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

Using Scriptures Maturely

BibleBasherI was first introduced to the term ‘Bible Basher’ as a child, going door-to-door with my pastor father. Even back then, the vast majority of doors were slammed in our face, often accompanied by swearing and use of this term. Perhaps it didn’t help that my dad always carried his leather-bound, gilt-edged, Scofield King James Bible under his arm.

I suppose this term, originated as a statement about a person who constantly uses the Bible to ‘bash’–hit–people over the head in a confrontational way. Today this is exemplified in our city by the infamous Rundle Mall street preachers who call down fire and brimstone every day with Bible in hand and signs that read ‘Turn or Burn.’

While I am at times ashamed of my past days as a Bible basher, I recognise that the motivation for doing so (like so many other deeds) was fear, shame, guilt, and a shallow understanding of the nature of God.

Richard Rohr says it so well:

When the Scriptures are used maturely, they proceed in this order:

  1. They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to, “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false and smaller kingdoms.
  2. They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true, and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt, or fear which are low-level motivations, but which operate more quickly and so churches often resort to them).
  3. They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart.

(Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 64-65)

May we choose to use the Holy Bible in a mature sensibility, to bring healing, restoration, compassion, justice and peace in our world as we find, in its words and message, God’s reign revealed.

I am Wrong

 

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

According to some folks, I’m wrong.

That’s fine with me. I can live with that burden. It causes me a bit of embarrassment at times when I think I’m right and decide to put a voice to my thoughts. Often when I do, I’m immediately told I’m wrong. I used to be a little sensitive to this and retreat in shame for a few days . . . afraid to show my face. One time I immediately wrote an apologetic explanation for my misunderstood views in some vain attempt to justify my thinking . . . I realise I don’t need to do that any more.

What I am realising more and more, as I attempt to dialogue with those who are ‘right,’ is that my entire way of seeing things is different. No use arguing. They are simply right.

While their worldview is obviosuly the correct one (yes, Ken Silva, you have me there!), mine is full of errors. While their perspective is from such a high vista, mine is obscured by trees, buildings, and possibly a few dumpsters. While their understanding of the way things are is so clear, I evidently am walking in a fog and losing my way. It therefore is their God-given responsibility to show me where I stray (and I thank them for that because I am unable on my own to arrive at any sort of correct conclusion).

Besides, they have God on their side. That’s always a bonus, especially for those people with really bad comb-overs and 70’s-style oversized spectacles. It’s also handy when when dealing with people like me whose views are so far removed from the Divine. It’s a shame, really, because my incorrect understanding informs me that God is love and that a characteristic of those who follow God’s way is that they are loving, inclusive, peaceful and hopeful people. But then I am wrong on so many other things, I probably don’t know anything about this either.

What’s even better is that they are so well qualified to pass judgement. They know their Bibles so well and are very good at ‘chapter-and-verse’ stuff. (Not like I, who often fumble around say something stupid like, ‘I think God says somewhere that . . .” or mistakenly quote a verse from the wrong version–or worse, from The Message–and I don’t think that’ll cut it when moving in more well-versed circles.)

Personally, I kinda like being wrong. It means that I can live in a state of blissful ignorance. I can truly love someone whose is different from me because I don’t have a list of criteria he or she must meet. I know beyond any doubt that God loves everyone and has no regard for our perceptions of status: right or wrong, male or female, black or white, Baptist or Hindu, straight or gay . . . I believe I can know that all my sins are forgiven, even those ones I don’t call ‘sin’ but are so plainly and rightly pointed out to me to be such. I can be happy because I know I am not a slave to guilt; I don’t need to submit to manipulative guilt trips or holy-sounding ‘Thus saith the Lords’ because I know what God has spoken to me in my heart and through wise people I have been privileged to have encountered along the way.

What’s more, while I am already clearly wrong, I can accept others’ truth at face value. I can see spirituality in some of the words of Buddha, Mohammad, Desmond Tutu or even Jerry Falwell! While I may not agree with their truth, I can appreciate their understanding and insight on some level, even if it is acknowledgement of a universal truth that we all have in common. (As I was informed by a wise and intelligent professor in my College days, ‘All truth is God’s truth.’) And I wish their followers well because they, like me, are on a journey–it’s just they are not at the same stage or on the same path as I am.

Ah! The joy of allowing myself to be wrong. Funny how the awareness of my being wrong and having this label inflicted on me doesn’t seem so important any more. Possibly because I know that God still loves me without any conditions or reservations, and that label–like so many others–doesn’t really have any sticking power on me (Thanks, Max Lucado, for your brilliant parable You Are Special.)

So I’m wrong. No further discussion needed. I would suggest this admission would bring some folks some happiness or relief, but then I’d probably be wrong there too.

(P.S. Not everything in this post is written in sarcasm. I really do appreciate the truth so cleverly and clearly presented through Max Lucado’s beautiful storytelling, and I truly know that God’s love for me and everyone else in this world is real. Much of the rest is open for debate.)

What If?

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!”~John Greenleaf Whittier

Have you ever been taken on a guilt trip? Mothers are especially great at this, but other influential people in our lives may also (knowingly or unknowingly) take us on this detour. Many times this is motivated by a desire to see correct behaviour, build character or develop right attitudes. Most often it is used to manipulate someone into doing things the way another person or organisation thinks they ought to be done. Looking at this phenomenon, I came across this post from StuffFundiesLike.com [the term ‘fundamentalist’ is mostly used today as referring to someone who is an adherent or belongs to a strict and conservative religious sect].

“What if?” is a very special kind of … guilt trip because comes from nowhere, contains nothing but imagination, and can be used on anybody about even the most innocent of activities. Consider…

What if instead of buying that candy bar you had instead given the money in the missions offering? What if that very dollar was used to print the tracts that went to deepest darkest Africa and converted the local medicine man to Christianity and caused revival to break out across the entire continent? But alas, you chose the candy. So now we’ll never know.

What if instead of sleeping in on Saturday you had spent an extra hour praying for your lost family member? What if that snooze button was all that was standing between their soul and eternal damnation? A little sleep, a little slumber, and now you’ll always have to wonder if you could have done more. You probably could.

What if you had dug deeper, pushed harder, or fought better? What glorious opportunities may have been had! What souls could have been won and empires built! But alas, poor craven soul that you are, you did not.

Guilt trips on the Subjunctive Highway. They’re a thing of beauty.

Guilt vs Freedom

This weekend is the time of year when we reflect on what Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection. Traditionally it is on Good Friday we remember his crucifixion and then celebrate his victory over death on Easter Sunday morning.

I was having a conversation with Vicki (my beautiful and intelligent wife, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of an introduction) about the usual Easter sermons that appear on the church’s ‘menu,’ and she made a really good point: the punishment Jesus received was not unusual or even extraordinarily harsh for the empire in which he lived. Many, many people before him suffered the same fate. The court system was as corrupt and unjust for countless others before him. The flogging, the mocking, carrying his cross, dying this cruel death was common. And the people who witnessed it, those who called out for Barabas, those who watched his last procession down the Via Dolorosa, those who stood around the Roman execution stake on which he hung, were possibly no more moved than we might be watching the latest action flick or monster truck rally. So ‘normal’ was this scene in first-century Jerusalem.

But preachers, it seems, are after some type of emotional commitment and, for many, their message goes something like this: ‘Jesus died a cruel and horrifying death [insert gory details here] inflicted by such despicable men [insert character references here] and suffered such torture on on the way to his death [insert horrific acts of cruelty and barbarism here], all because of an unjust and corrupt Roman judicial system [insert examples here].’ By this time, the congregation is feeling so horrible, tears are starting to well up, hearts are starting to beat faster, and the preacher goes for the clincher: ‘And it wasn’t the Jews or the Romans who killed Jesus. It was you and I that drove those nails into his hands and his feet and lifted him up on that cruel cross to die a slow and painful death.’

Talk about a major case of guilt! I murdered my Lord! It was my hands that killed the Messiah! How could God ever love me? I am so unworthy. . . .

In my opinion, this borders on spiritual–and, potentially, emotional–abuse of God’s people.

Jesus didn’t die so that on Good Friday and Easter Sunday churchgoers everywhere could partake in a ceremony of guilt and fear. God, contrary to increasingly less-popular belief (Hallelujah), does not think I killed his only son. In fact it wasn’t even my sin that nailed him to the cross (that spoils a few good hymns, doesn’t it?). Technically, it was the Romans at the insistence of the Jewish religious leaders who did the terrible deed. Biblically, Jesus laid down his life willingly to show his kingdom was about a new way of seeing, a new way of relating, a new way of being. In giving up his life (by his own authority, Scripture says), Jesus embodied in reality what he taught in theory: how love truly is a better way.

Jesus would not have wanted us, 2,000 years down the track, to feel responsible–or guilty–for his death. He did not come into the world to condemn, but to deliver us from condemnation. He didn’t go to the cross with the idea that millions of people will feel oppressed by fear of God’s wrath in millennia to come, but that they, instead would experience the freedom of God’s forgiveness and grace.

If grace is true–and I believe it is! Praise God!–then Jesus died to show us God’s love and the freedom that comes from experiencing his unconditional love.

So, thank you, Jesus, for willingly submitting to the death of the cross to demonstrate that your reign indeed is not of this present world system, but is able, through love, to redeem it eternally for God’s glory.

And praise to you God, holy Three-in-one, Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, for the freedom we enjoy because of Jesus.

* * * * *

This morning I arose early and went to Holy Cross Church to celebrate Easter with my Anglican brothers and sisters. At 6.00 a.m. they held an Easter Vigil where we lit our candles and processed into a darkened church to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ as the Passover Lamb, and then to declare his resurrection in exulting and light-filled celebration. In doing so, baptismal vows were renewed and the Eucharist was celebrated. It was a beautiful and moving service, full of Scripture, prayer, and simple faith–not a hint of guilt or anxiety in sight. Thank you Fr Neil for such a blessed reminder of the joy and freedom that is ours because of Jesus. He is risen! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. Alleluia!