flooded that it was no longer legal to raft, in a rapid that, though it should have been a class 3, was now above a class 5, in water that looked like chocolate milk and ran full of propane tanks and tree limbs and coolers and, further down the river, power lines, none of us was injured. Though we all suffered from PTSD, not one of us was trapped beneath an undercut rock. Not one of us suffered a scratch. Though we were warned that we probably would, not one of us contracted a single disease from that filthy, sixty-degree water.

People die on the Gauley river fairly regularly, even under normal conditions.

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