Love: Direct Proportions

Posted: 10.05.2010 in love

I, like many, have been wrestling with the contradiction of what the church (in broad strokes) appears to be, versus what it is intended to be. Largely, why is it that Jesus calls us to love God and neighbor, while the church seems to be dressed up to look good in politics and social clubs?  Why does the church seem to get mired in things that the scriptures seem to be largely silent about or unconcerned with, while avoiding a life of kindness, truth, conviction, graciousness… love?
I have been thinking about Luke 7:36-50, which is the place to start for this sort of consideration, I believe. The story is simple: Jesus is invited by a Pharisee named Simon, to Simon’s house for a meal. A sinful woman catches wind of this and breaks in to cry tears on Jesus’ feet, wipe said feet with her hair, and then follow up with kissing His feet. Simon is put off by the display, both in its gratuitiousness and by the fact that said act is committed by a known sinner.

Jesus knows what Simon thinks and feeds him some food for thought. He poses to Simon a simple parable: Two people owe a moneylender, money (strangely enough). One of them owes more than he probably makes in a year and a half, the other owes what he generally earns in less than two months. The debts are both forgiven, and so the question at hand is simply this: Who loves the moneylender more?  Simon, with his vast Pharasaical expertise, “supposes” that the one with the bigger debt did.  Jesus gives him a gold star for answering correctly.  And then the meaning is revealed to everyone.  Jesus compares the love that has been shown Him by the sinful woman to the treatment that Simon has given Him.  The woman has been wild in her affection and love for him, casting aside any propriety that would prevent her from expressing her love.  Simon has failed at the basic levels of hospitality, much less love.  Jesus simply draws it together in verse 47, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

And here is where I get confounded.  Why is it that the Christian church, people who walk in the grace of God’s forgiveness, are so often without any profound love for either God or people?

One piece of the puzzle is laid out here in this passage.  The whole thing of whoever is forgiven little, loves little.  So, we are claiming on the one hand to have the forgiveness of God, and yet, we struggle with loving God or other people.  Let’s break it down a bit.  According to scripture, we are always assured of Jesus’ forgiveness, as long as we honestly ask for it, as He is “faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness.” There is no withholding, shaming, condemning, or earning.  Forgiveness is freely given to all who ask.

But what about our asking/repentance?  Is it possible that we are flawed in the way that we engage that?  Simply confessing my sin to God and believing that I am forgiven does not seem to be enough.  It is quick, it is easy, and it is not helping me to love God or others better.  Why?  There is a difference between saying I am sorry and hoping that I won’t do it again, or wishing that I didn’t struggle with XYZ and owning my sin, my brokenness, my failure before God.  I can be ashamed that I am lustful and angry and cowardly and wish that I wasn’t, or I can say that I am, in fact, a lustful, angry, and cowardly man.  And in that admission I start to not only realize the depth of my need for God, His kindness in loving me despite these failings, but also that in experiencing the lovingkindness of God in the midst of my depravity, I learn to be kind to myself and then to others even as God is kind to me.

Will we learn to own the truth of who we are and learn to be kind, to love because of it?  I hope so.  I am trying.

War: Light and Dark

Posted: 04.28.2010 in war
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“The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood [overcome] it.” – John 1:5

In the first few verses of John, there is a lot going on.  So much in fact that I am not interested in doing anything that involves context or overview.  All of my fine biblical-scholar-to-be friends are collectively rolling their eyes and/or shaking their fists.  I am ok with that reality.

What I am interested in is that this verse contains the universe and our individual lives in it.  Shocking, really.  It seems mostly to be engaged with Abstract Cosmic Spiritual War.  Which is good and fine, but what blows me away is to see that Cosmic Dynamic play out in my own heart and soul.

We have had the chance to read “A Shining Affliction”  by Annie Rogers for one of our upcoming classes.  A doctoral psychotherapy intern who chronicles both her journey with one disturbed boy as well as her own breakdown in the midst of it (to the point of speechlessness).  And then her return to caring for the boy.  It is a brilliantly written book: Engaging, challenging, deep, sweet.  I cannot recommend it enough. Plus it has short chapters.

This book illustrates what Mars Hill Graduate School has been begging, dragging, and otherwise enticing us students (and suckers apparently) to do:  To admit our own darkness and brokenness in light of grace and healing.  And to believe that it does not remove or disqualify us from the things we are called to do in both therapy and ministry.

I have had a tremendous fear that at some point in my schooling, someone would look at me and simply say, “You are disqualified because you are too messed up to do this work.”  I was fearful of being found out, of not being strong enough or good enough or smart enough or ______ enough to do what I want to do.  Too many years of seeing this play out in the church at large.  Lots of hiding (from everyone) because we value “holiness” over honesty, repression over transformation.  At some point, leadership became synonymous with perfection rather than suffering, honesty, and servanthood.  Somehow, we have come to believe on some level that darkness is stronger or more potent than Light, so it does not get seen.  The truth is that Grace and Light have more strength and life and depth than our darkness.  That the final word and work is determined by the Trinity, not by our fallenness.

As a quick caveat, this does not imply that character/holiness/righteousness does not matter.  Or that there are not times that someone should step away (or be pulled away) from leading others.  But it is worth thinking about how character can be transformed if it is never brought into the light.  How do we engage the categories of transparency, holiness, leadership, and transformation?  If we want people (leaders)  to be transformed, they cannot do that in a climate of fear.  There is definitely a balance here that needs to be explored.

So, I find myself realizing that my darkness does not understand and does not overcome my Light (God and His presence, work, and image in me).  That my sin and my resistance to God’s strength and kindness in my life is not the last word or the deciding factor in His purposes for me.  That, ultimately, His Light rules my darkness. And I do not need to fear the exposure of that darkness, but embrace the Light that dances in its midst.

Journey: Mixing it Up…

Posted: 04.13.2010 in journey
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I have been utilizing this space to basically create initial drafts of things that I have been thinking about, as an initial step towards revealing a deeper aspect of myself. In school, I have been engaging with lots of psychological and theological concepts.  Talking with others, reading, thinking and observing things in culture and media around me.  One of my struggles is that I am prone towards keeping my own counsel rather than inviting conversation, towards choosing my own thoughts rather than my own feelings, and towards surviving rather than living.

One of the significant outcomes of this reality is the way that my relationship with God has suffered.  In the midst of these particular struggles, which combined with coming to terms about some stuff in regards to my family of origin, I have shut Jesus out of my life and heart in significant ways.  I am working through a lot of anger and some of that is infiltrating the way I (don’t) engage with God.  I learn stuff, I think about stuff, but I do not take said stuff into the presence of the loving Trinity who has been so kind to me.  I find it easy in seminary to end up like the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were frustrated with what Jesus was saying or doing, but never actually took those things to Him and engaged.  They grumbled with each other  and their anger and self-righteousness and frustration turned murderous.  And all of that separated them from the life-giving relationship that Jesus was always offering to them.

So, I am working on engaging things a little differently.  I am going to add some new dimensions here.  I am starting to reinvigorate my spiritual life with Lectio Divina, starting with the gospel of St. John.  So, please pray for me as I stop separating myself from God in the midst of my anger and sadness and hurt.  As I post some of my deeper journey, I pray that it will bless and challenge and encourage you in yours.

This summer, during a stop at my mother-in-law’s house, I happened on a book left behind by my sister-in-law called “Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community”  written by Andrew Marin, who is the founder of the Marin Foundation, which has a focus of building bridges between people of faith and people in the GLBT community.  It is a profound book that should be read by all.  Over the last several decades there has been such a venomous and politicized stalemate between the two communities that hope of real engagement has been all but lost.  Marin does what is kind and strong: He invites a new conversation.

For too long has the gay community has been hearing how sinful, depraved, gross, etc. the church at large considers them and that God is against them.  The church has been hearing how much the gay community does not want or need the church and all that it stands for.    Marin steps away from the old arguments of whose theology/hermeneutic is correct and invites gracious conversation and consideration from both parties.

This book resonates with me as much as it challenges me.  I find that as much as I am a proponent, there is something hesitant within me.  Conservative tendencies that throw out a lot of “yeah, but” in the face of recognizing a call to love and engage. Fear of not honoring what I know of God.  Here’s the rub:  I (and the church at large) have actually not been honoring God in the way that we have engaged (or not) with the gay community.  But at least we haven’t been honoring the gay community either.

Crap.

After my initial engagement with these issues, my school hosted a movie discussion about the documentary “Through My Eyes”  which simply interviews young people who loved God with their life as best as they knew how and started to have unwanted attraction for people of the same sex sometime in middle to high school time.  And their experience from the churches they were a part of show a consistent, categorical failure of love.  A failure of the very thing that is supposed to be a root of our communal identity.  These young adults were removed from ministry teams, being told not to tell anyone,  and had people backing away relationally.

We have fucked up.  Royally.

And so Andrew Marin calls out in a loud voice to repent.  To go a new way and do a new thing.  To grieve our failure of love and to try again with a large dose of humility.   And I am doing my best wrestle against my own self-righteousness and say yes to what Andrew is calling for.

What say you?

Journey: The Church

Posted: 03.09.2010 in journey
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We have a creative project due in Theology tomorrow. Here is part of mine. I would love your thoughts.

The Church

Formed of sinew and sweat, breath and blood

where tears flow as easily as laughter,

and death is a normal channel towards Resurrection.

Prayer is play,

Work is prayer,

All gifts are given and received to bring Glory to

God and the Other.

Reaching back in time

where the ancient practices ground

currents of the present.

Truth and Grace

Weave through languages and traditions, with their

Honoring and transformative colors.

The tattooed and the wrinkled share a few crumbs,

sip of the Infinite Three-in One-

a swirling meeting of brokenness and gratitude

where the Power goes out to the bleeding ones

And the roofs are ripped up to experience such

Unearthly Love and Healing

By violent men and women

Who take hold of

Their hope.

Journey: Holiness

Posted: 03.01.2010 in journey
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Holiness seems to be an awkward or unwanted thing to talk about in some circles these days. It feels sort of outdated or outside the trends of things being contemplated/discussed/or otherwise engaged, probably because it feels associated with an understanding of church/religion/spirituality that is focused on behavior. And while that behavior is often intellectually understood to be an outflow of what is in our hearts, the reality is that it is an attempt to do “the right things” and not let “the wrong things” see the light of day. And what we end up with leads us to a feeling of disjointedness and/or hypocrisy. Repression is different than redemption.

Now let me be clear at this juncture, I am not advocating that a person just do whatever they feel like in order to be “authentic”.  For instance, should you feel strongly that you would like to get out of your car and beat the crap out of the person who just cut you off, I am in no way advocating that you need to follow through with this in order to not be a hypocrite.

What I am advocating is that we need to not shove down/away thoughts and feelings that are not considered “holy”.    In psychological terms, that is known as “splitting.”  This does not make one holy, it makes one unhealthy psychologically.  So, what should one do with feelings and thoughts that are not good, helpful, or holy?  The first problem is the word “should.”   We are generally shoulding on ourselves, which only piles on shame to unmet expectations, which is also not repentance.

What are we to do?  We need to acknowledge these things in our hearts and minds.  I need to acknowledge that sometimes, I am an angry jerk, rather than wishing I wasn’t and pretending that is not really me.  It is a real part of me.  Accepting that and confessing that before God, and others if need be, is appropriate.   Inviting the conviction of the Spirit in my life and heart is necessary and good, because God is not interesting in condemning me for my anger.  God is interested in me agreeing with the truth that I am an angry man and then inviting Him to bring about grief and repentance of that which damages my relationships with myself and others.  This way, the fullness of who I am can be brought to light for me and God to see (and hopefully others), the good and the bad, the light and the dark,  so that the places of darkness experience the redemption that comes through the work of Christ manifested through the Spirit.

These thoughts feel in process for me still, what do you think?

Being in the midst of a particularly brutal moment of the term, I don’t have time for a long post. But I have been thinking about the ways that Psychology (study of soul) and Theology (study of God) really do walk together in some deep ways.

Psychology (in broad strokes) states that our brokenness represents our “best efforts” to deal with life. For example, I am in a class about substance abuse and we have been discussing how a person goes to substances because in large part, he/she have not yet learned how to handle “bad feelings”. Or in a class about evil and abuse last term, we talked about how someone who has undergone tremendous physical, sexual, emotional abuse deals with it through disassociating. They split off parts of themselves in order to survive that kind of horror.  However, after the horror is over, the effects of the splitting continue to affect the way a person engages with the world around them. The most serious version being Disassociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder).  The defense that kept them alive during some terrifying times now prevents them from enjoying abundant life.

And so on one level, we find a profound part of the gospel in the midst of psychology… that our best efforts lead to death.  Death of relationship with self and others, and sometimes the end of our life.   Now, not everyone has substance abuse problems, or DID, but we have all made our best attempts to deal with some really shitty things on our own and had it backfire profoundly against us.  We get hurt by someone and then vow to not give our hearts away again.  We get used by someone of the opposite gender and swear not to trust that gender again, etc.  This is part of the nature of the Gospel.  A recognition that our attempts to make ourselves better not only fails, but tends to lead us away from what will bring life.