Broken

Every idol finally says, ‘You must be broken for me.’

Only Jesus says, ‘This is my body, broken for you.’

Does anybody else get this feeling they’ve been reading the Bible upside-down their whole life?

I built most of mine around the idea that “brokenness” was a spiritual state to strive for, one God desired to bring me into, the only one in which he could bless me. So I earnestly practiced self-loathing and exercised my soul in welcoming ill treatment and unhealthy circumstances as divine messengers. I learned to associate the hand of God with hurt, with shame, and with the violation of my selfhood.

The day I read the above quote (Matt Smethurst) I just sat there for a while staring at it in astonishment. And I realized, once again, how many lenses we can be trained to wear as we read the Bible. Somehow, despite a life of Bible studies and read-the-Bible-in-a-year programs, I managed to overlook the fact that Jesus’ mission – the entire focus of his work, the stated intent of his message – was to MAKE WHOLE. And that far from demanding we be broken for him, he was willing to be broken for us.

So this whole concept I had of the Divine just crumbled to dust and blew away.

I am embracing a change of lenses. I want to be reacquainted with this God who does not see us as things to be broken but beings to mend. I want to reacquaint myself with a gospel that is a calling to restoration, to healing, to wholeness.

Happy Sunday wherever and however you celebrate it ☀️

Fixing Gay

An unusual (unusual for the forum) conversation got started the other day in a Brethren group I follow on Facebook when a member posted a warning for Christians dating same-sex attracted people: marriage doesn’t fix gay.

Quite a few people participated, and not just straight, married Christians, which was good because we got perspectives from people in different situations – gay & celibate, gay & in mixed-orientation marriages, heterosexual & single, and heterosexual & married. Missing, however, was the perspective of straight spouses in a mixed-orientation marriage, and (not surprisingly) the perspective that is most representative of gay spouses in mixed-orientation marriages.

To give these a voice in the conversation, I shared a quote from Kathy Baldock’s book, Walking the Bridgeless Canyon (a must-read if you are concerned about LGTBQ Christians):

“A person with a homosexual orientation decides to enter a mixed-orientation marriage for a variety of reasons. Some believe their ‘homosexual struggles’ are temporary, a curiosity, or a phase they are going through, and that it will not be permanent. Many gays and lesbians in the past, especially during their younger years, lacked the language or understanding to acknowledge their attractions even to themselves, much less to others. This is particularly applicable to people over forty. They believed, and were often directly told by religious and ministry leaders, that their ‘homosexual struggles’ would disappear when they entered into heterosexual marriage. Gay Christians believed these lies by the hundreds of thousands.

Believing they might be able to suppress their natural orientation, gays have married straight people. The overwhelming majority of gays who married straight spouses genuinely did feel sincere love for their spouse when they got married. Because sexual orientation has three components – sexual identity, sexual behavior, and sexual attraction – people can sometimes juggle two of those balls in the air for a time, but not for long. The romantic high early in a relationship and the sexual behavior masquerade can help one turn a blind eye to natural orientation, but it can rarely be sustained.

Most gay people I know who have been, or are, in mixed-orientation marriages care for their spouses deeply. The potential of eventually hurting them can keep gay spouses in the marriage even though the straight spouse suffers in other ways. A spouse in a mixed-orientation marriage rarely gets the appropriate romantic, emotional, and sexual care he or she deserves.

Gay spouses quite often elect to come out when their children are raised and the partners are empty nesters. It is then that the sense of lifelong, profound emptiness and longing to be with a person of the same sex can be overwhelming and even crushing to the gay spouse. Contemplating the life they’ve robbed their spouse of, along with their own loneliness and deception, slowly destroys them from the inside. Most gay spouses eventually experience a life-or-death urgency to come out. Many times, freedom for the gay spouse becomes a gift for his or her straight spouse as well.

Bruce Strine, 62, from Westminster, Maryland, knew he was same-sex attracted from an early age, yet he married a woman when he was twenty-four years old.

‘Before we got married, I shared with my wife that I struggled with same-sex attraction. We both naïvely thought that once we got married, those desires would go away. If anything, it confirmed to me that I was gay. Sexual intimacy with my wife felt awkward and unnatural. During the last twenty of our thirty years of marriage, there was no sexual intimacy.

We are separated now and will eventually divorce. After we separated, I told my wife that my deepest regret is that I was unable to meet her emotional and sexual needs. My question for anyone who is gay and thinking about marriage to someone of the opposite sex is: “Will you be able to meet his or her emotional and sexual needs?” If the answer is “no,” it would be unfair to the other person to pursue marriage.’”

Unbelieved

I just finished watching the new miniseries on Netflix by this title, inspired by true events. It’s about a young woman who reports being raped but later recants under pressure and “confesses” having lied about it (and is prosecuted for her supposed false report), and the police investigation in a different state that finally led to the capture of the serial rapist who had indeed raped her and many other women. It is a grim story to watch but good – even necessary, I think.

As Adrian Horton put it in his review for The Guardian, the series is “a portrait in how things should be – how serious sexual assault cases should be taken, how crucial it is to listen to victims, how memory lapses and scattered details should be considered part and parcel of trauma memory, not a strike against it.”

Marie Adler, the victim accused of presenting a false report, was not believed even by the people closest to her. Her friendships, her mental health, her lodging, her job, all fell as collateral damage. There is a very poignant scene where she was asked by her assigned therapist how she would handle the situation if it ever happened again. This was her answer:

If I had to do it over…I would lie earlier – and better. I would just figure it out on my own, by myself. No matter how much someone says they care about you, they don’t – not enough. I mean, maybe they mean to, or they try to, but – other things end up being more important…Even with good people and with people you can kinda trust, if the truth is inconvenient – if the truth doesn’t, like, fit – they don’t believe it.

I could not help but think of the many people in religious systems – specifically my own, the evangelical world – that have borne such terrible burdens. The burden of living in environments where abuse is structurally enabled, and abusers protected. The burden of being forced to occupy positions (because of age, or gender) that make them terrifyingly vulnerable. The burden of being shamed and disbelieved. The burden of having to keep secrets. The burden of having to pretend or lie because the truth is inconvenient to others. Burdens that they must stagger under their whole lives.

And I ask, with Detective Karen Duvall, WHERE IS OUR OUTRAGE?

Marie Adler’s stern, two-word response to the officers’ fumbling and inadequate apologies applies to us as well: DO BETTER.

I Pour Out My Complaint

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A few days ago The Gospel Coalition shared a podcast called “What Your Grumbling Says About God“, based on 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The pull quote said:

“If the Lord is entirely sovereign (which he is), and if he is always good to you in Christ (which he is), well then, when we grumble and complain in any circumstance, we’re actually denying God’s involved. Denying that he’s being good. And who do we think we’re grumbling and complaining against?”  

There were a lot of reactions to this, most of them asking how Scriptures like Job, the Psalms or Lamentations fit in such a categorical statement. 

The subject brought to mind a book I read not too long ago, The God I Don’t Understand, by Christopher J. H. Wright. One of the themes he talked about was the importance of lament. We have a tendency to think that faith is expressed by stoicism in the face of suffering, since “everything comes from the Lord”. Like the author of the podcast, we think that complaining, in any circumstances, is denying God’s goodness. But this is a burden that God does not place on our shoulders. Wright had some helpful things to say on this subject:

“In the Bible, which we believe is God’s Word, such that what we find in it is what God wished to be there, there is plenty of lament, protest, anger, and baffled questions. The point we should notice (possibly to our surprise) is that it is all hurled at God, not by his enemies, but by those who loved and trusted him most. It seems, indeed, that it is precisely those who have the closest relationship with God who feel most at liberty to pour out their pain and protest to God – without fear of reproach. Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled for us in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill in our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes. Perhaps this is because whatever amount of lament the world causes us to express is a drop in the ocean compared to the grief in the heart of God himself at the totality of suffering that only God can comprehend…

It surely cannot be accidental that in the divinely inspired book of Psalms there are more Psalms of lament and anguish than of joy and thanksgiving. These are words that God has actually given us. God has allowed them a prominent place in His authorized songbook. We need to find both forms of worship in abundance as we live in this wonderful, terrible world.

I feel that the language of lament is seriously neglected in the church. Many Christians seem to feel that somehow it can’t be right to complain to God in the context of corporate worship when we should all feel happy. There is an implicit pressure to stifle our real feelings because we are urged, by pious merchants of emotional denial, that we ought to have “faith” (as if the moaning psalmists didn’t). So we end up giving external voice to pretended emotions we do not really feel, while hiding the real emotions we are struggling with deep inside. Going to worship can become an exercise in pretense and concealment, neither of which can possibly be conducive for a real encounter with God. So, in reaction to some appalling disaster or tragedy, rather than cry out our true feelings to God, we prefer other ways of responding to it.

It’s all part of God’s curse on the earth.

It’s God’s judgment.

It’s meant for a warning.

It’s ultimately for our own good.

God is sovereign so that must make it all OK in the end.

But our suffering friends in the Bible didn’t choose that way. They simply cry out in pain and protest against God – precisely because they know God. Their protest is born out of the jarring contrast between what they know and what they see.”[1]

In this dysfunctional and painful world, we express our faith not by suppressing pain, feigning contentment, or trying understand everything, but by taking our lament before the presence of God – as the psalmists, prophets and other saints before us – while we await the dawn of the Day of justice.

Pour out your heart before him (Psalm 62:8)

Cast all your anxiety on him (1 Peter 5:7)

[1] Christopher J. H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand (Zondervan 2008), pp. 49-52

A fitting prayer:

“After the Last Tear Falls”

“Nothing happens to the Christian by chance.”

I used to have this quote hanging in my kitchen. It challenged me to accept everything that came into my life – annoyances, disappointments, offenses, illnesses – as chosen by God for my spiritual development. There was another similar one I had written down in a notebook: “Thy home-life was chosen for thee by the unerring skill of One who knows thee better than thou knowest thyself, and who could not mistake. It has been selected as the best school of grace for thee. Its burdens were poised on the hand of infinite love, before they were placed on thy shoulders.”[1]

But one cannot remain cloistered in a kitchen or a notebook forever. Life marched on and as it did I got some uncensored views of the hideous things that actually go on in homes, churches, and society at large. I also began to realize just how much quotes like those had helped me rationalize and submit to abusive behavior during my childhood and young adult years. One day I took the quote in my kitchen down and threw it away. It had lost its glow. Such statements, surely, could only be made by the very sheltered or the very obtuse. Try telling someone who was abused by a parent that God chose their home life for them with unerring skill and infinite love. Try telling someone whose spouse deserted them that God himself arranged this event as a lesson in his school of grace. Try telling someone whose best friend was killed by a drunk driver that “nothing happens by chance”.

The problem with this version of Divine sovereignty is that it proposes a God who wields evil as a tool. It also compels people to accept wrongdoing or abusive treatment instead of acknowledging it and putting a stop to it.

Yet this does not mean that we are at the mercy of “the bludgeonings of chance”[2]. The God who does not determine evil and suffering has decreed that they shall not have the final word. In the Deepest Magic of all, as C. S. Lewis might have put it, he has made them “start working backwards”[3].

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)

This is the thing that offers true hope. Not that we have to accept everything that happens as ordained by God, but that we can accept everything that happens as redeemable by God. “All is not for naught”[4]. I leave you with Rebecca Reynold’s poignant words:

God stands ready to make every problem and difficulty purposeful.

If you are currently in the throes of intense suffering, I don’t expect this talk will be much comfort to you. In the worst moments of my life, there is nothing anyone could have said at a podium that would have helped me. I needed an arm around me. I needed a warm drink. I needed patience and room to grieve. I needed a wide field and permission to yell until I couldn’t yell anymore.

But if you have passed through the first squeeze of pain and now stand dazed, wondering what happened to you and what could possibly come next, maybe this will help somehow. Maybe you will walk with me to the God who didn’t abandon you – though I know it may feel like he did.

I know you may not want to trust Him. You may be angry with Him for allowing you to hurt as much as you did. The thought of Him might make you flinch. But here is the God who sees you:

“He wipes away every tear.”

“He makes all things new.”

“He works all things for the good of those who love Him.”

These are statements of healing that deny neither the grief nor the severity of what you have endured. These statements invite you to be honest about the intensity of your emotions. They allow you to believe that Jesus sometimes sits beside Mary and Martha, weeping in compassion with them, days, decades, an entire lifetime after he has allowed Lazarus to die, and before he raises him from the dead.

And while Jesus weeps in compassion, it’s okay if you do, too… believing what Andrew Peterson has taught us: that after the last tear falls, there will be love, love, love, love, love.

 

[1] F. B. Meyer, Elijah: The Secret of His Power                                     [2]William Ernest Henley, Invictus
[3]C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
[4]Rebecca Reynolds, http://www.thistleandtoad.com/wwwthistleandtoadcom/writings/2016/10/11/the-gift-of-your-suffering-to-the-body-of-christ-hutchmoot-talk-2016 (accessed 04/11/18)

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