On Fighting in the Family

It’s supper time in our house. As soon as we all come together, it seems the tensions rise. Someone did something to someone else and it just continues to unravel from there. Words fly, accusations are tossed about. Insults become pointed. Sarcasm is certainly the lowest form of wit, Wilde got that right. Everyone thinks their version of the story is the right one, and they are willing to put anyone else on the chopping block so as to maintain face. This is how it sometimes can be when families gather around the table.

And on other nights, I am reminded that civil behaviour is possible. We can show kindness and love. We can be gracious. We can treat one another respectfully. It is possible- there is hope.

Yesterday, I browsed through one of my favorite blogs and was disheartened to find a full-fledged debate about the hot topic of homosexuality and what people believed about such. There were a lot of “I thinks” and verses to sway one side to the other. And on and on it went- one mean-spirited comment after another. I say I was ‘disheartened’ because every time these debates occur, there is in-fighting amongst believers, non-believers and otherwise. And such mean-spiritedness. And hatred. And, ugh…it is all so ugly. It rather reminds me of a family at suppertime fighting about what they believe so strongly to be right- so much so that they would be willing to throw their fellow brother and sister under the bus so as to prove their point.

I am reading a great deal about care these days and one care theorist that I have studied in great depth is Nel Noddings. In her groundbreaking book on caring in schools, she had this to say: “the living other is more important than any theory”. And while I hesitate to include this quote as a blanket-statement, I do think that we often sacrifice the people in our lives for creeds or doctrines we hold as truths. We make adherence to a certain dogma more important than the people we live and work alongside. And while I think there are things we can live and die by- while I believe in truth and holiness and justice and all things good and right, I do not think it is ever worth sacrificing one’s brother or sister- throwing them under the bus to get trampled for the sake of an argument. For the sake of a debate. Debates like these drive wedges deeply between people, Christian or otherwise. As I have watched martyrs for the sake of the Gospel (the Good News of Jesus’ love for us) give their lives for the truths they hold near and dear to their hearts, I cannot help but see in their faces a unity with their brothers and sisters. There is no debating the current topical issues as you stand on the line, your life in the balance at the behest of a terrorist- your fellow brothers and sister in Christ lined up on either side. Clarity and lucidity suddenly comes into full view when the eternal things that really matter are before your eyes.

I love the verses in the Bible that call us to clarity. Verses like Micah 6:8 (NIV):
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

Ours is not to do the work of the Spirit of the Living God, acting as our brother or sisters conscience. We have enough work to do in our own lives without trying to take on the job of making decisions for someone else. Getting inside their heart and head so as to figure things out- we don’t know their heart. And we never truly will. The heart is a private place that only the individual and the supernatural are given entry to. We can observe, but we can never truly know. We need to stop playing God. We are not God.

We have just celebrated that glorious of Christian holidays: Good Friday leading way to Easter Sunday. We have risen with Christ- we are no longer counted as among the dead. Why do we continue to live like we are counted among the defeated? It is God who has given us life, we are no longer in chains bound by our own pride and arrogance and superiority. We are free to walk humbly with God. And free to trust that God is doing a work in the hearts of women and men that no eye can see nor ear can hear. His work is often in the secret places- He works that way. With a still small voice.

In the secret.

I love this verse as well, and I believe that for Christians such as me- who have known Christ for a good long time, it is an important one for us to remember first and foremost:

Psalm 51:10 (NIV): “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

This verse calls us as people of God to remember- the work that we so desperately feel MUST be done in others lives, really begins in our own hearts. God works personally. He doesn’t call us to look to the left or to the right- to see what our brothers and sisters are doing wrong (like children fighting at a supper table): He calls us to look inside of our own hearts to see if there is anything there that stands between us and the Father.

Finally, I love these verses about how to act toward our brothers and sisters in Christ- or anyone else, for that matter:
John 13:34-35 (ESV): “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

By our love, people will know that we love Him. What beautiful words to live and grow and breathe by.  May this timeless truth be so in our lives today- that they know us by our love.

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Why I don’t support Shaming…among other bad spiritual tactics.

There is a problem with the church today- a problem that runs deep and wide and long.  It’s created a chasm actually and an exodus. It’s a problem sourced by a history of church practices and traditions that serve to verify its authenticity as real and overt.  It’s a problem all right.  And that problem is shaming, specifically the shaming of people, both Christian and otherwise.  Shaming them into becoming better Christians (or at the very least, A Christian).  Shaming them for their sins.  Shaming them for their choices.  Shaming them for not living up to a certain standard.  Shaming them for not upholding expectations.  Shaming people for reasons even I can’t conjure up.  Shaming in the name of faith and religion.  Shaming for the sake of shaming. Friends, shaming people into making choices or following up on decisions or acting on their conscience or into living for Jesus is no way for the church to conduct its mandate.

I recently read an article by the Naked Pastor that was written in regards to a hoax that has been circulating around the Internet.  The hoax is about the fictional pastor Jeremiah Steepek who dresses up as a homeless man and then attends the church he will be pastoring, prior to ever showing face to the congregation formally.  In the said hoax, Pastor Steepek goes around trying to connect with various parishioners, failing to get anyone to talk to him, let alone help him with his troubles.  At the end of his charade, he reveals himself to be their new pastor from the pulpit and proceeds to shame the congregation into crying and feeling horrible for their actions toward him.  You can read more about it here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/07/why-i-wouldnt-attend-pastor-steepeks-church/

At first when I read the article, I personified the pastor as the homeless man.  I saw the ‘homeless man’ as the story.  What I identified with was the problem we have in our society of not seeing people as God sees them: beautiful and precious and lovely.  A work of God made even in His own image.

But after considering a wise friend of mine’s perspective, another angle emerged.  And that angle was the shaming that occurred in that church as a fall out of the rejection some of the congregation had towards this pastor-cum-homeless person.

The author of the above article, David Hayward, says this:

The church’s number one tool to get what it wants is shame. I have been the victim of shaming so many times I can’t even count. I have used it so many times I can’t even count. When I think back on the times I’ve been shamed I get angry. When I think back on the times I’ve used it I feel remorse. It’s the church’s primary language. We grow up with it in our families, our schools, our jobs and our churches. Shame is used against us every single day of our lives so persistently and sometimes so subtly that we don’t even realize it anymore.

Shame is a motivator, but not permanently, and not in significant and meaningful ways. It gets something done now, but it destroys hope and character in the long term. Love is the best motivator. If it isn’t out of love, then it’s not a healthy motivation.

            I am a teacher of kindergarten students.  There are many times in the day when my students disappoint me for reasons based on the fact that they are four and five year olds.  They are busy.  They don’t always pay attention to everything I say.  And sometimes they outwardly ignore it.  If I was to use shaming as an instructional tactic, not only would I be out of a job, I would permanently damage these children in ways I cannot even word right in an article of this length.  I would destroy the goodwill I have set as a foundation of our classroom interactions and I would undermine my role with them as a nurturing support in the place of their parents.  As a teacher, I am mindful to always err on the side of gentleness when dealing with students.  Do I do it one hundred percent of the time?  No.  But it is the underlying goal in my mind as I go about my day.  To create an atmosphere of respect, understanding and possibility- always working within a Vygotskian theoretical framework that promotes positive, achievable growth.  Here’s Vygotsky’s mantra: “Show me what you can do, and then I’ll help you get a little better at it.”

Would that the church as an establishment would follow a little advice of this themselves.

What we need as a Church is to see God for who He really is, not for the interpretations we have of Him.  God is a Father- a perfect, loving, understanding, gracious, accepting, committed father unlike this world has ever known.  When I think of myself as a parent, I know that each day I get up in the morning I give my best self to my four precious children.  I don’t wake up dreaming of ways to shame them into following what I want them to do.  I don’t dream up ways of how I am going to coerce them into doing what I say.  And I don’t try to conjure up as many ideas as I can for how I can make their lives miserable.  I strive to not be that parent.

No.  I love them. I admire them.  I am proud of them.  And I would die for them if need be.

And so would God.  So did He.

And if we can see God that way- as Love personified, than we ought also to see his people- The Church in the same manner.  We must see the church as God sees them.  For the church is His Beloved.  They are his Bride.  He loves us i ways we can not even begin to understand.  And as a Father, we are His children.  The depths and heigths of that great love and mercy and grace and compassion for us can never, ever be underestimated. 

It is time we started loving people the way God does.

There is a beautiful passage of scripture that we recite often at weddings about love.  But friends, this passage ought to be the pulse of our hearts as Christians.  I Corinthians 13 :4- 8

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

That’s God’s kind of love.

So why do we as the backbone of the church still see Him as One who wants to make our lives miserable?  Why must the church backbone be the primary voice behind this message?  And why can’t we stop using shame as our primary motivational tool to motivate people and start living the love we know God is?

Love wins!!!

I guess you could say that Florida is in the Bible belt.   And for sure you could say that I am in the middle of a Christian retirement community, as I am travelling with my parents.  (And they are attending a Christian conference at a mid-sized Christian conference and Resort Center here in north-western Florida.)  So I guess you could say that nothing really should surprise me.  I AM in the Bible belt, right?  What you see is what you get.

But something did surprise me today.  And it just about took the wind out from beneath my sails.

I had set out for a mid-morning walk around the grounds.  Actually, I was on my way to the pool.  And I decided to take the scenic route through the residential area in which we are staying.  The houses were small and quaint and most had palm trees out front, which I admired.  There were some pretty flowers, and I guess you could say I was in la-la land for the most part.  Brain on cruise control.  (I am on vacay, peeps!) So, I was coming up to some houses, one of which had a fairly large sign affixed to the front, which made me mildly curious. And I turned to read the sign.  And here’s what I read:

“…be sure your sin will find you out.”

That’s right.  Be sure your sin will find you out.  (And….’have a nice day why don’tcha, while you’re at it’.)

I am going to have to apologize in advance for this post.  Because I am so very, very wrought with feeling and emotion right now.  And I feel COMPELLED to write the deepest, most secret feelings I have within my being.  About God.  About church.  About Christians.  About Christianity.

Because like it or lump it.  Christians have failed me.  Have failed US.  The church…the body of believers that represent the Bible and Christ and Christianity…have failed. And miserably.

And I want to start this essay with an apology:

For anyone who has ever read a sign such as I did this morning, I want to offer you love for hate, healing for disappointment and hope for despair.  Because the Jesus I know would never let those words be the first impression He would leave with you.  The Jesus I know is not like that.

For anyone who has ever been hurt by the spiteful, angry words of an ill-meaning Christian, I apologize.  I offer up my own heart to truly say, from its very depths, that that is not what a Christian is meant to be.

For anyone who has ever thought that Christianity is about rules over freedom, hate over love, disappointment over joy, turmoil over peace, negativity over positivity.  I offer myself as the FACE of that apology.  I am sorry for what other Christians have done to you in the name of the Bible.  In the name of Jesus.

For we have been a disgrace to the beauty of Jesus’ precious name. And I am truly sorry for the hurt, the pain, the misery that has been heaped upon you in the name of what is RIGHT and TRUE.

For.    And this is a BIGGIE.   There go I, but for the GRACE, and the MERCY, and the COMPASSION, and the FORGIVENESS, and the endless, limitless LOVE of God.  There go I.  Pointing fingers.  There go I.  Calling names.  There go I.  Pointing out faults.  There go I.  Thinking I am better.  There go I.  Thinking I am worthy because of my faith.   There go I.  Thinking that anything I could EVER do on my own would ever be enough.  There go I.  Telling you what an awful, horrible sinner you are. There go I.  But for the grace of God.  And it is His grace that has shown me that this is NOT what my job as a Christian is.  To point out the faults of others.  I’ve got enough on my plate, thank-you very much, to be worried about you and all you’ve got going on.  My life is far from perfect.  But that’s okay.  Because I am a beautiful, messy work in process.  And God never asked me to be my fellow brother or sister’s keeper.

Pointing fingers at others is not the job of a Christian, people.  I have four pointing back at me, and that’s enough to keep me pretty, darn busy.

So again, I’ll say it.  From my heart and soul, I am sorry if I have ever hurt you with ill-advised words of counsel.  I want to be a different kind of Christian than all that jazz.  That crazy stuff is not for me.

And this much more…I know what it feels like to be hurt by the church.  I know what it feels like to resent the church.  I know what it is to feel wounded by the church.   To be hurt by that body of believers who call themselves the Church.  And, but for the Love of God, His Compassion and Mercy, I would still be in that miserable mess of thinking I am not enough.  Not worthy.

That is not Christianity, folks.  And if it is, then it is a gigantic FAIL.

Because the Jesus I know cannot often be recognized in the face of our present-day Church.  How very sad.  Because we cannot truly understand who we are until we understand who Jesus is, for our encounter with him, this “faceless” figure, defines what it means to be human.(excerpt from Has Christianity Failed You?, Ravi Zacharias)

This, my friend is Jesus:

No one was half so compassionate…, yet no one spoke such red-hot, scorching words….A bruised reed he would not break.  His whole life was LOVE, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell.  He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism he has all of our self-styled realists soundly beaten.  He was a servant of all, washing the disciples’ feet, yet masterfully he strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another from the mad rush and the fire they saw blazing in his eyes.

He saved others, yet at the last, himself he did not save.  There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts that confront us in the gospels.  The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality. (excerpt from “Has Christianity Failed You?”, Ravi Zacharias)

And yet.  In all of this, the Jesus I know, that same Jesus intimately knows just what a breaking heart needs, knows what hurt and pain can do to a soul.  Knows what a mess we all are in without the endless, limitless LOVE of the Father.

And Jesus’ message was one of LOVE.  Love trumps everything.  EVERYTHING!!!!  Love wins, folks.  Period.

For God is love.  And if we cannot feel the love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, what compels us to faith?  To grace?  What is the point?  Why believe?  There are better things out there, better institutions, better clubs to which one can cling or join than the alternative, those that spout messages of condemnation and hate.

But for God’s love, for His healing touch, the balm that soothes the soul after sorrow upon sorrow.  And believe you me, I have had my fair share of hurt and pain at the hand of those who call themselves Christ followers, I again say it:

Forgive us.  I pray we know not what we do.  And in the name of Jesus, let this humble, messed-up example of a Christian, let ME…with the grace of God and through His mercy and tender love, show you.  There is another kind of Christian  out there than what you’ve known.  Than what you’ve experienced.

And for now.  Indeed, for always.  Abide for me and for you, these three: FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.  And as God has loved me, so do I with God’s grace, want to deeply love others too.  And to ever let my life song sing this song of hope and love.  From the depth of my being.

Love wins.