Only Love Matters…

Every other Sunday evening, I take my mother to church. Connie, my sister, and I take turns. The service we attend is called: Country Church. Most of the folks that attend are older, and the music is kind of down-home with more than a hint of Southern gospel. They have a background set that looks like an old country store. The band and worship ensemble wear western boots and an occasional western hat. The service begins with the worship leader…or maybe that should be trail boss… greeting the congregation with “HowDEEE!”
Really….
Pure kitsch…
But… I sometimes kind of like it. (When my eyes aren’t rolling…) Mainly because many of the songs they sing are ones from my childhood. It reminds me from where I came, and my heritage, or at least some of it. Mom really enjoys it, especially the preaching. That part I sometimes find hard to sit through. It is a Southern Baptist church, and the conservative slant can really grate on my moderate nerves.
Mom is 89-years-old. She has increasing, age-related dementia, exacerbated, I think, by the fact that she has bi-polar disorder. We never knew that as we were growing up, but noticed that about every 7 years, she would have a depressive break. Looking back, and talking to my brother and sister, I think that each break changed her. She is on medication now, but my sister bore the brunt of her last break, and it was really difficult for her and Butch, my brother-in-law. Moving here has been an opportunity for me to take on some of the load of dealing with Mom.

As I considered moving, that was one of the issues that worried me. How would I respond to Mom? Our relationship, or maybe it is more accurate to say my relationship with her, has been difficult. Yet I am not sure I realized that, until the last 10-15 years. It especially became apparent to me after my divorce, and I began to take some classes in seminary that led me to explore issues with my family of origin. Especially issues with my mother. I had to take an honest look at this most intimate, and fundamental female relationship.
We each begin existence encased in the body of another person. When we are born, the mother-child relationship is extremely important, because in it we find our most basic needs are met, or they aren’t. We learn a lot about the world, or rather what we expect from the world in terms of safety and comfort and provision in this one relationship. Even though a father can come alongside to care and help a mother meet the needs of an infant, the child’s attachment to its mother contributes to what it feels about life and the world… and themselves.
I won’t go into it here, but Mom’s illness affected me in those earliest days of my infancy. I have needed to look back, be honest about the lack of stability in our relationship, but also other parts of my life as a growing child. I needed to grieve it, which included anger at the way I felt I was perceived by my mother. I felt like I was expected to be a heathen, and many times as an adolescent, I fulfilled the expectation nicely. I know that she and my father loved me, but I couldn’t gloss over how some of their decisions, manner of living, and approach to life; which included Mom’s illness; affected me. I am NOT trying to figure out where to place blame. Blame is a form of denial, not truth-finding. I needed to understand why I felt the way I did for much of my life, so I could begin to heal, grow and change.

When I first moved to Florida, near my mother, and siblings; I was still angry with her. I now understand the anger was both natural… I needed to feel it… but it was tied to my own unfulfilled expectations of her, and how I wished she would have interacted with me. This was a necessary step in my healing. When she called…I didn’t answer. I seldom spent time with her. I was afraid that her tendency to live in guilt would affect my thinking and feelings about myself. It had my whole life, and I was just being freed from it due to personal growth, and God’s grace. She felt the absence, too, and kept trying to get me to draw nearer to her. By using guilt… so it was a vicious circle.
Then I became involved in a relationship with a woman that eventually didn’t work out. When we broke up, I began to explore my part in the break-up. I did a similar, much more extensive process when my marriage of 23 years ended. In both circumstances, I tried to examine what I did well, and what I didn’t do so well.
One day, as I was thinking about the most recent break-up, I believe God spoke to me, and helped me realize that in order for me to go forward into another relationship with a woman; I needed to seek reconciliation with my mother. Or, more honestly, reconciliation with my feelings about Mom. I needed to see her as she is, was, and what she was capable of being, rather than what I wished and expected her to be. She needed to be a flesh-and-blood person, with great strengths and great failings. I needed to see… her… not a caricature of my own making. I was beginning to believe I could see her as a sister-in-Christ…as the Beloved of God. Maybe, if I could see her in that light, I could love her as she is and was, and maybe even…myself. God began to show me that, as she continues to grow older, and more child-like, I would sort of father my mother. This began to give me some hope, because I enjoy many aspects of being a father. Age has softened me, too, so I am more patient, and am able to find humor instead of frustration…

Mostly…
Every quarter, Country Church has a service with only music. They call it: The Grand Old Gospel Opry…
Of course they do…
The Grand Old Gospel Opry is quite popular especially with the crowd that usually attends Country Church, which are generally senior adults. Mom, however, usually doesn’t attend because she likes to hear the pastor preach. This past Sunday evening was one of those nights and there were “Special Guests” to go along with the regular bunkhouse gang. (Actually, the worship team and band is quite talented…) On this night there was a bluegrass band and a men’s quartet, a man and wife who travel as evangelists, and other groupings of people that attend the church.
We began with congregational singing. I enjoyed the songs, because they were ones we would sing while my family was in evangelism. A noticeable theme began to evolve with each song: Heaven.
“That makes sense…” I thought. “Play to your crowd.”
The evangelists got up next and began to sing together. I was reminded of sooo many couples I have seen and known through the years. People that travelled from church to church, singing and preaching the gospel. People like my family. This was before four-dollar-gas and one-hundred-dollar-a-night motels; when singers used pre-recorded-sound-tracks that weren’t considered karaoke, and there were only three or four channels on TV, so there weren’t as many entertainment opportunities to compete with the drama of revivals. My first thoughts in response to the couple were pretty negative:

“C’mon brother… don’t you know that your time has passed? That style of doing church is dead and ineffective.”
However, it occurs to me just how much I needed to see them. They were like characters emanating from my heritage of faith. People who put aside a safe, and consumptive lifestyle in order to tell other people about the Christ of new beginnings, of new life, of resurrection… I need to embrace that heritage. It was hard and disruptive… for me, but also for my mother. Mom raised three kids on the road, from one conglomeration of church services to another, all the while having to keep the kids occupied and quiet every evening for a couple hours of church, while sitting IN FRONT of scores of people that could be VERY critical of the preacher’s wife and kids! It was keeping the kids entertained in the car through endless miles of travel. It was keeping the family fed while in poverty, and in clean clothes washed either in borrowed washers and dryers, in a laundromat, or in the sink of a travel trailer and then hung to dry on a makeshift clothesline. It was using cold starch on my father’s white shirts, so they would be… just….so……. It was being the kids’ first (and only at least for a period of time) teacher. It was singing in front of people though she felt intimidated by her self-perceived lack of musical talent.
A tough life…
A committed life…
The service wound along until a trio of women began to sing. Mom said that one of the women was…

“…the daughter of the song leader. She just finished college and is really pretty. I wish I knew somebody that knows her, so I could introduce you to her.”
“Um…. Mom….she is the same age as my daughter…”
“Oh…”
Right now, to my mother at times, I am still about 27. A young man. I think it is because I am single, and we weren’t around each other for so many years. For my first birthday after I moved here, she gave me a book entitled: “God’s Little Instruction Book for Graduates”.
Well… I have been in grad-school for the past three years…
And I confess that in my OWN mind, I still feel like I am 27… at least until I wake up in the morning… then my body says: “Helloooo 52…”
The most beautiful part of the Opry was several songs into the set of the men’s quartet. I had been enjoying the quartet, and remembered how often we would drive many miles to hear quartets when I was young. My dad loved men’s quartets. While he was in college and grad-school at small religious schools, Dad travelled with other young men in a quartet doing public relations for the school. In fact, that was how my mom and dad first met. Dad’s quartet held a concert at the church my mother attended, and they first noticed each other. Eventually, Mom enrolled in the same school.
Pretty effective public relations, I would say…
My father was the first tenor in that quartet, and as Mom and I listened to the first tenor of the Opry quartet singing lead; she leaned in to me and said with quivering voice, “That makes me think of your dad.”

I gently put my arm around my mother, and pulled her tightly against me. She began to quietly cry freely.
For just a moment, my imagination took me to a little church in West Virginia, and I saw a young woman, with striking auburn hair and expressive brown eyes, about 17 or 18-years-old sitting in a hot, crowded sanctuary listening attentively to a group of young men sing. One young man especially held her attention… the good looking first tenor with the crisply starched, white shirt beneath the trimly cut black suit. His hair was dark, and slicked back, and she noticed that as his gaze travelled across the crowd, it would linger with increasing frequency in her direction. With each repeated gaze, both their hearts would beat a little faster. After the concert was over, she would go to the table with information about the college he represented, and ask for a brochure… just to, you know, learn about the academic programs. He would shyly approach her, and their eyes would once again meet. He would hand her the brochure… their hands would touch ever-so slightly… Sparks!
As she cried, my heart cried with her.
For her loss of her Love…
For the loneliness in her life now…
For her desire to be near him again…
Somewhere inside me, I began to see my mother for the first time. The past disappointments and frustrations I felt through the years didn’t really matter. Love began to vibrate for this woman that bore me and introduced me so imperfectly to the world. I saw, instead, God’s beloved daughter. My natural fatherly instincts began to take over. As the song ended, and before we began to applaud, I kissed her on the forehead, as I would my own daughter.

Before I moved to Florida, I wrote four blogs in which I suggested the need for me to be redeemed to my heritage, and my heritage redeemed to me.
God is doing just that…

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….

Symmetry and Redemption…Part 4

That brings me to 2012, and the move to Florida…

The other day I was reading the story of Abram, in Genesis 13. I wrote the following in my journal:

“So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him into the Negeb.” vs. 1

“He journeyed on by stages from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord.” vss. 3-4

Abram’s impatient wandering into Egypt lead to lies and liasons between Sarai and Pharoah. Abram gave one gift of God away… his wife… and put other gifts at risk. He was stuck. God acted according to God’s promise to Abram. God acted according to God’s character. However, a pagan king understood the message and action of God better than Abram. Pharoah returned Sarai to Abram, and even let him keep the bride price already paid.

Abram then returned to “the place where his tent had been at the beginning… to the place where he had made an altar at the first…” And Abram worshipped God there…

We each take sojourns from time to time which require God’s action on our behalf to extricate us from a place of bondage. We use and give away God’s precious gifts to us, receive pagan’s wages for them, and trade optimistic faith for pessimistic fear.

The promise and character of God allows for the symmetry of confession and return.

Symmetry and Redemption…”

(The entry comments on events of a story at the midpoint  of its telling. For a fuller understanding of the events of Abram’s life, begin reading in Genesis 11.)

Coming to Kansas City now feels like a sojourn. It has been a long detour, to say the least, and in many ways it has been invaluable. My children came from it, as did the valued friendships mentioned earlier. Now I am returning to the family of my birth. My father is gone, and that will always feel strange when we are together. Yet in spite of all the messiness of my upbringing, which I have written about in other posts, my father and mother gave us two important gifts:

an abiding love for God, which they lived out every day…

…and…

a love and acceptance of other people regardless of their station in life.

The home of B. Ivan and Helen Williams was where God first placed me, and I first “pitched my tent.” God has extricated me from the land of sojourn and lead me to my family of origin. My family has been scattered across the country for most of our lives. Now we are coming together. We will now have the opportunity for relaxed time together to get to know each other. There will be work, also. My brother-in-law and sister have owned a pest control business for 30 years, and I will now be part of that business. It gives me the opportunity to get myself on my feet financially, and finish school at the same time. Some people move to Florida to do nothing… I am moving there to get busy…

Symmetry…

… and now Redemption…

2011 showed me why I have battled with myself for so long. I have begun to understand how my family of origin contributed to the warfare. But that is only part of the story. I also received wondrous gifts from my parents and siblings. It is now time for those gifts to be redeemed to me, and me to them. I don’t know how it will work, and fully expect it to not be an entirely easy process. God’s gifts always seem to hold struggle and pleasure in tension…

Death and Resurrection…

Work and Play…

Practice and Game time…

Labor and New Birth…

Conflict and Resolution…

Arguing and Lovemaking…

Mourning and Celebration…

Fasting and Feasting…

Shadow and Light…

Writing and Reading…

A well-lived life embraces hardship with tenacity and thankfulness. Love always has a shadow… and it takes courage to reframe the shadow into actions of forgiveness and committment rather than fear and withdrawal. Isolation denies the value of struggle, and manipulates the gifts of God to serve fear rather than faith. I don’t expect paradise. I anticipate moments of awkwardness and disagreement. So what? God allows differing perspectives. Actually, I think the eternal, never-ending God encourages them. God relishes adult conversations with people who aren’t afraid of childlike honesty. Faith believes the disonant chords of life hold tension which will finally find release in perfect harmony. Disonance energises expectation of resolution and…

Redemption…

Symmetry and Redemption… Part 3

In one of my Facebook status posts, I took a moment to summarize the year 2011 in short form:

“2011 was a year of personal insight, growth, and introspection; with the introduction of new and now cherished friends. It was beautifully difficult at times, and called from me a deeper faith in God and an appreciation of life’s hard gifts. I pray 2012 will open itself daily as it, indeed, comes from the hand of God. I ask God to help me be a better man, father, and lover of life in the coming year than I was in the last.”

During 2011, I took a look backward at my life experience and the forces which formed me into who I had been up to that point. In the course of my graduate classes, I was exposed to information which helped both in looking backward with new understanding to help me interpret my memories, and to find a process of reframing my life in healthier ways. In my emotional and spiritual life, then, 2011 was an oasis of growth. However, financially, it was really tough. I took steps backward, fighting discouragement and struggled not to lose hope. The gracious part of the experience was threefold:

Living the Lord’s Prayer…

I learned to live The Lord’s Prayer (which is better named “The Disciple’s Prayer). I have essentially been homeless since September, 2011, and have been staying with Lyle and Jan Gibbons, who generously openned their home to me while I transitioned to Portland (the original plan) and now to Florida (the current one). During this time, I have come to understand some of the feelings homelessness brings. While my experience hasn’t included cardboard, shopping carts, and sleeping under overpasses; I have come to know the haunting pull of despair and a disconnection to my own capabilities. I have fought both these temptations tenaciously.

In the summer, I also lost my transportation when my pick-up broke down and I had to build up enogh cash to get it fixed. I learned the extreme frustration and complication of relying on public transportation in an affluent, suburban county which seems intent upon ignoring the practical, systemic obstacles to those in poverty trying to climb out of an economic sand pit.

I was often hungry during the latter half of 2011. Honestly, that wasn’t totally a bad thing. I have continued to keep the weight off that I lost in 2006 and 2007. I learned the hunger is worst, and most distracting, during the first day, but isn’t as bad afterward.

Through all these difficulties, I have discovered God’s provision in every day. I prayed:

“Our Father, Who art in heaven,

Hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done

In earth as it is in heaven.

Give us THIS day, our daily bread,

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power,

And the glory, forever…

Amen”

I began to audaciously pray this prayer in simple faith and hope. I then watched to see what the day revealed as I continued in my responsibilities. It became amusing and excition to see God’s creativity in providing for my needs. Sometimes God used other people… MANY times God used other people. At other times, God used my own ideas and strategic planning to make it through each day. I found both of these ways of meeting my needs to be God’s wholistic method and process of provision. I found myself living in expectancy and thankfulness: Faith.

Life is tough, but so am I…

I found that I am tough, mentally and physcally. The past 5 years have thrown obstacle after obstacle in my path, yet I have fought to go forward. I realize that God provided the steel in my spine, the physical strength to keep going, daily provision, and the beauty in the natural world to refresh my soul; but I had to willfully access the steel and strength, receive the provision, and acknowledge the beauty. Part of being tough is also asking and accepting help when necessary. Life is a team sport. Nobody can make it alone, and sometimes it is toughest to admit your own insufficiency. Tough people are willing to give and receive help. I have done both.

I’m a good man…

I am a good man. Although acknowledging that fact feels a little weird and somewhat conceited; I am reminded that humility is honesty about both personal strengths and weaknesses. God gave us three initial gifts: God’s Self, our Self, and others. I am God’s gift to myself. I am created in the image of God… and that is good. My weaknesses serve as opportunities to form wholistic communities by connecting to God and other people that are strong where I am weak. In turn, my strengths become a conduit of God’s grace  to others. Living in this way is a generative, co-creative synergism: A return to Eden… before the snake…

Symmetry…

In the spring of 2009, as I began to look into the possibility of returning to school; I began the process of determining how I could give my life in a way that would make the biggest fundamental difference in the way people lived their lives. I determined that Spiritual Formation was that quality.

The manner in which each of us is spiritually formed affects all other aspects of our life and self. Our spiritual self is like a spiral galaxy with the Self at the center and from which spin the planets and stars of actions, attitudes, and intentions. A healthy spiritual galaxy is held together by the gravitational pull of love holding the planets and stars in healthy patterns of influence. An unhealthy galaxy spins out of control, violently hurling the planets into space in self-absorbed fear, without the connectivity of love. The result is a continual loss of the componants of the Self, and increasing isolation.

Spiritual Formation is the process we are each undergoing which transforms us into either of these galaxies. Every one of us is being spiritually formed. The question is: How intentional are we in the process? Are we seeking to actively engage in the process, or have we set ourselves adrift in the spiritual universe, like a cosmic pinball?

In order to find a university/seminary with a program inSpiritual Formation, I used a very post-modern research method: I Google searched it. One of the first sites which sprang from my search was George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Upon reading about the program and the history of GFES, I found that it, and it’s sister university, George Fox University; were Quaker in tradition, faith perspective, and intentionality. One of the faith componants of my familial heritage was a great-grandfather who was a Society of Friends (Quaker) pastor. My own life experience also included forays into disparate Friends’ congretations for revivals with my evangelist father.

Symmetry…

I then began classes in the fall of 2010. I had to wait a year because I couldn’t pull off the necessary finances to do it in the fall of 2009. Waiting for the next cohort to begin in 2010 seems now to be divinely influenced. When I travelled to Portland, and the GFES campus in August of 2010 for orientation; I was ill-prepared for the depths of connections I would make. I found a group of people struggling theologically with many of the same questions as I. I found a rich mix of faith- and life-perspectives which feathered into my own. At least two guys were from the same denomination I grew up in, with similar tensions and questions about doctrine and practice. Two guys were divorced, or soon to divorce, with similar marital death-stories to mine.

Symmetry…

Symmetry and Redemption… Part 2

Although I regret that decision, I now realize that a life isn’t made of

the things we didn’t say…

the choices we didn’t make…

the risks we didn’t take…

Rather, it is made by the ones we did. I now realize that although I felt like I didn’t fit, and that there was something wrong with me… in fact, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. There was no need for me to ask permission to have the passions and talents I had. They were, and are, gifts from God… and that is a very good thing. However, the 19-year-old me didn’t know that… maybe couldn’t have known that. So I kept chipping away at the square edges, trying to fit into someone else’s understanding of how life SHOULD be lived.

Further disonance ensued because of football. Mid America has always been a thoroughly Midwestern college. At the time, this meant a strongly conservative bent to faith and life which, especially at the time, stepped across a line into legalism, in my opinion. The decision to begin a football program was very controversial with many of the financial supporters of the college, at the time. Many thought the college was losing what they believed should be the college’s focus: Educating Christian, Nazarene kids. The assumption behind this idea was that football players couldn’t or wouldn’t be Nazarenes/Christians. The feeling was especially apparent in the religion department at the time, or that was the perception of most of the players. There always seemed to be at least  a low level of mistrust, eventually wandering into periods of animosity, between athletes and religion majors.

Yet, I had a sincere love for God, or at least the god I knew at the time, and was also a football player.

Square peg… round hole.

Part of the problem for me, at least internally, was that I loved God, but also loved the wild boys! They were  my friends. They had my back, and I had their’s. We fought, bled, and played together. I chose them.

Dress…

In the Midwest of the early 1980’s, Preppies reigned supreme. In Colorado, the uniform at school was:

Levis 501’s…

a long-sleeved, long underwear shirt underneath a long-sleeved, flannel, buttoned shirt with sleeves rolled up…

Addidas, high-top tennis shoes, or hiking boots.

In KC, it was:

Levi 501’s… (Except because of the school dress code, you had to wear knit pants to class, and then break out the 501’s at dinner)

Polo, short-sleeved shirt with collar turned up under a pastel, button-down shirt with sleeves rolled UNDER…

Top-siders’ deck shoes, with no socks.

My initial style didn’t match, and it took me awhile to afford the uniform change.

Square peg… round hole.

Finances…

I was a poor, preacher’s kid in a place where money seemed to be king. And I didn’t know how to handle money.

Square peg… round hole.

Since I didn’t fit, I felt the problem was in some way ME. So I began  to try and change me, in order to fit in. I began to try to do what I perceived I was SUPPOSED  to do, and relinquished part of who I was. I stopped trying to carve out my own identity.

“So…” after over 30 years in the same area, an observant, refreshingly direct person might ask… “Why did you stay?”

I met a girl…

Honestly, that would only be a partial answer. The full answer is undoubtedly more complex… most assuredly so. Yet she was an important reason, a choice I made… we both made… which shaped our lives. She was 4 years younger than I, and we met in a choir trip over spring break, after my last year of football eligibility. We dated for a couple of years before getting married and, since she was from the KC metro area, we settled here. Although I would rather have lived in another location, like… Colorado… I honestly had no real direction, so I felt like keeping her close to her family was the best thing to do.

It’s what you’re SUPPOSED to do, isn’t it?

Actually, neither of us had any clue about our direction,

or even how to go about finding it,

or who we each really were,

or how we wanted to live,

or what we could live with,

 or what we couldn’t live with…

Honestly…. I thought we could figure out all these issues after we got married. Even MORE honestly… I wanted to get laid without feeling guilty… I mean… isn’t that what you’re SUPPOSED to do?

To make things more complicated, a year and a half after we got married, we had our first child. Our options seemed especially restricted at that point. Both of us were young and not really prepared for marriage, let alone parenthood. So much for the decisions about direction taking care of themselves… But… those were my choices… our choices… and it became our life.

The relationship was hard…

We could perform well together, yet not relate well together in important matters and decisions. There seemed to develop a power struggle between us about the way we each wanted to live. It was hard. We both struggled with living according to our own perceptions about the expectations of each other, and other people. Neither of us learned how to live independently before marriage.

We never:

cooked our own meals…

cleaned our own apartment…

developed our own budget…

found our own church…

chose our own career…

 learned who each of us were, seperately…

Greta (the girl) said she felt like she went from being one man’s daughter to being another man’s wife. Her identity was wrapped around another person… a man… rather than mined from her own soul.

My own identity was so wrapped up in football and the church (although my relationship and trust in the church was ambiguous at best) that when football was over, my friendships were gone. I then threw myself into ministry in the church as a layman. It became all I could think about. Greta eventually came to see the church as my mistress. She worked in the church, as well, but it was not her “home” as it had been mine.

Speaking of outward expectations…

Anyone working within the structure of the church, whether as a pastor, staff of the church, or layperson feels the sting of other’s judgements and expectations. Eventually, we both began to ask hard questions about the structures, expectations, and even beliefs as expressed through the collective, institutional rhythms of the church. While my intention was to engage the church more fully in order to be a voice for change, I think Greta wanted to disengage a little in order to live a slower, simpler life and seek God in other places. We were each seeking to find, and establish our identity and place… but going in different directions. I am pretty sure both of us felt growing frustration with the other’s chosen identity.

We had always been able to talk deeply about some things…

ideas…

music…

writing…

art…

But not about other things:

feelings…

finances…

areas of conflict…

It wasn’t working, but our stubborn committment to a marriage that was dying, even though it began poorly, was getting worse, and was dysfunctional for us both; kept us tied to what we were SUPPOSED to do and NOT SUPPOSED to do… which was divorce.

We weren’t a good fit, and it became apparent pretty early. Yet we lived with each other longer than with anyone else. We DID give each other good gifts of discovery about outselves. I believe I invested in her life an understanding of her own intelligence. She invested in me an understanding of my own creativity. And of course, our greatest gifts to each other, ourselves, and the world were those of Baird and Hannah. I have ambivalent feelings regarding the home we brought these two wonderful people into. I think we have tried to raise them to live their own lives, safe from the fear of  not meeting their parent’s expectations. We both love them unconditionally. We have encouraged them to pursue their independence and their passions. We hope they will come to know God’s love deeply. We also hope they see our attempts to forgive each other and begin to learn new ways of living, even as we enter the second half of life.

Kansas City has taught me many lessons I would’ve preferred not to learn. They are valuable, just the same. I have come to know God in a deeper way than ever before, and I realize that it might not have happened without the pain I experienced in this place. These lessons have also become a practical help to other people, as we become friends.

And there have been friends here…

Brian

Jamie

Chaya

Lyle and Jan

Rick

Chetan

Jeremy

Loy

Brad

Dave

Dennis

And my brothers from the MNU Pioneers.

Kansas City will have a special place in my heart because it is the hometown of my children. I am also proud of the city as it has continued to revitalize the inner-city in a way that keeps the architectural portraits of its history, while also building new, creative spaces which encourages the community creatives. I still love the downtown…

Broadway Cafe

The Plaza

Jacob’s Well

The Nelson/The Kemper/KC Art Institute

The Power and Light District

Union Station

The Western Auto Building

The Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts

The Crossroads District

Westport

I suspect I will someday lead an urban retreat in Kansas City. I fell in love with God here. I have lived here longer than anywhere else…

…and it is time to leave.

I am moving to Florida next week to work with my brother-in-law and sister. I will also be reunited with my mom, brother, and sister-in-law. my FOO- Family of Origin. It is an opportunity to get myself on my feet financially, and to reconnect with my heritage. Two words seem to echo in my heart and mind:

Symmetry and Redemption.

I will probably have more to say about these words in the future.

Symmetry and Redemption…

I first came to the Kansas City area in August, 1980. I came to go to college, but more importantly, at least to me, to play football at Mid America Nazarene College (that was the name at the time, but has now grown up into a university) in Olathe, Kansas. The first guy I met was Tim Robbins, a defensive lineman from California. Tim was to become a good friend, with whom I would work for several years at a local juvenile detention. I fancied myself a somewhat mature freshman, as I had finished high school in 1979 in Longmont, Colorado while living with family friends, since my parents had moved to Indiana. The summer after graduation, I traveled to Europe with a choir and concert band. We were 6 tour-buses filled with high school and college students from across the United States. It was a month-long trip to 7 different cities, filled with adventure, history, and beauty; with few chaperons. Lots of fun and no jail-time. After the trip, I came to Indiana to live with my parents and work for a year to pay for my trip.

After attending an Indiana high school football game, I decided to return to my first love: football. I began the process of looking for a college. I was a player looking for a game. My search wasn’t primarily about education, or a scholarship… I just wanted to put on the pads again. Mid America wasn’t originally on my list, because I didn’t know the school was beginning a program. Through a circuitous route which passed through KC, lead to Dodge City, Kansas, then back to KC/Olathe, and to Indiana again; I learned of the new program, participated in spring, “players only” drills, and decided that God wanted me back in Kansas. (I have since questioned that assessment several times. At that moment, it seemed right.)

So, as I began to unload my belongings from my parents’ car, with Tim’s help, and carried them up the walk to Snowbarger 104, I believed myself ready to begin the next step into adulthood.

Wow… that seems like a lifetime ago…

Looking back, I am reminded that from the beginning, I didn’t seem to fit. Actually, that was one of the things Tim and I had in common. He was a California beach guy, used to hanging out in board shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops. We were BOTH in for a lot of surprises. In particular, I found that I had to prove myself. In football, this wasn’t particularly difficult, although I was suprised by this fact, and besides, all jocks are used to having to prove themselves to their teammates. I came in as a non-scholarship walk-on. The program was new, and we were mostly freshmen and sophmores. Only three upper-classmen in the group, and two of the three were kickers. The week before the other students moved in, the team was busy running, fighting, and bleeding together; so when everybody else came for the fall semester; we kind of felt they were trespassing. The bond of two-a-days cemented our claim on the campus as ours… at least for one year. At the time, small college football was rife with players leaving after one semester. People left, sometimes without telling anybody…

“Have you seen…?”

“Gone!”

“Daaaang…. that didn’t take long…”

“That’s ok. If he didn’t want to be here, then we don’t need him.”

While I never considered leaving MNU, it was more because of my teammates than anything else. The day before registration, the head coach approached my locker to tell me that I had earned a scholarship due to my play. I was both surprised and filled with a sense of accomplishment. Not because of the amount of the scholarship (only $500, half the amount the school was allowed to give by the NAIA at the time). Mostly, the scholarship affirmed that I was accepted and good enough to play college football.

However, the next day at registration, I came face-to-face with a feeling of dissonance that I was a square peg, trying to ram myself into a round hole. My educational plan was to major in Church Music, with the intention of eventually becoming a Minister of Music for a church somewhere. The problem was… I was a football player. To me, these two identities made perfect sense. I had always loved both music and sports, and excelled in both. The academic adviser to which I had been assigned, however, didn’t see the fit. When he learned I planned on pursuing both in college, his words smacked me in the face with my first taste of social dissonance:

Adviser: “I see you are playing football…”

Me: “Yes…”

Adviser: “I don’t want to dissuade you… (dissonance)… but it has been my experience that music and football are two mistresses that don’t like each other very much. I suspect you will eventually drop one of them in favor of the other…”

Me: (Outwardly) … well… I want to try both. (Inwardly) It ain’t gonna be football…! I choose football…”

What I WISH I would’ve said?

“Watch me!”

His words to me communicated that I didn’t fit…”You gotta be one or the other: musicial/creative or jock.”

The truth? I was and am both. 50-year-old me knows that. I am comfortable with that. Maybe even a little proud of that!

To be fair, the adviser tried to help me adjust to the structured world of music theory, while also acknowledging and allowing me opportunities to use my natural, music gifts. Yet his first words stick in my memory as a first challenge to an identity, as yet unformed. When I took my first Music Theory class and Beginning Class Piano, I looked for any reason to leave my original plan. Football gave me that reason. I dislocated a finger playing in a junior varsity game, and quickly dropped the piano class. I then began looking for a different major.

I have always regretted that decision…

Hidden Toxins…

Below is a paper I submitted for the class: Spirituality, Shame, and Grace. Some of the formatting may be a little messy…. Sorry.

Hidden Toxins

 

 

In 1962, author Rachel Carson published a book that was to become a hallmark in the environmental movement: Silent Spring. The book outlines the effects of chemical insecticides of that time period, in particular DDT, on not only insects, but also upon the entirety of a biological ecosystem. At the time, DDT as well as some chemical defoliants were commonly used not only for industrial applications, but also for home use. Silent Spring began with the premise that environmental systems were linked in an intricate dance in which all living things were connected, and when toxic chemicals were used for the control of one organism, they didn’t stop in their toxicity with just the intended species, but continued to poison all the way up the biological line until their effects contributed to the ill-health of humans, as well. The intension of becoming free from relatively minor irritants, caused the unintended consequence of actually limiting the healthy freedom of a balanced environment, which provided for the physical needs of a multiplicity of living things.

The freedom of disease killed the freedom of health.

In Genesis 2:7-3:24, the story is written about another instance where the perfectly designed balance of the creation is burdened with the choice of a freedom which kills over a freedom which heals. The scene is a garden where the inhabitants live in harmony within an environment linked in healthy balance, not only in a physical sense, but also in a spiritual, and emotional sense as well. The relational balance is generative and co-creative, with each being sharing and expressing their unique, and innate value in the beauty of love and mutual respect. As with all designs, there were boundaries with delineated responsibilities, and where mutual respect was part of the design. The overarching value was one of love and trust. God created the beauty of a garden, and invited people to be partners in its maintenance and expansion: a healthy freedom.

However, as the story goes, an adversary approached the people, offering a larger, more expansive freedom; or so the marketing schpeel went. The promise seemed to be attractive, yet it was based on the toxicity of lies:

“Did God say, ’You may not eat from any tree in the garden?’”

“You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The toxicity of these lies is in the deviance of their hiddenness. They are pervasive and invasive lies:

You cannot trust God to have your best interests at heart.

You are not enough, as you are. You should be more than you are.

The people freely ingested the lies, and the fruit of these seeds of doubt was shame.

Although the story is set in antiquity, it is always a present story, because the toxicity of shame is hidden within each of us. In these few pages, I will attempt to explain how this class has revealed to me both the disease process of my own hidden shame, but also the freedom I am finding in new understandings of grace which are clearer now than before the class. I will also write of how these new understandings have helped me in a ministry context.

 

 

Personal Experience:

It seems like I have spent most of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. No matter how I presented myself, the success I experienced, the loves I shared; my feeling was that sooner or later, it would be gone… I would be found out. The voice in my head assured me of that. I’m not sure the voice was originally mine. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. But as the years progressed, the voice became mine. Sometimes the voice spoke in words, but most of the time, it was just a deep feeling of personal, innate failure. I never really knew what to call it. I called it guilt for most of my life. However, I am now able to call it by its real name: Shame. Jeff Van Vonderan defines it nicely:

Let me clarify something. Shame is often confused with guilt. But they’re not the same. God created you and me so that when we do something wrong we experience a sense of guilt. Guilt is like a spiritual nerve-response to sin, an emotion in response to wrong behavior (“I acted in a way that was wrong and I feel guilty”). Those uncomfortable impulses that stab our conscience are meant to turn us away from the wrong we’re doing and turn us back to God. In that sense, guilt is a healthy thing. Because guilt comes as a result of something you and I do, we can do something about it–change our behavior– and the guilty feeling will go away.

Shame on the other hand, is not just a feeling, though we often speak of it that way (“You ought to feel ashamed of yourself!”) Shame is the belief or mindset that something is wrong with you. It’s something you can live with and not necessarily be aware of. It’s not that you feel bad about your behavior, it’s that you sense or believe you are deficient, defective, or worthless as a human being.

Consequently, you develop a shame-based way of looking at yourself. You accept the view that others might slip up and make mistakes once in a while, but they’re still basically worthwhile people. You, however, are like a mirror image of that: No matter how many times you get it right ( whatever it is, according to the standards of your environment) you will never be acceptable. Deep down, you believe something is wrong with you.”

My parents were wonderful people. Dad was an old-school evangelist during the beginning of my life. That meant that the whole family would travel by car from one revival meeting to another. I have two older (much older… and I love to remind them of that fact) siblings who were essentially raised traveling in this fashion. It was a difficult life for my mother, especially. About every 9 years, she would have an emotional break. We have since learned that she has Bi-polar disorder. Speaking to my siblings, I learned that she was different after I was born. She was an older mother when I was born, and had one of her depressive breaks shortly afterward which required hospitalization, so I was cared for by friends of the family while my father, brother, and sister traveled to revivals. I noticed throughout my life, that I had emotional peaks and valleys periodically. Although they are not extreme enough for me to question if I am bi-polar, they have been a fixture from childhood. Infants learn emotional habits from their primary caregiver. These ways of feeling about the world and themselves are the first messages they receive about whether they are safe and if their efforts of communication will be successful or not. While the intellect isn’t developed enough to understand these messages, their brains make neural connections in the limbic region. Since this region is also the center of the emotions, the messages are related to feelings, rather than thoughts. I believe my fluctuation in emotions through the years are simply emotional habits carried over from infancy.

In contrast to these inward, emotional habits; I learned (as does every preacher’s kid) how to perform and make a good first impression. While this wasn’t something I remember being verbally taught, it just seems something I have always known. From the age of 2, my siblings and I began to sing publicly, as part of the music in each revival service. I was somewhat shy as a child, and since we moved frequently, I never really developed skills of intimacy which long-term friendships require. My companions were my immediate family, or most typically, myself. I now see how these two contrasting experiences developed a type of emotional dissonance within. I became good at performance, and could get along with people for short periods of time, but knowing how to allow someone to come inside my private world to the feeling level was especially difficult. Understanding the normal give and take of relationships was not something I learned. My perceptions of what others thought of me, was based on surface issues.

The faith tradition I was raised in was conservative, focusing on legalistic outward appearance, all the while preaching a message of pursuing God, and holiness. Evidence of personal holiness was especially defined in external life style. However, the emphasis was placed more on what we didn’t do, rather than how we lived as Christ would in the world. I must say that my father didn’t preach in this manner, or live that way either, and although Mom wouldn’t have held other people up to these standards, she constantly fought her own demons of shame. I have always said that Mom always fought feelings of guilt in her own walk with God, and was a great purveyor of guilt to her children, but in a very subtle way. I have always been very intuitive, so it wasn’t hard for me to catch her subtle references that there was something wrong with me.

Actually, I now see that there have been both inward and outward voices of shame in my life. The origins of these voices have remained hidden until recent years. As a result of these voices, my ability to feel God’s love for me became essentially non-existent across the totality of my life. I felt God’s love for me when I performed well, but in the weak areas of my life, or in my sin… I waited for the other shoe to drop.

I lived most of my adult life by an equation:

Church + Family + Performance = Worth.

Eventually, after years living in the “Try harder/Give up” cycle Van Vonderan describes, an unsatisfying marriage that ended in divorce, difficulty in being able to stay in a career I seem best suited for: ministry, and recurring financial issues; all the factors on the left side of the equation collapsed in a heap. I was left with a deep, personal sense of failure, and huge pockets of hidden, toxic feelings of shame.

Through the midst of it, though, God has been speaking to me in metaphors which reach to the deepest parts of me, to redefine fundamental terms of the Christian faith in ways I can understand, and feel. I have found that shame is peeled away, layer by layer. God has spoken to me in powerful ways through the natural world, through the bible– yet in ways radically different than I learned before– through books– both secular and religious– and in popular media– including movies, plays, and music. God has also used both old and new friends to allow me to see glimpses of the value God sees in me and created in me: the Imago Dei. These friends have spoken good into my life. I have finally come to know that I worship God, while before, I worshipped god: a religious figurehead of morality, who is quite emotionally unstable, and unrelenting in his expectations. The God I now know is both Father and Mother, although it is taking time for me to relate more fully to Mother God.

I found the most powerful ideas for personal change within the class, to be:

Van Vonderan’s discussion of the Rest cycle. Although his manner of communicating the message of renewal of our mind to the actions of Christ on our behalf, was so close to what I’d always heard that I had difficulty stepping outside my tradition; the diagram was helpful.

Justification by Grace. David and Sandra Rhoads’ article in Robert Jewett’s compilation was powerfully helpful to me, especially David’s explanation of the different models of redemption:

Justification by grace is not the only, nor indeed the most common view of redemption in Christian churches. The most common view of redemption among Christians is that Jesus died for people’s sins to be forgiven. This is the abbreviated formula: All people have sinned and, as such, they deserve judgment and death. Through Jesus, God forgives their sins and saves them for eternal life. There is a tendency to collapse justification by grace into this popular formula of forgiveness, as if they were the same thing. After a recent lecture I gave on this subject, a former Lutheran bishop acknowledged that it had never occurred to him that justification and forgiveness were not the same.

Justification and forgiveness are, in some sense, quite different models of redemption. One way to understand the difference between justification and forgiveness is to realize that forgiveness works within a system. Forgiveness leaves in place the legal/moral system that is used to make ourselves right with God and others. It affirms our successes in meeting the lawful standards and addresses only our sinful failings. So, we do our best to follow the laws and be good moral humans– and God forgives us when we fail to live up to that system. The system remains in place and also our efforts to justify ourselves before God remain in place. We make it in the system because we get help from God, who forgives the failings. The status of the legal/moral system is reinforced in the process of forgiveness. And the performance principle– our efforts to justify ourselves before God by our actions in living up to a system of law– is also reinforced.

By contrast, justification by grace is an action by God (not by us) that justifies (sets us right with God) by (God’s) free choice to do so as a gift– based neither upon a system of standards nor upon human performance.”

I find Rhoads’ description of justification by grace most powerful because, while the forgiveness model of redemption views humanity as being innately wrong so that we need a system to be right with God, the justification by grace model views our perception of our value as the problem. Justification by grace speaks with powerful clarity regarding God’s belief in our value. Justification by grace with action by God, speaks and acts powerfully to address the Edenic lies of the snake:

“You can’t trust God…”

“You aren’t enough…”

by accepting the consequences of believing and living out those two statements: death alone, and shame. Thus, the need for the cross of Christ, and the resurrection which acts like a bridge to a return to relational Eden, with the values of love of God, love of self, and love of others.

Although this counteracts the power of shame, and neutralizes the hidden toxins within; living in the new reality takes practice, as Van Vonderan states:

“ The battle to recover from shame and live a life of freedom and fullness is waged in two primary arenas: the renewal of the mind, and the fight of faith.”

Ministry Experience:

A major source of the power of shame is that it is hidden. There are at least two aspects to this:

Sometimes it is hidden to us…

Other times it is known to us, but hidden from others…

It is God’s grace to make known to us the origins of our shame. Until we can know why we feel shame regarding our body image, for instance; we have great difficulty counter-acting the inward and outward voices which reinforce it.

Secondly, it is important for us to find a safe place with safe relationships where we can reveal our places of shame. Being honest about our pain is the first step towards healing. I believe this courageous action on our behalf, and the gracious listening of another person, is a practical act of confession. Twelve step groups have learned the power of shared incompleteness and shame, without the need to try and “fix” the other person.

I led a divorce support group where we tried to provide just such a safe place, where people could be honest about their feelings and speak openly about their perceptions of reality as they saw it. Just the act of listening can release the power of shame.

Another way the community can counteract shame, is by speaking good into the life of another. I don’t mean trite statements which deny the experience of another– as in pithy, syrupy statements to those in the middle of personal devastation and crisis– rather honest observations about the value and strengths of another person. While these statements may be caught in the “shame grid” of the other person, and they may have difficulty believing your observations of good in them; the Holy Spirit can keep them in the unconscious mind, until they are ready to be retrieved and “heard” by the person.

The church in the individualized West has lost the power of a shared community of faith. I believe we are so acculturated by both the redemption system of forgiveness, rather than justification of grace, and we each feel that salvation is an individualized act of individual faith; that we have denied the power of collective faith. Edward Wimberly explains this powerfully:

“As indicated before, the experience of guilt is not the dominant experience in our contemporary society. The experience of shame is by far the most prevalent experience. This lecture takes seriously that our contemporary experience is not the need for forgiveness for wrong behavior. Rather, ‘our contemporary experience is one of disconnection, of being unloved, of being overwhelmed by information, of experiencing nihilism or the loss of meaning, and of being inept and clumsy in human interaction and interpersonal relationships.’ The age of shame is the loss of love. It is the loss of meaningful community. It is the feeling that one is unlovable and will never be loved. The point is that a juridical model of guilt over sin and wrong behavior makes no sense when the dominant experience is being unloved. The guilt model presupposes an intact community where one’s sense of connection is not threatened unless one commit’s a heinous crime. Shame, however, is based on disconnection and a breakdown in community. Moreover, shame is a fundamental experience and is prior to guilt in the developmental cycle. Guilt, however, comes later in the developmental cycle when relationships are better formed.”

We currently live in a culture of division at every level of American society. Disconnection is a component of everyday life for many, if not most of us. And we feel alone because of it. Could it be that this is the natural outgrowth of strident individualism gone to seed? However, rather than face the pain courageously, embrace it, and allow it to drive us back into community; we seem to be self-medicating. In fact, I would contend we self-medicate in at least three ways:

Consumption as Self-Medication:

-We seem to make a commodity out of everything external… people, experiences, food, alcohol, tobacco, religion, art, career, etc… It seems that we feel like if we can just consume enough, the emptiness on the inside will be filled. While the emptiness is actually an echo of believing the Edenic lies of the snake. It is our innate value that we feel like we have lost. While that isn’t true, we are created with innate value… the Imago Dei… we can’t seem to believe it, so we cover our shame with consumption.

2. Money as Self-Medication:

Wimberly puts it well:

“The predominant impulses behind our desire to rise in the social hierarchy may be rooted not so much in the material goods we can accrue or the power we can wield as in the amount of love we stand to receive as a consequence of high status. Money, fame and influence may be valued more as tokens of–and meant to– love rather than ends in themselves.

Love is no longer defined relationally. Rather, it is defined as the pursuit of things, and such a pursuit starves the soul and makes people shallow.”

3. Morality as Self-Medication:

This seems to be especially rampant in the church.

Now when people ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ they mean ‘What would a twenty-first century American Jesus do?’ The fact is there never was a twenty-first-century American Jesus. With a sense of anachronism and ethnocentrism, the question means what would a first-century Mediterranean, Israelite Jesus do. For most Bible readers, this is an insuperably unanswerable question. The only Jesus they know is one in their own U.S. image and likeness.”

The American church often seems to act towards the larger culture in fear that our value is being threatened, especially as it relates to what we say we believe, and our over-arching world view. We respond in anger to voices within our culture which espouse ideas which we interpret as being counter to our world view. Why would there be a need for anger, if we believed in a God who is perfectly capable of protecting Godself, and if our belief system were based in reality, rather than an attempt to protect our own beliefs, and perceived self-worth which is based on these faith-assumptions? Is our anger really about Truth, or about what we believe to be true? Is it about God, or ourselves? Do we fear that what we believe is not true? If all Truth is God’s Truth, why are we not open to interpretations different than our own? We act like a “truth junkie” who must do everything possible for our “truth fix”, no matter what we have to do and who we have to hurt in order to get it. Are we trying to make religious clones of ourselves in order to impress upon ourselves our worth?

One of the ways I hope to minister to the church is by encouraging and engaging in conversations about the manner in which we in the individualized West interpret the culture of the bible, and the cultural context in which Jesus lived. By learning the world and society in which Jesus moved and spoke, I think we are better able to identify the differences in our own context, and enliven our message to the cultural voices of shame in our part of the world. Perhaps one of the reasons Christianity is growing in the technologically emerging world is due to the communal nature of their society. Maybe they understand the bible better than we because the cultural contexts are similar. It might benefit us in the West to engage in cross-cultural conversations with brothers and sisters in these world areas about how they read and interpret the bible.

In conclusion, I would like to see communities of Christian faith which redeem and reframe our experience in ways that hold interpersonal respect, responsibility, and healthy, personal boundaries in tension with grace, unconditional love, and personal freedom. How does that happen? God knows, but I suspect it looks suspiciously like Eden, before the snake. A redeeming community allows exploration and embraces the dissonance of the moment in hope and assurance of future resolution in the Kingdom of Heaven, whether that be on earth, or in the next realm

1  http://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/Silent_Spring/Silent_Spring_Rachel_Carson04.html 

2 http://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/Silent_Spring/Silent_Spring_Rachel_Carson03.html

3 Genesis 3:1; New Revised Standard Version, HarperOne, San Francisco, CA; 2007

4 Gen. 3:4-5

5 Jeff Van Vonderan; Tired of Trying to Measure Up; Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN; 1989; Pg. 18

6 A General Theory of Love; Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.; New York, NY, Random House, Inc., 2000, Pg. 148-153

7 Van Vonderan, Pgs. 90-103.

8 Van Vonderan. Pg. 115-117.

9 Justification by Grace, David M. Rhoads and Sandra Roberts Rhoads in The Shame Factor: How Shame Shapes Society, Edited by Robert Jewett; Cascade Books, Eugene, OR; 2011. Pg. 88-89.

10  Van Vonderan, Pg. 109.

11 “The mind begins with the belief system, or what I earlier referred to as the ‘shame grid.’ This means that you have a belief system that perpetuates shame.” Van Vonderan, Pg. 92.

12 Edward P. Wimberly; No Shame in Wesley’s Gospel, in Jewett. Pg.107.

13 Wimberly in Jewett. Pg.108.

14  Bruce J. Malina, Anachronism, Ethnocentrism, and Shame: The Envy of the Chief Priests; in Jewett. Pg.144.