When even the “good guys” don’t get it…

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What do you do when even the “good guys” don’t get it?

Not long ago I had one of the most perplexing conversations I’ve ever had.

While I was waiting to speak with someone else after the morning worship service a man – a leader – came up to me and started a conversation.  He is one of the good guys.  Kind.  Compassionate.  Caring.  His wife is beloved.  His children are happy and stable.  He genuinely works hard – and gladly – for the welfare of the flock.

And that is why this conversation was so perplexing.

He leaned over to me, and in an effort to be lighthearted and engaging, he said, “Did you notice that it was the women who were the ones who commented on what the angels were wearing?”

I blinked in disbelief in what I had just heard.  I couldn’t help but simply stare at him with an open-mouthed lack of response.

He was referencing the sermon text, Luke 23:32-24:53, which covers Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, and the events that followed.  The text mentions that when the women who went to Jesus’ tomb with spices for his dead body, “two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.”

He continued, “Isn’t that just like women?  I can be talking to my wife about something and she can’t remember any of it, but then she’ll say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s the night I was wearing my skirt with the frills on it and the big flowers,’ and then she remembers.”

I didn’t recall it being recorded that the women mentioned this in the text – surely it came out at some point, but the Bible doesn’t draw any attention to the women talking about clothing.  I finally said, “I don’t think the angels’ clothing was really all that important to anyone at the time.”

And then I couldn’t help myself.  Since he was still standing there, willing to continue in conversation, I said, “Actually, what I did notice from that part of the story was that Jesus’ resurrection was revealed to those women first, that their immediate response was to share that glorious news with his disciples, and that the men didn’t believe them.  And it occurred to me that men not believing women, simply because they are women, regardless of the veracity of what they are saying, is still a problem.”

Now it was his turn to blink with an open-mouthed lack of response.

I went on, “_________, with all due respect, and I mean that sincerely, what you just said is offensive.  We have a serious problem with men thinking that women are dimwits who don’t care about serious, theological truths and issues that genuinely matter.  This thinking is such a distortion in the church that it  makes this a place that is ripe for abuses of power and authority to take place.  At the heart of this is an attitude of superiority and a devaluing of women.  While we give verbal ascent to both sexes being equally made in the image of God, we don’t really live it out as we should.  It’s not a joke.”

To say that he was surprised by my response is an understatement, but to his credit, he was willing to continue to engage.  But the way the conversation went after this has sent me spinning for months.  He said, “OK, tell me this.  Don’t you think that the whole #MeToo stuff is going a bit far?  Don’t you think that there’s a lot of claiming of victimhood when it’s not really true?  I mean, guys are afraid to flirt now – what’s so bad about a little harmless flirting?  Everyone is so worried that they’re going to be accused of sexual harassment that they can’t even ask a woman out on a date.  And what can a man possibly say in his own defense?  Don’t get me wrong, I agree that sexual harassment is wrong, and we shouldn’t tolerate it, but I have to ask, in light of all that is coming out with the #MeToo stuff, what about the men?”

The truth is, I wanted to yell at him – rail at him.  I was honestly flabbergasted at what he had just said.  “What about the men?!  Are you kidding me??”  THE MEN?  I’m sorry – did you just say that OUT LOUD?

Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to not want to embarrass either of us, and the inkling that he was genuinely asking me a sincere question.  An annoying question, an ignorant question to be sure, but a sincere one, nonetheless.  And so, I answered him as best I could.  I tried to give him a little education on the scope of the problem.  I gave him a few statistics – and told him that every study done shows that the problems of abuses of power are equally as bad in the church as they are in society in general.  I explained to him that #MeToo encompasses every kind of sexual misconduct from unwelcomed sexual advances (including some of the “harmless flirting” he mentioned) to gang rape and sex trafficking and every unimaginable thing in-between.  And I tried to explain to him that even in our congregation – this group of God’s people that we both love dearly – it has been exceedingly difficult to have anyone understand the nature and impact of being a lamentable member of the #MeToo “stuff”.

His response to all of that made me sad.  Really, really sad.  He said, “I know, I know, but what about the men?”  I had tried to address many of the reasons that sexual misconduct should be taken seriously, but I hadn’t answered his biggest concern – that he might be falsely accused.  I tried one more time.  “___________, false accusations are wrong.  Period.  There is never, ever, an acceptable reason to accuse someone of wrong-doing when it isn’t true.  You will never hear me defend that.  But the reality is that the incidence of that is very, very low.  Yes, we need to be on-guard that men are not also victimized by false allegations.  But please, please don’t get hung up there.  The problem of sexual misconduct is incredibly vast.  Many have been victimized by it and many continue to be. It causes life-long suffering in many cases.  It stems from a fundamental view of women as less than – less entrusted by God spiritually, less intelligent, less wise, less worthy of respect simply because they are women.  It comes from attitudes of entitlement – why should women have to endure ‘harmless flirting’ if it’s not wanted?  What do you say to your daughters when men view them as nothing more than merchandise for their own greedy pleasure rather than human beings with dignity, worthy to be respected?  Please – you have got to look at this differently.  You have to see how un-Christlike this is!  You have to see the opportunity for men to stand up and be the ones correcting other men from viewing women this way – in the work place and in the church.

He said, “Oh, I definitely see where this kind of thing is a problem in the workplace.  But I don’t agree that we have that much of a problem in the church.  We value women here as co-heirs with Christ – equal but different….  Hey listen, gotta run.  It’s been great chatting with you.  Enjoy the rest of your day.”

And that was that.  I have no reason to believe that any of what I said (or anyone else for that matter) has resonated with this man.  There has been no acknowledgement of this, no follow-up of any kind.  And so I am left saddened by the ineffectiveness of my words and the depth of misunderstanding revealed in his.

The saddest part of this for me was that he is one of the “good guys.”  A man who loves his family, is well-regarded in the church and community.  He cares about people – he really does.  He just doesn’t value us all the same way.

This is the level of ignorance we are dealing with – all of us.  Things like male privilege, white privilege, national superiority, and every other kind of thinking that creates an “us” and a “them” are so ingrained in us that it will take a huge amount of effort to fundamentally change the thinking that is involved around these inherent wrongs.  It is profound.  It is not universal, but it is pervasive, and those who are blind to their own ignorance are the hardest to reach with the truth of it, however kind or caring they might otherwise be.

I have puzzled over this conversation many times since it happened.  It has served as a reminder that many of my brothers (and sisters) have a long way to go in understanding so many basic things.  But so do I, for it has also served as a reminder that Jesus has been incredibly patient with me.  He has had to speak slowly and clearly to me because I am frequently too dense to understand what he is saying.  He has had to repeat things many times because I am prone to forget what he just taught me.  And he has had to lovingly rebuke me when my stubbornness (or laziness or arrogance) has interfered with progress on the path of righteousness.  I want to be like him – loving enough to slow down and be clearer, loving enough to be patient and kind in the face of sluggishness, and loving enough to be unalteringly committed to truth and righteousness even when it is unwelcome.

This is what we do when even the “good guys” don’t get it.  This is what we’re called to.

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To Be Blessed

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IMG_2452Sometimes… you just have to share the encouragement in your life…

Last night my 2 youngest kids (ages 18 and 20) came into my home office around 1030pm. I was writing and they were totally interrupting, but I learned a long time ago to lay everything aside when your young-adult kids want to talk.

They were just chatty, silly even. They just wanted to be with me, which I love. They’ve both struggled a LOT this year, so this sweet, normal slice of life was good to see. My son (the 20 year old – who was about 7 in the photo above) was playing his guitar, asking me to listen to some new things he was working on. This is a particular gift to him, because this has always been a particular irritant to the abuser in his life – he hated when my son would just mess around on the piano or guitar, especially if it interrupted his tv watching…

I taught my son the first few things he needed to learn on the guitar, but he has far surpassed my abilities. He knows, however, that I love to listen and learn from his ‘working stuff out’. So he will often say, “hey, Mom – listen to this…” and play some bit that he’s finally mastered. Last night, he showed me a complex fingering and strumming combination he figured out. It was a sweet moment.  I said, “look at the amazing skill God has worked into your hands!”

Then I looked down at my own – tired, wrinkly, worn. I let the regret that had been building during a rough day slip out and said, “I used to have nice hands, but like so much else they’ve just been used up.” My son stopped playing and, in all seriousness said, “Mom – your hands are beautiful. I LOVE your hands!”

Then he got up, came over to where I was at my desk, took both of my hands in his and with a rare glimpse into the tenderness of his young-man heart, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Mom – these hands have taught me so much. They’ve taught me all the good things I know. These are the most beautiful hands I’ll ever know. They’re not used up – they’re just showing how much you’ve loved us and given to all of us. They’re beautiful Mom, don’t ever think otherwise.”

It was tender and sweet and so encouraging. It was a moment to savor and store up in the treasure of good memories we are trying to build together. It was especially beautiful because it was spontaneous and so heart-felt.

All three of us reveled – and shared – in the sincere encouragement that was given.  That’s a wonderful thing about encouragement, isn’t it?  It’s contagious.

His heart-felt blessing to his Mama opened the door, too, for the conversation to shift to both of them sharing deep hurts they are working through, but also deep thoughts they are wrestling with God over. It was profoundly moving to sit there with these two young souls whose suffering is shaping them, too. This journey is being used by God to shape my kids’ stories, too. I was blessed by what my kids shared with me last night, and as I reflected on what they’d said, I realized that they will be able to bless others in due time with what they are learning and becoming because of all of this. It can be brutal to watch your kids struggle. But moments like these show that much can be happening beneath the surface.

These hands have worked hard to bless my family – and I don’t regret a moment of that. My son rose up last night to tell me how I have blessed him through that loving service, but in doing so, he blessed more than he will know for a long, long time. I suspect, however, that in genuinely blessing me, he went away blessed as well. That’s how blessings go, isn’t it?  They multiply.

Words Matter

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Words Matter

“Why do you write?” someone recently asked me.  I confess I was a little taken aback by the question.  My initial thought was to respond, “Why not write?!” but thankfully I held my tongue.  Instead I began to ponder the question, which came from someone who struggles with words.  It was earnest and sincere and borne out of much frustration, so I wanted to consider him, and his questions, carefully.

Why should we wrestle with words which feel sometimes as if they are a hungry lion wanting to eat us instead of submit to our will?  Why wade through the torrential downpours of tornadic thoughts to create order out of paragraphs, sentences, words?  Why pick through the rubble of thousands of choices that don’t quite fit in order to find the gem that works perfectly?

Because words matter.  Words connect us as we link them together in strands of meaning and these strands, these fragile, tenuous strands are some of the main things that hold all of our relationships together.  Words are beauty and pain shared.  Words are the expression of human experience that generates “with-ness.”  Words are how we declare to the world around us who we really are and what is important to us, and how we learn that about others.  Through words we disclose the essence of what it means to be human to one another.  And that is a beautiful thing.

Words are the bridge to hearts and minds

Have you ever considered that words are the only way to precisely get a thought or idea from your own mind into another’s?  They are the bridge we build to gain access to the hearts and minds of others, and that because of this, we can be with one another in a supremely unique way.  It’s true.  We’re doing it now – you and I.  It happens so often – it is so utterly common and ordinary – that we easily forget how glorious it is.  As I write, I’m thinking about you, dear reader.  I’m wondering how you’ll receive these thoughts being refined into words which flow from my mind to yours.  I’m considering how to articulate and express things for your benefit and I’m wondering if I’m being clear enough – precise enough – to have you cross over into my world and see things from my perspective.  I may not know you – I may never meet you.  But the simple logic of you reading this means you and I must each exist and therefore we are experiencing a “with” one another that is only achieved through words.

It’s amazing!  Language is a gift bestowed uniquely to humanity.  Oh, I know, the dogs in my neighborhood can all start barking at one time if a fox or a thief wanders through and the bees in my beehives “told” each other where the best nectar was.  But no animal can express a thought or idea to another.  They can warn, they can alert, some argue they can do a bit more, but none of them considers beauty and discusses it.  None of them laments tragedy or injustice.  None of them can debate about the truth of a matter or the seriousness of it – they can’t even chat about the hum-drum of their days!  No, only humans can do that, and humans can only do that through words.

Words hold power

It is no surprise, therefore, that words have incredible and distinct power and influence.  In the biggest “with us” humanity has ever known, God himself became The Word, and The Word used words to communicate truth to us.  He spoke creation into existence using the unimaginable power of his words.  He gave instruction through words to reveal more of himself and his desired relationship with his people.  But in becoming Word, God gave us his fullest expression of himself.  God’s Word, articulated in human form demonstrated the very essence of who he is so we could begin to comprehend his heart, his character, his will, and his love.  He communicated himself to us by being The Word with us.

Words are important to God.  Words are what God has chosen to reveal Himself to us.  He could have just wired everyone’s mind to already know him – like the instincts that animals possess to build nests or swim up the coast of California each year.  But he didn’t.  He used words and he calls us to do the same.  This is why language is stunning and beautiful and staggering all at the same time.  This is why we write and speak.  It is not solely to communicate information – it is in order to be with another soul and communicate the most important things in all the world!  Words create the opportunity to connect the core of who we are to the core of another in a way that absolutely nothing else can.  We can know a lot about another person – what they look like, where they live, what they do, etc.  But we can’t really know another person without words.

Caring for souls matters

Once in a while I wonder if my words really have any impact.  Does what I observe or think about the world around me help anyone?  Impact anyone?  Change anyone?  Does what I write do any good?  But often after those thoughts arise someone says something like, “Hey, thanks for what you wrote.  I shared it with my friends at Bible study because I found it so helpful,” or “I sent your piece to my Dad and he told me later it changed his life.”  I don’t know those people, but wow!  I have been able to be with them in a way that only words can provide, in the same way that I can be with you even now.  What a huge and humbling privilege to be invited into hearts and minds to consider important thoughts together!

Words matter because people matter.  It matters how we treat one another and how we speak, dialog, and entreat one another.  Caring for eternal souls matters. Wrestling through the work of stringing words together matters because when someone declares through their words, “I am here!” our thoughtful response declares, “yes, you are – and you matter.”  Jesus declared, “I am” when he was here, and the best human response is, “YES! You are! And that matters more than anything else in the world!”  Words are the way we help other souls do that.

I am praying that you are lifted to think higher thoughts about God and life and love and loss through my words.  I know that I am challenged and inspired through yours.

 

Attention-Getting Love

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Attention-Getting Love

I had three little grandsons here recently while their mother, aunties, and I worked on a project.  Their presence not only brought delight, but a flood of memories.  Noisy, active children don’t fill my days anymore, and it’s admittedly easier to see the kinds of things I’m about to share now than it was when mine were young, but it occurred to me that caring for little ones is a beautiful picture of the love that Jesus showed to us.  While it might seem tedious and utterly insignificant to tie little shoe laces, encourage use of the potty again, or distract a tired toddler, the literal bending low and lifting up of vulnerable, needy human beings is exactly what Jesus did for us and what he calls us to do for one another – and he says it will get attention.  “By this will all people know that you are my disciples:  if you love one another.” John 13:35

As I watched my daughters serve me while they were also keeping tiny boys safe and happy I marveled at how they transitioned not only from one task to the next, but also between high-pitched cries for attention, help, or refereeing.  I smiled as I watched them handle all of it with grace and patient love.  I was drawn in and warmed by how they treated these three young souls.  It was attention-getting love.

I couldn’t help but connect some dots that have been swirling around my own head lately regarding the astounding way that Jesus showed us the unnatural kind of love we are to show one another.  I’ve benefited from hearing Diane Langberg say again and again that the Almighty Ruler of the Universe is the author and owner of all power and authority, yet he used it, not to control or manipulate mankind into subservient conformity to his will (which is what we typically think of as power – the ability to pressure, control, or force another to do one’s bidding).  Rather, Jesus used his power to rescue us from a sin-filled cesspool of our own making and then issued a gentle invitation to, “Come, follow me.”   She’s given me much to think about.

There are many examples in our culture of immoral, unethical, and unloving use of power and authority – governmental agencies that use their position not to protect and defend, but to bully and intimidate.  Bosses in the workplace who steal credit for ideas and productivity rather than holding up their employees for honor or recognition.  Religious leaders who use the sheep to feed unholy desires for praise or lust rather than protect them from ravenous wolves.  Husbands who bully and intimidate their wives to build kingdoms for themselves rather than cherishing and protecting them.  But Jesus calls us to do it differently.  He calls us to what he demonstrated to us by bending low and lifting up.

Because of this, passages like Ephesians 5 have begun to look different to me, too.  I have almost always heard this passage taught with a focus on headship and submission.  It has, at times, even focused on the instruction to submit to those in authority even when they are terrible because this honors God.

But this focus is unhelpful for two reasons.  The first is that it leaves too many doors open for abuses of power to be tolerated when they should not be.  For example, while there may be times we need to stick it out in difficult circumstances, “Wives submit to your own husbands in all things,” does not call a wife to submit to oppressive control or abuse.  But this verse is often used by abusers to keep their wives in groveling submission to them.  It is incredibly difficult to de-tangle the truth of what Scripture teaches from the distortions wielded by abusers – pastors need to be clearer on this.  Without the counter-balancing instruction of when it’s right to stand against sin, submission to power and authority in all circumstances becomes the understood teaching and many suffer needlessly because of it.

The second (and more important) reason this kind of approach is unhelpful is that it misses the main point of the passage.  The book of Ephesians is about unity in the body of Christ.  In the previous chapters Paul explains how unity and love for one another is even possible through Christ and then in chapter 5 he tells us how.  He starts off by saying, “submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  In other words, because you love and revere Jesus, you will honor him by loving one another as he did.  Here’s how…

Wives, do everything you can to serve your husbands in order to help them thrive and flourish – your focus is their good.

Husbands, lay aside all your selfishness and do everything you can to love your wives in order to help them thrive and flourish – your focus is their good.

Children, your parents have been given to you to help you thrive and flourish – honor them and it will go well for you.  Parents – especially fathers – make sure you don’t do anything that exasperates them in that process – your focus is their good.

Workers, work hard and sincerely do everything you can in order to help your bosses thrive and flourish – your focus is their good.

Bosses, help your workers thrive and flourish – your focus is their good.

None of this is about claiming power or authority in these common roles.  Jesus turns our ideas of power and authority on their heads!  Paul is telling us, “despite any power or authority you might have, don’t act like the world – act like Jesus!  Instead of using your power and authority to oppress, use it to serve, protect, and build up.”  The point of Ephesians 5 is this:  all of you, no matter your role (or what you think it might entitle you to) – use it to serve as Jesus served, love as Jesus loved, honor as Jesus honored, lift up as Jesus lifted up.

As I watched my daughters serve my grandsons in this way it got my attention, drew me in, and caused me to praise God.  This is how Jesus loves us.  When we serve, love, honor, and lift up the vulnerable, weak, and helpless around us – especially those over whom we have power or authority –  we are loving the way that Jesus loves.  And that beloved church, gets the attention of a world that is starving for attention-giving love.

Truth’s Pain

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Truth’s Pain

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I wrote this to try to express the inexpressible, which is, of course, impossible.  One of the hardest struggles after significant trauma is coming to terms with the truth of it all.  I’m not done.  Interpersonal trauma is so permeated with lies that seeing truth takes supernatural power.  It is good to know the truth.  But it is painful.  Very, very painful.   Words become frustratingly difficult to find and use to describe what the process is like – people want to know why the struggle is so, so hard.

With genuine concern and no malice intended, people ask questions that sting:  “Why is this taking so long?”  “Aren’t you feeling like you’re back to your old self yet?” “Can’t you just __________?”

They want to understand, so I continue to try to explain, but even when I think I’ve found some words that might serve well, they reveal themselves to be pitifully insufficient.  Poetry, at least, adds imagery to the words.  People have responded with greater understanding to analogy, simile, and metaphor.  I started writing poetry for them.

But an unexpected (and happy) consequence of disciplining myself to choose and conform to a structure, format, or meter has been the settling of turbulent thoughts in my own mind.  This wrangling of words and emotions serves to corral them, if you will, into manageable bits that are easier to digest and wrestle with.  Jeremiah did this in Lamentations.  Out of the brutal chaos of horrific butchery and terror, Jeremiah poured out his heart to God in measured, metered, beautifully raw words.

I found that following Jeremiah’s lead has helped begin the process of navigating my own churning thoughts and emotions.  Using Lamentations as a model has begun to guide me through the tangled brier of questions and pain.  It doesn’t take the pain away – nothing could.  But it’s one more tool to use as I seek to learn to manage it and carry it with me.

The order of poetry in the midst of chaos is a gift.  The discipline of choosing words and forming thoughts into meaningful expression in the presence of the unspeakable is a gift.  The comfort of wrestling with one’s own assaulting thoughts and winning truth, though painful, is a gift.

So I offer this as a gift.  For those of you who are suffering – may it help you begin to choose words of your own.  For those of you walking with the suffering – may it help you sit in the ashes with greater understanding and patience.  And for those of you who have asked me, “why is this so hard?” – may it help you hear my heart.  Read it slowly.  Take it in.  Sit with the words and let them teach you.

 

Truth’s Pain

I asked for truth,

Detangled lies so I could see,

But vision overwhelms.

 

Truth shocking dawns

With crack of whip and razor sharp,

Upon my bloodied mind.

 

Sobs threaten, but

Refuse to come; fear mournful sounds,

Lest someone hear and know.

 

Betrayals seen

Through desperate eyes, truth layers on,

One more, one more, one more.

 

Fast, crashing blows

On opened eyes, relenting not.

Where is the promised hope?

 

Predestined wait

Like lifeless child yet unborn –

A dreaded, bitter birth.

 

I trusted one

Who ravaged, One who stood nearby.

Both left me bruised, broken.

 

Believing both,

Desired faith gained numbing pain.

Both leave me full of questions.

 

The Truth?  The Truth?

Wrapped in plastic cling filmed memories?

“What,” I ask, “has mattered?”

 

What do I do

With truths breaking life to pieces?

What truths to carry forth.

 

The lessons learned?

What service be for captives trapped?

Useful, always useful?

 

I want to flee

Fly far away, unseen, obscure.

To heal, and mend, be free.

 

Truth shocking dawns

These razored shards tear soul and wits.

Ceaseless in its mission.

 

 

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

“What do you do when your friends are rapists?”

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“What do you do when your friends are rapists?”  Is a question I ran across in a blog post written by Shane O’Leary on Theology Corner.  I have to admit to being both intrigued and horrified by what I read.

Shane does an excellent job of describing the inner-turmoil that everyone goes through when they’ve learned that someone they’ve known and trusted is accused of (or confesses to) something as heinous as rape.  The swirling fog of dissonance is real and it’s difficult to shake off and gain clarity.

I commend him for putting it out there, really – it’s an honest and accurate depiction of the wrestling match that goes on inside a person’s head.  “What should I do???”  But I was deeply saddened that he never answered his own question.

Shane offers three scenarios (I don’t know if they’re real recollections of actual events or if he made them up for the sake of the piece). Regardless of whether or not these particular stories are real, they are indicative of the kinds of real life scenarios that ordinary people might run into in the course of their own friendships.  Three women in three different settings are devastated by what “good guys” have done to them.  Three women’s lives are forever changed by the actions of “friends.”  Three moral dilemmas that Shane – and maybe you – faced where doing the “right” thing is eclipsed by doing the expedient thing, doing the loyal thing, or in fact, doing nothing at all.  In each of the three cases, Shane knows the rapist as a friend – not as a rapist.  The grappling with the truth of that horrible reality while at the same time trying to figure out what he should do in the face of it all (if, in fact, he should do anything at all) is the whole of the post.  I recommend reading the post yourself.  If nothing else, I hope it makes you think deeply about the times you’ve been faced with (or will be faced with) doing the right thing when it might cost you dearly.

I don’t know this author.  I’d like to think that his choice of leaving the questions unanswered was a stylistic decision purposefully used – to make his readers think, perhaps, or make them uncomfortable enough to ask the questions in their own circles of friendships or colleagues to try to find answers.  But it has become painfully clear that in the face of crisis, most of us don’t know what to do.  We might wrestle with the questions, but often we wrestle long enough that the opportunity to do anything at all passes and our de facto decision to do nothing has been made for us.  These are matters too serious to leave hanging in the thin wisps of theory – we need to start actually offering some concrete solutions to one another.  We need to be prepared for the day when we’re faced with this heavy responsibilities.  We need to know what we will do.

In response to Shane’s repeated question, “what do you do when your friends are rapists?”  I’m posting my response.  Hopefully this at least gets the conversation started:

Dear Shane:

I deeply appreciate the honesty that you share here – the wrestling and the fog are real and you describe them well. I hope these things represent the real inner-turmoil you have had if these are true stories. They are for me.

As a victim I will offer my suggestions – I’m not a therapist, I’m no expert, I have no formal training to say this is what one “ought” to do. But since you ask the open-ended question with such eloquence, and seem to be genuinely asking, I will offer a possible answer.

You do the right thing.

You put yourself in the shoes of the victim and do the right thing. The protective thing. The honorable thing. The God-glorifying thing. You imagine that these girls are your sister, your mother, your close friend if you have to, but you do what Jesus did – bend low, serve the needy, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the wounded. You lift up, you rescue, you resuscitate.

You go back and admit where you’ve failed – where you’ve retreated from standing firmly against sin and shrunk back as a coward hiding behind ignorance. If you’re not guilty of these crimes yourself (and everything you’ve described is a crime) you ask the victims if they want help in reporting the crimes. You ask them if they need help in finding help. You tell them you believe them. You tell them that what happened to them was not their fault. You offer to walk with them through the ugliness of the pain and the torturous path of healing and you keep that promise no matter what.

You do what the Good Samaritan did and set your life aside for a time to help the battered and bloodied victim of criminal activity survive and heal. Oh God! What will it take to wake us up? You do the right thing, Shane. You do the right thing.

Regarding your friends who are rapists? You let the consequences of their criminal activities have their full (hopefully redemptive) effect. You report them. You call them out. You risk the relationship for the sake of righteousness if that’s what it costs, but you do the right thing here, too. And then you walk with your friends, if they’ll let you, through the pain and the ugliness of harsh discipline by a loving Father who loves them too much to let them continue in the paths of wickedness without calling loudly, “Come home! Come home!” If they are really your friends, you will love them too much to let them continue down those roads, too.

It’s not that knowing what the right thing to do is that hard. It’s doing it.

Do the right thing, Shane. Please, do the right thing.

Humbly,
Laurie

Is The Church Ever a Refuge for the Abused?

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Is the Church Ever a Refuge for the Abused?

This question came up in a recent twitter thread in response to outrageous comments which have resurfaced made in 2000 by yet another leader of a major Christian denomination (Paige Patterson, President of the Southwestern Baptist Seminary, part of the SBC).  These comments, similar to John Piper’s comments in response to how women should respond to their abusive husbands, are quite literally nauseating to those of us who have suffered at the hands of abusive husbands.  But they should be nauseating to every decent human being, too.  These statements are inexcusable and yet, both men, prominent leaders in Christianity, refuse to retract their words.

Additionally, new high-profile cases of pastors and church leaders committing, covering up, or being dismissive of the damaging impact of abuse in their churches seem to be coming to light each week.

It makes everyone wonder, is the church ever a refuge for the abused?

While these cases are horrific – I mean truly and thoroughly horrific – it would be wrong to denigrate the whole of the body of Christ with the same broad brush.  We have a shamefully long, long way to go in righting these damaging wrongs against the vulnerable in our midst, but there are some shining examples of loving pastors, elders, and church leaders who are desperately trying to understand these issues and their impact, stand for righteousness, protect the vulnerable, and be the agents of change in this culture of cover-up.

I know – I am blessed to be a member of one such church.

My pastor and elders are by no means experts in the fields of abuse of any kind – they would be the first ones to admit to that.  But they have sought to faithfully – and lovingly – walk beside me on the darkest path I could ever imagine.

They have been humble enough to learn – though the learning curve has been steep and difficult for all involved.  They have been gracious enough to be challenged by a deeply wounded family and yet remain compassionate and kind at all times.  They have been willing to re-think positions they’ve held dear in light of newly acquired understanding of the dynamics and impact of abuse.  And they have wrestled with their own hearts about how to respond in faithfulness to scripture and compassionate care for my children and me.  And because of all of this, they have also had to endure false and ugly accusations against them because of their willingness to stand against evil.

This has not been an easy road for them or for me.  This has, at times, been a torturous process.   It has been years-long, and we’re still not on the other side of it all.  I have had to be both sufferer and tutor on a path that I don’t know how to navigate either.  But these men have been willing to try to see with new eyes what it means to shepherd, protect, and defend one of the flock who was being devoured.  They didn’t know how to fight this battle before I came along, but they have been willing to learn and then learn some more in order to do so well.  My pastor, in particular, has been doggedly faithful in leading them in this.

I know that I am in the minority.  There are too many – far, far too many – abominable stories emanating from pastoral responses like the ones above.  The norm is for pastors, in their woeful ignorance and sometimes arrogance, to think that abuse is a marital problem rather than an insatiable desire for controlling power and domination emanating from an idolatrous worship of self.  Those of us who love Christ and understand his call to all of us to be humble servants in his kingdom need to relentlessly call for our leaders to be knowledgeable and discerning in the issues of abuse of all kinds.  But let us also, with reverence and deep appreciation honor those who, like Jesus, use their power and authority to bend low, protect, deliver, and help set captives free.

Is the church ever a refuge for the abused?  It is grievous that the question has to even be asked this way.  Jesus would take cords and make whips out of them for those dishonoring the character of his Father with such callous disregard for his little ones.  But thankfully, there are faithful, Christ-honoring shepherds who love him, and his flock enough to stand up for the oppressed, stand against their abusers, and defend against harm.

Thank you strong and gentle shepherds – your reward in heaven is great.