Shhh…

(Warning: Trigger alert for those who have experienced abuse or emotional trauma in a church setting.)

______

Shhh. You can’t say that!

What? Why not?*

It’s not positive. It doesn’t look good. People will think . . . Well, you just can’t put that stuff out there. At least not on Facebook.

But this is how I feel right now.

Yeah, I know. But it’s still not appropriate to spread that stuff around. People will think… Well, it just doesn’t seem right for a Christian to use that language.

What language? Words like ‘sad,’ ‘angry,’ ‘frustrated,’ and ‘disappointed’ are me right now.

Yeah. But maybe you could lift the tone a little . . .

You mean pretend?

Hmmm . . . No, well not . . . not rrreally. it’s just a little “attitude shift.” Be a little more upbeat, positive, happy.

Sounds like pretending to me.

No, it’s not . . . Well, maybe just a little. But it’s for a good cause. I mean, you don’t want everyone to catch your negativity. It is contagious, you know. People need to see that you’re victorious over your negative feelings. You need to be an example, a shining light of God’s joy, love and peace in difficult circumstances.

But I’m not happy right now. I’m churning up inside. I don’t have anything I feel that I can give right now.

Looking at the big picture, that’s not really important. Give your doubts to God. What people need to see is that you’re trusting God, that you believe God is in control.

church-lonelinessBut I don’t feel like anyone’s in control right now. I’m aching inside and I’m so mad at those stupid people. I warned them! When they stood up and said ‘We must do this,’ and ‘It’s part of God’s grand plan,’ I said, ‘How can God have such a nutty plan that requires us to check our brains at the door and blindly say ‘Yes’ to what one group of men has told us we should do?’

I know it looks complicated right now, but you’ll see one day as you look back on this time of testing that it was all for the best.

Really? The best for who? People are . . . hurting. I’m hurting. I’m afraid. I don’t feel like I have it in me to go back there.** My Facebook friends may be feeling the same way I am and they might need my understanding. They need to know they’re not the only ones who feel like this. But the truth is . . . The truth is we’re all grieving what could have been. We’re grieving what we could have accomplished, given the chance. We thought we would be heard and understood. . . . but it seems like we’ve been wasting our time. And now all we have is an empty feeling. Loss. Hurt. Grief. I’d like to think honesty would go a long way right now towards our collective healing and recovery. I just need to be real right now.

But people will think . . .

Think what? That I’m like them? That I’m human and have emotions? Flaws? Fears?

People will think you’re not a good example of a Christian.

That’s so shallow! Seriously? They can <insert your choice of expletive-laden phrase here> Let them think whatever they want to.

(And, just like that I had one less Facebook friend.)

_____

*Based on actual conversations. **Image from the pen of the talented David Hayward a.k.a. Naked Pastor www.nakedpastor.com. If you are suffering from or have experienced spiritual abuse, there is a community that can support and encourage you in your path towards healing at www.thelastingsupper.com

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

NarrowWayI remember when U2’s amazing song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For first came out on the radio. It was mid-1987 and I was a new church-planting pastor in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, working under a rather strict, fundamentalist mission. It was my duty to inform my congregation of the errors of the secular world and how their chosen path leads to destruction and eternal condemnation, to warn them of the dangers of uncertainty and lead them to an strong and unwavering faith in The Truth of God’s Word (at least our version of it).

Imagine the internal conflict when i found a copy of the Joshua Tree album in our local Christian bookstore. I was disturbed. Here is a song–the second single from this album–that speaks of uncertainty, seeking but not finding . . . and we knew the answer was Jesus Christ and this is so crystal-clear in the Bible. Everything back then was black or white, fact or fiction. There was no middle ground.

And so I preached vehemently against the insidious faithlessness of the wide path and the indisputable certitude of those who walk in the narrow way (pardon the pun).

But what I failed to say and refused to admit was that I myself was searching. I had many unanswered questions, unspoken doubts, and shaken assumptions. I still hadn’t found what i was looking for.

Twenty-five years on and I am not at all embarrassed to say that I am still on a quest and will be until the end of my time here. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, but I’m certainly relishing every step of this journey towards that awesome discovery.

I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…*

Here’s a clip from the Rattle & Hum DVD of a Gospel Choir version of this song. It will move you.

May your quest be honourable. May your questions shape you, challenge you and cause you to never stop seeking, growing and learning. May your faith in the one who carried the cross for you be only the beginning of a lifelong quest for meaning, truth and peace. May you be disturbed, confronted, and challenged every step of your journey, and may you never settle for the mediocrity of knowing it all.

_________

* Written by Adam Clayton, Dave Evans, Paul David Hewson, Larry Mullen and Victor Reina.

Questioning God (Or Our Understanding of Him)

David Dark, in his confronting book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (Zondervan, 2009) tells a story which has a profound question attached: What is your God like?

Dig, if you’re willing, this picture: a tiny town with a tight-knit community. The people share joys and concerns, woes and gossip. They keep a close and often affectionate watch on one another’s business. They talk and talk and talk.

What an outsider would notice within minutes of listening in on conversations are constant and slightly self-conscious references to “Uncle Ben.” A beautiful sunset prompts a townsperson to say, “Isn’t Uncle Ben awesome?” Good news brings out how thankful and overjoyed they feel toward Uncle Ben. Even in tragedy, a local might say, in a slightly nervous fashion, “You know, it just goes to show how much we all need Uncle Ben. I know — we all know — that Uncle Ben is good.”

Uncle Ben is always on their minds.

Even when the magnificence of Uncle Ben isn’t spoken of aloud, he’s somehow present in facial expressions and actions. It’s the look of stopping a train of thought before it goes too far, of letting an uncompleted sentence trail off into awkward silence, of swiftly changing the subject. It’s as if a conversation can go only so far. People hardly ever look one another in the eye for long.

At the beginning of each week there’s a meeting in the largest house in town. Upon arriving, people get caught up in good fellowship and animated discussion of the week’s events, with conversations straining in the direction of Uncle Ben. When a bell sounds, talk ceases. Everyone moves to the staircase and descends into the basement. Each person sits facing an enormous, rumbling furnace. Seated close to the furnace door, as if he were a part of the furnace itself, is a giant man in black overalls. His back is turned to them. They wait in silence.

In time the man turns around. His face is angry, contorted. He fixes a threatening stare of barely contained rage on each person, then roars, “Am I good?” To which they respond in unison, “Yes, Uncle Ben, you are good.”

“Am I worthy of praise?”

“You alone are worthy of our praise.”

“Do you love me more than anything? More than anyone?”

“We love you and you alone, Uncle Ben.”

“You better love me, or I’m going to put you . . . in here” —he opens the furnace door to reveal a gaping darkness — “forever.”

Out of the darkness can be heard sounds of anguish and lament. Then he closes the furnace door and turns his back to them. They sit in silence.

Finally, feeling reasonably assured that Uncle Ben has finished saying what he has to say, they leave. They live their lives as best they can. They try to think and speak truthfully and do well by one another. They resume their talk of the wonders of Uncle Ben’s love in anticipation of the next week’s meeting.

But they’re limited, in myriad ways, by fear. Fear causes them to censor their own thoughts and words. Fear prevents them from telling anyone of their inner anguish and fright. Fear keeps them from recognizing in one another’s eyes their common desperation. This fear is interwoven, subtly and sometimes not so subtly, in all of their relationships.

End of story.

I find this story both jarring and entirely familiar. It captures some of my worst fears concerning the character of God. And I suspect a good number of people live their lives haunted by a nightmare similar to this one. Perhaps you entertain fears like these. Perhaps Uncle Ben forms your image of the divine even now.

Something akin to the Uncle Ben image might be what a lot of people refer to when they speak of religion as the worst thing that ever happened to them, a nightmare that damages everything it touches. We might protest that there’s much more to religion than such tales of terror. But I find it hard to deny that the image of Uncle Ben lurks within an awful lot of what is called popular religious belief.

Uncle Ben might be the best-selling version of an all- powerful deity, a great and powerful Wizard of Oz-type who refuses to be questioned and threatens anyone who dares to doubt or protest. Fear constrains many to call this God good and loving, ignoring what they feel inwardly. The less reverent candidly observe that this God is the perfect model for a brutal dictator, the cosmic crime boss who runs everything and expects us to be grateful.

Trying to satisfy such a God while also getting through a workday, trying to balance a chequebook, and being moderately attentive to the needs of others can take a certain emotional toll.

Does this story resonate with your experience of God? Your doubts of previously-held black-or-white descriptions of God’s character? You’re not alone. Maybe it’s time to dig out those well-used doubts and re-examine them, hold them up to the light, see if they perhaps may be challenges sent your way by God’s Spirit to lead you into his truth.

And get the book. It’s a worthwhile read.