How do you protect yourself from harm?

Personally, I carry pepper spray around with me when I’m walking alone. I always wear a cross necklace, which might not stop any bullets, but which feels protective. I stick to lit paths. I pray for safety. I still mostly wear a mask when I’m indoors, text my fam and friends when I get home, and look both ways before crossing the street. I make sure my house is locked up before bed, and don’t post my address or phone number anywhere.

I also do less reasonable things, like hiding my feelings and downplaying the mistakes I’ve made. When I feel bad about something I’ve done, I instinctively try to find a way to shift blame. I go months without reaching out to friends because I’m worried I won’t know how to just relax around them, that I don’t have anything to really contribute to their lives, or that I’ll hurt them. I play up my accomplishments and level of understanding to coworkers and family members, because I’ve still got those old neuroses around being judged incompetent/worthless kicking around. I’ve zoned out for hours on social media, or slept days away to protect myself from my own feelings, thoughts, and responsibilities.

Obviously, the latter behaviors actually *cause* harm rather than preventing or alleviating it. The psychological and physical pull to them is strong when you’ve been mired in them, though. The idea of guaranteed failure through inaction (rather than potential failure after effort) has long been intensely powerful to me, even if it doesn’t make rational sense. I am, however, tired of my life just… sucking ass. Moreso, I’m ashamed of the way my negligence has affected other people, whether it’s my co-workers picking up my slack, close friends who’ve overextended themselves to help me when I refused to help myself, or the shitty attitudes I’ve encouraged in other people by not putting the energy into strengthening my morality. Which is where (amongst other tools) today’s topic comes in:

The Armor of God

Listed in Ephesians 6:14-18, the Armor of God describes a Christian’s defenses against the “Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (In my experience, they’re also useful defenses against my own bullshit.) There are 6 pieces to the armor listed in that verse: a belt (or loincloth, if you wanna make a 3rd grader laugh), a breastplate, a pair of boots, a helmet, a shield, and a sword. Each correlates to a specific value or positive force: truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, faith, and Spirit. The 7th aspect of the armor is the interior security provided by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Here’s what I’ve come to understand as the symbolic breakdown:

  1. Belt of Truth: Protect your core with honesty. Let the center of you be anchored in and girded by the truth. Our gut has nothing to defend it, it can feel vulnerable to be honest, but it’s actually the best way to defend yourself. By representing what you know authentically, you protect yourself from illusion, giving yourself the ability to take useful action.
  2. Breastplate of Righteousness: Protect your heart with right attitude; one of service, love, and justice. Self-righteousness won’t save you. However, humility and honorable intent will transform not only your own life, but–by improving your capacity for loving relationships of all kinds–many others will be deeply benefitted too!
  3. Boots of Peace (or good news): Protect your path with peace. Walk in peace, travel through this world with peaceful intent. Even though armor is about defense in war, the best way to protect yourself from aggression is to ground yourself in a peaceful disposition. It is very, very hard to yell at someone who is gently whispering, or attack someone who is looking at you with kind understanding. A fight requires opposition. Peace and realistic optimism are stabilizing and liberating forces that transform strife into understanding, which paves the way for healing the source of aggression.
  4. Helmet of Salvation: Protect your mind with an awareness and focus on what is important. This refers to eternity in Heaven, but also more generally to connection with God and the spreading of truth that turns people towards morality. Set your sights on things of true value. Have ears to listen to that which reminds you of those meaningful things. Make sure you speak about things of consequence and depth when appropriate. Don’t shy away from these big concepts of what is eternally valuable, and of what truly saves people. This is a defense against materiality, selfishness, impulsivity, and clinging to all the things that come and go in our lives without delivering us into any real freedom.
  5. Shield of Faith: Protect your entire being with trust in that which is greater than you. For Christians specifically this is Christ’s loving sacrifice and God’s promises. Faith here is not only your reaching out to Divinity, but it’s the Source of All Love actively, constantly reaching out to you! What can hurt you when you lean into that presence? Can any doubt, any hatred, any malice, any fear touch you when you exist within the awareness of that bond? No homie, no it cannot. Ephesians 6:16 specifically mentions this shield’s capacity to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Emphasis mine.) All the tumultuous bouncing between self-doubt and self-justification, all the anxiety, all the insecurity is extinguished by faith. Remember that God wants you, that Divinity specifically crafted you. You’re already loved because you’re made of love. All you have to do to be protected is to remember and trust that you already are.
  6. Sword of the Spirit: We don’t just have to hunker down and defend ourselves, we’ve been given a sword to cut through the bullshit illusions of this world, and to set ourselves and others free. The Spirit is an activating force of insight, discernment, purpose, and clarity. This Spirit is scripture, which provides perspective, guidelines, encouragement, and teaching. It is a “weapon” only against which is false to begin with, and thus cannot be used to harm anyone. If you’ve been harmed, outright abused, or denigrated by scripture, it was not interpreted correctly. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If the text of the Bible was used against you to express someone’s hatred, dissatisfaction, fear, impulsivity, and selfishness, I’m genuinely sorry and I empathize with that pain deeply.
  7. Benevolent possession by the Holy Spirit: The Spirit also serves as an internal teacher and guide. It’s our healing and supportive force. It’s the (re)generative source of all the other aspects of the armor, where we draw our truth, right attitude, gentleness, focus, trust, and insight from. It provides the confirmation we need to discern the right way forward; it’s our comforter, corrector, and confidant.

This armor is light and effective. Where it’s penetrated shows us where we need to grow in our own lives. Experiencing misfortune and pain because you lied and manipulated someone? Cool, get real with yourself and others. Feeling insecure in the tumult of life? Practice letting go and reconnecting to God, building your trust with Divinity. Not sure how to move forward in this situation? Consider the route that creates the most peace in the lives of those around you and yourself. Now you have the armor piece you were missing, weren’t using correctly, or weren’t maintaining. Do what you can to fix things, and the Spirit will heal your wounds as you open up to the lessons of your pain.

The cool thing about this armor is that it’s designed to keep us open. What do you think of when you consider most defensive systems in militaries throughout history? Heavy, dense materials that weigh down and close off the body, tall fortresses with moats to keep people out? Offensive tools that suppress and destroy any potential attackers? A closing-off, shutting down, separating. Instead of this, the armor of God equips us for opening, enlivening, and connecting 🙂

Kevlar and an AR 15 won’t protect you from your own selfishness, rage, instability, and pain, as Americans know too well at this point. The only way to protect and regenerate your *real* self is the integrity and love described in the Armor of God. Whether or not you’re a Christian or think all spirituality is woo-woo nonsense, these values: honesty, justice, peacefulness, broader perspective, trust, and discernment are the only things that will bring you true security in this world.

Whaddabout external harm??

I talk a lot about the internal ways we hurt ourselves and the ways we might harm others because I think that’s a really important starting point for change. But we all know that no matter how kind you are, others can and will approach you with malice. This hurts… till it doesn’t. By opening up to your own pain and addressing your own problems, you learn where others’ aggression and bad behavior are coming from. That understanding helps you take things less and less personally, until you get to the point of immediate compassion for another person, knowing that their hurtful intent comes from pain and confusion. (Not saying I’m there yet by a long shot, but if you wanna read about at least one human that got there, check out Peace Pilgrim’s story.)

If God made each of us in His/Her/Their/Its image, and God is love, then we are individuals made in the image of love. We get distorted, but the essential nature remains no matter what. The best way to defeat the enemy is to remind them that they’re actually your friend, that we’re all actually on the same side, no matter how confused and twisted up we are. And if we’re all made of the same stuff, the best way to remind people of their essential nature is to embody it yourself. Being a less-distorted, less mucked-up mirror means that we can reflect more of God’s light, which speaks to the goodness in others. You know those times when you’ve been trash talking someone, and the person you’re speaking to doesn’t go along with it? There’s that immediate moment of realization within you of “oh wait, I shouldn’t be doing this.” You might follow that up with “nah I’m justified and they’re just uptight,” but even then that feeling of wrongness lingers. By staying in their integrity, that other person just showed you your bad attitude. That’s what this armor equips us to do for ourselves and others.

Exercises to Strengthen Your Armor

  1. Journal Reflection 1: At the end of the day, write down 1 way in which you have used each piece of armor appropriately, and 1 way you didn’t. If possible, come up with a way to fix the mistake, and to lean further into the growth of what you’re already doing well. Example:
    1. Belt of Truth: 👍 Was honest with a coworker about falling behind even though I was tempted to lie. Improvement: none, I think I’m doing well. 👎 Told my girlfriend I didn’t see her message, when I really just ignored it. Fix: Tell her that I did actually see her text earlier, apologize, and focus on responding to her messages in the future. (Or, tell her that I don’t really like texting, and talk to her about my stress/avoidance around that, try to figure out a communication style that works for us.)
    2. Boots of Peace: 👍 Didn’t participate in office gossip today. Improvement: Next time, I can actively change the subject to something uplifting. 👎 Snapped at my son this morning instead of asking him to be quieter. Fix: Apologize to him for being short with him earlier.
  2. Mentally visualize, draw, or collage your own version of the Armor pieces. Using visual symbolism that emphasizes the aspects of each piece to you personally, put together an idea of what your armor looks like. Imagine how it physically feels on your body. I’ve imagined mine as different brightly-colored clothing articles with stones sewn on them, as a kind of glowing weightless metal, and as a series of ghostly lines crisscrossing over me. There is no official way the armor looks and feels–make it yours. Once you know what it feels and looks like, imagine putting it on at the beginning of your day, or whenever you’re feeling stressed and afraid.
    1. If you already wear things that feel protective to you (like a cross necklace, stone jewelry, lucky charm, etc.) associate these things with the principles of the armor of God.
  3. Think about which piece of armor you struggle with the most, and focus for at least a week on strengthening that aspect. If you have trouble with humility, self confidence, and judgment, focus on putting others before you for a week. If you tend to be irritable, focus on letting go of that irritability and just allowing yourself to be kind no matter the circumstance for a week. Don’t just rely on your strengths, really focus on shoring up your weak points.

Learning how to Learn Pt 1

Who else was a teacher’s pet as a kid? I’ve always had a pretty strong respect for authority, probably because my parents made for really excellent role models. (And I’ve got a stellium in Capricorn.) Even if I didn’t like a teacher or think they were particularly good at their job, I’d behave myself in their class, and my fave feeling as a child was positive feedback from an authority figure. The worst feeling was condemnation, knowing I’d disappointed someone in charge. That’s how I figured out what to do. The question was less “do I actually want to do this, care about this, or think I did a good job?” and more “does someone else approve?” The vibe was fear-based.

I’ve recently lost my primary spiritual teacher. Not to any physical death or harm, thank God, but I can’t go to him for wisdom or guidance. So the first thing I did was to sign up for a bunch of classes (spiritual, artistic, whatever), recommit to my Bible study, and start like 5 new projects. When scattering my mind to the fucking wind failed to center me and provide a clear path forward, I desperately emailed a really skillful reiki practitioner I’d worked with previously. She graciously spoke and channeled with me for 2 hours, and I’ll probably be writing a separate blog about that. The main take-away from the session was this: I need to sit down, go within, and go quiet. This isn’t actually a time for exploration, and I won’t be able to find what I need on any bookshelf, in any class.

As I write this, I’m more deeply realizing that that’s what my spiritual teacher had been telling me repeatedly and in varied ways for the 3 years we knew each other. Even before I asked him to teach me, our interactions specifically brought up my inner voice in a way that no other person had. Even then, he was teaching me about the value of silence and truth, of affirming yourself, uncovering your honest emotions, and remaining in your integrity under pressure. These were not easy lessons. Gnawing through your calf to free yourself from the bear trap of societal expectations isn’t supposed to be easy, I guess.

A True Student

I always thought of myself as a good student because I got good grades and was pretty immediately able to discern what people wanted. It’s easy to get A’s when you’re a know-it-all who’s prioritized approval over authenticity because modern education values conformity over expression and understanding. And that became my identity; being good at giving people what they want. When I couldn’t really give them that, I’d lie and say I would. I’d overpromise for the immediate hit of approval, then shirk responsibility later, afraid to ask for help because it would fuck with the image of myself as a “good ___(student, intern, worker, friend).” By the time I was 20, very depressed, overcommitted, with unspecified attention issues, the only way I knew how to deal with my failures was to lie and shunt blame in order to cover them up. This was how I handled not getting a job or internship, not completing assignments, and failing my friends and romantic partners. If you’d asked me at the time, I would’ve said that the problem was my boyfriend’s behavior, the harshness of the industry, the ridiculous pressure of college. These things were obstacles, but I was doing basically nothing to overcome them, preferring to languish in self-pity while exacerbating all tensions, refusing all help and kindness.

Me in my self-pity spiral, but whacking other people as I flailed

The real problem was that *I* wasn’t making any of these commitments in the first place. The projected image of me was. I didn’t know how to be myself, I just knew how to try to be what I thought other people wanted me to be. That facade was cracking under a decade of pressure. Again, the vibe was fear-based.

The past 3 years have shaken up my understanding of what it means to be a good student, which has led me to the following, inconclusive list.

Traits of a true student:

  • Makes mistakes and learns from them
  • Does something with the aim of understanding, not receiving approval
  • Has a fairly accurate read on what their abilities are
  • Doesn’t judge themself for where they are, and is honest about it
  • Is inspired by others’ success, not envious
  • Doesn’t diminish or overstate theirs/others’ accomplishments
  • Doesn’t try to skip steps or cut corners
  • Tries to innovate on existing techniques/info
  • Contributes to the discussion without dominating it/making it about their intelligence
  • Is open to praise and critique, but doesn’t internalize it as *who* they are
  • Asks questions, asks for help (Doesn’t pretend to know more than they do)
  • Doesn’t lie about not doing the fucking homework
  • Doesn’t pass blame onto others (doesn’t need blame at all, actually)
  • Checks what they’re hearing against other sources, including their own gut/intuition
  • Has genuine respect for their teachers, their peers, and themself
  • Disagrees with their teachers, and is honest about that disagreement
  • Listens without planning a response (pays attention, takes notes)
  • Doesn’t fucking care about A’s holy shit oh my GOD I wasted so much energy thinking my GPA mattered and meant something about me as a person ugh.

The Inner Teacher

In losing the teacher I spoke about, I also lost a best friend. A true friend. He was the one to reintroduce me to Christ and challenge me to read the Bible. I’ve had constant conversations with him about faith, philosophy, and… everything. (We’d also have conversations about completely inane nonsense, so you know it was a good time.) Losing this person feels like losing a chunk of my heart, a mirror, a light. I lost him because I lied to him, maligned him, and manipulated him–I was not being a True Student™ (or a true friend, for that matter). The old bullshit I pulled with my previous teachers didn’t go over well with him, and that’s how ya know he was a True Teacher™. But I also think I lost him because I was using him as a way to ignore listening to my own self. I didn’t (and don’t) fully trust myself yet, and so I’d misrepresent myself time and time again to him, trying to front as somewhere different than I was. I was trying to impress Teacher because again, the vibe was fear-based.

In this still darkness of his absence, I’m beginning to see my own little light. Both my teacher and reiki practitioner spoke to me using imagery of still waters. Both admonished me to stop splashing around, and allow myself to float, sink, see, rest.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Hibiscus with Plumeria (1939)

In silence with myself, this quote from Georgia O’Keefe that’s been ringing in my head for the past 2.5 years takes deeper meaning: “To see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” True understanding–necessary for painting flowers, creating trusting relationships, and achieving any real spiritual insight–takes as long as it takes. You cannot rush the process. You can’t lie to someone in order to give them what you think they want ASAP and then consider that to be building true connection. You can’t blame the things that distract you from seeing, prevent you from being a friend, because blame itself is a distraction. You have to focus on being yourself without judgement in tiny, at times horribly uncomfortable, entirely necessary ways, and in that you will also bring into focus the truth of others. You cannot frantically jet ski across the ocean of understanding. It is endless, and its treasures are held in its depths. You must be still, and sink. In patiently, slowly seeing myself, I am patiently, slowly befriending myself. I do not trust myself fully yet, but I don’t feel pressure to, knowing that in time, as I get better at representing myself honestly and lovingly, I will grow into that trust. In that, I feel peace I didn’t know was possible.

There will be a second part to this going over this from a more theological perspective, but in the interest of #AuthenticExpression and not focusing on getting A’s, I wanted to release this part on its own without over-editing.

Divinity, Humanity, and Desire

Painting by Heinrich Hoffman

Part 1: Fully God, Fully Human

Growing up, I really struggled with the idea that Jesus could be 100% human and 100% God. I understood that it wasn’t quite that Jesus had a human body but God’s heart, and I was completely unconvinced of any examples of fruit given to explain the Godhead’s relationship. i.e. Holy Spirit as apple seed, God the Father as apple meat, and Jesus Christ as apple skin–all of these are parts of the apple, but not each other. Somehow, thinking of Jesus Christ as an orange peel didn’t quite bring me to any deep revelations about the nature of God. The “human body vs divine spirit” and “parts-of-a-fruit” dichotomies made for too much separation, they were too easily defined. If these were parts that made a whole, how could they be separated? When you peel an apple, you don’t call the peel “the apple”–the meat is more “apple” than the peel or the seeds. And what about the stem? Sometimes the core was referred to as the third part, and in that case, are the seeds considered part of the core? I was stumped.

The first step closer to understanding was in ~5th grade, when a brilliant kid who was regularly bullied raised his hand during chapel and asked if we could think of the Holy Spirit, Christ, and the Father as different states of matter. H20 can be liquid, solid, or gas–it’s the same substance, but taking different forms, which can serve different purposes. I don’t remember the pastor’s response, but the concept definitely clicked with me. (Thanks, dude.)

The second stirring of understanding was when, as a part of a 7th grade history assignment, I had to interview people from different faiths to get their perspective on God. I spoke with a Hindu neighbor, who explained to me that though Hinduism is considered by outsiders to be a polytheistic religion, in her understanding, the same divine source flows through different channels or aspects. These aspects can be perceived as deities and worshipped/worked with distinctly. (This was one of those moments where I felt my brain stretching to accommodate a new perspective it’d been seeking.) I asked her what God looked like to her, and she said “I guess a sphere of glowing light; self-contained, but radiating outward.” That was the first time I’d heard God visualized more as a force, rather than as a very large old magic man floating in the ether. I excitedly reported this to my teacher in class, at which point it became clear that the point of the exercise was to mock other faith traditions and assert the superiority of Christianity. “And how does she expect a glowing light to protect her?” I don’t know, but I’ve never heard of a massive, wrinkly, caucasian, cisgender male hand reaching down from the sky in order to save someone from a car wreck either.

These 2 examples get at the same idea (obvious to many but, hey, I didn’t get it for a while): the stuff of God is the same, it just shows up in different ways. In Jesus’ case, God-stuff showed up *as* a human. The line between human and God is unable to be drawn in Jesus’ being, but the dynamic struggle with having fully human and fully Divine nature is highlighted in his prayer in Gethsemane. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane following his last meal with the disciples, and directly preceding his arrest. Reading this part of the Bible last year led to my 3rd major epiphany about Jesus’ nature: He did not want to do the thing he came here to do.

Part 2: Human Desire and Divine Will

Art depicting Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane often shows a pensive, kneeling Christ, hands clasped placidly, eyes turned gently upward to heaven. The verses, on the other hand, describe him sweating so hard it ran down his skin like blood, throwing himself face-first on the ground, begging God multiple times to please, if there’s any other way, let’s do that. Please, don’t make me do this–“yet not my will, but yours be done.” In this moment, that singular phrase, we see that Christ experiences a will that is on some level separate from God’s and that he can acknowledge it. He has a desire for self-preservation, security, and for connection with God. I’m certain that he was aware that in his act of sacrifice, he’d experience the feeling of separation from Divinity due to sin for the first and only time.

Christ did not want to be tortured to death, even though that’s what he came here to do, and even though resurrection was on the other side. It is not wrong to desire safety and connection. The whole reason why Christ’s admonishment to “take up your cross daily and follow” him works is because he knew what it was like to be really really freaked out about doing that literal thing, and then doing it anyway. Christ’s death and resurrection symbolizes our chance to die to things that scare us and come alive in deeper truth, gaining stronger and stronger connections with God through the process. That’s why taking up your cross is a “daily” action: we’re constantly dying to old shit and being born with new, more loving perspectives that come from a deeper relationship with God.

I spent a lot of my early life being told that my sinful thoughts and desires were enough to keep me from God, and that someone had to be tortured to death over them. It is insane that a child would be taught that. It is so wildly harmful to teach kids that they are responsible for every thought and want that crosses their mind and heart, that many of these notions and desires are evil and expressions of their inadequacy. Most human beings will never gain full control of their thoughts, and even in his final moments Christ did not dictate his surface-level desires, only his actions–why would Love itself condemn us to separation and death for something over which we have no control?

I think the difficulty a lot of Christians have with reconciling Christ’s divine/human nature lies in this belief that we are inherently separate from God, which is the idea of “original sin.” But we weren’t created apart from God. In order to experience separation (the fall), there needs to have been a state of union in the first place. The deeper reality is that we’re still connected to God–the original condition is one of union/love/honor, not separation/sin. The pain and fear we experience comes from the rupture/separation/sin, and we perceive it as painful because it is not our original and natural state! But it’s up to us to repair that relationship and seek union. If separation was and is our choice, reunion is available to us as well. We have free will and infinite chances–we asked for knowledge, and now we’re here learning how to recognize our connection with God, ourselves, and each-other.

Our perception of ourselves as inherently sinful allows us to divide Jesus; he becomes human in body, but completely divine in spirit and mind. He becomes a peel that can be separated from the rest of the fruit. A part of God, apart from the other parts. There is no clean splice, though. As Jesus says in John 14:11: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” The Son cannot exist outside of the Father. They are in complete union with each other, and when we see this, Christ says we also get to join in on the party: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Seeing that someone can act in complete accord with divinity, even in the face of terror, allows us the opportunity to do the same and experience that union ourselves. Recognizing the human Christ’s relationship with God immediately brings us into that same relationship, because we instantly begin to see Christ in ourselves and ourselves in Christ. Allowing Christ humanity and divinity is an acceptance of our own and others’ combo human/divine nature. And once we see that, we get the chance to act in accord with divinity, and with acknowledgement, respect, and acceptance for our collective and individual humanity. When we recognize our own individual connection with God, it becomes impossible to see others as completely separate beings. Knowing Divinity becomes knowing the Divinity within us and others. We all come from the same Source, and we can’t exist outside of that Source. Namaste, right?

Part 3: Dealing with Desire

Acceptance of our humanity is tricky, especially when we’re told by Christ to “deny ourselves.” This doesn’t mean to deny the fact that you have human desires/needs, it means to potentially deny action upon those desires, should they conflict with deeply respecting and loving God, yourself, and the rest of creation. Luke 9:23 says that denying yourself is only something you’ll need to do if you want to follow Christ. It’s a desire that drives you to Christ in the first place. We can only act in the interest of what we most deeply want. If God themself had no desire to self-express through creation, nothing would be. But with God/Love/Source, desire=will=action=being. God by nature is in and is itself the state of complete harmony. Christ, as a human, understood what it felt like to have desires that were self-interested, but as a human in complete connection with the Divine, his deepest desires were to always act in the most loving ways available to creation, even if that meant doing something he found completely terrifying. Again, “yet not my will, but yours be done,” indicating that Christ’s deepest desire, even deeper than the individual desire to stay alive, was in connection with God’s will.

You can’t deny a desire if you don’t have the want in the first place. Judging yourself for how heavy your cross is, or how weak you are won’t help you carry it. Nor is the lesson to be silently embarrassed or deeply ashamed of your struggles. Even Christ stumbled (according to tradition, not Scripture) and had help carrying his literal cross. It’s so much easier to get past your surface desires and into the shit that really matters if you’re not judging yourself for having wants from the get-go. Desire is not inherently evil; I argue that it’s a necessary part of creative expression. God has a will, and us tapping into that will and enacting it in our own lives doesn’t always have to mean agonizing pain. A lot of the time, it can look as simple as defying a way of inauthentic, painful being that was handed to us by society, family, whatever. It’s scary and uncomfortable to move past that desire for acceptance, but the other side is peace. The other side of the cross is resurrection, after all. Suffering and torment is not God’s end game. Connection and life is.

The other side of carrying your cross every day, denying old ways of being, is resurrection into new life and freedom. There is peace to be found here, even if it feels uncomfortable at first to get this place. Even if it’s scary to ask for help with dealing with your issues. Even if it churns your gut to look at your cross, to acknowledge its existence. Your surface level desires are probably to avoid discomfort (mine are). The thing is, your deepest desires will probably lead you through the discomfort in the direction of wholeness. But you can’t figure out what those deep wants are if you’re blaming yourself for having desires in the first place (and probably coping with that guilt on some level by judging other people for wanting what they want). That’s not bearing your cross.

In Gethsemane, Jesus didn’t hold back from telling his disciples that he was “overwhelmed with sorrow;” he wasn’t trying to hide his fear of what was coming. Hell, he was having his sweaty emotional breakdown only a short distance away from his disciples, who he’d asked to stay awake to be with him. Christ wasn’t judging himself for having desires, he didn’t need to justify his request to be spared should that be an option. He didn’t try to remain as composed and meditative as possible. He allowed himself time to struggle with the incredible amount of pain that was expected of him, and I believe that allowed him to treat his torturers and betrayers with kindness and forgiveness. Treating yourself with non-judgement allows you to treat others with that same graceful understanding.

Part 4: Personal Stuff

In my life, at least, this notion that every fleeting thought and desire that passes through me is indicative of my character and grounds for rejection has been exceptionally painful. As a kid that really wanted more than anything to be good, wanted approval like air, I’d end up judgmentally fixating on thoughts and wants that I was told were sinful. Combined with a predisposition for racing thoughts that’d keep me awake for hours at night even as a young kid, I’d overthink not so much everything I did and said, but every feeling/thought/desire I had. As an adult that’s had to deal with that pattern, it’s led to a real struggle with acknowledging and standing up for things that are important to me. It’s led to me feeling bad for having any desires at all, and it’s taken so, so much practice just to get curious about my desires without immediately casting judgement on them. It’s incredibly painful to be constantly blaming yourself for fleeting emotions, in part because it’s the judgement that makes the feelings stick around! Repressing desires and thoughts is not denying yourself/taking up your cross. It’s self harm–non-erotic, punitive auto-asphyxiation. Approaching your desires with curiosity and the goal of understanding allows you the openness to figure out where they’re coming from, what level they’re on, and whether you really wanna act on them. And from that place of non-judgmental self-control, it becomes easier and easier to take responsibility for your actions. Apologies can actually be genuine, while asserting your needs becomes more natural. The cool thing is, you end up making better decisions too.

You deserve to feel comfortable with the core of who you are. You weren’t made to suffer. You weren’t designed for judgement and rejection. You’re good, yo.

Christlike Rioting

Black and white ink drawing of Christ purging the temple by Luca Giordano


I’m Black and American, and I have a vested interest in the actions related to the Black Lives Matter movement that popped off in the late spring of this year. So let’s talk about rioting and property destruction, and its Christlike potential. Many other articles, videos, tweets, etc. have circulated arguing that police brutality against human beings is drastically more alarming than community rage overflowing onto storefronts. This meme has also seen the rounds:

A meme that reads "Destruction of property is not a valid form of protest" "Jesus: " image of Jesus flipping tables in the Temple courtyard.

It’s funny and gets the point across, but there’s a deep level of connection between Christ’s cleansing of the temple and our current situation that I want to further explore.

Scriptural Sources

In all 4 Gospels, Jesus destructively clears out the temple in Jerusalem at Passover. There are distinctions in the stories–this potentially even happened multiple times, as John records a clearing 3 years before the other accounts (before Jesus is even baptized), while Matthew, Mark, and Luke record a clearing after his triumphal entry (mere days before his crucifixion). Despite the potential timeline discrepancy, the gist is the same:

Jesus forcibly drove out the moneychangers, traders, and merchants. He flipped over their tables and scattered their coins. He told them to get their livestock and leave, because they were degrading God’s house. In some accounts, he goes as far to refer to the merchants as robbers and thieves, citing Jeremiah 7. At one point Jesus made an improvised whip, and there is debate as to whether he used it on the merchants themselves or just the livestock. This was wanton destruction of property and complete disruption of an established market.

Why were people selling livestock in the temple anyway??

Passover was and is an opportunity for communal worship and celebration (a bit more on the holiday itself in the Postscript). In Exodus and Deuteronomy, all males are required to “appear before the Lord” in the Temple three times each year, including during Passover, and it’s specified that no participant should appear without an offering. Fast-forwarding to Jesus’ time (the time of the Second Temple), when the Jewish diaspora had spread through the Roman Empire, there seems to have been a societal relaxation around that command. According to Professor and Rabbi Shmuel Safrai, pilgrims might’ve made the journey to the Second Temple only once per year (as seemed to be the case for Jesus when he was growing up), or even once in their lives. This was, therefore, an incredibly important opportunity to offer sacrifice, since sacrifice could only be offered at the Temple, and traveling with a living sacrifice wasn’t easy. That’s where the Temple merchants that Jesus accosted come in. For their richer clients, they had bulls, calves, etc., while poor folks were able to purchase doves for sacrifice.

Then in-temple livestock sales sound very convenient. What’s wrong about selling the creatures necessary for sacrifice?

The likely/most obvious answer is that the moneychangers & merchants were using this as an opportunity to turn a profit. (Hence the label of “robbers and thieves.”) By overcharging for sacrifices, they both defied Levitical law and desecrated the sanctuary’s purpose. They were exploiting the necessity of sacrifices (an important means to atone for sin, thank God, and lead a life in accordance with law). They turned an opportunity for worship/community support into a means for gain at the literal expense of those who most needed their services. The corruption even potentially extended to the ranks of Temple officiants, religious leaders, and worshippers, as the Jeremiah quote that Jesus references speaks more generally about people who feel secure in their prosperity while exploiting the most vulnerable among them.

Jesus took issue with the exploitation of God’s house to exploit God’s people–these two forms of evil were always one in the same to him. I remember a pastor teaching my childhood congregation that Jesus was disgusted with the commotion and filth caused by hosting animals in the courtyard… but that perspective doesn’t really compel me considering Christ’s specific focus on the transactional/theft element. Sacrifices were affairs filled with blood and entrails, so I have a hard time believing that Jesus was just violently grossed out by the stink and noise of living animals in what would otherwise be a bustling courtyard filled with sweaty pilgrims and ritually impure gentiles that he had no problem with.

Which leads us to Christ’s purpose: Union with the Divine. 

Upon Jesus’ death, the veil separating the most holy place (where no one except the high priest was allowed to go once per year) from the rest of the temple (including the cleared outer courtyard where people of varying status–including goyim–could enter) tore in 2 from top to bottom. Symbolically, this represents how Christ’s sacrifice was the ultimate sacrifice, and because of it we have direct access to God. There is nothing separating us anymore. God/Divinity/Source lives in us, making us Their/His/Her/Its temple. To murder, brutalize, or otherwise exploit another human being is to desecrate God’s temple and disrespect a Creator that expresses Themself through us

Referring to our bodies as temples often functioned as an admonishment to not get tattoos, eat too much sugar, or have premarital sex in the conservative Christian education I received growing up. But I think it’s more important to consider it in regards to our treatment of each other. George Floyd’s body was a temple of the Most High. The bodies of my ancestors that somehow survived the brutal subjugation and complete exploitation (of physical and reproductive labor especially) that was American slavery were homes of the Divine. God *lived* within and through Breonna Taylor. And daily, hourly, minutely we desecrate these temples by exploiting them for financial and egotistic gain. I say we because while I have never ground someone’s face into the pavement, listening to their cries for help as I felt the life seep out of them, I’m a human who has exploited others’ kindness, naivety, insecurity, and trust. I’ve desecrated temples of the God I worship, as I try to be a home for that same Divine force! All this while knowing what it’s like to have my own home/temple be exploited and used. I don’t know about you, but there are moments where I’ve wished that there was someone willing to riot against the misuse of my body, my time, my self.

Jesus’ objection to the financial aspect of exploitation is particularly relevant here. American slavery in its original form and modern incarnation in the prison system are perfect examples of desecrating people/temples for financial gain. The Trump administration’s willingness to financially exploit desperate people by not offering nearly enough aid in a pandemic that *did not* have to result in the death of over 200,000 people/homes for the Divine is another deep correlation.

If you’re more focused on condemning oppressed people for not prioritizing property than you are on condemning the exploitation of the oppressed, and if you’re of the Christian persuasion… maybe try imagining individual human beings as temples for God. If property destruction and theft enrages you more than the death of a Black person, try to remember that Christ didn’t die to save Walmart, small businesses, or (since COVID is still killing massive numbers of people) “the economy” at large.

Concerning the Issue of Property Destruction

I do not think that smashing shop windows is a “cleansing,” but I honestly see it as a moral neutral. Certain institutions *do* need to be physically and systemically destroyed, and the expression of rage that comes in the form of destructive protest is legitimate, in my opinion. However, it’s not the most effective channelling of that rage, a fact which the general non-activist public has woken up to, and is taking action towards. (This includes me, I’m 100% not condescending to anyone here.)

How do we “Cleanse the Temple,” then?

To me, Cleansing the Temple in American society involves prison abolition, for its inextricable link to financial exploitation. I’m involved with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, an organization that’s been around since 1995 advocating for prison abolition while supporting incarcerated individuals on a personal level. MPD 150 has some wonderful resources for explaining to others the importance of police abolition, which is linked to prison abolition. If you have other resources that you think could tie in here, please comment on this post or email/message me so that I can add them to this post!

On a personal level, I think cleansing the temple involves passionate defense of your sacred self. If someone’s/something’s trying to extract gain from you to your detriment, get yo whip. If you find yourself trying to exploit another person for self-serving benefit, flip your own table, right? Make sure your dealings and interactions with other people are honest, fair, and in honor of each other’s sanctity. Hold others to that same standard in their treatment of you. If you’re a Christian who finds it easy to value possessions over human wellbeing, remember that our lives are the possessions of God. (Yes 1 Cor 6:12-20 is about sexual sin, yes I will be writing about that later on, no I’m not advocating for purity culture. For now, check out Col. 2:20-23.) You are the Holiest of Holies, and so is that person you just made that snide comment about, so check yourself, you know?

Aftermath of the Cleansing

In Luke and Mark, Jesus’ clearing of the temple is named as the action which incites community religious leaders to plan his death. In John and Matthew, it’s followed by open disdain from the same leaders, who ask him what authority he has to act like that, and to be called God. This wasn’t a polite, uncontroversial action. This was a passionate, immediate, violent defense of that which Christ considered sacred: human life and our capacity to connect with God. And it got him killed. But that’s the irony of consistently/brazenly prioritizing human life and wellbeing over pure material gain–you will 100% be faced with discomfort, feelings of unwellness, and at most extreme, bodily harm and even death. But like… what else are we here for? The fking stock market?? Are we here to extract as much wealth and glory from our surroundings as possible? Did God make us in the pattern of divinity to defend Walmart and die for the economy??? No, so let’s act accordingly.


Interestingly, Passover itself (the festival setting the stage for the Temple cleansing) draws a correlation here. 

Passover celebrates what is IMO a complicated event in Jewish tradition. The short version of the story: For centuries, Jewish people were enslaved and violently oppressed by Egyptians. God charged Moses, a Jewish man raised in Pharaoh’s palace, with asking Egypt’s ruler to release the Jews. Pharaoh said “no, in fact Imma make life worse for them.” Then God sent a series of plagues targeting the Egyptians. The last plague was the death of the Firstborn, whereupon every firstborn being (human or animal) would die unless the household marked their doorframe with the blood from a sacrificed lamb.

After this incredible devastation and the personal loss of his son, Pharaoh released the Jews. 

Through deep grief, Pharaoh came to learn that human life was more important than his ego, than his dominance, than the labor and wealth he was able to forcibly extract from his Jewish citizens.

Black people & all other overtly oppressed people around the world already know this. The economy, buildings, material gain is worth nothing of true value. Our lives are. Our lives are what matters.

It is worth noting that, in this story, Egyptians were not automatically targeted, and Jews were not automatically saved. The choice to be saved was personal/familial–each household chose to mark their door. The information was given by Moses to the Jews, but Egyptians were not excluded from the practice. Symbolically speaking, even from the first sacrifice of the lamb, God didn’t exclude goyim. The Bible makes no mention of Egyptians that marked their doorways, (and in fact specifies that there was not a household that hadn’t lost someone) but let’s play with that possibility. Were there any Egyptian households brave enough to step out of a comforting sense of superiority and listen to their Jewish neighbors? Which Egyptians went out of their way to support their Jewish friends before it was a matter of life and death? Did any Egyptians flee with the Jews, joining the ranks of God’s chosen? Did they see the warnings of a failing system, recognize the brutality of enslavement, and abandon their status to stand in solidarity with the oppressed? I’d like to think some did, and that they survived and grew because of it.

Jesus’ quoting of Jeremiah 7 in referring to merchants as robbers & thieves provides a similar insight. During the existence of the First Temple, rampant corruption and exploitation existed alongside prideful celebration of prosperity. Since the people were unwilling to address their misuse of the Temple and their mistreatment of each other, Jeremiah prophesied the Temple’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II, which shortly followed. This is a worthwhile reminder that identifying as the good guy isn’t the same thing as doing good. That material prosperity is not a sign of moral purity. That sometimes the oppression is coming from inside the house–that all “us” vs “them” is constructed and in no way inherent.

We are all God’s people. In the words of Gwendolyn Brooks, “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” The oppression of one group is the detriment of all of us, and that lesson will be learned even when we are in deep denial of it.

My hope for us as individuals and a species is that in so many ways, we take the survivable warnings of our lives seriously. That we don’t learn only when it’s too late to save what is truly important.

Cuz when God says “let my people go,” the “or else” is implied.


I find myself having a lot of conversations and thoughts about God, specifically through a Christian understanding. I figured it might be interesting/beneficial to document and share those somewhere.

Personal history with Christianity:
I’ve been deeply interested in spirituality for my entire life, and have always believed in some Divine force. I was brought up in a Christian home, and until college every school I attended was a private Christian institution of varying degrees of conservative-ness. Fortunately, my little queer self had supportive parents who prioritized faith over dogma and curiosity over uncritical acceptance. Unfortunately, the amount of judgement I encountered from Christian authority figures in my school and church led me to depart from my faith when I graduated high school.
I was reintroduced to Christ in 2018 from a perspective different from anything I’d been previously exposed to, and–after a truly bizarre scorpio new moon–I re-committed myself to Christ. In June-ish 2019, the same friend who reintroduced me to Christ challenged me to read the Bible cover to cover. Over the course of the following year I did, finishing in May 2020. 

To say that I learned a lot over the course of that year is a wild understatement, which is why this blog exists.

What you can expect from my writing:
I hope to analyze scripture in a way that provides practical insight into how to connect with God and create a super dope world. Expect Biblical study, resource sharing, calls to action (if you have community initiatives to promote, please feel free to send them my way!), and lots o’ love & encouragement. There will be some diversions from God-talk, but that’s the heart of this site, obviously.
I really hope that what I write impacts you in some way, even if it evokes indignation. Reach out to me through the contact page if you have any questions or comments that you don’t want to leave on the website.

Why Card Carrying Christian?
Because I read Tarot cards, which I’ve been known to carry around.
And I’m a 100% registered Christian.

I don’t have a posting schedule at the moment, so if this writing sounds interesting to you, please subscribe for email notifications.