Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lives Refocused

There are times when one can only smile.

Two or three times a year a group of people walks into our church seeking to refocus their lives.They are wounded. Broken. Life has thrown them a curve ball and they don't know what to do.

For a few it was thirty years ago or even more when they stood at an altar and said "I do" and "til death do us part." For others the memory is more recent. No one dreamed on the day of their wedding that one day they would walk into a workshop admitting that their marriage is beyond fixing. That admission paves the way for their healing.

I spent this weekend with people needing a hefty dose of both care and challenge as they dealt with the end of one of their dreams. On Thursday evening they walk in wondering why they even bothered to come. On Saturday afternoon they leave believing that God just might have a hope and a future for their life. That's why I smile.

People who attend our workshop are brave people. It's not easy to face failure. Almost all have been hurt badly. Trust has been broken. More than a few carry deep resentment as a constant companion. Anger is just below the surface. They are angry at God, themselves, and especially the spouse who chose to walk away.

Some come from churches that treat the breakup of a marriage as something akin to the leprosy in biblical times. There is much judgment and not much grace. Our church has decided to err on the side of grace and leave the judgment to a good God.

It's funny about divorce and the church. We know divorce is not God's best for our lives.
We allow it because Jesus said we could under certain circumstances. But God help those whose circumstances aren't spot on. In many churches if one divorces poorly then they have committed what is tantamount to a sin that can't be forgiven. It would be better to be a murderer in their eyes. I even know of people who pray that their spouse commits adultery so they can have a church sanctioned 'out' on their unhappiness. Oh, what we do to manipulate scripture to fit our purposes.

Our church believes that even poorly constructed marriages are not beyond the healing touch of God. And marriages do get put back together. But not often the ones of the people who come to the workshop I co-lead. Not those marriages. Often it is too late. And the people who walk into the room come in alone. Its hard to heal a marriage when only one person wants to save it. But God cares not just about a marriage he cares about the people of that marriage. And so we deal with the 'one' who shows up and we help them deal with the pain of it all. Even those whose marriages end without the biblical trump card neatly being played.

So, we talk for three days. We talk about how anger can create bitterness, the power of forgiveness, of drawing close to the God of all comfort, of preparing to write the next chapter of their life. And slowly, we see a flicker of hope arise. The somberness begins to fade. Community develops for a time. God ministers to parched souls, convicts people of sin, and wraps men and women in arms of love. It's not easy. Who wants to embrace their pain, deal with their own sinfulness, and confess their failures? It's much easier to point a finger at someone else instead of taking responsibility for our own life. But pointing a finger is not what God calls people to do. He wants us, instead, to face up to the current reality and with His help to take steps (baby steps if necessary) towards writing a redemptive story for the rest of their lives.

When that story starts to be written ... who wouldn't smile?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Be. Thoughtful.

There’s some things off limits to discussion in just about every church. We find it hard to talk about war, poverty, justice, immigration, abuse, politics, Israel, and life issues.  Why?

In just about every church there is an assumption that just about everyone is in lockstep on important cultural and theological issues.  After all, most church folks believe, we (our congregation) has landed on the correct biblical and theological landing place for just about everything.

And so at many churches one dares not utter a contrarian viewpoint in fear of being shunned or labeled.   And one learns quickly not to ‘think out loud’ lest they get pounded on by the gatekeepers of church order and decorum. That’s actually why a lot of people leave churches.   They feel they have to conform to some ‘group think’ in order to be accepted. 

It’s hard to be a liberal in most evangelical churches.  And try being a conservative voice in a church with a more open theology.  It takes a bit of courage to be that ‘other’ voice.

I once mentioned CNN in a sermon and was chided by someone who said “we’re a FOX church”.  Really.  I thought we were a Jesus church.

I once had a group of evangelicals walk away from me because I told them that I first met Jesus in a Catholic Church. They couldn’t handle it. It shattered their paradigm of  proper conversion. And so instead of grappling with it they just chose to dismiss me.

We don’t like to hear things that shatter our illusions of what’s right.  And frankly there are a fair amount of illusions of rightness all around us.

All the big issues of the day need to have ‘thoughtfulness’ woven in and through every discussion. Christ followers need to be part of that discussion.  But how many Christ followers are thoughtful enough to consider someone else’s viewpoint as having value.  Too few. Why?  Because we’re too wrapped up in our notion of being right.

And here’s the big, bad, dark secret of the church.  Much of our thinking is really, really, really not biblically informed.  We’ve latched on to a word, a phrase, or a verse to make simplistic applications that support our version of the truth around very complex issues. Worse yet. We grab on to a political or economic point of view and try to make it seamlessly tie into scripture. That’s crazy.

And here’s another secret.  We are unwilling to be faced with another way of looking at things.  In fact, we look for churches filled with people just like us.

I’d like to start a movement called “Be thoughtful”.  In order to join the movement one must pledge to read widely (that means outside your comfort zone), to seek out other good people who think differently and actually have a conversation where you spend most of your time listening for understanding, and to purposefully listen and watch news shows that just might tick you off.  To ‘be thoughtful’ means to intentionally become informed beyond what you currently know even to the point of possibly changing your mind.

We need each other.  We really do. But if we sterilize our thinking and limit our access to differences we will only surround ourselves with tame people who will only parrot back to us what we already know.  That’s really not much fun.

Perhaps we’ve been taught to stay away from controversy.  That’s very sad. What if we all became safe enough so that talking and more importantly listening our way through an issue became the norm?