Monthly Archives: June 2009

Is It Glory?

More and more I am discovering that I don’t want to be in charge. I much prefer and excel when I am working in a position of support. This is baffling in the face of our culture. In this culture, you’re supposed to want to be in charge–that’s the position of greatest power and honor. If you’re in a position of support, it’s assumed that you are simply treating it as a stepping stone on the way to something better, or perhaps life just prevented you from getting what you really wanted. Being in a position of support is seen as something frustrating and irksome; it’s considered sympathetic to feel sorry for those who are “stuck” in positions of support.

So if you say that you actually want to be in a position of support, you leave people dreadfully confused in your wake. What, you want to be a loser? You seemed like such a hard worker; I expected more of you. You want to fall short? You want want to be stuck on lower level?

Well, I have my moments of confusion, too. Like when one of the PTA’s asks me if she can put her charts on the Aide Stations desk out in the hall. Of course she can! Well, when the other aide is there, she doesn’t dare put her charts on the desk. I feel momentarily shocked, though I shouldn’t be. After all, the aide has taped signs to her stapler that no one should touch it, and to her binder, and a good deal of paper work. Mine–no touch. It’s clear that to her, being an aide just means you are queen of a very, very small kingdom—but queen nonetheless. Does anyone understand what it is to be an aide, a help, a support?

If I am an aide, that means that everything I am doing is supposed to make it easier for you to do what you need to do. I am supposed to take whatever I can, so you can concentrate. What I do is supposed to help you, not get in your way or put my agendas ahead of yours.

This is scorned. You’re supposed to take what you can get; look out for your interests. But I prefer it. I find it satisfying.

I admit that my current job of a Rehab Aide can get tedious. But that’s because I’ve mastered it, not because I get tired of helping. I’ve explored the boundaries and limitation of the job. For a while it was challenging to try to get everything done, to keep track of the timers, and figure out how to stay busy in those awkward two minutes and 19 seconds before I need to take the stim machine off of someone. Sometimes it still gets a little hairy when 4 people ask me to do something at once, but its just a few busy moments, and then it passes. Everything has quickly become routine, and I feel ready to progress.

It was therefore assumed I would be progressing to a Physical Therapist. I am “young”, people find me competent and hard working, and it’s the “best” position in this line of work. But I don’t want it. I would rather be a Physical Therapist Assistant. There are many reasons why, but I am discovering more and more how much of that is because I don’t want be in the position of command; I want to be in the position of support.

I don’t want to be the one who says “This is what is wrong with this patient, and this is how we’re going to treat them.” I don’t want to be the one who gets caught in the rock and hard place between the patient who is working hard and is progressing, albeit slowly, and the insurance (which is paying for what I do) says they patient must dropped because of lack of progress.

This isn’t about PT; it’s about me. People may say I do a good job of running things and making things get done, but I mostly do get things done under guidelines. If it is clear that such-and-such needs to get done, I will see to it that it gets done. But I hate deciding what needs to get done. I don’t really like telling people what to do. If someone else makes them come help, I certainly know how to put them to work, but I dread dragging people over to help. If you say “Today we are doing this, and also that,” I will gladly do everything in my power to get those things done. But if I have to decide, I will lay awake obsessing over it, trying to decide if we really should do this, and is this more important than that, and maybe it’s not the right time, and I probably don’t know what I’m talking about anyway.

I suppose some people could be surprised by this, because I hate indecisiveness. If a whole bunch of people, including me, are standing around being indecisive, I will be decisive. But not because I want to; just because I have an innate sense that just because you don’t want to do something doesn’t give you an excuse to not do what needs to be done. I would really rather if someone else made the decision. But if no one is making a decision, and decision needs to be made, I’ll grit my teeth and do it.

People might think that since I always have an opinion on the matter, I would want to be in charge. But being in charge means that everyone wants to tell you their opinion, and I just can’t stand under the pressure of that. Of course I would like it if the person in charge listened to my concerns and thoughts and took them all into consideration. But there is a big difference between yelling advice from the back seat and actually being in the front lines.

I realize that there is a time and place for everything. I realize that some times I will need to take to the front lines, whether I want to or not, because it needs to be done. But why set yourself up for failure? Why pursue the position to command, if you dread commanding? Because, says the culture, if you don’t, you’re a loser. The people who are second in command are the people who weren’t good enough to be first. Refusing to pursue the first place is giving up early, refusing to try or to rise to the occasion, being an underachiever, being lazy by not working for the place you ought to be. It is settling for less. It’s a shame.

This leaves me nearly speechless for response because it is a mindset that cannot be reasoned with, a mindset that is set fully on itself–not only on itself, but on it’s own glory. It does not even take into honest consideration it’s own strengths and weaknesses and areas of skill. It does not consider what needs to be done, how it all works together, what is important, what is helpful, the cohesive whole. It sees only one thing–where is the most glory?

I will gladly admit that the position of support is not the position of the most glory. It isn’t. But I have been in the position of leading enough to know how great a burden good help can lift. I know enough to know that having someone take care of all the small things that build up to overwhelming can leave you so much more able to deal with the bigger issues. I know that a person in the position of power is powerless without a good crew. I know the peace that can come from knowing you do have competent help, and that all you need to do is tell them what needs to get done and they will take care of it, and you don’t have to breath down their necks to see that it happens.

And I know myself. I know that I like to be able to do well with what’s been given to me, without worrying about the bigger picture. I don’t need to know how everything is going to be done; it’s someone elses problem to worry about that. I just need to do well what is in front of me.

I know that I like to watch people work, and anticipate what can be done to help them do better. I remember doing this at the youngest of ages, when Dad worked. He always lost track of his tools as he worked, and I took to not only keeping track of his tools, but watching what he did so I could anticipate which one he would want. The biggest thrill was handing it too him before he realized he’d lost it.

I suppose this world would call this prefering to support “small minded” and “overly dependant”. I wouldn’t hesitate to call their opinion hogwash. It is true that a good leader–a truly excellent leader–is a wonderful thing. The problems are that there is a very small market for leaders, and when everyone is trying to be a leader it makes a great big hairy nasty awful mess. The other problem is that no one is honest about how things are when you are just a mediocre leader, or a truly awful leader. Both of these things combined means that rather frequently people messing things up for everyone else under the mistaken idea that it’s good for them to try to be the leader.

It would be a far more wonderful world if people were commended for honestly examining themselves and the situation and acting accordingly. If people were praised for trying to do what they excelled at, whatever it was. Instead, people are roundly chastised if they aren’t making an effort to “move up”. And what is the definition of up? Not into an area you are necessarily better at, but simply a position that pays you more, or gives you more honor or power.

The results are very sad. This set-up is what leads to the “pointy-haired boss” becoming the sterotype. It is assumed that the people in power are going to be the ones to incompetently lord over the people who actually know what is going on and what needs to be done. The bosses will be the ones to avoid, because they will most likely be the ones who don’t even understand what is coming out of their mouths, ones who make decisions totally detatched from reality. They run the situation for their own pleasure, not for the advancement of the situtation. The leaders become something to hide from, not something to seek refuge behind. The people try to keep the leaders in the dark in order to keep them from messing up the way things are working, rather than keeping the leaders in the loop so they can get help making things better. This is all too common, but it is a far cry from what a leader should be.

And yet it is still considered ridiculous to take stock of who you are and act accordingly. So simple minded, and so little ambition, if you chose not pursue that which you are not suited. Could I be a PT? Yes, if it was necessary, I do think I could be a PT. Would I enjoy being a PT? I strongly doubt it. It goes against my grain; it would be a struggle the whole way.

You could call this part of my personality; you could call it part of the emotional differences between men and women. I am comofortable with both, because I find no shame in desiring the position of support. It is not a position of weakness, but of different strengths. It requires much skill to do a good job supporting someone else, and I could never be sorry that my strengths lie there instead of in leading.

I will admit that in terms of glory, it is often overlooked. I could point out that there isn’t much glory in doing a very poor job leading, either, but it’s really besides the point. My point is that if it is by thoughts of glory you guide your steps going forward, you will always be stumbling. The culture can have very stupid ideas of what makes a job worth doing, and even stupider ideas of what counts as success. The sooner you can take a clear-eyed look around you, the better off you will be; once you are on your deathbed, it’s far too late to change anything. Beneath all the froth and fuss, who do you know who is truly happy? And beneath all the implications and assumptions people throw you’re way, who are you really?

But is it Helping?

Let’s be blunt. I have recently been reading a lot about a certain “Christian Charity”, which I shall allow to go nameless (though you’ll probably recognize it anyway, so one wonders why I bother). The more I read about them, the more I wonder—are they helping?

They insist that you do more than throw money at the problem. They want you to have a correspondence with the child you sponsor, and they encourage visits to see how their program is working. So far, it’s brilliant. It’s a lot easier to “forget” to send money when it’s nameless faceless people. And I like any program that wants you to see how your money is being spent.

But then you start seeing pictures and hearing stories, and you start to wonder.

One very disturbing story was how they had to build a fence to keep the hungry out, and only feed the people in their program. My stomach turns over. How can you build a fence to keep the hungry out and be a charity? How do you decide who gets to eat and who doesn’t? What makes the people inside the fence more special than the people outside? Is that helping?

Well, you see, this program is about more than food. Here they get to learn about Jesus.

I do see; their clothes look newer than mine. They are all lined up singing the songs you taught them, spewing verses you taught them to memorize. I remember my infamous VBS experience; if well-to-kids will memorize verses for cheap candy, how much more so hungry kids memorize for the sake of square meals? They’ll probably memorize the whole cannon for you!

But is that helping?

Then I read about these ladies, who are being helped by this charity. They also are learning about Jesus. One woman says her favorite story about Jesus is when He turns the water into the wine. I remember Jesus lamenting how everyone wanted to follow Him after He fed them earthly food, unable to see He wanted to give them food from heaven. But the people at this charity say you will get food because of Jesus, so they like Him. Is this helping?

I hear people relating how they told those children how God loved them and would do special things with their lives. I hear people pontificate, “Blessed are the poor!” (conveniently not finishing the passage, which is speaking of those suffering in spirit, not necessarily in the flesh). “Jesus loved the poor,” they say. Yes, He certainly hung out with the poor. And the sinners, and tax collectors, and adulterers, and any one else who was broken enough to know they needed to repent.

But I don’t hear anyone telling these poor to repent. It seems as though these people, so accustomed to their comfortable lives, have decided the poor have suffered enough. They don’t need to deal with things like guilt or repentance. They just need to trust Him to take care of their physical needs, and everything will be okay.

And I can’t help but wonder how many children cry at night and wonder why. When they have the food and shelter and teaching that so many other of their peers lack, why do they feel hopeless? When everyone tells them God loves them, why does their own heart testify that they are separated from Him? Why can they smile and laugh during the day, but inside feel hollow and empty?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe that’s not how it’s going over there. But I remember how VBS “saved” me, and I wonder. I remember how, even as a child, that supposed “innocent” age, I felt in my own soul the truth of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. How spiritual things trumped physical things. Mostly I recall trying to hide from it, as though if I just didn’t think about it too much, it wouldn’t matter, and I could play childhood games in a carefree manner. The older I got, the harder it got to ignore, but at any age I can recall, I was unswayed by outside sources protesting my innocence.

I remember feeling something like cold chills when my grandmother said all good children went to heaven, and so of course I was going to heaven. That wasn’t the truth. I knew she thought I was good, but I knew more that God was holy and I was not. And I couldn’t make myself. God would have to make me, by His grace and mercy and power, and I couldn’t make me.

People begin to think about these things at a very young age. We think about not being good enough, about guilt, about spirits and death and God as children. And yet so many people, instead of addressing those concerns—”Yes, you fall short. I fall short. We all fall short. But God in His mercy pours out His grace on those who are unworthy.”—They dismiss those concerns. “God loves you! He will take care of you and do good things for you. You’re amazing!!” And they find this a kinder alternative.

Sometimes I wonder what “Christian Charity” organizations “should” be like. I understand the urge to tell people what they should think and believe while you help out. After all, the flesh counts for nothing, does it not? What use is it to save the body when the soul is perishing? Can anyone really save a life, when we will all die in the end anyway? And we all want to do work that will last.

But, you know, making a bowl of soup is a good deal more simple than saving a soul. I can find you a lot of different recipes for soup—you could even just wing it and it would still turn out good. But I’ve heard a lot of people who think they know how to save a soul, and I don’t believe they have a clue. And I cannot help but feel it is wrong to put such an emphasis on “saving souls”.

People want to see tangible results that they can count. But God often works secretly and silently and over many years. Trying to get someone to “see the light” can often be like trying to rip open the bud of a flower because you are too impatient to wait for it to open—it can cause harm rather than good.

There seems to be something akin to despise toward those who would simply live their lives as a witness of worship to God, to give the reason for the joy that is within them when asked, to live as aroma of Christ—to some the fragrance of life, and to others the stench of death. It’s of no use, they seem to say, to simply smile and serve soup. You have to smile, serve soup, and say “Jesus loves you!” You can’t just listen and help and live your life as God has called you to it. You have to get them to come to a Bible service where they can hear about God, so we can get these people, fixed—”saved”.

But is that helping?

Maybe people don’t want to talk about their soul with just anybody. Maybe it’s a very personal private thing for them, and they won’t want to discuss it until they know you, trust you, and believe that you care about them enough not to abandon them when you find out about their failings.

There is a call to help the needy. But seeing things like this charity make me pause. What does it mean to help? What does it mean to help when the poor in spirit are more in need than the poor in body? The answers do not seem so easy. It sometimes seems perilously easy to confuse what we want for what they need. I suppose in some ways it seems the first step to charity is to see beyond yourself—in more ways than one—and see the other person for who they are and where they’re at and what they really need.

. . .And in Truth

I went to Vacation Bible School once.

I wasn’t really interested in it, to tell you the truth, but my friend was going, and I could go with her. So I went. And after that, I tried my hardest to wipe it out of my mind forever. I don’t want to sound over-the-top, but it profoundly upset me in ways I couldn’t find words for. I didn’t want to remember the whole experience, and wholly wished it hadn’t happened. Failing that, I’d rather pretend it never happened.

I suppose you’ve been there—most people have, it seems. To “Vacation Bible School” where the teachers are smarmy, you get prizes for empty piousness like remembering to bring your bible and memorizing cherry-picked verses. The holiest kids get the most candy. There are pathetic and tacky crafts, made “special” by putting verses on them. The shallow fun and songs that we do because we are told, not because we like them.

And then comes the part where the sickly-sweet teacher has all you precious children sit in a circle and close your eyes. And then she asks which ones of you are not sure if you’re going to go to heaven when you die. She assures you no one else can see, so if you are not sure, raise your hand.

Because I was, generally speaking, an honest and obedient child and this was an adult with authority, I raised my hand.

Next, our anonymity gets blown all to pieces, as anyone who has raised their hand gets quietly escorted aside at some point.

Inside this quiet room, my far-too-smiley teacher shows me a Lego house she built. I look at the house. It has red bricks, and a flat blue roof. The teacher tells me, certain that she is letting me in on a wonder, that this was how houses looked during bible times. I look at her. What kind of ninny is she? They weren’t plastic, or gaudy red and blue. See? she says. They had flat roofs, and no glass in their windows. I know that. Who doesn’t know that? I look for the stairs leading to the roof, but she forgot to build them. I don’t understand why she took me aside to show me a Lego house. I’ve built with Legos all the time.

She goes on to paraphrase the story of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof. Everybody knows this story. She left details out. She carefully explained that paralyzed people can’t move. She doesn’t explain why, and I don’t tell her it’s usually because of a broken back, when your spinal cord is broken and your brain can’t send signals to your body any more. I still don’t understand why she took me aside to tell me a story that everyone has heard a million times.

I am still sitting there quietly, watching her. If she insists upon a yes or no answer, I move my head in the way she expects.

Now she is telling me that if I ask Jesus into my heart, I will be saved. I look at her. She says, let’s pray. I close my eyes and bow my head, because that’s what you do when people pray, and praying is serious and important. You don’t play around. She prays out-loud. I don’t pray with her.

I seem to recall her saying somethings about everything being all right now. I vaguely recall her seeming a bit puzzled. But mostly I remember how unclean and vile and I felt. Like I had just been tricked, snared into doing something awful.

And so I tried desperately to forget the whole episode.

But I still get that feeling, any time I have went to a “church”. I avoid them. I loathe them. To a certain degree, they kind of scare me.

I still don’t feel very proficient with words, but I shall attempt to give reason to those feelings:

To start, here’s a verse I bet you didn’t learn in VBS: Do not be deceived; God is not mocked.

They were making a mockery out of God, and they were sure they would get away with it. They were not ashamed, nor hesitant. They flaunted it proudly, their sugar-coated mauling of the truth.

God is holy. God is just. God is not something, where, if you say the magic words, you don’t have to be afraid of dying. God doesn’t have magic words, but you do have to repent. You do have to admit you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You do have to admit that your righteousness is like filthy rags. And you do have to approach God with awe and respect, not as though He were your plaything, to do your bidding and make you feel better.

God is sacred. And yet they were turning Him into a game–and trying to get me to do the same. I was revolted by their game, and scared of being caught amongst them, guilty by association.

They counted me among the children they’d “saved”.

I can’t even think of VBS without my stomach clenching.