Changing Myself First, Others…Not So Much

On Daily Om, we are often advised to “look within” to begin the change we want to see in the world. For instance, in one meditation, I read:

Owning The Roots
Leading By Example
We all know from experience that we can’t change other people, yet most of us have a tendency to try. This is because we naturally feel the need to do something to change situations that we find troubling. It often doesn’t occur to us that the best way to create change is not to try to convince others to change but to change ourselves. When we make adjustments from within, we become role models for others, and leading by example is much more inspiring than a lecture or an argument.

We sometimes look outside ourselves for what’s wrong with the world, but the outside world is really just a mirror reflecting us back to ourselves. When we encounter negativity—anger, depression, fear—we empower ourselves by looking for its roots inside of ourselves. For example, if you have a friend who is unreliable, observe yourself and notice if there are ways in which you are unreliable. You may be surprised to discover that you have your own struggles with this issue in ways you weren’t able to see. Once you own the issue for yourself, you can begin to work for change within yourself. This will also enable you to have more compassion for your friend. At the very least, as you strive to become more reliable, you will become more of the person you want to be. In the best-case scenario, you will be an inspiration to others.

You can apply the same method to larger issues. For example, if there is something you see in the larger world that you would like to change—let’s say, greed—try taking responsibility for changing it in yourself. Instead of being angry with those you see as greedy, seek out the roots of your own greed and come to terms with your power to transform it. This may be the best way to lead the world toward greater moderation and generosity.

I’ve become convinced that the hurtful relationships inside of church and the attitudes of some Christians cannot be changed. I’ve tried to reason with some of them, but alas, the stubbornness of the fundamentalist mind set is boggling. It wasn’t until I decided to change myself, my beliefs, and my churchgoing that things began to look up. Rather than blame them, I blamed my inability to think like they do and finally walked away.

Now some might think that it’s a first step toward healing. It is for me, but those from whom I walked away cannot seem to accept that I want to change myself to this degree. Nor can they believe it’s for the better! “How can you walk away?” they ask, “Don’t you know that walking away puts your faith in question?” “You can’t be a Christian alone!” “You need us!” Notice, they never say that I am needed by them. It is always me that is in “need” of something that only “they” can provide where they are. Only they have the correct doctrine. Only they have the correct sacraments. Only their teachers have the correct interpretation or the correct form of fellowship. None others need apply.

Well, the one thing they could not provide was peace of mind. The pastor I’ve been emailing with is still stuck on “the church is an incarnational institution,” one that he says can ONLY be found within a physical location in a particular place. I counter that the “church” is a body whether inside a building or scattered to the four winds. I’m not even sure why I’m bothering with countering it, because I’m pretty sure I will never grace the doorstep of another church again and his responses are part of the reasons why. I don’t even believe in this “mystical” body of Christ thing any longer. It’s become purely academic to me, something I just discovered recently. One day I was discussing and arguing with various people here and with people I knew and suddenly it hit me, “Why am I going to all this trouble to argue, when I don’t believe a word I’m saying?” I just stopped talking. And you know what? It was the most relief I’ve felt since leaving my first husband! I don’t have to perpetuate this any longer. It’s not what I want.

You see, it does not matter what I think to these people. Those obsessed with following this or that Christian teacher, those pastors in charge of “growing” a flock to support their lifestyles, and those with all of their time invested in “church” as an institution cannot admit that they are perhaps wrong about it all. I know I was wrong about it all.

This blog is the consecrated space for me to work out my own spirituality, not with “fear and trembling” but with strength and growing peace of mind. I cannot help it that fundie wackos congregate here like flies hoping to pick the “dead carcass” of my Christianity clean, not by ministering, but by spouting nonsense that I’ve heard before. I’m done with wrangling about ideas that others think are important but I do not. Like Daily Om says, the best way for me to face these people is to begin with myself. I’m not going to allow them to disturb the space I’ve carved out for myself here on the web, nor am I going to allow them to disturb my peace. I can’t even muster up the anger, because it no longer means that much to me. I see that as a good thing! I can’t help how other people think, but they sure don’t have to “think it” in my space unless I want them to.

35 thoughts on “Changing Myself First, Others…Not So Much

  1. I hope this post is not in some way referencing my commenting on your blog. I sincerely apologize if I have made some offense or in any way reinforced the perfectly legitimate complaints you’ve had about “fundies” and the churches they represent.

    Since I too disagree and have voiced MANY of the same complaints, I intended merely to voice a different point of view that has developed from the same problem (close-minded and judgmental spirituality). I too am relieved, happy, and at peace with the truth I’ve been shown.

    Again, I sincerely apologize if you’ve seen my commenting in such a light. My intent has never been to change your mind, but to provide a different perspective and solution to the same problem. Like yourself, I am very passionate about my faith and can see how it could come off as argumentative.

    If you wish, I’ll stop commenting. I won’t be happy about it, as I’ve enjoyed engaging in the thoughtful discussion on your blog, but I would honor and respect such wishes.

    God Bless!

  2. Brad,

    I knew you’d think that. Nope, it’s a result of some comments on another post from some guy who won’t let it rest. I enjoy our conversations Brad, because they are original and constructive. Others cannot seem to get that point. No worries! 🙂

  3. *sigh of relief* Sweet. I never know sometimes, and have had passion misinterpreted for belligerence. Hehe, I guess it comes with the territory of being an aspiring pastor…

    And I’ve never known insults to have an effective sway in argument. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It’s very encouraging to hear mutual respect and acceptance (for each other if not for the message) to an insistence on objective and exclusive truth when communicated in a loving and respectful way.

    It certainly helps that I was on “your side of the camp” for the first two decades of my life.

    Good deal. Permission to continue to respectfully disagree in an original and constructive way, accepted.

    😉

  4. Amen! (no pun intended). I am of a similar mind, I’m just going to stomp around and question and question and question, because that is what I do and that is how I will be.

  5. Brad,

    I’m all for respectfully disagreement! That’s all I ask, challenging each other with a healthy respect for the other’s ability to reason for themselves. It’s just that another commentator on my blog insisted that I allow comments that were absurd, insulting, and repetitive. I’m not going to do that. It’s my blog after all.

  6. Brad,

    I think the fact that you were concerned you might’ve sparked the post, that you apologized if you said something that offended, and offered to not post again pretty much was a guarentee that it wasn’t you. 🙂 Those that the post was directed to probably never would’ve said any of what you said.

  7. mystoiniq

    i have noticed that you seem to attract a lotta fundie wackos. i think its something about their attitudes that zooms in on those who dissent. i think thats ashame. it would be great if they were willing to be more like brad.

    i really enjoy your posts (though i disagree with some things and i dont always comment, because i dont always have something to say, i do read most of them). keep it up!

    peter

  8. Oh, no….you’re finger pointing me!! Sincerely I enjoy reading your post that enhances my ability to understand why Atheists are not that into God :p

    Seriously, you and your regulars are very knowledgeable and well behaved from what I’ve seen during this week, as a new comer. Religious belief has long been argumentative especially on web. According to your topic, yes, sometime if we change our way of looking, we do see things differently. Putting our thoughts in other people’s mind is human nature I believe.

    In time, things always happen the way it tends to be. As things happen for reasons, not coincidences.

  9. Solitude,
    Why do you assume I’m an atheist? Just because I can’t stand self-righteous Christians and call them on it, doesn’t make me an atheist. Just because I no longer go to church, doesn’t make me an atheist. Just because I find God in far more areas than Christians do doesn’t make me an atheist. Just because I don’t believe all God’s words are contained in the pages of one book, doesn’t make me an atheist. So again, I ask you, what makes you think that?

  10. Peter,
    Thank you!! 🙂

    I don’t know why I’m attracting all the fundie weirdos. Maybe God’s using it as a tool to hone my spiritual skills?? You got me!

    Notice that, besides one fundie woman, who severely chastised me early in my blog experience, most of the fundie wackos are men? Is this because women who dare to challenge the status quo are fair “game” for pot shots? Is it because I dare to think for myself rather than take someone’s word for anything? I don’t know.

    I’m glad you and Brad are sticking with it.

  11. I too am tired. You know it is too easy to win the debate about this book. The Bible has so many problems it is like shooting sitting ducks in an arcade game. It is family however which can be the meanest and cruelest

    I am a blinded soul. I am simply full of anger. I am angry at life. I am angry at God. I hate what is good and what is right and I am making stupid allegations which will ruin the lives of my children and make me a bitter person destined to go to an early grave. I put myself above God, and if I don’t come back into the fold, (here with the very people who are yelling all of this at me), then it will surely lead to hell. (But they love me of course, this is my family).

    No, I know it isn’t care and concern and love coming from the Jesus they claim to believe. It is pure un-adulterated fear. Fear that they themselves may have believed a lie. Fear that they themselves have wasted most of their lives believing a fairy tale. Fear that I may be right. Fear of the biggest lie of all, (Hell), which they have been so frightened with and threatened with, all of their lives.

    The funny thing is I have never even debated these issues with any of them, like I do in places like this blog. They know I have not been going to church. They know I have been studying the origins of the Bible, and they know that I have asked a few difficult questions, (which just get me cursed out, no kidding, by my loving family).

    (This is what a CULT does when you don’t see it their way).

    From now on I go my own way, without them and no more suger coating, no more trying to apease, or please family who are just going to demonize me anyway. If they are really what the Church of the real God is, then who in the hell wants to go be with them for eternity, maybe that is what hell is?

  12. Noogatiger,

    I really do feel for you! I know how bizarre it is to be confronted by people who claim to be Christian yet are consistently the most hateful appearing creatures on the planet.

    I realize how angry it makes you because it makes me angry as well. Rather than be a hypocrite myself, I gave up trying to keep a mask of love on when I didn’t feel the least bit different in church than I did out of it. So, I gave up the mask. I chose not to say one thing but feel another. You did too. So why do we do it to protect their feelings when they could care less about ours?

    You and I don’t fit into that culture anymore, even though I’ve tried. You of all people know how I’ve tried. And I also come to the point where I say, “Fuck ’em.” Who wants to try to be nice to people who aren’t nice to you? And if they hate us, because they think we are atheists, outcasts, backslidden, unbelievers, pagans (insert pet name here), even then they have no leg to stand on. They assume so many things because they are too dull or ignorant to really know us or our way of thinking. It’s just so much easier to categorize us and leave it at that. No thought required. Apparently, these people don’t even take Jesus’ injunction to love their enemies and pray for them. Remember, by their fruits we will know them.

    I’m all for separating myself from those who damage me psychologically. It’s standard practice in counseling to be advised to create that separation, even from family, or we will never be healed. It’s harder with family, I know, because we have to deal with them on a daily basis, but we MUST keep our space from them, erect boundaries and make sure they don’t cross them. If they do we aren’t responsible for their feelings or beliefs. NOT our problem.

    I don’t mean to sermonize so please forgive the insensitivity at your low moment. 😦

  13. **I realize how angry it makes you because it makes me angry as well. ** I think this is key as well, because I realize that some conversations with fundamentalists do incredibly frustrate me. Now, not conversations with those who don’t take the Bible literally, or appreciate the mythos aspect. But those who pull out the ‘women, be submissve to one’s husband’ or say that God is good while still accepting many of the OT atrocities as an act of God.

    I’m currently in the middle of a conversation on another blog. The blogger asked the question: “If you were all-loving and all-powerful, would you stop the Holocaust? If you answered yes, why didn’t God?” I think it’s a valid question. There was one person who answered no, he wouldn’t stop it and said that it was arrogant for us to presume to know better than God, or to presume to infringe upon Hitler’s free will. Oh, and that love doesn’t force itself.

    This type of attitude infuriates me, it really does. And it leads into what you and Noogatiger are saying, because that type of attitude colors every aspect of one’s life. This is a person who can dismiss the 11 million who died, the pictures when the Allies stormed the camps, and the stories of the survivors and say that we don’t have a right to judge. This could easily lead into someone not trying to stop any injustice, because it’s God will, and so from there, it would be easy for that person to dismiss all others, like you and Noogatiger have been dismissed. It all adds up.

    And then of course, because we might express our anger, we’ll get accused of serving Satan or loving our sin.

    But as Noogatiger says, if this is an example of a person who has God working through his life, and these are the type of people who would be in heaven, could I stomach being in the same area? No. Surrounding everything for the sake of God is supposed to produce good fruit, and dismissing the Holocaust is not good fruit.

  14. Nooga,

    Ironically, you and I have had similar experiences. I would argue, however, that the root is not Christianity (or faith of any kind for that matter), but pride, misunderstanding, and yes, some fear of the unknown.

    My own family criticizes me (face to face and behind my back) for loving my God, placing Christ as a priority, and believing something that is so OBVIOUSLY illogical and false. Afterall, if I am a student at seminary and want to be a pastor someday, I must certainly be illogical, overly emotional, hiding behind my faith to avoid pain or relationship, judgmental, accusatory, and looking to shove my faith down their throat at every opportunity.

    Like it or not (and I wrote a post on this several weeks ago), Christianity seems to be the last acceptable form of bigotry.

    I try to view my family as people who want the best for me, yet don’t understand the reality, truthfulness, and life changing aspects of my faith. They love me, poorly more often than not, but their intentions are mostly pure.

    You may or may not agree with your family having similarly pure intentions, I’m not saying they do or that I claim to know either way. But just in reading your last comment, I’d say it had more to do with the piss poor teaching they have received under the “Christian” label than how their hearts have been transformed as a result of their faith. There is a growing culture gap between this generation and the previous.

    And thanks for the encouragement, everyone. All us Christian’s ain’t all THAT bad… 🙂 Believe it or not, I’m just one of many with this kind of attitude. Come to St. Louis!

  15. Brad,

    You see, this is the problem I have with a “don’t blame Christianity, blame the individuals” kind of reasoning. It seems like a massive excuse for something we are trying to “sell.”

    While I know deep down we can’t blame all of Christianity for a few million idiots, when do we know something’s wrong at the root? I know I hate it when some blame the entire military system for a few insane soldiers who rape and murder innocents for spite or fun. I believe in the military system and I believe in a strong defense for this country regardless of a few people who can’t get their shit together (pardon my French). But when is the a military bad?

    I think at some point, if it produces enough bad fruit, you have to start blaming the tree not just one branch of the tree. But when is this? When do you have to begin wondering whether the whole system is somehow wrong at its core if it produces such hateful people on a consistent basis? Is there ever a time to begin thinking that?

  16. Heather,

    I can’t imagine anyone thinking that as God, they wouldn’t have stopped the Holocaust! What possible “lesson” would be learned from putting people through that much suffering? Because that’s what Christians say you know. They will say that God has a purpose in that suffering and to stop it would be to thwart God’s purposes. Give me a massive break!

    No purpose is worth any amount of suffering. It’s a cop-out explanation, pure and simple. If God is there, and I believe something is, is purely universal, merciful, if not divinely mechanical in its holding the world together. If God/dess is sentient then the Universal spirit weeps with us without being able to affect the process. Small comfort perhaps, but not as random as nothing.

  17. My apology, I was trying to be humorous, apparently it failed in all aspect. Atheists are not that into God was a punch line originally inspired by that famous book ” women are not that into men” (hope I get the title right).

    From now on I’ll be quiet, you wouldn’t notice my existence, as I DO enjoy reading your blog. There, our pressure is off.

  18. “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.” – Thomas Paine – Age of Reason

    I will go with Mr. Paine on this one.

    And this from Mr. Mark Twain:

    “It is plain that there is one moral law for heaven and another for the earth. The pulpit assures us that wherever we see suffering and sorrow which we can relieve and do not do it, we sin, heavily. There was never yet a case of suffering or sorrow which God could not relieve. Does He sin, then? If He is the Source of Morals He does–certainly nothing can be plainer than that, you will admit. Surely the Source of law cannot violate law and stand un-smirched; surely the judge upon the bench cannot forbid crime and then revel in it himself un-reproached. Nevertheless we have this curious spectacle: daily the trained parrot in the pulpit gravely delivers himself of these ironies, which he has acquired at second-hand and adopted without examination, to a trained congregation which accepts them without examination, and neither the speaker nor the hearer laughs at himself. It does seem as if we ought to be humble when we are at a bench-show, and not put on airs of intellectual superiority there”. – Mark Twain

  19. solitude,

    Oh you don’t have to be quiet, I guess I just don’t “get” what you are saying half the time. 🙂 By all means keep trying. I’m not usually this obtuse.

  20. But Brad,
    The root is Christianity. I know you don’t want to see that because you want to see the love which is supposed to be there. You want to hold on to that faith which makes you feel safe, makes you feel good, gives you hope and you don’t have to step out into the cold cruel world.
    Hope is a good thing Brad, and it does make people feel good. However when you climb down out of that tree of hope, and look down at the foundation and see that there is no foundation, where does your hope go then? When you then decide to climb back up and warn others that there hope is built on absolutly nothing and there is no foundation at all, nada, and they all look at you as if you have killed their child, and then htey start calling you names and condeming you instead of looking for themselves it just makes you sadder.
    We can make it on our own Brad, we really can. It is scary to let go of that faith pacifier, but we can make it as a human race. We need to grow up and start thinking for ourselves, not relying on the fairy tales of our childhood.
    Christianity is the root of the problem as much as Islam or any other religion. It is the reliance and dependence upon Santa Claus to come save the day for us. Sure that was fun when we were children, but once you find out you were lied to, it just isn’t much fun anymore.

  21. Nooga, have you been reading my notes I’ve been making on Santa Claus? 😀 BTW, this is Agnostic. I’ve changed my name.

    Today I sat and was contemplating The Ten Commandments…specifically Thou Shalt Not Lie.

    Most all Christains know them. Taught them. Memorized them and in turn started teaching others about them.

    Then I think about all those Christians out there that lie every single day or even just once in awhile.

    Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy???

    Just an interesting comment. As a young mother, I fought tooth and nail to make sure we did not raise our kids with the belief that Santa was real. My reason? Because I was afraid that when they found out Santa was a lie, they’d think Jesus was a lie too! I lost out to the rest of the family and their wishes.

    I remember the day I told our son that it was mommy and daddy who put the presents under the tree, not Santa Claus. I swear he went into shock realizing he had been lied to and all we’d ever told him was, ‘Do not lie.’ 😦

    I had a pastor tell me it’s okay for him to lie if it helps to protect the image of the church. What a mess it was. Here I am teaching children out of a youth booklet that there is no difference between little white lies and big bad dark lies and the pastor is lying while smiling through his teeth.

    Merry-go-round.

  22. I be me now…okay? 😀

    I’m so tired of labels. I know they are necessary for descriptive purposes at times but they don’t do well for identities. 😉

    I use the term ‘Merry-go-round’ so often I guess I could have gone with that? 😉

  23. Nooga,
    “We can make it on our own Brad, we really can. It is scary to let go of that faith pacifier, but we can make it as a human race. We need to grow up and start thinking for ourselves, not relying on the fairy tales of our childhood.”

    What you see as a pacifier, I see as bread and water. Is it so strange that we are not perfect and totally independent? Is it really so bad to depend on those we love and those who love us (my wife, family, friends, God)? I have no problems thinking for myself, but I also try to have the humility to realize I don’t have an answer for everything. Fiary tales don’t actually exist. Truth just is.

    Faith is not an illogical, unreasonable belief that makes us feel better, it is a holistic decision and trust reached through reason of the heart and mind.

    Rebecca,
    That pastor should be shot. You are right, but remember that he is jacked up and fallen like the rest of us. Rest in the fact that he is so very wrong and you are right on. Please send me his name and address so I might “lay on hands” for correction. 🙂

    And what do you mean Santa Claus doesn’t exist? Mrs. Claus knitted me a sweater last year…

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