Deep Sex II…

I was seated in the living room of a single man who had opened his home to a diverse group of people attending the same church in urban Kansas City. The occasion was a community dinner where small groups would come together and get to know others within the congregation. The church is unique. While it is far from conservative, it isn’t quite liberal either, especially in the theology of its leadership. Instead, I would describe it as being somewhat experimental in it approach to developing ways to follow Jesus and teach scripture which are respectful to church history, yet open to newer metaphors.

The group of people I was with was an eclectic mix of young, older, single, married, straight, and gay. We had finished eating and were beginning to share about our lives in a deeper way. Just two days before, the woman to which I was married at the time and I had finished the paperwork to begin the legal process of divorce. Not only was I feeling very melancholy about this fact, I was also quite reticent to go into life as a single man. I told the story about how I had recently visited a church by myself, and aside from the traditional greeters just inside the front doors, nobody had spoken to me. I explained to the group that it felt as if people were a little intimidated by me, as if they were extending their arms, palms outward, to ward me off. After I finished my statement, a younger man in his mid-thirties, boldly spoke: “That’s what it feels like to walk into a church as a gay man…” He then began to tell his story about trying to find a church that would embrace him as he was. He spoke about knowing about his homosexuality from his earliest remembrances. I responded of knowing my own heterosexuality from my earliest remembrances. We both spoke, and we both listened. I was struck by how similar we were rather than how different.

Does it really matter with whom we have sex?

I believe it does… but probably not for the reason you might be thinking.

Image

Recently, I was given the gracious invitation by my niece to take family pictures of her family. I agreed to do it, with great joy. Her family, with husband (my sister’s son) and three kids; my sister and husband; and myself met at a local tourist location with many backdrop options. After shooting about 180 pictures or so, we came to my house for them to see my home. In the corner of the living room, I have placed the mirror and collection of frames shown above. Each of the frames has a story linked uniquely to my heritage:

The gold oval frame originally contained my grandparent’s wedding picture, although the image and bubbled glass protecting it were broken in my mother’s move just after Dad was killed in a traffic accident.

The frame just beneath the gold frame was given to my father, along with a hand-painted landscape, by an artist he met in a church in which he held revival decades ago. Although the picture is long gone, I still have the frame.

Beneath the two previous frames is one made with barn siding taken from a home site in Southwestern Kansas upon which my dad’s family lived during his childhood.

This collection of articles, although not originally intended as such, is a spiritual metaphor to me. As we were sitting around talking, and looking at the images I had just taken of the family, I haphazardly looked into the mirror behind the frames, and noticed the reflection of London, the eldest daughter of my nephew and niece, framed by the successive frames. I immediately stopped, retrieved my camera, and took two shots of London’s reflection in the mirror. We then eventually said our good nights and they went home.

 

The next morning, as I was getting ready for work, I couldn’t get the image off my mind. Slowly, it dawned on me the symbolic impact of London’s image which could be seen through the tunnel of frames resting on the mirror. I began to remember the familial significance of each frame. It was as if this girl’s story, and image, were being framed by the stories of the familial and cultural heritage of those who came before her.

The gold oval frame symbolizes the long tradition of intact families. My grandparents (my father’s parents in this case) were married for over 60 years, even though my grandfather was 11 years older than my grandmother. In the long line of marriages within at least of 100 years of direct lineage, of which I am aware; London’s direct family tree (at least on her father’s side. I don’t know about her mother’s side) contains no divorces. The result is an expectation that marriage is for life, and couples have worked out their differences and stayed together.

The middle frame symbolizes the impact of the larger community of Christian believers throughout the centuries. My father’s family expressed openness and generosity to, as well as respect for, other expressions of the Christian faith than that to which they held. My mother also was open to growth in other expressions of the faith. Other faith traditions were treated with respect, with a careful understanding and communication to their children as to why they remained Christian.

The frame closest to the mirror symbolizes survival in hard times. Both my parents’ families lived through the Great Depression. They were poor. In fact, for the most part, we remained poor economically. We learned how to make do with few resources. Such difficulties help people rely heavily upon both each other, and to the provision of God, even when it is meager.

Most importantly, the mirror itself symbolizes God, and that we each bear God’s image. Each of us is a reflection of some aspect of the infinite Creator.

Ultimately, it is to this image that the search for Deep Sex is intended to take us. The journey to this image can be difficult, and takes a lifetime to clarify. In some families, the framework obstructs our capability to see the image. For all of us, the culture within which we live can also provide obstructions, or even worse, alternate images of ourselves that we are encouraged to emulate. Many times we can be our own worst enemies in acknowledging, embracing, and then living into the image of God in us. However, even in our brokenness, we reflect a God who can innervate us with God’s presence so that our entire experience is redeemed to benefit the community around us. Deep Sex is the expression of our deepest selves in love to God and others.

For instance, although I am the first person on my father’s side of my family to be divorced; God has redeemed the experience. I am learning more about myself, and life in general. I don’t recommend divorce… Divorce sucks… yet, as Jesus mentioned, Moses permitted the practice due to “the hardness of your hearts.” From my perspective, this isn’t just necessary because our hearts are hard in the midst of a bad marriage; so hard in fact, that forgiveness may be considered to be completely unreasonable by one or both partners; but divorce can be valuable because the pain and disappointment are so sharp as to pierce the callouses of our heart and allow us to be teachable once again. That is if we choose growth instead of bitterness. It is certainly possible to allow the pain to deepen the callouses of our heart, but this time the callouses cover a layer of pus which develops when we allow bitterness to guide our experience. We then are entrenched in our personal, relational dysfunction in ways that make personal vulnerability unlikely. Sadly, vulnerability is a necessary quality of love.

In warfare, I have heard it said that we are always preparing to fight the last war. Relationships can be like that, I think. It is easy to learn the lessons from the prior relationship, yet be unable to adapt to a new story. That is why I have come to find that the best way for me to be open to the possibility of a new love, is to learn all I can about how to live in healthier ways myself. Honestly, that isn’t an easy task. In so doing, however, I open myself to God  to allow God to bring my own “Shadow” to light. It is difficult to know what “healthy” even looks like for me, if I don’t realize my dysfunction. I hate to see it… but I need to see it. Acknowledging my Shadow opens me to the grace of God. In this process, celibacy is invaluable. It is really easy for me to become obsessed with the fantasy which is at the beginning of a new relationship, and doing so can short-circuit the process of deep growth. But the fantasy feels so good! It is  easy to overlook aspects of the relationship which really don’t work for us, because being close to someone feels comforting. Besides…

We wanna get laid…

But, what happens after the physical release? Are we really stronger and wiser? Or are we chasing a ghost of the dream when we fell in love for the first time?

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Bridges Intact…

There is a bridge not far from my house. It is one of those bridges they have down here that part in the middle and both sides raise to allow a sail boat or other large boat go from one part of the inner-coastal water to another. It is interesting to watch the huge pieces of steel roadway raise slowly and part in the middle until it is all clear and then begin to lower until they once again meet in the middle to allow traffic to cross. The sides of these bridges are not connected. They are designed to have a minute separation, in order to allow large obstacles to pass through, yet not destroy the bridge’s capability to connect one side of the land to the other. Although they appear seamless, the connectedness is really due to the structure which supports them and the integrity of the material of which the sides are made.

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The other night, I was returning a couple of movies to the Red Box at a nearby 7-11. I waited for a guy standing in front of the machine to make his selections. He took awhile, and since it stresses me out a little when someone is waiting impatiently to the side of the machine for me, I decided to wait in my pick-up while he finished. As it became apparent he was finishing, I got out of my truck to make my own selections. At about the same time, a car pulled up right next to the box, and an attractive 40-something woman got out of the back seat, and approached the box before me. She turned her head slightly, and noticed me waiting.

“Oh, I’m sorry… were you waiting?” She said brightly.

“Go right ahead.” I replied. (Did I mention she was attractive?)

“If it helps, I know exactly what I want, so it shouldn’t take long.” She was friendly. VERY friendly, and we kept on talking for a couple of moments about the movie she was getting. I had already seen it, (Descendants, btw…) and I recommended it strongly. But she kept on talking. It was kind of nice, actually. I had noticed a man sitting in the front seat, and when the conversation continued… at her urging, I might add… he rolled the windows of the car down. Internally, I wondered what was behind the gesture. What was his motive? Did he want to hear the conversation? She asked me if I lived in the area, and when I said, “yes”, she responded that they did as well. Now… maybe she was just really friendly, and I am just overly sensitive, but the conversation and the man’s actions just felt… weird… like he was jealous or something. Suddenly, he turned in his seat towards the back seat, and I noticed the cutest little girl of about 3 sitting in her car seat. He said something to her and she responded.

Aloud I said, “What a CUTIE PIE!” ( Does anyone really say that word anymore?)

The mother (at least I assumed she was the mother. The girl certainly resembled her) thanked me. I then approached the open passenger side window and spoke to the man, “You have your hands full there, Dad. She is SO cute! You better carry a baseball bat for all the boys…. and swing for their knees!” Both parents laughed, and whatever tension I felt, subsided.

While it is true that my imagination could have been running away with me… I wonder… I have learned to trust my intuition, and I felt really awkward in the conversation with the woman and the man’s action and countenance in response to it.

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 Last Sunday, I attended another church which my family has recently been attending. I went primarily because their are single people my age, and the church I currently attend has single people who are significantly younger than I. While I am not an age snob, I realize that if I am ever going to find a serious romantic relationship that works, I need to be around women my own age. I was early for the service, and my family hadn’t arrived yet, so I hung out in the yard outside the church. As I sat in an iron swinging love-seat, I saw a thirty-something couple talking to another thirty-something woman. The woman who seemed to be with the guy had auburn hair and was very attractive. The other woman was blond, and also very attractive. I always find the interaction between women to be quite interesting. Auburn-hair was quiet, and seemed to be outside the conversation, and was instead watching the interaction between Blond and Husband/Boyfriend. Blond spoke in a very animated fashion. She would touch Husband/Boyfriend’s arm every so often. She laughed a little too energetically when he said something funny. To my eyes, she seemed to be flirting. Auburn-hair looked.her.up.and.down… She would only laugh slightly at Husband/Boyfriend’s words. She could see how Blond was reacting, and was not comfortable with it. All the while, Husband/Boyfriend seemed to be clueless to these signs by Blond, or was enjoying how engaged she was with him. Eventually, the pastor came over to the group, and began to talk with the three. This conversation was fairly short, and Auburn-hair and Husband/Boyfriend eventually left. I found myself wondering about the pre-story and post-story. 

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I have been privileged to live in an intact family for my childhood and until I left for college. My father was killed in an accident when I was in college, so I was unable to see my parents’ marriage age as they did. Both my brother and sister have strong marriages. So I am the lone divorce in the family. I must say, I am looking for how marriage works. It would be easy to say, “Just stay together…” , but it isn’t always that simplistic. I am trying to learn from my past, as it comes to hoping, and searching for a long term relationship, if God blesses me that way.  I believe in marriage. I really do, although to people already embroiled in the steady, monotonous tasks of daily life,  romance and staying in love may seem to require too much energy. It is easy to allow the monotony to siphon away the value of just being together. Many times, it is the things two people DON’T say that can build the wall that can slowly grow between them.

I remember a conversation between four of the members of my seminary cohort while I was in Portland. There were three guys, two of us divorced, and one young woman. We heard of her struggle to find an identity separate from wife, mother, daughter, pastor’s wife, etc. I asked if she thought her seminary studies were part of her attempt to explore this identity. She responded that maybe it was, and she was tenaciously holding on to her educational program, because she was learning so much about not only God and the church, but also about herself. I mentioned that she was incredibly intelligent and talented. With eyes looking straight through me, she said, “That’s the first time anyone has ever told me that…”

I am positive her youth pastor husband knew these things, but I suspect he thought she already knew it, so didn’t think he needed to mention it. She didn’t know it. She needed to hear it. He needed to say it….

Disconnection…

which threatens to widen.

After this interaction, my friend Darrell, began to tell us something he had just read by Richard Rohr.  Darrell took a napkin and drew a picture which resembles the motion of the draw bridge near me. Rohr suggests that when a man and woman marry, they continue in parallel lines for awhile, as it relates to educational, vocational, and financial growth. Both usually have similar options in these areas, so the perceived “value” of each person within the culture remains in a similar trajectory. When a child is born, however,  the woman’s trajectory begins to go downward, while the man’s continues to climb.  Opportunities for personal growth occur more frequently for the man. Even when a woman continues to pursue her career, many of the cultural cues to her are that she bears greater responsibility for the children. Many women also feel this strong pull even without any shame-filled messages from culture.

Now… a quick word for the increased activity of father’s in their young children’s lives. I notice more men out with their kids. It seems that younger couples are doing a better job of sharing responsibilities which children bring.  I would be interested to see these marriages in 15-20 years, and see if their relationship as a couple is enhanced by this shared commitment.

Rohr’s theory is that eventually, as the children begin to leave home, the trajectories begin to reverse. The woman begins to go upward, as she has more time to develop her skills and talents; while the man’s begins downward as his career path peeks, and then begins to descend. The key point in the marriage, is when the trajectories get close, and the question becomes, “Will we reconnect, or get lost in an attempt to redefine the rest of their lives. Will they address the issue collectively, or independently? His theory is that if they do this together, the marriage will last and deepen. If they do it independently, the marriage is headed for trouble.

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However, there is a time and place for healthy separation. Each person needs to remember their personal responsibility to work through their own feelings. We can’t expect another person to know that we need encouragement. It is easy for blame to creep into everyday hassles. I have lived that. I know that DOESN’T work. Now I want to learn what does.

Separate yet connected…

Like the bridge…

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I wrote in previous posts on this blog, (Symmetry and Redemption) that I would be redeemed to my heritage, and my heritage would be redeemed to me when I moved to Florida near my family of origin. I also suspected there would be depths of redemption of which I could not know. This is one of them, I think. My brother’s and sister’s marriages are very different. They have each lived VERY different lives. Collectively, they have marriages which have lasted almost three-quarters of a century. I need to learn from them. I need the redemption of hope.

I’m sure that if I were to ask Bill and Margaret, and Dan and Connie, they would say that the ultimate, saving foundation of their respective marriages is a living faith in God.

Active, mutual forgiveness and grace…

Daily renewal of love…

Laying aside perceived rights, yet identifying conflicting priorities…

Open intimacy and desire…

Treating each other with respect…

These are gifts from God which keep love close, and warm.

I just need to keep my eyes, and ears open….

Connected…

When we moved from Delaware back to Kansas City, we left a large number of our belongings in a storage shed in the backyard of some Delaware friends. It took us longer than we originally anticipated to retrieve them, so they baked and froze in the shed through at least a couple of different seasons. When we finally returned with a truck, moved them back to KC, and began to unpack; Greta found a candle which was in a box, surrounded by several hard objects. The Delaware summer heat melted the candle so it formed to the space in which it was packed. Greta loved that candle. She thought it symbolic of the difficulties our family had lived through, and, although the candle was misshapen, it still worked! She wrote a well-crafted blog about the candle, and still has it to this day, I believe. Unfortunately, the “wick” of our family: our marriage; eventually broke. Although our family is just as misshapen… even more so… the light of our marriage went out.

For me, now the candle has a different message: God molds into the crevices of our lives and brings continued connectedness in spite of our collective brokenness.  Although we don’t speak or see each other very often… we each have different lives… God continues to connect us through our shared love for our children: Baird and Hannah. In fact, the candle has continued to spread. Scott, Greta’s new husband, is a caring, able step-father to my kids. I am grateful for that! Baird’s girlfriend, Ryann, is also a new addition since we found that candle, and the wax of God’s love, and ours’, surrounds her. As it does Mark, Hannah’s new boyfriend. Mark treats Hannah with gentle care and respect. I appreciate that!

While I am constantly confronted with the destructiveness to families while they divorce, from deep animosities going both ways; I am struck by the faithfulness of God through our divorce; to both Greta and me. However, the better I get to know God, the less surprised I am.

God fills every valley,

and

lowers every mountain.

Even in divorce…

Can You Post a Comment From Someone Else’s Blog? I am…

I like Donald Miller’s books… Blue Like Jazz… Searching for God Knows What…. and his others also. Awhile back, he wrote about whether God needs us or not. You can read his post here:

http://donmilleris.com/2011/05/25/love-is-a-need-not-an-emotion/

The following is my comment in response to his post:

I used to work at an apartment complex for low-income senior adults. I loved it! I remember one Valentine’s Day, I was walking into the cafeteria and met one of the women who lived there and I said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” I then gave her a hug. She had lost her husband earlier in the year, and while we hugged, she said, “That feels SO good!” I hugged her specifically because I knew it would be a hard day for her. It was her first Valentine’s without her Valentine, and I knew it would be a difficult day. I never expected her comment, though. The physical act of affection felt good to her and she responded like a sponge to water.

I figured that was especially a female response to the absence of loving touch. However, the intervening years have brought divorce into my life. It has been a year and one-half since it was final, but that was preceded by some VERY bad days and lonely nights. Your post reminds me of that little lady’s comment, and of how I am now the sponge which feels dried out.

I believe God is love… but he needs human skin to contact human skin. That puts the life of Jesus in a different light, as well as the metaphor of the church as body. Love physically, neurologically changes us and we need to be loved and to love. The zeitgeist of our times in North America seems to be division, and I believe the church’s best revolutionary witness is to live lovingly with each other and people who not only don’t share our faith, but are antagonistic to our faith.

We are now God’s skin, and the world is dying to be touched.

Thanks for your post, Don, and I am really happy that you are in love!

Chick Flicks…

Chick flicks drive me crazy, but not for the reason you might be thinking. Honestly, I really enjoy a love story. I’m not sure if that means I lose my Man card or not, but it is true. I love to hear a story which explains the quirky history of how two people fell in love with each other. Actually, I enjoy hearing people tell their love stories…

their changing perceptions of each other throughout their courtship…

how they finally determined they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together…

I love those stories.

But, chick flicks drive me nuts…

Why?

Because they seldom show ordinary life! How many times do they show the characters actually at work?

How come the characters always seem to have jobs that are creative, or have both flexibility and high income?

They always seem to live in lofts or expensive houses…

The majority of scenes seem to show these fictional people with excessive amounts of leisure time…

I realize that one of the reasons chick flicks, and movies in general, employ these qualities is for entertainment purposes. Movies usually intend to remove us from the reality of our lives for a couple of hours. They provide an escape from the ordinary which, for many people, is fraught with boring sameness. We become those characters and imagine ourselves living those lives. Frankly,  identifying with the characters is one of the powers of a well-told story. The characters can reveal to us important lessons about our own values and behavior. We may become uncomfortable as we watch a character who is both likable and dysfunctional at the same time. We think:

“Why can’t she see what a great guy he is?”

“Can’t he see how much he is ignoring her?”

“Why can’t they stop shooting themselves in the foot?”

I have learned, however, that there is usually a reason why people act the way they do. Deep reasons. Unrecognised reasons. They may hold a deep, unexplored belief in the probability of:

greener grass…

a better life…

the perfect lover…

a more fulfilling job…

or…

Just. Something. Different.

There is nothing inherently wrong with working to more fully express who God has created us to be, in fact, I think that is the point! But if we allow ourselves to fall into the habit of ingratitude during the ordinariness of life right now; how can we be assured that the “new world” for which we strive and hope won’t become just the “new now”, only to be replaced with another “new, new world?”

Personally, I am learning… check that… I am TRYING to learn to receive my life… my ordinary life… as a gift from God. This isn’t always an easy task. Life… real life… can be difficult and messy. Pain is a particularly difficult gift to receive from God, especially life changing pain, because… deep down… I don’t feel like I deserve it. Deeper still… I feel entitled to pleasure and good things in life. However, good things, can come from unexpected pain. Especially when we allow it to draw us into healthier community with God and other people. Receiving the gift of pain allows me to release my grip on expectations, and the need to control. Through pain, God releases faith in me that develops hope. I am better able to recognise the pain in others and then become a conduit of hope, healing, love, and blessing to them. I can become “Jesus with skin on” for them.

This isn’t a natural mindset, at least for me. It takes practice to ruthlessly trust God’s goodness and provision in the midst of circumstances which scream pain and poverty. Choosing to be thankful develops an ability to perceive and receive the beauty of ordinary life, whatever the circumstances, and then allow an “attitude of gratitude” to push me into a healthier manner of living, towards growth and becoming a facilitator of growth in other people.

Maybe someone will make a movie that celebrates an ordinary life, which isn’t really ordinary at all. I would certainly buy it!

Another typical facet of chick flicks, is that obstacles stand between the hero and heroine at the begin of the story, and are then resolved by the end of the story. This is a classic structure to love stories, and masters of storytelling have historically used it to great effect:

Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet…

Nora Ephron in You’ve Got Mail…………………………………..

A common obstacle is one or more people. Sometimes, as in Romeo and Juliet, they are family members who hate each other. Other times, as in You’ve Got Mail, they are romantic partners. When I was married, I might have said that these obstacles were placed within the story only to enliven the plot. Since my divorce, and after listening to many stories of people going through divorce, I have found these obstacles to be real, at least to one of the partners. So real, that they leave, and pursue another relationship.

In the movies, such new relationships become happily-ever-after, wonderful. The former partner finds their own, new, better lover, and all is right with the world. I have to admit, this plot just seems lovely….

…but I am reminded of the words of a young woman I know who’s now former husband left her for another woman, “I am trying to fall out of love…”

Wow….

It’s a great line.

 Nora?

Could you use that line somewhere?

The problem is that the great line comes out of a heart suffering from excruciating pain.

One of the things I share in our support group, is that each of us take distinct paths through divorce. Nobody can give you a step-by-step prescription to navigate through the pain. However, joining another in their journey, allows each of us to gain strength from each other. I am always amazed at the insight we gain from each other, into our own path. God speaks to me through the mouths and experiences of my friends, and does the same through me to them.

That is both amazing and beautiful…

…and far from ordinary.

When Fairness Fails…

Earlier this morning, I was talking  to a buddy at Starbuck’s about the difference between fairness and justice. I suppose everyone of us has lived through circumstances we deemed to be unfair. Something inside of us chafes at a self-perceived inequality which we feel we have experienced, and we look outside of ourselves for “someone” to right the wrong we feel we have received.

I suppose you might be wondering why such a topic would come up during a cup of Pike at Starbucks… My first response to that would be to say:

“Where better to talk about deeper topics than at a coffee shop?”

My second response is a little longer…

I had a difficult week last week. I “stepped in a puddle” of sorts. “Stepped in a puddle” is the phrase I use to describe an unexpected event which is associated with divorce. As you begin to rebuild your life after divorce, there are often events which take you back emotionally to the grief of losing some aspect of “family” and “home”. 

You lose a little ground…

Your foot gets wet…

And you have to let it dry…

I don’t miss the relationship, honestly, because I now see how much it didn’t work for either of us. (It seems that my former wife is living the life she wants, and I hope it works for them. I truly want them to be happy.)  However, the dreams and expectations associated with family:

Holidays…

Time together…

Shared humor…

Secret language…

Shared heritage…

These are things that seem lost, but whose loss you don’t expect. My kids are older, beginning to live their own lives, and I fully expect that…intellectually… but I do miss the everyday interaction.

I can hear the pat answers/responses to my words in some of your minds, and understand that these are things I have some ability to keep in place… and you’re right. However,

 life gets complicated, 

 schedules don’t always synch,

 money is short,

choices are made which must be made when parents live in two different places.

So the subject of fairness must be broached…. over and over and over again.

We talk about this in the divorce support group I facilitate. Although I am the contact person for the group, it really is a joint effort in getting healthier. It is important for me to share my experience not only to help others understand that their pain is normal, and they aren’t alone in it; but it also is important for me to receive understanding and caring from them.

Ok…. so…. back to justice versus fairness…

Before the conversation with my friend, I had been reading the story Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16, about a landowner/farmer who needed help in his vineyard:

“God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work.

“Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went.

 “He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, ‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?’

 “They said, ‘Because no one hired us.’

  “He told them to go to work in his vineyard.

 “When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, ‘Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’

 “Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’

 “He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’

 “Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.” The Message

The first thing that jumps out at me is how unfair the landowner must have seemed to the first workers. Their attitude is very similar to the older brother in the story of the Prodigal son, which Jesus also told. They had worked hard all day and accomplished what they deemed to be expected of them, yet the value of their work seemed to be disrespected and devalued by the landowner, because he had chosen to pay the same wage to those who had worked a much shorter time. So they became ungrateful for the job they had been given, and the wage they received which had been promised. How different must their attitude have been at the beginning of the day when they had been standing around looking for someone to hire them?

What changed for them?

What changed IN them?

The second thing I notice is how many times the landowner returns to the square, looking for workers. What seems to be his priority: giving more workers jobs?  Or getting the work done in his vineyard? How did the priorities of the landowner clash with the priorities of the workers? Did the generous action of the landowner to the later workers  change due to the response of the earlier workers?

I expect there are many times when I want my expectations for the fairness of life to be the measure by which God treats other people. Sometimes it is difficult for me to see how graciously God acts towards others whose life seems to be easier than mine. It doesn’t feel fair.

The third observation I make in the story, is really a question:

Why were the people still in the square so late in the day?

What was their experience?

Actually, the landowner asks them the same question:

“‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?'”

Their response is interesting:

‘Because no one hired us.'”

Why would nobody hire them?

Were they lounging around in the hammock at home, because they had been drunk all night last night?

Were they unable to find babysitters?

Were they physically disabled?

Were they of a different race than the rest of the community?

Whatever the personal stories of these late workers, I am amazed that they were still in the square so late in the day. How could they still hope that someone would hire them so late in the day?

After standing around so long…

When others were taken before them…

And the sun in the sky was beginning to sink…

What miracle of hope stayed alive in their hearts that SOMONE had work for them TODAY!

Today, they would still work to feed themselves and their families…

Today mercy would meet them in the square and reward their meager efforts with generosity…

This story is a beautiful example of how the Justice of God and the Mercy of God live in tension with each other. They are tied together.

What is necessary for me, is to receive God’s gifts with gratitude, no matter how those gifts appear at the moment, or how they compare with the gifts others have receved. I can make a determination to choose this attitude only by ruthless trust (Thanks for the wonderful phrase, Brennan…) in the goodness of God.

God’s Justice is always surrounded by grace…

A Courageous Timidity…

I lead a divorce support group at my church. We began a new group last night. We are never sure how many people will be there. Most people find out about it from the internet. They find it the same way I did for the first time: they Google “divorce support” and add the city. Every time we begin a new group, I am always proud of the people who timidly walk into the room, knowing nobody in the room, except the voice or email of some guy named: Larry. I am deeply proud of them, because I know how difficult that step is, but also because they have decided to confront their own sorrow and pain. I firmly believe that it is also the first step on a torturous journey towards healing, and maybe… just maybe… renewed hope.

The group has two “unofficial” names. The first is:

Vegas, Without the Slots- This name is descriptive of the protected vulnerability of the group, where “What’s said here…stays here.” We work to make it a safe place, where one’s story may be unique, but the feelings are understood because most of the other folks around the table are living the same emotional nightmare. The tissue box is passed around liberally, and the statement, “I’m sorry for crying…” which comes just after the first tear, is met with, “It’s okay!” Actually, the best advice I received during the process of my divorce was: “Feel what you feel.” (Thanks, Cari; I have pass the wisdom of your suggestion to every group I have been in, and it seems to work for them, just as it did for me and as it apparently did for you.) Trying to run from the grief associated with a dead marriage by stuffing the feelings which are there, is likely to ensure that they will eventually come around again, and probably in more dysfunctional or painful measures. (Actually, I call this returning of the emotions, “God’s grace”, because the pain can help us plumb the depths of who we are and promotes self-examination which can lead to growth. Unexamined and uncommunicated pain often leads to pain which recurs.)

The second “unofficial” name of the group is:

Divorce Sucks… because it does. We came up with this name in the first group I led, and every time we use it, the heads start nodding followed by smiles of sarcasm. Humor is part of surviving. It can help us to embrace reality with indomitable optimism. However, it sometimes takes a little while to get there. Jamie, my co-facilitator, and I try to gently push this process by the use of sardonic/sarcastic humor with each other. People who haven’t lived through a crisis, might be offended by this kind of dark humor, but we have found that its use can prick the festering emotional wound and allow it to become open to the healing salve of understanding and love of new comrades. It can be a pressure release from the self-perceived necessity of being “fair.” Sometimes, having someone who allows you to be blatantly real and angry and honest, without apology, leads you to the path back to forgiveness, rather than away from it. Draining the bile of bitterness is imperative to eventually accept the healthy response of forgiving our former spouse, our self, and even God for the death of the shared dreams which began with: “I do.”

The last night of our group is a party. We celebrate the end of the beginning of healing at these parties. I have come to see the process of regrouping after divorce by using the model of disaster response. (I asked God to give me a model to help me understand how to help other people going through divorce, and God reminded me of the earthquakes in Haiti. The first responders were doing basic first aid, and trying to stablize people in horrendous pain and suffering to make sure they had access to the basics of life: Food, shelter, water, etc. Divorce support groups (Divorce Sucks) is like that first aid. The next task is to remove the rubble from the disaster. Divorce leaves rubble all around. I am working on ideas to help folks remove the financial, emotional, and relational rubble from their lives. The next phase is to rebuild. Rebuilding a life means re-imagining who you are, and who God has created you to be. While there may be some roles which are still intact after divorce, like parent; some roles are just gone: wife/husband, son/daughter-in-law, and so on. Reconnecting to who you were before the marriage, takes time and effort.)

Sometimes, the release of pain can look really strange when seen from the outside. At the party which  ended our spring group, we went to a restaurant together and sat out on the deck. One of our group, a young woman now raising four children on her own, came into the party just a bit late with the statement: “I NEED a Marguerita!” Our whole table repeated the word “need” with the same emphasis she used and immediately laughed deeply. She began to laugh, too. A sight which made my heart glad. I confess, there was more than a little venting around the table that night. I remember seeing a couple of young women at a nearby table, and noticed how they watched our group and whispered quietly to each other, while exchanging “knowing” glances. In their estimation, I suppose our group looked to be bitter, angry people. I understood why they might hold that opinion. To my eyes, I saw hurting people letting off steam and clinging to each other, like as to a life raft in the stormy sea.

So how will this newest group of people ride out their individual storms? Will they continue to reach out to each other, and keep telling the sad stories of each new week’s “progress” of de-coupling? Honestly, I don’t know…

…but last night, they were courageously timid…and I am proud of them.