Friday, August 7, 2009

Jesus Loves Me This I Know...

It was a long day full of aggravations, worries and loneliness. Actually, rather a typical day. Maybe a little better as it was heavier on aggravation than on worry. In any case, I'm tired, discouraged, and cynical. I have that feeling I get- like a wrinkle in my sock or a smudge on my glasses- of something being annoyingly "off" in my life.

I'm a perfectionist. No secret there. As a child, I did about five or six hours of homework a night unless there was a quiz or test scheduled for the following day. On those days I did more homework. Following my own rules, I studied two hours for a quiz and five hours for a test. If I had a chapter to read in a book, I read it ten times marking off the numbers on a sheet of paper. A 100% was a good grade. A 95% felt like a C and I considered anything less a failure. I was the kid who raised her hand and asked how long the paper could be. "It has to be at least five pages," might be the answer. "OK," I'd respond, "but how long can it be? How much is too long?"

One of my elementary school teachers assigned me "Christianity" as a paper topic, which given my perfectionism and status as a minister's child was a singularly stupid and cruel act. She had to have known just how much material I had available to me and that I would be compelled to use it. She had to have known that there was no way I could have approached that topic with anything less than compulsive, unforgiving perfectionism.

Of course I asked Dad for help. I remember standing in his office as he pointed at the walls of shelves all of them filled with books about Christianity. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," he told me. I was dismayed and overwhelmed. But Dad smiled and waved the books aside.

"Someone once asked an astronomer to sum up his work in one sentence," my father told me. "And the astronomer answered, 'Twinkle, twinkle, litte star. How I wonder what you are?'"

He let that sink in and then he said, "And someone once asked a great theologian to sum of his faith in one sentence." I waited to hear what the great theologian had said. "Jesus loves me, this I know," said Dad simply, "for the Bible tells me so."

So that was it. That was Christianity. And that was Love. That was my father's love for me and mine for him. It was the Love that was mine as a child of Creation and the love I would be expected to give as one of its trusted stewards.

Funny, isn't it, how often we forget that one simple commandment, that one simple truth. We push each other through a lot of hoops. We make each other dance and bow and scrape. We fall over each other in our desire to prove ourselves, to prove our worth, to earn the A. Ask me now what I think about Jesus and the Bible and I'll tell you all about archaeology, biblical scholarship and comparative religious studies. I'll talk about metanarratives and postmodernism long after you've lost interest. But push me on this point: "Do you think Jesus would love you or me?" and my honest answer would be "Yes. I believe the Bible tells us so."

I'll never be "just right". It isn't in my nature to be satisfied. I often mistake excellence for Righteousness and respect for Love. I am often very angry with myself. I struggle with feelings of worthlessness and failure. I fear that I've let down those who told me that one day I would be "Somebody." I want to be a giant, a scholar, a sage, and a beauty and prove myself worthy of approval. There are days that fill me with rage and disappointment at what has been an inconsequential life of modest achievement. There are days when I am filled with guilt for my mistakes. I can be petty and narrow, insensitive and self-centered. I am arrogant, ego-driven and even cruel. At my best, I'm never as good as I hoped. I grasp and fall and sit there on the ground sulking. There are days when I don't want to love anybody and I do not want to accept anybody's love.

But Love is more powerful than I am. A small voice in my head reminds me with persistent gentleness to forgive myself for my human weaknesses, for my errors, for my debts and for my trespasses and to forgive others for theirs. Perfect love is not a reward for perfect behavior, for perfect results, or even for perfect intentions. Love is freely given. If the Bible tells us anything about Jesus, it is that he loved freely and unreservedly. If such a thing is possible, even if such a thing is imaginable, then I can keep going.


Anonymous said...

Wow what a wonderful post, alot I could relate to, the simple fact that we are loved ,regardless, is priceless indeed!

Lone Star Ma said...


Daniel Wilcox said...


Thanks for a moving meditation on the Good News--God is love:-)

That's our Center.

All of your hard work, outstanding scholarship, God can use (and already has!) and bless you when you live in God.

By the way the famous theologian was Karl Barth, who wrote something like 36 volumes in his theological masterpiece before he summed it up in the one sentence. And don't forget Thomas Aquinas (who out did you in work;-)
After all his complex erudition, at the end of his life he had a transforming experience with God. And don't forget Descartes--ditto.

We (your readers) all love you too, Hystery.

I pray you will experience right now God's wonderous love (like the old gospel song goes:
The Love Of God lyrics

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell
The guilty pair, bowed down with care
God gave His (Her) Son to win
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man (and woman;-) a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whol
Though stretched from sky to sky

In the Light,


Hystery said...

Karl Barth. Thanks, Daniel. I can remember Dad speaking of him frequently (along with Tillich) so my memory makes even more sense to me now.

George Amoss Jr. said...

Although I have no god to love me unconditionally, it was good to be reminded that Jesus would -- and that if he could do that sort of thing, maybe I can, too. At least, I can continue trying. Your post is lovely and speaks to me all the way through, but the last two sentences are particularly helpful at a time of rising discouragement. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

That was Christianity. And that was Love. That was my father's love for me and mine for him. It was the Love that was mine as a child of Creation and the love I would be expected to give as one of its trusted stewards.

Thank you.

*Sandra* said...

I just discovered that Jesus loves me, too, Hystery. Thank you for another beautiful and inspiring post. And please take the final paragraph to heart; I think I might have mentioned before that you are doubtless a wonderful wife, mother and daughter. Be kind to yourself. And keep posting.



P.S. You asked me a while ago to keep you posted on my journey. I have been attending meeting regularly and look forward to Sunday morning worship :)

Hystery said...

Sandra, thank you for sending me such encouragement and I'm so glad you have found a good worshiping community. I don't attend meeting as often as I'd like and my excuse is pretty poor. They meet too early in the morning! We have an awful time getting the family up and around and out the door.

George, I'm glad this spoke to you. I've been in a kind of intellectual/spiritual crisis since I graduated. My thinking has been so disorganized and sloppy. This blog is part of my attempt to climb out of my funk.

You'll note that I have a link to your blog here. I find your posts stimulating. I've really focused most of my attention on 19th century history but if I can get my act together, I'd like to gather my material on first and second generation Friends and see how they were relating to the Enlightenment. I am intrigued by what you have written.

George Amoss Jr. said...

In my view, what I call second generation Quakerism (from about the late 1650s, although a solid demarcation can't be made) is already significantly different from the first generation: compare Barclay's Apology to Fox's The Great Mystery (available on line at Google Books), for example. (Rosemary Moore's The Light in Their Consciences has a good chapter on the change.) So I wouldn't be surprised if you find more Enlightenment thinking in those later folks. I haven't looked at that even in the primitives; I'm still working on the faith and practice.

In addition to helping with that, my blog is serving a purpose very similar to that which yours is serving for you. And some of your writing here and elsewhere reminds me of things I've written, even going back to the pre-Internet journal I kept around the time I officially joined the RSoF. As I think I said on Weedragon's blog site, we seem to have some things in common.

Thanks again for the post. It was helpful again today during a meeting for worship that included a discussion of health care reform -- including an overview of the Canadian system(!). And thanks for the link; your blog is linked from mine as well.


George Amoss Jr. said...

A little more alert this morning, I'm thinking that my "gen2" Friends were writing in the Age of Rationalism, which can be considered early Enlightenment (Descartes died in 1650, two years after Barclay's birth), although even Fox seems to have been aware of rationalistic thought (which he said he resisted). And prominent "gen2" Quakers like Barclay and Penn were university-educated. I'm definitely interested in your (possible) project.

ellen abbott said...

I've been a perfectionist and it is an endless quest. Now I settle for excellence.

ellen abbott said...

Or as near to it as I can get.

Hystery said...

Ellen, my children cured me of much of my perfectionism. I still push myself hard and am disappointed with my limitations. There are some positives in being driven but it is a balancing act.

George, I keep trying to write a brief note to you to explain my project but find that I can't be brief. My thinking about it isn't that organized and brevity has never been one of my gifts.

It is tough to encapsulate my thinking here. My tendency is to read a variety of books simultaneously so they will cross-pollinate. Patterns emerge for me from disparate sources and I have to shape them into some kind of thesis. Right now I have two major idea patterns and a couple minor ones, competing for my attention but I still have to get ready to teach Western Civ. and feminist history at the end of the month. I admit a kind of apathy kicks in with me when I consider the unlikelihood that anyone will ever read anything I write. I still have the post-dissertation blues. ;-)

Blogging keeps me sort of, kind of sane. I'm able to skim off the excess thoughts.

Michael said...


You speak my mind.

I'm working on a piece for The Empty Path about...don't know what to call it..."in betweenness," I guess.

As a child of at least ten generations of German Lutherans on both sides, Christianity is "in my genes." It is my "native religion" and my "native religious language."

Those who know me from elsewhere know that I'm stuck in the middle:

I am not a Christian, but I am also not a non-Christian.


That great theologian (your Dad, I suspect) said it well enough.

Thank you for your gentle witness, Dear One.

Bless├Ęd Be,

Hystery said...

I miss the church so much. It is always such a relief to go to the programmed meeting that acts so much like my father's little country congregational churches. I've wanted to be a minister since I was thirteen. "Wanted" is maybe the wrong word. I was "called" and barely a day goes by when I am not trying to figure out how to answer. Very frustrating. Very lonely.

Michael said...

Sweet One,

I'v always heard that call, too.

It's very puzzling, given that I'm a "none of the above."

On the other hand, doesn't it make the job that much more interesting?

As my old Isle of Wight Virgo friend Molly used to say: "Ain't life a hoot?!"


Chris M. said...


I've been meaning for some time to express words of encouragement to you.

Somehow this post opened the door for me, especially followed by Michael's comment: "I am not a Christian, but I am also not a non-Christian."

So much of what you write about Christianity resonates with my understanding of the history and the point of it all.

And while I don't identify at all as a pagan, as a former physics major, I think the world around us is a pretty amazing place. (One shining example: I have a vague memory of a story about the physicist who had the insight about the spin of either the electron or proton, who walked outside where it was snowing, dazed by the idea that inside each snowflake were billions of spinning particles... The universe is dazzling!)

Yet, unlike you, I have chosen to label myself a Christian. It all depends on what one means by the word. Kevin-Douglas Olive has a recent blog post in which he distinguishes between "Christian" and "Christ-centered" Friends. I don't fully see that distinction, yet it seems useful. I do think you'd very much like his post:

Anyway, I've been meaning to write to you for a long time. When you had that blowback on QuakerQuaker, and you wrote you decided to leave, I was sad and sorry, even if I could understand why you would.

I looked for a way to email you directly via your blog but couldn't find it. If you'd like to write back via email, I'm at chrismsf -at-, or I'll try to check back on the comments.

In peace and friendship,
Chris M.

Priscilla said...

Hystery, I'm intrigued by your interest in first- and second-generation friends. You know the connection to Spinoza, yes? I just discovered him (one of the gaping holes in my education), and as of this summer he's my new hero. He wrote that mind and matter are two aspects of something called God or Nature. He was also excommunicated from his synagogue in Amsterdam (in his twenties). I hear he took it peaceably, saying only that it would help him focus on his writing. Both before and after being kicked out, he was hanging out with Quakers in the Netherlands. If you email me I can send you what I know about those connections.

Meagan said...

Wow. I just read really gave me a sense of freedom. Thank you.

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