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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

{Blogger} Dashboard Confessional

image from Andrew Beierle
Sometimes I wonder if it seems as though I'm always pointing out and criticizing loveless behavior in others, particularly those in the church culture I grew up in, while remaining silent about my own faults.  The sad truth is I've been plenty guilty of loveless behavior myself, and it grieves me to remember certain episodes in my life that were marked by it.  There are many things I wish I'd said or done differently throughout my lifetime.  As Josh Garrels sings, "I'm holding on to hope that one day this could be made right..."  I can't go back and change the past, but to acknowledge some of these times when I failed to love seems to me as though it would be a step toward healing...

To my parents:
I am sorry for all the times I wasn't grateful for the countless ways you took care of our family through the years.  I remember complaining as a kid when we wouldn't go out to eat with other families on Sunday nights after church, not recognizing how hard it sometimes was just to put food on our table at home.  It serves as one small example of a million ways in which I have failed to appreciate you both.  But in my heart I have never stopped being thankful that you're my parents, or that you were the first people to lead me toward Jesus, and I'm sorry for the times I haven't shown that.

To my grandparents:
I am sorry for that time I stupidly listened to my Whiteheart cassette tape on headphones while we hiked the beautiful trails at Mt. Rogers instead of simply enjoying your company.  I'm sure it wasn't the only time I failed to show appreciation for the many wonderful experiences you made possible for me and Cassidy growing up.  So many of my favorite memories now are of times spent hiking or camping or boating or playing tennis or going on picnics with you, but I wonder how many times you had to drag me along, how many times I complained or, as in this instance, tried to tune out the experience just because it wasn't what I would have chosen to do at that moment.  I'm sorry for not savoring those times with two of my favorite people in the world.

To the young gay man who joined the singing ensemble I was part of in high school:
I am so sorry for how I looked down on you, joining in the jokes that were made behind your back about the stage name you supposedly used at some gay bar where you allegedly performed.  Is that even something someone young enough to be in high school would have been legally permitted to do?  Probably not, yet the rumors flew, and few (if any) of us bothered to ask such questions, opting instead to laugh at you with condescension.  Now, granted, you were never very friendly to us, either, but who knows how much mistreatment you had already faced before you ever met any of us that might have led you to hold yourself aloof?  It doesn't excuse my attitude toward you, and I'm sorry.

To the young girl in a youth group I used to work with in Tennessee:
I am so sorry for the time I chastised you for being excited about an upcoming youth convention, reminding you that not all of the Christian life is a mountaintop experience and we would be wrong to count on those high times to get us through the low ones -- as if God doesn't graciously give us all moments of relief and refreshment that do, indeed, help sustain us through life's hardships.  Why did I feel it so necessary to burst your bubble?  Your excitement was not a flaw, and I'm sorry for acting as though it was.

To my friend I once called out for including the word "ass" in a photo caption on Facebook:
I am so sorry for my self-righteous compulsion to make a mountain out of a very meaningless molehill.  I made you feel small and inadequate (and this was certainly not the only time), as though your choice of words somehow overshadowed the many wonderful things about you, like your love for Jesus and your deep compassion for others and the beautiful, creative soul He made you to be.  I'm so sorry for choosing to focus on the one thing I disapproved of at the time instead of shifting my thoughts to all the things I love about you.

To Adam Lambert (and to any fans of his or anyone who related to him in any way):
I am so sorry for condemning you during your time on American Idol because I didn't approve of your lifestyle or appreciate your often-dark musical choices.  I'm sorry for all the ridiculous things I posted on Facebook during those months, many of which I mercifully no longer remember, but the tone of which I recall being incredibly negative and judgmental.  I do remember once asking people to pray for three of your fellow contestants, as though you weren't good enough to be prayed for.  I'm so sorry for not simply seeing you through eyes of grace as a person with a soul and a lifetime of experiences I know nothing about.

To the one I tried so hard to control a few years ago (and honestly, this could be extended to many of my friends, though I have one particular person in mind at the moment):
I am so sorry for not trusting God to guide your decisions.  There had been a time when I was a major source of encouragement in your life, but as the months went on I felt more and more confident that I knew better than you did what you ought to pursue with the years that lay ahead of you, and I made it increasingly clear how much I disapproved of your desires.  I even threatened to distance myself -- empty threats, because the truth was I didn't want distance, I just wanted to manipulate your choices.  The deepest regrets of my life came during this period, and even now I fear you might be experiencing residual effects of how I treated you.  (And truthfully, I fear this for each person I'm addressing here, and probably for others I haven't thought of during this writing.)  I hope and pray God has relieved any of the burdens I helped to fashion in your life.  I pray you find freedom and beauty and life.  And I'm so sorry for working against these things, the very things Jesus came to bring us.

This post hardly even begins to scratch the surface of ways I've stripped my fellow humans of their God-given dignity as His image-bearers throughout my lifetime, but they are some of the moments that haunt me, even if I've accepted forgiveness for them and moved on.  Loveless behavior has not been a problem in church culture alone.  It has been a problem in me.

image from sallydell
These are some of the reasons I've come to cling so tightly over the past few years to Christ's call to love.  We're told in Scripture that love is greater than hope or even faith.  We're told it drives out fear and covers a multitude of sins.  We're told it is the singular thing that fulfills all of God's law.

I've spent too much of my life ignoring these facts, minimizing love's importance, attempting to redefine it in ways that allow me to see myself as better than others.  But increasingly my desire is to let go of my pride in order to love people well.

Jesus was full of love for souls wounded by the passions of men; he loved to bind up their wounds and to find in those very wounds the balm which should heal them.  Thus he said to the Magdalen:  "Much shall be forgiven thee because thou hast loved much," a sublimity of pardon which can only have called forth a sublime faith.  Why do we make ourselves more strict than Christ?  Why, holding obstinately to the opinions of the world, which hardens itself in order that it may be thought strong, do we reject, as it rejects, souls bleeding at wounds by which, like a sick man's bad blood, the evil of their past may be healed, if only a friendly hand is stretched out to lave them and set them in the convalescence of the heart?
-Alexandre Dumas-fils

I'm publicly repenting of the times I've tried to be "more strict than Christ."  I want the rest of my life to be led by His example of humility and marked by love.  Not control.  Not selfishness.  Not arrogance.  Not self-righteousness.  Love.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Year of Lament, Part 3

image from eszter dobay
Monday, February 16, 2015
Dear one, if you are in a season of healing, then let God heal you.  He can be found anywhere.  He certainly isn't contained within a building, for the love.  If you need to rest, rest.  But maybe one day when you're ready, you can try again.  There is a safe faith community for you.  This I know.  It exists.  It may be some teeny, tiny little place.  It may be some big, fancy loud place.  It may be with the Episcopalians or with a home church.  Who knows? 
And you are an important part of it.  It's not just that you will receive.  You will give too.  We need you.  You bring something special and important to the body and don't forget it.  God heals all of us through each other.  It's this crazy weird miracle... 
You are so loved and precious.  God can bind up even the worst wounds.  And His people can be so beautiful, so loving, so healing.  I pray you find them, in whatever context, wherever you are, exactly as you are. 
-Jen Hatmaker
In today's headlines is a story of ISIS beheading 21 Christian Egyptian men.  And I wonder as I read about such things how the hell the church continues to fire shots at its own.  I've just watched as way too many people have become collateral damage, left broken along the side of the road, over the past year in a quest for "truth," for the sake of pet doctrines that betray our prideful self-righteousness, for the ability to move forward with organized institutions without the inconvenience of working through tough spots.

And I'm weary of the casualties.  I'm weary of those who are doing the wounding going uncontested.  I'm weary of our insistence upon neatness, upon homogeneity.  I'm weary of having a heart that constantly feels stuck in tension, torn between different directions.  I'm weary of organizations taking precedence over individual lives.  I'm weary of doctrines and structures being given priority over LOVE.

My heart is tired.  I'm tired.  I'm tired of feeling jaded and cynical.  I'm tired of every flame of hope that gets kindled in my heart being inevitably doused with another ousting, another proclamation of error in the lives of others.

Jesus came seeking those who lived life on the fringes.  He offered an easy yoke and a light burden.  He proclaimed freedom and life.  He spoke and dined with those with whom it was taboo to speak and dine.  Aching, broken outcasts were drawn to Him.

How did we, His people, become those doing the casting out, causing the ache, creating the brokenness?

I ran across an article recently chastising those who criticize the modern American evangelical church because, since the Church is Christ's bride, it ought to be loved.  It's not the first time I've heard such an argument, and it's not without some merit, yet I wonder how we can make such a blanket statement when a large portion of the Old Testament is devoted to the voices of prophets who spent their lives calling Israel -- God's chosen people -- out for how they had strayed from His design.  The prophets didn't call them out for not being religious enough -- on the contrary, it was noted repeatedly that they did well with all their religious rituals.  What was sorely lacking was love:  love for God in the form of an actual active relationship and heart connection, and love for fellow man in the form of justice and mercy.

In the present-day representation of God's people in the Church, we may think we've got the "loving God" part down, but throughout Scripture it is made clear that one cannot love God without loving his fellow man.  We're told that mercy is better than sacrifice.  If the nation of Israel was repeatedly rebuked for lacking love and mercy, how much more so ought we to be -- we who claim to follow Jesus, lover of the sinner and outcast, not only in word but in DEED as He took part in their lives?

If there's one thing I've come to believe as I continue to grieve the lack of sacrificial love I see in the Church, it's that the prophets' hearts were constantly wracked with grief for the very people to whom they preached.  It is joyless to watch the ship that was sent to rescue people sink because of its own passengers' volatile determination to shape the vessel into their own images.

Sometimes I feel like I can't stand one more day in the machine that's flattening people as fast as -- or faster than -- it's setting anyone free.  I don't want to be implicated any longer in the choices that are leaving people bloodied on the side of the road...

In contrast to my pain and frustration and grief, thank You, Jesus, for the fresh, springlike air that fills this unseasonably warm February afternoon.  Thank You for people who love me, for people who understand me, and for people who don't understand me but love me anyway.  Please help me to love well and to be a conduit of healing, not hurt; of life, not death; of freedom, not chains.

Read here the Introduction, Part 1, and Part 2.

A Year of Lament, Part 2

image from matteo canessa
Saturday, November 1, 2014

Well, perhaps I won't be writing as frequently as I'd hoped or imagined.  And maybe this is going to be a book of laments.  My spirit is definitely troubled again today.

Today I'm troubled after reading Tony Kriz's account of how he was asked to leave his ministry at Reed College.  Someone dared to challenge the accepted norms in American Christianity and was deemed "dangerous" and removed.  What troubles me most is the fact that the supposedly "dangerous" practices/teachings look way more like Jesus' life and ministry than the "safe,"
acceptable norms we insist upon.  The more I hear about things like this, the more I wonder how in the world we've reached such an extreme cognitive dissonance that we don't even recognize how opposed our American conservative evangelical ideologies and methodologies too often stand to the ways of Jesus.  I can't help but be grieved again and again to see how little we look like Him and how oblivious we are to that fact.

Lord, have mercy.

I think back to our conversation in class Wednesday night about how Israel's great failure was repeatedly forgetting her identity as the people of God, which led her to neglect what had been handed down and instead to adopt the ways of the surrounding nations that did not know or trust God, nor look out for their fellow man.  We today often make the same mistake, forgetting our identity as Christ-followers and neglecting what was handed down to us through Him and His church.  We've adopted the ways of our culture, treasuring our independence, capitalism, and consumerism and largely ignoring the voices around us crying out for hope and healing.

How have we strayed so far, Lord?  How can we be brought back?  Can You restore our humility?  Can You make us agents of hope and healing again?

Lord, have mercy.

Read here the Introduction, Part 1, and Part 3.

A Year of Lament, Part 1

image from Bobbi Dombrowski
Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's been such a tumultuous year, Lord.  My heart feels like it's been beat to a pulp with all that's happened.  I've felt many times as though I'm drowning in brokenness.

Why do people in the evangelical/conservative/American/whatever church dismiss people like N.T. Wright, or like Scot McKnight, or even like Donald Miller or Eugene Cho, without even truly weighing what they have to say?  Why are there brilliant lines of thought coming through the likes of these people that hold desperately needed wisdom, that Your people refuse to give a second thought?

Why do we, Your people, spend the bulk of our energy concerning ourselves with things other than what Jesus revealed as the primary concerns of Your heart?  Why are we increasingly defined by who we kick out of fellowship?  Why is Your Church no longer a refuge, a safe place for the most broken of sinners and proponents of the most scandalous grace?  Who do we think we're pleasing?  You?  Surely not.  What are we trying to prove?  That we've got it right and those who don't ought to be shunned?  How far from the life Jesus lived...

My heart has been so overwhelmed with grief this year, and the most grievous part is almost every single drop of this grief has been born of the words and/or actions of Your people.  God, I know we're all broken and imperfect, but is this seriously the best we can do??

We need more Lisa Smiths and Whitney Gorbetts and Cari Jenkinses.  We need people who actually believe in the power of love to transform.  We need more conduits of Your grace and agents of Your healing.

I think the hope that lives in me has been brutally assaulted over the past year.  I think the enemy has tried to kill my belief in Your Kingdom's ability to invade this broken, hurting world as I've watched its citizens fire cannons at each other and perpetuate a cycle of devastation that renders us completely incapable of being any good to the world around us.

God, I know You are bigger than our brokenness, our ignorance, our refusal to listen to Your voice.  But I am desperate to see Your Kingdom breaking through all this senselessness, to see Your people acting as Your hands and feet instead of assuming we can act as Your mind; to see Your Church serving, loving, helping, and healing rather than judging and condemning.

Lord, have mercy.

Thank You for being a good God I can believe in even as I watch things crumble around me.  I know You desire more for us than this.  Help me to be an instrument of that.  "Make me an instrument of Your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.  Where there is darkness, let me shine light."  Help, Lord.

Read here the IntroductionPart 2, and Part 3.

A Year of Lament: Introduction

When I went to my first Q Conference in April 2014, I purchased a journal through the organization To Write Love On Her Arms.  The cover reads, "Let us not be silent...your story is important."  Ironically, I had no idea just how silent I would become in the months that lay ahead of me.

A series of events was about to unfold that would leave me virtually incapable of expressing the movements of my heart.  As conflict erupted in my church, I found I couldn't turn in any direction without seeing someone I loved experiencing excruciating pain -- people on all sides of the conflict.  My INFJ heart knows not how to avoid absorbing the hurts of those around me, and there were more hurts swirling around me than I could begin to process, in my own mind or on paper.

The journal I brought home with me from Q Nashville lay dormant.  You'll only find two entries dated 2014.  A glance at my blog reveals that I only posted two entries here during the entire year as well.  Even as 2015 began, I wrote virtually nothing.  No blog posts and only one journal entry until May.  Words just wouldn't come.

Thankfully, I've sensed the darkness beginning to subside over the past couple of months.  I'm finding words again.

And hope.

I remember thinking last year that what I was experiencing needed to be shared at some point, but seeing as I could hardly even write in my private journal, I was certainly in no place to share publicly at that time.  Now that the fog is lifting, however, I think the time is right.  And so I share at last some excerpts from those few pained journal entries written during what I've come to refer to as A Year of Lament...

Read here Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.