Redefining Lukewarm
March 25, 2010

I’ve been trying to make shorter, more ADD-friendly posts, especially since this particular layout makes paragraphs look longer than they actually are. But I just couldn’t trim this one that much. So I hope you’ll read this short story regardless…

I’m about 95% recovered from a nasty bout with a lung infection. I’m already somewhat OCD when it comes to ailments (of any kind) and I sometimes trend towards hypochondria. If I’ve got a headache I’ll think it indicates a brain tumor. Or if fluorescent lighting emphasizes a bluish hue in my finger tips, I’ll think I’m suffering a systemic blood clot that may result in an aneurysm. So for the past three weeks I’ve perceived myself more as a helpless, pale recipient of The Plague than a normally healthy 30-something.

But this bout did in fact involve several episodes of high fever, terribly painful, persistent coughing, and I ended up losing about 10 pounds over 10 days. And you must understand that I’m not used to fever. One day, for example, I gave a presentation at work, then almost immediately afterward I started feeling awfully cold, almost shivering. I was achy and feverish feeling, so I went home. I in fact had an elevated temperature.

People told me that I should focus on nourishment. Drink plenty of water of course, but feed yourself healthy things. Oh, that was wonderful…because I had absolutely no appetite. The thought of eating was repulsive. And some people say that you should take a hot bath and bundle up. Others say you should go naked.

I took a hot bath and bundled up. That felt right. I donned a long-sleeve shirt and a thick jacket, thick sweat pants, thick socks, wool-lined house shoes…and yes, gloves…In my 75-degree house. But then I got hot as hell. So I started removing clothes. But if I removed too much clothing, I would start feeling chilled. Perfect. I removed the gloves, that was okay, although I distinctly felt the cooler air settle on my hands, I could handle it. I removed my down ski jacket. That felt okay. Rolled up my sleeves. Shit, that’s too cold. Got goose bumps. Pushed the sleeves back down. Ahhh, better. Removed something else. Oops. Too much. Okay, better now. Oh wait, too cold. And on and on the process went, very gradually, until I ended up naked on the bed with the fan on. I fell comfortably asleep and woke up feeling much better (for that day).

But I had to go gradually. I had to pay attention to my body and go at its pace. I couldn’t just apply one rule altogether. I couldn’t just go from bundled to naked or vice-versa in one move. I had to blend practices. And by no means could I freaking “nourish” myself. Water, sure. Fruit? Fuck off. I just could not force feed myself.

During this process a mental light flicked on. I was checking my email while shivering and it hit me. I started crying. Maybe the fever was seeping into my brain and was about to cause an aneurysm and thus the sensitive emotions, but the moment was special nonetheless:

Most of my life I was taught that, spiritually speaking, you absolutely must be on one side or the other. You must be on fire, hot for God, or cold as the devil’s heart, devoted to Satan himself. You cannot be a fence-straddler. You are either fully with God or against him. You are either with the church or with the world. You are either a God-fearing conservative Republican or you’re a left-wing communist dictator lover. You must either go to Sunday school and youth group every Sunday and Wednesday and never ever hang out with those kids who smoke, or you might as well be a devil-worshiper. There is no in-between. Otherwise, according to Revelations 3:16, you are lukewarm and God will spit you out of his mouth like the snot you are.

Now, if you start getting confused by hanging out with those kids who smoke or the left-wingers, the demons are starting to get to you (and that’s probably why you’re sick) and they’ll try to pull you over to their side. And since you can’t be in-between, you had better start getting back into the Word of God and nourish your spirit and rebuke that spirit of confusion. You’ve opened the door to demons, so you’ve GOT to take the medicine of the Word. You have to meditate on scripture day and night. Fill your mind with God’s Word so there’s no room for the enemy. You have to get yourself red hot, on fire for God, to burn away the sin in your life.

Those were the instructions. Force feed yourself Scripture. Either spend all your spare time at church or you might as well be getting drunk and fornicating. Admittedly, I may be exaggerating the instructions a bit, but the essence remains.

But I think what I learned from my recent experiences with managing high fever can apply to a spiritual journey as well. I learned that you cannot force feed yourself something you really don’t want. Otherwise you’re just adding another layer of stress to your healing process. I learned that maybe you can’t always apply either the make-yourself-hot OR the make-yourself-cold approach. Sometimes, to remain healthy, you have to alternate between the two. You need a little heat and a little cold. And you need to do it at a pace that feels right, that assists with the natural, intuitive processes.

So maybe instead of stressing about being either-or and condemning ourselves and others for not choosing sides, we can choose to see “lukewarm” as a good thing. It’s about balance, not compromise. And I don’t necessarily mean a balance between “good” and “evil,” but rather a balance in our perception in what really is good and what is evil. And it’s about taking things at a natural pace. Receiving input and giving output as we feel compelled, not as we try to compel ourselves or others.

Maybe I can learn something in conversations with “the other.” Maybe there’s a reason I prefer to hang out with atheists than Christians. Maybe there’s a reason that I am intuitively drawn to rejects more than winners. And maybe, instead of stressing about not memorizing enough Bible verses – or not reading the Bible at all – I can pick up a holy book only if and when I feel compelled to. Maybe then I would actually get something more out of it than the pride of being able to say I spent four hours reading it.

Because, whatever God’s attributes may or may not be, I believe that an almighty designer of the universe might suggest a more holistic approach to spirituality and life in general. By holistic I mean balanced, unforced, intuitive. But perhaps a certain first-century prophet once said it best:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28)

Peace to you.