What Is It That Haunts You?

What a person fears says a lot about them. It tells us what they value most. It gives us insight into how they conduct relationships. It allows us to see how they view themselves. The old adage “Fear is a great motivator” rings true to us, but what does it motivate? Then again, fear can just as easily incapacitate us, paralyzing us with indecision. Sometimes what we fear is apparent to us . . . but sometimes what we fear hides in our sub-conscience undetected, nudging us away from things, unbeknownst. So what do you fear?

There are three general categories that our fears fall into – the fear of the unknown, the fear of shame, and the fear of suffering. Then each of these three categories break into three subsequent categories:

Fear of the unknown – The unknown is a mystery, which includes everything about the future. We may be able to predict with a measure of certainty, but the unforeseen always lurks in the shadows – death being one of the most obscure shadows. The unknown that plagues our decision making. How do we know the choice we’re making will be the right one? We may end up with regret. The unknown of how we’ll respond. Will we hold up under pressure? Will we hold fast to what is right? All of these unknowns foster their own unique forms of fear.

Fear of shame – The shame of having all of our darkest thoughts and deeds exposed. The shame of what we did not do because some other fear held us hostage to inaction. The shame of feeling like our lives don’t matter—that we have no worth. Shame can be a very powerfully crippling form of fear, and can be the hardest to detect.

haunted-homesFear of suffering – We fear that we might have to suffer, whether emotionally or physically. We fear that a loved one might suffer, and all we can do is helplessly watch. We fear that we might be the cause of someone else’s suffering, regardless of our intent. The fear of suffering, in many ways, is the most obvious to us – but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

But there’s a fear that’s underneath them all – the fear of not being in control, and it is the fear we struggle with the most . . . because we can’t resist trying to be in control. It is this fear that is in direct competition with our fear of God – tempting us to believe that God has lost control, so we must step in. Which is rather foolish when you think about it – but fear isn’t always rational.

In this way, our fear of God restores for us the true understanding of the universe – everything is contingent upon him . . . and when we forget that, we create a vacuum that all of our fears rush into. When I say “fear not”, you might think “but you don’t know what I’m going through”. But when Jesus says “fear not” he also says “I am with you always” – so trust that there’s nothing beyond his control.

So remember . . . it’s alright


Naked and Screaming

We all come into this life fragile and innocent, naked and screaming. Instantaneously, we become aware of our overwhelming need – our need to be feed, to be held, to be protected . . . to be loved. And these are the needs that remain with us for the rest of our days – because our existence is inescapably contingent . . . and no measure of self-sufficiency can change this. To be innately filled with such a consuming need, is to be exposed and vulnerable, which invariably leads us onto one of two paths – humble acceptance or fearful shame.

It could be reasonably argued that naked and screaming is a defining aspect of our fallen nature – regardless of our age. Because our impulse response to being vulnerable is to act out of shame, to seek control, demanding the capitulation and deference of others . . . hoping to distract them and ourselves from the shame that is ever at work in us. But very often we foolishly assume that if our actions were driven by shame that we would certainly know it. But what if our instinct to cover the nakedness of being exposed was more reflexive than cognitive . . . do you still think you would know then?

But before I continue, let’s make an important distinction here between a cultural framing of shame, and the psychological outworking of shame. We might view those who choose to live a life of openly self-destructive behavior as having no shame – otherwise they would take care to hide their conspicuously consuming behavior . . . because that’s what we would do. We are tempted to assume that because they no longer maintain the social pretense of covering their shame, that they aren’t experiencing shame . . . but nothing could be further from the truth.

imagesInstead of screaming “Look away! . . . or you’ll never be able to accept me”—they’re screaming “Look at me! . . . and see what my fear of not being acceptable has done to me”. The innate vulnerability and need that is common to us all becomes harder to detect in these cases – because of the broken and distorted extremes they’ve gone to in addressing the disquiet and fear they experience . . . it is a need that has become for them a devouring abyss.

But like I said, fearful shame is only one of two paths. The humble acceptance path of our vulnerability becomes a solemn confession – it is not simply to confess our need, but to confess that every human attempt to address need will always be flawed. We can neither be fixed by someone else (human), or fix ourselves. It’s a humble confession that God’s grace is required – that underneath every need we have, is our need for him. Not only does this allow us to unflinchingly know ourselves as he knows us – but it also allows us to be grateful conduits of God’s grace in the world.

So when you experience people screaming (metaphorically) at you to accept them on their own broken terms of hiding shame, we can choose instead to accept them on the terms that sets us all free from shame, an acceptance that brings shame into the light so it can no longer have power. So that finally their deepest longings and needs can find a corresponding satisfaction that can only be found in God.

It is shame that steals everything from us . . .

A Different Drummer

Humans have the oddest relationship to conformity – it’s part sleepwalking ambivalence and part cognitive dissonant reaction. There’s a baseline anthropology driving our default psychology in regards to conformity, like an elastic band keeping us from straying too far, before it snaps us back into line . . . until like a toddler we begin to wobbly wander off in another direction. But by and large, most people follow socially normative expectations with agreeable compliance.

Ironically, many assume that the popular counter cultural persona they carefully maintain, based on what is currently counter culturally acceptable, somehow places them outside of conformity . . . and I just don’t have the heart to break it to them that it really doesn’t matter how much ink, metal bits, or smarmy aloof posturing – they’re still conforming . . . as I’m pretty sure the irony of this is completely lost on them.

Then there are those odd birds, who are simply contrarian – imagining that this qualifies as defying conformity . . . not realizing that all of their contrary choices are entirely predicated on their reaction to social norms – which of course means they’re still tethered to the cultural script, dancing to the same tune . . . albeit, with a measure of contempt for having to play along.

But with the artistically inclined, there usually isn’t so much a deliberate reaction or response to conformity, as such. For the creative mind, the social norms, which for most people, end up being either followed or challenged – are mostly ignored. Not really as a conscious defiance, but mostly out of a lack of sensitivity to the social queues. It’s because they’re preoccupied, listening for a different call, following a different path –which ends up taking up all of their attention. As an artist, I’m well acquainted with this blithe state of altered focus . . . and it is not easily explained.

B4rbqxvIUAIOdKxThe operative dynamic here is one of perception. The common perception detects the most conspicuous patterns of mannerism and behavior, language and value, apparent in the culture. But for the artist, with a different drummer in his head, he perceives many layers of pattern at work – the places where harmony and dissonance are vibrating beneath the surface of the culture . . . to see the beauty and the brokenness that often hides in the details of how life is lived.

In Romans 12:1-2 we are admonished to worship God by sacrificing the life we have, and this can only occur as God transforms us, renewing the way we perceive the world, letting go of the common patterns of conformity, so that we might recognize the deeper patterns of God’s will at work in the world. Then in Romans 8: 28-29 we discover that we are being conformed to the image of Christ, which is the very transformation in chapter 12 at work, allowing us to perceive all of the circumstances of our life as working for the good . . . regardless of the world’s perception of our circumstance.

I guess you could say that Jesus is the different drummer in our head, creating a different cadence that we might walk in by faith, allowing a different melody to be sung – a song of hope, a song we can sing everywhere we go . . . to everyone we meet. Can you hear that? That’s Jesus calling you to live in the power of his life – by seeing the world in a whole new way!

. . . and here’s the song I wrote to prove it.