The God who looks you in the eye

I can’t look you in the eyes.

My client said it to me.  I could hear him crying, but he buried his face in his hands. He was drowning in shame from acting out, yet again.

I’m repulsive.

And then he said something that stunned me.  I know God hates me and can’t look at me.

He was a young seminary student.  He’d been listening to some sermons from supposedly reliable guides.  He’d told me what he had heard before – God can’t look at us in our sin.  When he looks at us (and if we’re a Christian), he sees Jesus.

I asked him to look up at me.  He couldn’t.  I waited, and asked again after a bit.  And finally he raised his head slowly, and looked.  I suspect that in my eyes he saw love and felt safety.  His eyes welled up more.  At least you care, he says.

In some warped take on God’s love and human sin, he’s been told a lie.  I heard it again recently by a popular preacher who barks with force at his congregation – Some of you need to know God hates you.  He doesn’t just hate your sin.  He hates you. I’ll spare you the guilt-and-shame-filled YouTube clip.  And yet, thousands flock to it.

Like moths to a flame, many of us are simply irresistibly attracted to messages that either radically overstate our depravity or radically understate it.  Preachers, if you want to make it, tell people what they want to hear.  Two methods seem to work well.

1.  Many want to hear they’re awful. Preach shame and guilt to them.

2.  Many others want to hear they’re just fine. Don’t require anything of them.

Both are lies.  Both minimize the extraordinary and challenging love of God in Jesus.

What I told this young seminary student is to get to know the Jesus of the Gospels, the one who looks the most repulsive in the eye and smiles.  He loves and welcomes them, and then calls them to more.  The extravagant Father in Luke 15 runs toward his prodigal son, bringing shame upon himself, in order to convey his extraordinary grace and love.  You are my son. He gives him the ring, the robe, the feast.  And then he expects him to live like a son.

Original goodness preceded the Fall.  Before humankind fell, God smiled on them, bestowing dignity in his royal image.  Listening to some of these preachers, you’d think God forgot what he created.  But what Jesus sees in messed up human beings is what exists prior, that original dignity and glory.  This originally good self is hidden now, but God promises to reveal it, to reveal you.  As Frederick Buechner says, “The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all.” But because of Jesus, we’re washed, cleaned, restored.

God doesn’t hate you.  He’s not repulsed by you.

When he looks at you, he’s not wincing.

And, He’s not looking at Jesus, instead, as if in some twisted form of divine logic God can never look upon his children again, but instead must gaze upon his Son as our righteousness.

No.  You’re not disgusting.  Don’t believe the twisted, repulsion theology that has more in common with Pharisaism than Jesus.  God declares you not guilty.  He adopts you.  He loves you.  Because of his relentless covenant faithfulness, you are loved, welcomed, enjoyed.

But don’t believe the opposite lie either…that God is just some positive-thinker in the sky.  Don’t trivialize God’s love.  Don’t use his forgiveness as an excuse to discard living a life of extraordinary love for others, compassion, sexual fidelity, humility, and more.  God’s love is both welcoming and challenging. God smiles on you and invites you in, but he’ll not leave you unchanged.  By his grace, you’ll be challenged radically, not by a Divine Guilt-and-Shame Manipulator, but by the Incarnate God who humiliated himself for you.

It’s because he knows you.  He knows that original shimmering self that is you prior to the tragic cosmic Fall.  The doctrine of original goodness desperately needs to be restored, not to let us off the hook, but to let us in to a life lived free from shame, freed for a cruciform life of self-sacrificial love.

As you celebrate the Incarnation in Christ’s birth, witness Christ’s smile.  He didn’t come to remind you how bad you are, but how much you’re worth.

Why Penn State and Syracuse Matter…

At the Leadership for the Church in Mission conference the week before last, Prof. NT Wright ranted against the media obsession with the Penn State scandal.  I get it.  For Wright, the American news media is quick to jump on a sensational story, missing the more subtle stories of injustice in the states and around the world.  But I’m convinced this story is a moment of hope and opportunity for those who’ve been silenced by high profile, high-functioning abusers.

Having heard dozens of abuse stories over the 13+ years I’ve been a clinician and a pastor, there are few harder to stomach than these.  Somehow, we expect awful stories to emerge from those who live with so little already.  It’s when abuse breaks through in a middle/upper-middle/upper-class context that we shudder.  Not us.  Not here.  Not him.  Not her.

The facts about child sexual abuse are debated, but even the most conservative estimates place abuse of young girls well over 50% of the population, and young men well over 30%.  When Dr. Dan Allender came to speak at Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando in the mid-90’s, he shocked our conservative Christian campus with alarming stats.  2/3 of your female congregation have experienced sexual abuse.  More than half of the men have. “No way,” a buddy of mine whispered.  “A bunch of therapist BS.”  Yet, I suspect many of my seminary peers are not doubters today.  Spend enough time listening to people’s stories and you can’t deny it.  Sinister, stomach-turning child sexual abuse is far more pervasive than we think.

And that’s why the Penn State and Syracuse stories matter.  I’ve listened to and read sports commentary on this for weeks now.  So much of the intrigue is around how this could happen.  Someone said to me the other day, “It’s hard for me to believe there are Jekyll-and-Hyde types of people out there.”  Even among people we trust.  Even among our sports heroes.  Even in your church.  And perhaps even among your leadership.

But why does it matter?  It’s not a stretch, at this point, to believe that many who knew the alleged abusers at Penn St and Syracuse failed to sound the alarm.  Many, I’ve found, simply don’t get the damage of sexual abuse.  “Abuse?” one church elder once said to me.  “Isn’t that a strong word?”

“Yes, I replied.  It’s a very strong word.  It speaks to the depth of violation.  And, as a Christian, I can’t help but do everything I can to emphasize it.”  Why?  Because “abuse” assumes a vandalism of shalom, of God’s glorious intention for human dignity.  Abuse speaks to a violation, a violation of the dignity of a human image-bearer.  Abuse strips the victim of God-given beauty and innocence.  It introduces a pre-pubescent child to an adult world not only before her time, but from the perspective of an extremely dysfunctional framework.  It’s perhaps the most confusing, identity-shattering act that can happen to a child.

Over the years, I have counseled many adults who were abused as children.  Most have been very high-functioning.  You see, abuse sets many adults into a pattern of inner control and self-protection which allows them to compartmentalize and manage pain.  Many do this so well that they become extraordinary doers, successful in their field because they can absorb the blows.  But, many don’t even remember they’ve been abused until well into their adult life.  Memories can be triggered in a variety of ways, but when they come they can flood the victim with a rush of recalled scents, sounds, and sights which rattle them to the core.  Others do remember after the original abuse occurs, but vow to stay silent, to protect themselves, to protect the abuser, and to protect family members (…and teammates, coaches, etc.) from a reality which can radically disrupt a community.  Regardless, an abuse victim lives in a tightly-controlled inner world which protects him from the wildly frantic outer contingencies which cannot be controlled.  Who can blame him?

And this is why Penn State and Syracuse matter.  Wherever dignity is destroyed, wherever innocence is robbed, wherever shalom is violated and vandalized, Christians must be at the front lines, protecting and defending the innocent.  The level of outrage we, as Christians, feel must be proportionate to the outrage some Christians express over abortion, others over the poor, and still others over theological imprecision.

Penn State and Syracuse remind us that grown men who are respected and idolized can have secret lives, preying on the innocence of young children.  It can remind us that our need to protect others, though overwhelming at times, should never trump the ‘truth that sets us free.’

And, it should awaken us to an epidemic.  Imagine a disease that affected 50% of the population.  Let’s imagine this disease manifested in scarring and boils all over the skin.  Let’s imagine it drove its victim into shame, self-sabotage, and isolation.  Now, imagine this as a very real epidemic among the sexually abused. And consider the implications.

Men, consider the women you objectify.  Though beautiful and enticing as you view them on a web page, they have likely experienced soul-killing objectification from their earliest years.  Most, statistics would validate, have experienced sexual abuse of some kind.  Their reality assumes that they are meat for male consumption, and not image-bearers made for innocence, beauty, and dignity.

Women, consider the little boys men have become, especially as portrayed in television and media.  Consider the emotional deprivation boys experience because their fathers have no idea how to orient them to mature male adulthood.  Consider the obscenely sexualized world a young boy grows up in, and how few men are willing to step in to say, “Enough.”

There is something noble when the typically sexualized male sports commentator becomes sick to his stomach because older men are abusing younger men.  Now, let’s take the challenge to go further, and see this as an epidemic that impacts young men and women.  And let’s become adults, mature adults who are willing to call abuse abuse, who are willing to sound the alarm when any vandalism and violation of shalom occurs.  This may require us to tackle our own issues, our own blindspots, our own tendencies to sexualize, minimize, compartmentalize, or manage our own pain.  But real courage, Christ-like courage, invites us into the pain and difficulty, breeding honest, vulnerability, and truth, for the sake of God’s great love for his image-bearers.

That’s why Penn State and Syracuse matter today, far more than they’ve ever mattered, even amidst championships and victories.

To all the women who feel crazy with a narcissist…

Dear “Crazy”:

Yes, I know you’ve heard that word over and over again.  Remember the night you just couldn’t take it any more?  He wouldn’t listen, but he sat there sitting with that look…you know the look…as if to say, “You know how nuts you sound right now?”  And then calmly, rationally, methodically, he laid out your issues one by one.  And you slapped him…

Yep, now you’re crazy.

Crazy is the feeling you feel with a narcissist.  If it’s not a feeling on that popular “Feelings Chart” marriage counselors hand out, it should be.  It’s that moment you think and feel, “Maybe I am really out-of-my-mind…he seems so certain and I’m feeling so confused…maybe I am a bad Mom, maybe I am a bad wife, maybe I should just ‘get help’ like he says and realize what a good guy he is.”

Narcissists feign emotion with the best of them, but lack real empathy.  They can appear calm and clear, cooperative and seemingly open, charming…even sensitive.  A young therapist can be easily drawn in to his convincing orbit.  Many times I’ve sat with a younger supervisee who says, “He seems really great, but she seems like a basketcase.”

I’ve been down this road many times with many narcissists.  Crazy thing is, I’ve grown to really care for them.  I’ve come to enjoy working with narcissistic men because I know what they don’t yet know…that deep down, they’re vulnerable little boys who need to be loved.  But that doesn’t mean you need to feel this.  In fact, you may need space.  You may need to get out.  You may need to protect yourself.  And you certainly need to take care of yourself…or, in my perspective, allow yourself to be loved by One who won’t subject you to this emotional and psychological abuse, One whose heart breaks for you in a way that his doesn’t.

But hear this – though you feel crazy, you are not crazy.  You may be broken.  Confused.  Fragmented.  Trapped.  Stuck.  But at your core, you’re loved more deeply than you know, and valued more profoundly than you feel.  Your dignity and sanity, at some level, has been stolen, but your work now is to begin listening to a more gracious Voice.  And you need to feel all the permission in the world to get to a place where you feel safe, where you can begin to recover, where the sanity can end and real healing can begin.

Finally, a word about your responsibility.  I know what you’re thinking.  You’ve done stupid things, said stupid things.  Yes you have.  I don’t buy into this whole, “He’s the abuser, you’re the victim” thing, in large part, because we’re all more deeply broken and confused than we know.  Yes, you’ve blown it too.  But what sets you apart is your willingness to own your own stuff and to heal.  You are a victim.  And you are responsible. Yet, unlike him, you have empathy.  You feel.  You are capable of repenting.  You can be rightly grieved for how you’ve hurt others.  And so, you’re well on your way to healing.  And part of that healing with involve discovering your own story, why you are susceptible to the crazy-making ways of the narcissist, and how you might self-sabotage, too.  It’ll be a hard journey, but a good one.  And you’ll feel much more clear and whole in the end.

After reading this, I hope you feel a little less crazy.  But do me a favor.  Find community – preferably your church, a safe pastor and therapist, people who will look you in the eyes and tell you the truth about yourself.  And late at night, when the voices of confusion enter again, listen for the whisper of One who says, “I love you.  You’re not crazy.  You’re my beautiful daughter.  It’s time to leave Egypt, and fix your eyes on the promised land.  Your slavery is over.”

Pastors Care Too Much

I was talking to a fellow professional in the world of psychology today, a seminary professor and a pastor, a man who has evaluated literally hundreds of candidates for ministry.  We were comparing notes.  We’ve both administered tests (like the MMPI and MCMI) that evaluate for pathology.  And it took about 3 minutes to discover that we’ve both seen Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) emerge more than any other as the most common disorder among pastors.  But why?

The symptoms of HPD include:

  • Being easily influenced by other people
  • Being overly concerned with looks
  • Being overly dramatic and emotional
  • Being overly sensitive to criticism or disapproval
  • Believing that relationships are more intimate than they actually are
  • Blaming failure or disappointment on others
  • Constantly seeking reassurance or approval
  • Having a low tolerance for frustration or delayed gratification
  • Needing to be the center of attention
  • Quickly changing emotions, which may seem shallow to others

    Now, pastors with HPD are ordinarily very high functioning, as are most who struggle with this.  But, they (we!) often find ourselves over-functioning, intervening when we ought to set a boundary, becoming overly worked up about certain things others might shrug off, reacting quickly and sensitively, becoming defensive, and (as a result of all of this emotional exertion!), becoming easily tired.

    No wonder so much of the pastoral literature in the past two decades is about pastoral burnout.

    But, vacations and naps won’t fix the problem.  Rather, we need to see that we’ve become people who care too much.  We’re over-compensators, often thrust in to situations in our childhood where we were called upon to “be adult,” to negotiate, to help make the peace, or to intervene on behalf of someone being made fun of.  I’ve heard these stories time and again.  It’s no surprise that we become ministers.

    But our “caring too much” extends to our theological hyper-vigilance.  I was reminded of this recently as I’ve been re-reading some of the great old epistles of 1st and early 2nd century saints like Polycarp and Ignatius.  Over and again, they fought for unity, and tackled only the major heresies of their day.  They didn’t quibble over relatively small issues.  In their missionally animated world, they didn’t have the bandwidth.  There was no extra energy to litigate every apparent slippery slope.

    How do you care too much?  How do I care too much?  It’s a strange idea, and even sounds a bit heretical itself.  Aren’t pastors paid to care?

    And where did this begin for you?  For me?  Do we know our own stories well enough to see where these histrionic patterns started?  And who knows you well enough to call you out on your over-caring patterns?

    Share with me your thoughts.

    On Self-Deception

    Demosthenes once said, “Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.”

    Listening to James K.A. Smith speak to our Newbigin Fellows this past weekend, I was reminded of the importance of liturgical worship, and one of its core elements – Confession.  It’s why we need church each and every week.  It’s why we blow off worship to our own peril.  Confession invites us to do the most difficult of things – to see our self-deceit.

    Paul Tripp says, “The DNA of sin is self-deception.”  And the liturgical Confession of Sin is like truth serum.  It jolts us into seeing ourselves as we really are.

    Oh yes, I really did try to pull the wool over his eyes.

    Crap, I really did manipulate those numbers.

    God, forgive me for continually pointing the finger at everyone else.

    Confession requires courage.  Yes, we fear that looking at ourselves reveals a kind of weakness, that we’ll see our real vulnerabilities.  But vulnerability is the doorway to freedom.  See yourself clearly, and you’re likely to gain more than you’ll lose – relationships, integrity, respect.

    Sometimes we find ourselves becoming more like Jesus not because we’re good, or because we’ve succeeded, or because we’re doing the right thing, but because we’ve seen the log in our own eye instead of the speck in another’s.  We may feel powerful reciting the narrative we believe about some other screwed up person, but confessing our own deceit invites us into a holy powerlessness, a place where we need Jesus more than we know.

    And that’s where we find the greatest freedom.

    on self-compassion, inner critics, and becoming the beloved | 3

    I heard an interview with a struggling baseball player the other day.  The radio personality interviewing him said, “It must be tough right now.”  The player said, “It’s always tough.  We work in a profession where succeeding 3 out of every 10 times is success.  We’ve got to learn to deal with frequent failure.”

    The player was cut from his team a week later.

    Former Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent once said, “Baseball teaches us… how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often — those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.”

    It’s the strange paradox of Christianity that we, at times, take ourselves so terribly seriously while believing ourselves to be so terribly sinful.  To be sure, we ought strive like athletes reaching toward the goal, as St. Paul often says.  Yet, we’ll often stumble and fall.  John Calvin, who took life and theology very seriously, reminds us this is so, saying that each of us strive to “the measure of his puny capacity,” not despairing at “the slightness of our success.”

    Why are we Christians so obsessed with our successes?  It’s as if it’s all up to us, despite the fact that our theology tells us it isn’t so. Again, there’s no shame in trying.  However, sometimes we’ve got to get over ourselves before our trying and striving become redemptive and helpful.  Sometimes, our striving gets in the way of our own ‘salvation’, as the poet Mary Oliver writes.  We hear the many needy voices around us, and feel the world’s redemption is dependent on us.  “Mend our lives,” the voices around us cry.  The world shouts to us with its needs.  But sometimes we’re not healthy enough to help.  Sometimes, our helping is more a reflection of our deep distraction from God rather than our deep consecration in Him.

    And, if we’re fortunate, we awake to this reality when we’re younger rather than older, when the damage we’ve done is less than it could have been, and when we realize that our successes are not so much a product of our expertise as much as God’s providence in using our “puny capacities,” as Calvin said, for something we couldn’t imagine.  And then, a poet like Mary Oliver bowls us over with her extraordinary truth, a truth gleaned from her observation of the theater of God’s glory and his people’s stumblings, as she writes

    One day you finally knew
    what you had to do, and began,
    though the voices around you
    kept shouting
    their bad advice–
    though the whole house
    began to tremble
    and you felt the old tug
    at your ankles.
    “Mend my life!”
    each voice cried.
    But you didn’t stop.
    You knew what you had to do,
    though the wind pried
    with its stiff fingers
    at the very foundations,
    though their melancholy
    was terrible.
    It was already late
    enough, and a wild night,
    and the road full of fallen
    branches and stones.
    But little by little,
    as you left their voices behind,
    the stars began to burn
    through the sheets of clouds,
    and there was a new voice
    which you slowly
    recognized as your own,
    that kept you company
    as you strode deeper and deeper
    into the world,
    determined to do
    the only thing you could do–
    determined to save
    the only life you could save.

    Mary Oliver, The Journey

    And, we realize that we’re the ones drowning.  Enamored with our supposed successes, we’ve been the one in a slump, swinging and missing over and again in the game that really counts.  Perhaps, we’ve been selling posters and signing autographs.  But, we’ve used this as a distraction, too afraid to look at our own-the-field failures.

    In this game, though, God doesn’t cut players.  It’s the only game in town where this is so.  You’ve been listening to other voices which are not your own, and he knows it.  And so he invites you to listen to the voice that you recognize as your own, the voice that will keep you company as you strive deeper and deeper into the world.  There is not retreat for the stumbling Christian.  Only redemption.  And so, he says walk on.  Play on.

    And perhaps, in time, you’ll recognize that the “voice you recognize as your own” is, indeed, his voice, which speaks when you are most authentically you, his beloved child.

    On Self-Compassion, Inner Critics, and Becoming the Beloved – Part 2

    I love this poem by Fleur Adcock.  Take your time and read it.  I’ll share some thoughts after it…

    Weathering

    My face catches the wind
    from the snow line
    and flushes with a flush
    that will never wholly settle.
    Well, that was a metropolitan vanity,
    wanting to look young forever, to pass.
    I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
    and only pretty enough to be seen
    with a man who wanted to be seen
    with a passable woman.

    But now that I am in love
    with a place that doesn’t care
    how I look and if I am happy,
    happy is how I look and that’s all.
    My hair will grow grey in any case,
    my nails chip and flake,
    my waist thicken, and the years
    work all their usual changes.

    If my face is to be weather beaten as well,
    it’s little enough lost
    for a year among the lakes and vales
    where simply to look out my window
    at the high pass
    makes me indifferent to mirrors
    and to what my soul may wear
    over its new complexion.

    What strikes me about this is that Adcock has found a place beyond the “metropolitan vanity” of looking young forever.  She has discovered a place that “doesn’t care how I look and if I am happy.”  We aren’t told much about this place, but it seems as if it is without expectation, forgiving, accepting.  And perhaps the most vivid image is one that strikes us at the core of our narcissism:

    where simply to look out my window
    at the high pass
    makes me indifferent to mirrors.

    Adcock has encountered a beauty which has so captured her that her own vanity is pointless.  Once obsessed, she is now “indifferent.”  And she is happy.

    happy is how I look and that’s all.
    My hair will grow grey in any case,
    my nails chip and flake,
    my waist thicken, and the years
    work all their usual changes.

    Vain, obsessed, and narcissistic, a part of us longs for her freedom.  We are curious about this place she’s found where her waist can thicken.  It must be a place without advertising billboards and rampant pornography.  She can grow grey, a feature of distinction in men but not so in women.  Ask any actress over 40.

    In our vain world, the Inner Critic shouts its harsh message. It comes in different packages:

    Fat. Ugly. Unsightly.

    Old.  Irrelevant.  Yesterday.

    Unwanted.  Worthless.  Stupid.

    Failure.  Useless.  Expendable.

    Which is your loudest critic?

    This place Adcock has found comes in many names and with many different descriptions.  But it is the safest place one can find.  I find it in the embrace of the father in Luke 15, the moment where the prodigal son is welcomed into the open arms of a father whose love is unbridled, unleashed, undignified.  To his own embarrassment, the father risks social ostracism to embrace and welcome his outcast son.  The son is safe – loved, welcomed, celebrated, empowered, covered.  If only this display of reckless love was characteristic of today’s churches.  Perhaps, fewer would experience the power of the Critic.

    To live in this internal and external world dominated by the Critic, we need to find this safe place.  Adcock found it.  I struggle each day to live in it myself, as the day is often marked by loud voices that demand, expect, require, demean, and devalue – and most are within. Many who I see for therapy report the same battle.  Life has conspired to create many challenges to our wholeness, to our self-compassion, to our enjoyment of being the beloved.

    What is this place for you?  How do you experience moments of self-compassion, of happiness, of being the beloved?  How do experience this extraordinary space in which Adcock can declare:

    But now that I am in love
    with a place that doesn’t care
    how I look and if I am happy,
    happy is how I look and that’s all.

    On Self-Compassion, Inner Critics, and Becoming the Beloved – Part 1

    I’m beginning a new series of blog posts on self-compassion, recently requested by some friends and clients.  It’s an odd concept, particularly if you’re a Christian.  In fact, it may ring of a kind of secularized bastardization of God’s love.  I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time arguing with those who’d desire a theology of self-compassion and self-love though, complete with lots of Bible proof texts.  Rather, I’m writing as a psychologist interested in the inner workings of the human spirit, concerned with how God gets his love deeply rooted in us, and concerned about broken human beings.  It’s a bit like a doctor writing on the complex process of healing from a broken bone.  The Healer is identified in Scripture, but the specifics of healing are not spelled out.  As Christians, we ought to be unafraid to explore what Calvin called the “theater of God’s glory,” this vast and complex world (and inner psychic world) shrouded in mystery, but in need of God’s gracious love.  So, let’s explore.

    When I think of self-compassion, I’m reminded of the loud Inner Critic most of us wrestle with.  This intimidating inner voice attacks us with harsh messages – “You made a fool of yourself in that meeting,” “No one really cares what you think,” “Everyone sees that you’re not as smart as you try to be.”  At worst, we say, “I hate myself.  I hate how I look, who I am, what I’ve become.”  This often condemning voice is something we’d rather see go away.  Rather, I think God longs to love even our Inner Critic.

    The Critic plays a role within.  At its best, it’s our conscience, reminding us when we’ve crossed a line, or prompting us to consider drinking one less drink.  At worst, it’s a 10 foot tall monster within, attacking us with accusations, and no doubt prompted by the Accuser himself.  But, it’s a part of us no less loved and in need of redemption.  And if God won’t turn away from even the scariest or darkest parts of us, who are we to do the same?

    I’ll often tell my clients to imagine gazing compassionately on their scary Inner Critic.  I’ll say, “What if your Critic just wants a bit of love?  Seems like an angry grinch in need of a hug.”  Many can believe God loves them and wants them redeemed.  I’m speaking of the unique instances when WE are the obstacle to love, when we say, “No matter what, I can’t get past this feeling of self-hatred.”

    Let’s be honest.  We can argue psychological and theological semantics here, but we can’t deny the experience of the addict, the cutter, the binge eater, the purger, the chronic exerciser, and the gender mutilator.  Our self-hatred drives us toward acts of cruelty to ourselves.  I’ve seen it time and again.  Our broken psyches play vicious games within.

    But here’s what I find.  When people turn toward their Inner Critic with compassion, what they begin to see is that this 10 foot monster is just a little thing, trying to keep a frantic inner powerless and pain in check.  In fact, the Inner Critic’s role is to manage the countless inner contingencies that lie underneath – your propensity to get a bit too wild, to drink a bit too much, to harm yourself, or to harm others.  With an eye of compassion, the Critic becomes a beloved friend, shrinking in size from monster to mouse.  Stripped of its power to self-condemn, it can be a powerful ally – a sanctified conscience.

    In the next post, we’ll talk about why the Inner Critic is so loud.  What is it protecting us from?  What fears motivate it?  And how can we begin to indwell God’s Spirit so deeply as to become our truest selves, capable of profound self-compassion and bold self-sacrifice, in the likeness of Christ?

    But before I end, I’m going to introduce you to a poem of self-compassion.  This comes from Mary Oliver, an East Coast poet who has clearly had to contend with her own Inner Critic. Ask yourself, what is she saying when she says, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves?”  What parts of you betray your First Love?  What false selves clamor for security, attention, approval, acceptance, and more, only to fall under the vicious knife of the Inner Critic?  What would it mean to “find your place in the family of things”?

    WILD GEESE, Mary Oliver

    You do not have to be good.

    You do not have to walk on your knees

    for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

    You only have to let the soft animal of your body

    love what it loves.

    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

    Meanwhile the world goes on.

    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

    are moving across the landscapes,

    over the prairies and the deep trees,

    the mountains and the rivers.

    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

    are heading home again.

    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

    the world offers itself to your imagination,

    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

    over and over announcing your place

    in the family of things.

    On Christian Hypocrisy 1 :: Who are We?

    Dear Skeptic,

    Thomas Merton once wrote, “All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything in the universe is ordered.”

    If you are truly a skeptic, you likely repel at the thought of a concept like sin.  But maybe you’ll entertain the concept of hypocrisy.  You know it.  You’ve seen it, time and again.  And you’ve noticed its peculiar redundancy among us – Christians.  I’d like to say, in fact, that you’re very right in noticing it.

    Hypocrisy.  Its roots run deep.  It was a word applied to Greek actors – people who played a part.  HypocritePretenderActorThe false self.

    You might be encouraged that Christians call this sin.  But it doesn’t keep us from engaging in it.

    I heard it said recently of Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, both who’ve spent many hours on stage.  But I’ve also heard it said of John Edwards, who called himself a Christian before his own stage-act was exposed.  False selves can be found in Democrats and Republicans, in theological conservatives and theological liberals, in pastors and in plumbers.  Truth is, we’re all so good at playing the part.

    So, I ask, “Who are we?”  Who are you?  Can I trust what I hear and see from you? And can you trust what you hear and see from me?  What we can agree on, at the outset, is this:  I agree that Christians are hypocrites.  But hear me out.  I’m quite sure we all are.

    I don’t know a person without a story, and I don’t know a story without some conflict, confusion, struggle, fear, or shame.  How we cope defines our stories, their trajectories, their plots, their highs and lows.  I know a Christian who coped with his tragic sexual abuse by becoming a six-figure success.  On paper.  In reality, his life was a mess.  Just ask his three children who no longer know him.

    Oh yes, we’re guilty of hypocrisy.  In fact, I’m going to argue that we, Christians, don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Sure, we say we believe in sin, even in a concept called total depravity. We believe in a false self, “the self that exists only in my egocentric desires.”  But we’re utter failures at seeing our own false selves.  Ideas are easier to see than human realities.  We’re fearful, scared of looking within.

    Who am I?  Who are you?  We have much in common.  I look forward to exploring all of it with you.

    Yours in this journey of human curiosity,

    Chuck