Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Does The Church Know What Love Really Is?

"If You are struggling with any area of [this] information it is your problem, not ours. If you feel a breakdown in trust and relationship it is your issue not ours. If you don't seem to be able to give a righteous response to what you believe was said and done then go and seek counsel. You have been ministered to, you have been included, you have been loved." [Emphasis added]
These were words sent to me by a board member of my ex-church after I had written to the board, letting them know that I was struggling with being told, amongst other things, that I should submit to the "godly authority" of the man who was bullying me. The email I received in response explained that the board had done nothing wrong, and were, in fact, at peace with God and themselves. If there was a problem, it was mine alone. I had "been loved" and so it was about time I got with the program and performed acceptably again.

The only trouble with this is that I hadn't been loved. I had been dismissed; I had been ignored; I had been silenced. I had been told, in effect, to sit down and shut up. Where I had previously been approved of for my compliance and performance, I was now being judged and rejected. It was not love. It was control.

If I behaved in the approved manner, I was praised and affirmed. But as soon as I lifted the rug and uncovered the dirt underneath, I was labelled a trouble-maker. When I resisted the demand to pretend it wasn’t there, I became the problem.

And the problem with me being viewed as the problem is that I wasn’t really the problem…

The real problem was that none of us seemed to know how to love like Jesus loved. Love was confused with control. The imperative was to control behaviour; control feelings; control the narrative itself.

As I have said many times before, my experience is far from unique. Hundreds of thousands have been, or are being controlled and abused by an institution which claims to be representing the One who is Love!

But do we know what love really is? 

We have made decisions about what it should look like to be worthy of our love. We have chosen to police people's behaviour - to reward the 'good' and punish the 'bad'. We have told people that we love them, when really we are just using positive re-inforcement to manipulate them into acting the manner we have approved. That is not love.

We who are called to love without cost, have confused love with control.

And although it will sometimes get us what we want, the trouble with using control is that we inadvertently make ourselves a slave to the response of the other person. If they won’t play the game, then we have to up the ante until they accede to our demand for compliance.

And when everything has been done to make others behave according to our rules, and they have still failed to comply, we are left with no alternative but to shun them.

They aren’t following the script, so they have to be written out of the show.

And so people who were once friends, or members of the same family, are no longer able to even talk to one other, and they find themselves miserably imprisoned by the refusal of the other to submit to their demands.

Now, you may have heard it said that if you really love someone you should set them free. Well I have discovered there is an incredible paradox in that – when we truly love someone, we actually set ourselves free!

Loving people the way Jesus did sets us free from the need to control their behaviour. In fact it sets us free from needing anything at all from them, because loving someone is simply wanting the best for them. And that is never dependent on their response. So we find ourselves at liberty to love... regardless.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely wonderful when love is reciprocated - and there’s nothing at all wrong in wanting that - it’s just that real love is not dependent on it. We can love someone regardless of their responsiveness to us. Just look at Jesus. He managed to love people who were out for his blood - literally!

So maybe it's time for the church to start following Jesus. Let's give up the control, and do away with the need to make others 'behave'. I promise you that truly loving others is an incredibly liberating thing to do!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Smile, And The World Smiles With You...

I've been wondering in recent times if some of our negative reception as 'christians' in 'the world' has less to do with what Jesus promised, and a whole lot more about creating our own self-fulfilling prophecy.

When I think how much I've heard about expecting to face persecution and hatred from those outside 'the church', I start to wonder if we find exactly what we are looking for.

I guess, what started me thinking was the fact that in embracing my brokenness, and finding healing for the wounding I suffered, I've discovered an unanticipated joy in interacting with others.

These days I live from a place of absolute assurance that God totally loves and embraces me just the way I am. And because I feel so secure and free in God's love, I have found it incredibly easy to reach out to others with that same grace. I find myself loving others with ease. Genuinely delighted in who they are. Seeing them as fellow travellers in life... not potential converts to my way of thinking.

And I've discovered that people who are treated with genuine goodwill will generally respond in kind. You might like to try it some time. Smile at someone as you pass them in the street, or thank someone for a small act of courtesy - not to manufacture any response from them, but to just reach out and say, "Hey, you are valuable!" It's amazing how often they will smile in return - how often you see some spark of joy light up when they are shown that they are seen, that they matter.

So it occurred to me to wonder if, conversely, when we interact with others expecting them to reject and 'persecute' us that's exactly how they respond.

I've seen plenty of 'christians' who seem to take some perverted kind of pleasure or reassurance from eliciting a negative response from others. I've also seen them justify all kinds of nasty behaviour based purely on that type of response. It's as if they go out of their way to be 'hated' because they can then say, "Well, Jesus said the world would hate us." It's treated like proof of their piety.

But, guess what? Sometimes people react angrily to us simply because we've acted like a jerk, not because they hate our 'holiness'.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Finding Jesus in Unlikely Places (Messing With Our Theology)

In the last few years, I have found my theology changing and growing, in large measure because I have had to face the fact that what I had been taught by the church didn't measure up to it's advertised reality.

To misappropriate a quote from the end of A Knight's Tale:

It had been weighed.
It had been measured.
And it had absolutely... been found wanting.

There are people who would now call me a heretic, and that's ok. I have no use for a religion which hurts people, and so my theology has had to change.

That is why it came as no surprise to me today when I suddenly realised that I have met the love of Jesus through one who once said to me, "I tried that religious thing and decided it wasn't for me."

The person in question is the psychologist I started seeing after the hell I went through last year. Somehow she managed to be both very professional and very compassionate. A rare mix.

Now I find it interesting that someone who disclaims any belief in God herself could be so incredibly warm and accepting of mine. I never once felt judged by her for the things I believed. In fact I felt totally accepted and acceptable to her, no matter what I shared with her.

She was inviting, meeting me exactly where I was, and making me feel ok to be there. She validated me without reserve and encouraged me to find a truer version of myself. She listened to my struggles and helped me find the path to my own healing. Very importantly, she was safe.

And in the midst of all that, she was Jesus to me.

She was the Jesus who met the sick and healed them; who met the broken and made them whole; who met the outcast and made them welcome. She helped set this captive free.

If that messes with your theology, I'm sorry. But I have discovered that God is a whole lot bigger than any one person's 'truth'. He does what he sees fit, regardless of what we believe he should do.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that he has a whole lot of fun doing it!