Month: January 2012

Hiding from God

How our Shame Hinders our Engagement in God’s Mission

Part of my own story includes a lifelong battle with shame.  Ask my Mom and she’ll tell you I came out of the womb fearful.  I was an insecure kid who played it safe for the most part.

Ask a theologian and she’ll tell you that shame is a Garden-grown existential reality.  It’s a part of the Family story.  As the old story goes, Adam and Eve hid from God.  And as Brennan Manning writes, “We all, in one way or another, have used them as role models. Why? Because we do not like what we see. It is uncomfortable—intolerable—to confront our true selves.”

There is much that keeps us from moving out into the lives of others in mission.  Shame may be at the core.  Made for dignity by a God who called us his “image,” our original task was royal ambassadorship of the King.  What a noble call!  For many of us, though, it feels like too much.  God could use me?  Never!

For some of us, even the notion that God has rescued us in Jesus isn’t enough.  We’re still paralyzed by a sense of our depravity, mired in continuing guilt, sucked into an unending cycle of self-doubt, unable to embrace the extraordinary reality that God has taken up residence in us – in you!

Lewis Smedes writes, “Grace overcomes shame, not by uncovering an overlooked cache of excellence in ourselves but simply by accepting us, the whole of us, with no regard to our beauty or our ugliness, our virtue or our vices. We are accepted wholesale. Accepted with no possibility of being rejected. Accepted once and accepted forever.  Accepted at the ultimate depth of our being.”

But we cannot accept ourselves, sometimes.  We sabotage grace, doubting God’s love for us.  And in our shame, we find ways of numbing, coping, dealing.  We drink a little too much, or shop to avoid, or mindlessly surf the internet, or embrace substitute “dramas” (sports, novels, politics), or surgically alter ourselves, or fill ourselves with calories, or look for love in a sexual encounter, or busy ourselves, or feed on moral perfection or theological certainty, or hide behind our titles, or exercise it all away.

Find the most arrogant person you know, and you will find one of the most deeply insecure and ashamed people you know.

Shame.  It’s nurtured, of course, by imperfect parenting and impossible standards of success.  But it’s our birthright as children of Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve hid from God and we all, in one way or another, have used them as role models.

Do you want to learn to love others?  Do you want to engage more faithfully in the mission of God?  Do you want to live selflessly?

First, you need to embrace a love that is total, an acceptance that is unconditional, a grace that is unmerited.  You enter into the mission of God wholly not out of guilt or from some motivational talk or through a need to justify yourself.  You enter it wholly when you know you’re loved and accepted wholly, believed in, smiled upon, held, known, embraced.

…when you encounter the God who calls you the Beloved…

____________________

For more on living the Story God invites you in to, check out:

Moving Beyond Polarization into Mission

I’m moving on.

I’ve spent the last decade-plus in the midst of a sad and frustrating polarization.  In other posts, I’ve talked about it as the Emergent-Resurgence polarization.  It’s the newest episode in a long series of polarization-episodes.  We, Christians, are Academy Award winners in the Polarization Genre.  Best debates.  Best books.  Best blogs.  Best condemnations.  Best wars.  Best schisms.  Best denominational debates.

Recently, I realized that I was being emotionally-tugged into its black hole.  That’s what this polarizing debate does, after all.  It sucks you in.

Anne Rice quit organized Christian religion because of it.  It tires many.  It energizes many others.  Having taught in both conservative and liberal seminaries, I’m aware of both ditches.  But I get too emotionally involved.  I find myself triggered by what seems to me  to be crazy-talk.

I’ve been slowly trying to wean myself of this.  I’ll admit it.  I’m drawn in to the craziness.  So are many of you.  I see the tweets and get the emails, but sadly I’m not often wise or courageous enough to maturely move through and beyond them…

I decided to do my degrees in counseling and psychology not just to figure myself out (that’s almost impossible, and even frightening!), but to better understand the complex and dysfunctional world in which I live.  In my best moments, my calling is clear – to help men and women live more spiritually and emotionally healthy lives, which in turn propels them into mission – into the lives of others with great faithfulness. In my worst moments, I’m tired, cynical, sarcastic, embarrassed of myself and other Christians, and ready to throw in the towel.

In recent days, I’ve plowed back in to the personal baggage of my own life, and seen my own dark recesses.  More importantly, I find myself drawn back to the center – God, in me, whispering the truth – “You are my beloved.” This penetrates through the bitterness and cynicism.  It reveals my own crap, helps me to own it (repent), and propels me to move beyond it.  That’s where I am right now.  

I am deeply troubled by what I see in me, but also what I see around me in both fundamentalist/evangelical circles and in liberal/progressive circles.  I’m grieved by the division.  Jesus said in John 17, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

We are not one.

My deeper passion, personally, is to help men and women heal the dividedness in their own souls.  I really do believe that healing this divideness is a very big key to a more profound healing between men and women.  Throughout Lent, I will be praying through this, blogging about it, and working toward a next book I hope to write that I am calling “The Mission of God’s Beloved.”

Only as we realize that we are the Beloved can we possibly move toward others with compassion instead of caricatures.

I’ll only continue to write as I do the hard work of doing business with my own inner dividedness.  Thankfully, I’m in a community and among people who demand more from me.

The Mission of God’s Beloved…

Let’s reflect on this throughout Epiphany and Lent, and into Holy Week.

Rilke on Self-Compassion

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can. dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is,to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you win then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.  Ranier Marie Rilke

Thomas Merton on “Freedom”

“To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell. Selfishness is doomed to frustration, centered as it is upon a lie. To live exclusively for myself, I must make all things bend themselves to my will as if I were a god. But this is impossible. Is there any more cogent indication of my creaturehood than the insufficiency of my own will? For I cannot make the universe obey me. I cannot make other people conform to my own whims and fancies. I cannot make even my own body obey me. When I give it pleasure, it deceives my expectation and makes me suffer pain. When I give myself what I conceive to be freedom, I deceive myself and find that I am the prisoner of my own blindness and selfishness and insufficiency.

It is true, the freedom of my will is a great thing. But this freedom is not absolute self-sufficiency. If the essence of freedom were merely the act of choice, then the mere fact of making choices would perfect our freedom. But there are two difficulties here.

First of all, our choices must really be free—that is to say, they must perfect us in our own being. They must perfect us in our relation to other free beings. We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves. From this flows the second difficulty: we too easily assume that we are our real selves, and that our choices are really the ones we want to make when, in fact, our acts of free choice are (though morally imputable, no doubt) largely dictated by psychological compulsions, flowing from our inordinate ideas of our own importance. Our choices are too often dictated by our false selves.

Hence I do not find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like.

On the contrary, if I do nothing except what pleases my own fancy I will be miserable almost all the time. This would never be so if my will had not been created to use its own freedom in the love of others.

My free will consolidates and perfects its own autonomy by freely co-ordinating its action with the will of another. There is something in the very nature of my freedom that inclines me to love, to do good, to dedicate myself to others. I have an instinct that tells me that I am less free when I am living for myself alone. The reason for this is that I cannot be completely independent. Since I am not self-sufficient I depend on someone else for my fulfillment. My freedom is not fully free when left to itself. It becomes so when it is brought into the right relation with the freedom of another.

At the same time, my instinct to be independent is by no means evil. My freedom is not perfected by subjection to a tyrant. Subjection is not an end in itself. It is right that my nature should rebel against subjection. Why should my will have been created free, if I were never to use my freedom?

If my will is meant to perfect its freedom in serving another will, that does not mean it will find its perfection in serving every other will. In fact, there is only one will in whose service I can find perfection and freedom. To give my freedom blindly to a being equal to or inferior to myself is to degrade myself and throw away my freedom. I can only become perfectly free by serving the will of God. If I do, in fact, obey other men and serve them it is not for their sake alone that I will do so, but because their will is the sacrament of the will of God. Obedience to man has no meaning unless it is primarily obedience to God. From this flow many consequences. Where there is no faith in God there can be no real order; therefore, where there is no faith obedience is without any sense. It can only be imposed on others as a matter of expediency. If there is no God, no government is logical except tyranny. And in actual fact, states that reject the idea of God tend either to tyranny or to moral chaos. In either case, the end is disorder, because tyranny is itself a disorder. The immature conscience is not its own master. It is merely the delegate of the conscience of another person, or of a group, or of a party, or of a social class, or of a nation, or of a race. Therefore, it does not make real moral decisions of its own, it simply parrots the decisions of others. It does not make judgments of its own, it merely “conforms” to the party line. It does not really have motives or intentions of its own. Or if it does, it wrecks them by twisting and rationalizing them to fit the intentions of another. That is not moral freedom. It makes true love impossible. For if I am to love truly and freely, I must be able to give something that is truly my own to another. If my heart does not first belong to me, how can I give it to another? It is not mine to give!

Free will is not given to us merely as a firework to be shot off into the air. There are some men who seem to think their acts are freer in proportion as they are without purpose, as if a rational purpose imposed some kind of limitation upon our liberty. That is like saying that one is richer if he throws money out the window than if he spends it.

Since money is what it is, I do not deny that you may be worthy of all praise if you light your cigarettes with it. That would show you had a deep, pure sense of the ontological value of the dollar. Nevertheless, if that is all you can think of doing with money you will not long enjoy the advantages that it can still obtain.

It may be true that a rich man can better afford to throw money out the window than a poor man, but neither the spending nor the waste of money is what makes a man rich. He is rich by virtue of what he has, and his riches are valuable to him for what he can do with them.

As for freedom, according to this analogy, it grows no greater by being wasted, or spent, but it is given to us as a talent to be traded with until the coming of Christ. In this trading we part with what is ours only to recover it with interest. We do not destroy it or throw it away. We dedicate it to some purpose, and this dedication makes us freer than we were before.”

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

The Tebostles Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty
Maker of football and beer,
And in Tim Tebow, His only Son,
Who was conceived by Urban Meyer,
Suffered behind Kyle Orton,
Was crucified, demoted, and buried as a fourth string QB,
He was relegated to the bench,
On the sixth week he rose from the bench,
He proceeded to the huddle,
And ‘tebows’ on his right knee before the Father,
From there he will come to judge the critic and the skeptic,
I believe in the Holy Spirit of Tim,
The American church,
The communion of #jesuswinners,
The forgiveness of Tim’s critics,
The worship of Tim’s body,
And “I’d like to give thanks to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” everlasting.
Amen

(Christian) Family Dynamics

We all know Newton’s third law:  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Or, at the least, we know it in our relationships.  Family Systems theorists have argued for decades that a principle of polarization exists in families.  When one person acts extremely, another generally reacts to the opposite extreme.  Let’s take the Smiths.  When Mrs. Smith decided to take a day at the spa, Mr. Smith was angry.  As the breadwinner, he works hard for the money.  Frustrated and motivated by not-a-little self-pity, Mr. Smith decided to work longer hours that week.  In turn, Mrs. Smith bought a $150 pair of jeans.  Late that week, a fight broke out between the two.  Mrs. Smith was angry with Mr. Smith’s distance.  Mr. Smith was angry with Mrs. Smith’s selfishness.  An exercise in missing the point.

The two wanted intimacy, closeness, connection.  Their polarized argument may have revealed grains of truth (Mr. Smith does work too much and Mrs. Smith indulges too much), but missed the real point.

Our family dynamics as Christians are similar.  Our fights don’t often reveal our real issues.

Now, our polarizations may include real and important differences (I wouldn’t deny objective differences among, for instance, those who deny Christ’s deity and those who do).  But, healthy families talk about differences.  Sometimes, differences lead to separation.  But separation, itself, marks a commitment to the healthiest relating possible amidst difficult circumstances.

However, unhealthy families explode in the midst of difference, often clouding real issues and failing to talk about what is most important.  Factions polarize.  Smaller issues divide.  Mountains are made out of molehills.  And in our anger, it’s so hard to see the real struggle.  Let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of it.  Polarization began in the Garden.  “She did it!  No, he did it!”

Having taught courses in a conservative, evangelical and confessional seminary and also in a liberal, progressive, and constructive seminary, I see these features in both.  Caricatures dominate.  In the liberal seminary where I taught a course, I recall becoming very defensive when a student challenged the notion of “God’s Kingdom” as a patriarchal and inherently violent term.  Internally polarized, I reacted with some anger.  What did I miss, though?  I missed an opportunity to hear the student’s story.  Later, I checked in with her.  My student (who was a minority, herself) was not, in fact, opposed to the language, but to a religious philosophy that champions the dominant group over the minority group.  I validated that.  And then I explained that the Kingdom of Jesus is an upside down Kingdom, where the weakness of the Suffering Servant paves the way for the redemption of broken, needy, sinful men and women.  She teared up.  “I like that Kingdom,” she said.  A new journey began for her.

Likewise, a conservative student was flustered when he found out that I was egalitarian.  He began arguing with me on the data.  But this time I stayed centered, not giving in to my propensity to argue, caricature, polarize.  I told him my story, a story which includes influential conversations with my former professor, a great Reformed theologian who taught at Gorden Conwell and RTS named Roger Nicole, lauded even among ardent complementarians (clink on the link).  He saw that I studied the Bible, and that my journey was not guided by some “misguided feminist agenda,” as he called it, but by “thoughtful study.”  He relaxed.  And so did I.  Polarization AVOIDED.

What if our family could move in this direction?  What if we asked one another more about our stories than assuming some slippery slope, or some arrogant agenda? Let’s talk.