Christ's Glory, Not Mine

Devotions, advice, and book reviews from science fiction author Andrea J. Graham

What are trigger warnings? Are they bad?

photo credit: Giorgio Galeotti Non-Violence – UN, New York, NY, USA – August 18, 2015 via photopin (license)
Trigger warnings have gotten a bad rap from abuse of them as an excuse to shut down dissenting viewpoints. This has tragic results for everyone. The growing lack of respectful debate leaves us all poorer off intellectually, and the backlash against it is understandable. My concern is with the backlash’s tragic potential to endanger our ill neighbors’ health.

The abused word “trigger” comes from conditions like PTSD, migraines, and seizures where those conditions’ symptoms are triggered (or worsened) by environmental stimuli; flashing lights, loud noise, and the person consuming specific foods can all be triggers along with detailed accounts of violent acts. A trigger is to mental health and neurological health what an allergen is to immune system health. Some patients, with some conditions, with much, intensive medical treatment, may eventually be able to overcome their triggers. However, avoidance is always part of the treatment plan. And some triggers, just like some allergies, can only be treated by avoidance. For example, migraine patients and seizure patients can’t stop having a migraine or a seizure when exposed to their own specific triggers.

In a similar fashion, autism spectrum disorders and ADHD can also have a legit medical sensitivity to sensory stimuli that needs managed by the patients or their parents and teachers in the case of young children.

Some believe the adult patients’ and the child patients’ guardians’ above responsibility means we are not responsible to look out for them. If they were being responsible, they wouldn’t need us to look out for them, right?

What you may not realize is most people with legit trigger-sensitive medical conditions DO take ownership of their illness and do take responsibility to manage it. They must in order to live with it each day. As their neighbors, especially if we are Christians, we do have a responsibility to be kind and compassionate, to love our sick neighbors and avoid knowingly exposing them to stuff that we’ve been made aware is harmful to them.

Perhaps, when we’re hosting our neighbors, we can’t avoid all legitimate common triggers and common allergens to protect our ill neighbors’ health. After all, this would mean unfairly depriving ninety-nine healthy sheep for the sake of one sick sheep. Christ would leave the ninety-nine spiritually healthy sheep to go after one lost sheep, but to ask the ninety-nine to go without for the sake of even one ill sheep?

That is a Christian love that not all are ready to walk in. If so, the least we can do is love our neighbors as ourselves by alerting them to any hazards to their health that we know about, but they don’t have reason to expect.

Note it is not necessary to label a trigger warning as such. In fact, with all the present negativity, it’s probably better not to use that phrase except in articles about them. To give a trigger warning, simply make it clear upfront a common trigger is coming and give anyone who needs to avoid it for health reasons a chance to leave or otherwise protect themselves.

It’s important to only use trigger warnings properly, as the equivalent of letting people with peanut allergies know a dish contains peanuts or peanut oil. You know, so the allergic person can avoid the allergen. Avoid wording trigger warnings in a way that discourages everyone from enjoying. And they should never be used as a weapon to silence dissent. Labeling all dissent as “triggering” is bad for everyone in and of itself and bad in that it has a crying wolf effect that potentially puts people with medical conditions with genuine environmental triggers in real danger to their health.

That said, after we’ve been made aware of the legit needs, it is unkind, selfish, and uncompassionate to refuse to warn ill people of something that will make them ill. Yes, we are our brother’s keeper. It’s only due to a widespread lack of love and consideration for others that ill people can’t expect all common allergens and common triggers to be clearly identified to them in advance so they won’t be caught by surprise. Our not looking out for our neighbors leaves patients with a bad choice between risking exposure to something that will hurt them, and assuming they’ll be exposed and staying safe but perhaps needlessly deprived and isolated from the world.

Triggers crop up all the time in places that had previously been safe for the patient. Leaving them guessing can do real harm. Let’s love our sick neighbors by making ourselves aware of the legitimate needs that trigger warnings do have their proper usage for. Again, their proper use is not to shut down debate or to deprive you of a pleasure that is safe for you to enjoy. Used properly, trigger warnings simply make people with legit needs aware of the presence of a trigger they must avoid for health reasons.

Disclosure: I suffer migraines that are worsened and occasionally caused by flashing lights and blinking images. Information overload causes my brain to either meltdown or shutdown but I can tell from an event’s description and its posted length whether I’ll need to excuse myself from a session or two to decompress, if my brain requires more breaks than are scheduled. God used my suffering to raise my awareness of these issues and to teach me compassion for others. My goal here wasn’t to benefit myself but others.


Shoes

The  shoes pictures above arrived just before Christmas but they were not a Christmas present. They do, however, have something in common with John the Baptist.

The reason I received the shoes goes back to October. I was walk/running at the City of Trees Half-Marathon.  It was the first of four half-marathons in the Run 4 Heaven’s Gate, to raise money for HIV/AIDS orphans in India.

My primary reason for doing that many runs is to raise money for the kids , but whenever I’m competing in anything, I want to do my best. Let’s be honest for a second. I am a plodding and lumbering man whose best wouldn’t impress many hardcore runners, but to my credit, I wasn’t as slow as I was when I started out years before.  I did one half-marathon in July just for fun and clocked in at under 4 hours and was very proud of myself and I intended to do the same in City of Trees.

I started out doing very well for me, but the second half of the race was a lot of getting passed as my leg began to protest around Mile 10 that they were not fans of this whole running thing. Despite getting slowed down, I still had to finish under 4 hours, and then I took a slight wrong down the finish line. I was corrected and back on course in less than a minute. I finished in four hours…and three seconds. I was so annoyed with myself. My teammates were all wonderfully supportive and while I was glad to have finished, I was annoyed at myself though I said little about it.

However, as I was sitting there, eating my after-race snack, a lady came up to me who had been one of the top finishers and told me she was from out of town and gave me a $25 gift certificate to the local running store. Another man gave me a certificate for a new pair of running shoes from La Sportiva saying he was also not from around here.  I found this odd because it was a mail-in certificate so he didn’t have to be from Boise.  If he were a travelling runner, he might have his own preferred shoes he buys and not want to mess with another brand. Regardless, I didn’t press the point, not wanting to look gift shoes in the mouth.

It occurred to me that if I’d finished half an hour earlier like I had wanted, I probably would not have been around to receive these generous gifts. I would have ate my snacks, waited for the last few of our runners to come in and then gone home. While I hadn’t achieved what I’d wanted and finished later than I would have liked, I’d arrived in perfect time to receive an unexpected blessing.

The Bible is full of people who waited long and hard for God’s  blessing. Consider the case of Elizabeth, who probably married Zechariah while she was a teenager. She doubtless was ready for a baby to come within a year or two of their marriage.  Yet, the years past and then became decades. She saw her friends and family have children and grandchildren while she had none. However, God  had  a special blessing for her.  She would be the mother of John of whom Our Lord would proclaim, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”  (Matthew 11:11).

God’s blessing to Elizabeth is an encouragement to all of us who see others  being blessed and wonder if we’ve missed it. We wonder if God will ever do anything in our lives or if he has forgotten us. We can rest assured that God will work in our lives according to his timing. It will not be in the same way as he has worked in the lives of others, but will surprise and maybe amaze us.


One Inconvenient Pregnancy Saved Us All

photo credit: Riccardo Palazzani – Italy Presepe 2013 via photopin (license)

A popular meme at Christmas states “One Unplanned Pregnancy Saved us All.” The intended point is true enough, however let’s make that lovely point in a theologically accurate way. To start with, due to what people usually mean by “unplanned pregnancy,” calling Christ the product of one implies Mary had either been raped or had slept with Joseph, accidentally got pregnant, and lied about Christ being God’s child and herself being still a virgin.

To fix the issue, I propose a slight rephrasing, the title of this post, “One Inconvenient Pregnancy Saved us All.” This also expands the point, and I hope my rephrasing to inconvenient will be carefully considered by anyone pregnant in circumstances that make pregnancy most inconvenient, even if the pregnancy had in fact been desired before the bad circumstances arose.

However, while the timing of Mary’s pregnancy was far from convenient in her culture, it wasn’t unplanned. God had been planning it for an eternity. Thanks to the prophets, God’s people had been expecting the Messiah’s birth for a long time, too. So God and God’s bride, Israel, had both been planning to have this child. All that was hidden from Israel was exactly when* and which literal woman would carry their child and raise their child. Israel also glossed over a few Biblical prophecies about the Messiah while Israel excitedly planned out exactly what Messiah would be.

*The book of Daniel did prophesy accurately how many years it’d be until Messiah’s birth, but it doesn’t specify the exact day and hour.

Granted, Mary did begin planning for herself to be the Messiah’s mother on rather short notice. And Joseph wasn’t planning for his bride to have a child with the Holy Ghost beforehand at all, but he was not the pregnant one or the child’s biological father. Besides, the greater lesson, to all of us, is Mary’s total faithfulness to God, her willingness to radically change her plans at God’s request via Gabriel on such short notice.

And, when God sent Gabriel to Joseph, Joseph likewise accepted the challenge to change his plans.

Betrothed couples like Mary and Joseph were not engaged in the modern sense; they were already legally married. In their culture, you signed the marriage license first, then came a waiting period where the bride remained in her father’s house while her bridegroom prepared for her. After this, he came for his bride, and they had the wedding and the wedding night.

I respect it is not planned to some people’s thinking for Joseph and Mary, on such short notice from God, to change their plans during that waiting period, to him coming for his bride sooner than he’d planned previously, but it wasn’t an unplanned pregnancy, and they were married. The waiting period was not a culturally convenient time for her to get pregnant, but it was the best time for God’s purposes, as it was the only time then that God’s son could be both born from a virgin and be born legitimately within wedlock.

That’s said, let’s do make a great side point to the Christmas story and encourage moms to carry inconvenient pregnancies to term. Let’s do admire how they did the right thing despite the likely nasty accusations, when both truly had done no wrong. Let’s also remember this Christmas, at its core, their story is a story of faith. Their example to us all is one of being willing, in any situation, to change our plans if God asks us to, even it’s on short notice and inconveniences us.

Merry Christmas!


Suffering: Leave the Competition, Join the Fellowship.

photo credit: John925 (Seeing With New Eyes) On The Third Day via photopin (license)

In this world today, I see a phenomena, a human behavior I will call “the competition of suffering.” In the competition of suffering, sufferers with this mindset behave like they must compete with other sufferers to win a prize for having suffered the most. They fight each other for resources viewed as limited, that sometimes truly are scarce in the world–resources like compassion, caring, and help of all sorts. Competitive sufferers dismiss and minimize other sufferers’ pain while seeking more sympathy, comfort, etc. for themselves.

Indeed, some competitive sufferers will go so far as to claim someone else’s suffering is not only inferior to theirs and less worthy of compassion, etc. than theirs, but that the other person is not truly a sufferer at all, they are a lucky or blessed person who needs to be grateful and stop complaining.

Such sad attitudes are to be expected among those without the love of Christ in their lives. Let those of us who know better patiently, gently correct such painfully distorted views of suffering. Including the idea that being grateful is an instant, total cure for pain and that we can’t both be both hurting over a loss and grateful for what we do have at the same time.

Now, let’s be honest. Those of us who do know the Lord can also fall into such thinking, myself included. I pray those of who know and love the Lord would watch ourselves, lest we enter into the world’s competitive suffering rather than entering into the fellowship of suffering.

That phrase comes from this text:

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that . . . I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings. Phil 3:8a,10a (see full context)

In the fellowship of suffering, there is no room for competition, as we all crown our Lord Jesus Christ the victor. He carried the whole sins of the world, all of the Church’s pain and suffering, on that cross. Christ has compassion on each and all of us, fairly and equally, and the Lord has more than enough help available to give to us all. Christ went to the cross to save us all from our sufferings, Christ’s spirit is in us all, and he is suffering along with all of us, and we are all simply fellow partakers in Christ’s passion, and after this temporary life’s pains, we will all partake in eternal joy with him in the Kingdom.

The Fellowship of Suffering is like a group of marathon runners, all on the same team, who each run hard, cheer each other on, and there is no prize for being the fastest or the person who endured the worst. Instead, we all run to receive our “finisher” (overcomer) prize at eternity’s finish line.

In this life, we get to be the Lord’s hands and feet. When the Lord has strengthened us and lifted us up, we get to strengthen and lift up our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ as freely as we have received it ourselves. We get to leave the ninety-nine to care for the one, if that’s what God calls us to. We each get to give of what we have been blessed with abundantly to those who have need of it.

Sadly, the Fellowship of suffering itself can be as divided as the whole church often is racially. I’ve seen an elderly widow who has also lost a son and an infertile woman who lost her mom and both of her grandmothers walk in the Fellowship of Suffering together. But in the absence of other similar or complementary forms of grief binding God’s people, how much “Fellowship of Suffering” do we see between, say, women under forty with primary infertility and moms the same age with secondary infertility or who have lost a child before or after the child’s birth?

Now let’s take all harried, working Moms with too few hours in the day and infertile women who’d planned to start families right away and homeschool who are having to decide how to spend the time not going to our children as we’d planned. How often is the woman with too little time to herself and the woman with too much of it all “sisters in suffering!” toward each other?

For an example not involving death or infertility, how much fellowship of suffering do we see practiced between those of us who are struggling to get down to a healthy weight and our brothers and sisters who are struggling to get up to a healthy weight?

In Christ, the Church should be able to bring all of these together, as well as the never-married woman who can’t find a husband, the single mom whose husband has left her, the happily married infertile woman, and the refugee woman whose faith in Christ has cost her everything but her life.

How often do we reach out to anyone suffering so differently than us?

Let’s each search our own hearts, gentle reader, asking the Lord:

Have I been participating any in the competition of suffering? Arguing over who has suffered most, dismissing or minimizing another’s undeserved pain? Has my heart seen compassion, etc. as scarce resources I fear I don’t deserve or fear there won’t be enough of for everyone? Have I seen someone who has something good that I lack and greatly desire, someone who’s suffered due to that good something? Have I been tempted to dismiss their suffering, saying enviously, “at least they have . . .” ?

If so, Christ is holding out his nail-scarred hand to us. He calls gently, inviting us to leave the competition, and join the fellowship.