Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Temptation to Manage or Massage the Truth

A Few Good Men (1992) contains one of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history.  In a military trial Lieutenant Kaffee (Tom Cruise) only thinks he's on the offensive and grilling Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson.)

Kaffee: Colonel Jessup, did you order the Code Red?!
Judge: You don't have to answer that question!
Jessup: I'll answer the question. You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled!
Jessup: You want answers?!
Kaffee: I want the truth!

Ironically, I think there are a lot of Christians--regarding themselves as knowing the Truth-- who actually can't handle the truth.  Here's what has prompted this.  
Recently, an acquaintance, whom I respect in many ways but with whom I also occasionally differ, posted on fb about someone lamenting that she felt "defeated." He asserted, " A believer is never defeated.  Romans 8 (the most positive chapter in the Word) says "in ALL things, we are MORE than conquerors (emphasis his) through Jesus Christ.  While we may be harassed from time to time, we are never defeated. {We are} conquerors.  Let that sink in."    While I appreciate his optimistic hope and faith, I also feel there is an element of denial. Maybe she is,in fact, truly defeated, i.e. maybe her marriage is absolutely hopeless.  Maybe her prodigal son has walked away, never to return.  Maybe she is terminally ill and death will rob her young kids of their loving mother.  These tragedies--and worse--happen to us.  For some of us, it's over.  It's broken beyond repair.  It's irrevocable.  
l am a Christ-follower but I admit there are times when Jesus simply does not fix it.  There are times when the resurrected Lord does not resurrect a broken marriage or a cancer-ridden body.  Defeated.
But many of us can't handle that and we rush in to either explain it away or provide shallow encouragement (e.g." they're in a better place now.")  We have to fix it or minimize it or discount it or spiritualize it--anything but embrace it and sit with it and be present with a friend in the terrible silence wherein there are no answers that help. Can we simply acknowledge it rather than pumping up false hope?  

I replied to his post in this manner:  " I appreciate your Christ-centered hope and optimism, but, on the other hand, even the apostle Paul himself experienced a season when he "despaired of life itself."  Whether we call it defeat or despair or disillusionment  it seems to be the experience at one time or another, of most, if not all, Christ-followers." 
I don't think that settled very well with many. One replied, ". . . even when I'm so worn I know I'm not totally defeated."  Another, "And when that season of feeling defeated is past, we look back and see what God did. {That's why} it says in the Bible to rejoice in everything, be thankful in everything."  And another, "brought down, but not destroyed."  And another rebuttal, "Paul did certainly feel discouraged in Romans 7 but he also know the love and security of the Lord in Romans 8." And others.
While we may have good intentions, I think many of us simply can't handle the truth.  The ancient Christians called it "the dark night of the soul."  Some referred to it as "desolation."  Times when it is dark and there is no light to illumine one's heart or path.  The writers of the Scriptures and the individuals described within its pages were more honest than most of us. David.  Job, The apostle Paul. 
We can say that even though we may feel despairing that isn't truly reality because there is always hope for the Christian.   i would agree that there is always ultimate hope.  But some circumstances are here-and-now hopeless.  Some marriages are doomed.  Someone's child is going to die and no last minute healing is going to take place.  Some 40 y.o is going to receive the news that it's terminal and in 3 months they will be dead. Do we have both the compassion and the courage to enter into that darkness and join them?  Or will we remain safely outside their decimated world and content ourselves with standing outside their crucible and simply lobbing them platitudes? 
 l understand that merely because i feel despairing doesn't mean that life is, in fact, despairing.  Feelings do not determine or define reality.  I get it.  However, if someone is truly feeling despair that is their truth in the moment and do we dare to be present with them and weep with them and be still with them or does the truth of their present experience make us so uncomfortable that we feel obligated to bombard them with platitudes and "answers" and Bible verses. 
Can we handle the truth?  
I made a sobering and yet, ironically, strangely comforting discovery recently. Here's how two of the four gospels describe the final moments of Christ's life.  The very last words that Jesus utters are not Romans 8-esque.  They are not "it's the top of the inning" optimism.  The last words he utters are these:
My God, my God!!  Why have you forsaken me?!?"
And then he died.  No cheery optimism contained in his final breaths.  No warrior-like "Death be damned!" triumphant shout.  Instead, summoning all the strength he has left, he gasps at God, "Why have you abandoned me?" 
Jesus was and is the truth.  Can we handle the truth?
As I said earlier,Jesus' final words are strangely comforting to me. Jesus acknowledged and accepted his horrible forsakenness by God.  With no sugar-coating, Jesus cries out in lament, "God, you have left me to myself!"  This tells me that Jesus knows my own dark night of abandonment. Jesus understands my own flailing in the dark when I beg for answers or presence and neither come.  Jesus understands when it feels like my prayers reach only to the ceiling. Jesus stands in solidarity with us as we navigate through our own journey of faith.
He understands.  Therefore,I don't have to fake it or sound upbeat or engage in platitudinal regurgitation when the dark closes in and feels so suffocating that I question everything    I cling to my trust in him and that's enough.
May God give us grace in two ways:
May he grant us grace to face the darkness and trust in the Light even when all my eyes see is the pitch black.
May God give us grace to enter into our brother's own darkness and may our quiet presence mediate God's own presence.  May God give grace to empty ourselves of platitudes and nervous conversation to fill the awkward silence  and, instead, embrace our sister in her own dark night of the soul..

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Some of the Saddest Words Spoken: "I Used To. . . "

                 Some of the Saddest Words Spoken

Wanting to enjoy the sunshine my wife chose to walk to the grocery store.  It’s quite a distance.   With groceries in hand, she was returning and walking through several neighborhoods to get home, enjoying the sound of birds celebrating summer and the sight of flourishing hostas and flowers. Then she heard the yelling of several older people and the sobbing of a young boy.  Initially, it was the harsh volume that caught her attention.  As she got closer it was the unrelenting venomous words being hurled at the boy that pierced her heart.   She slowed her pace, not out of traffic accident curiosity but because she was concerned for the boy.   The three were in their back yard; Les walked just past their residence and then stopped.  She didn't know what to do but she knew the scene could get worse and she wasn't going to allow that to happen.   A man and a woman in their 60’s were standing over the boy, teaming together in their tirade. Eventually, the adults backed off and went back inside their house, leaving the boy alone and crying. 

My wife didn't want to agitate the adults further only for them to scapegoat the boy even more, but neither could she just walk away.  She raised her voice loud enough for the boy to hear, hoping she was under the adults’ radar. 
“Are you ok?” 
“Do you want to talk?”
“Yes, I do.”

She introduced herself and asked him a question or two.  He’s “Billy” and he’s 12.  His mom has custody but she couldn't take care of him for a couple days so she persuaded her mother and stepfather to take him.  He was missing mom and they wouldn't let him see her momentarily or even call her.  Instead, they berated him and were intent on screaming and shaming compliance into him.

Les listened as “Billy” poured out his heart to a listening soul.  As he told his story, collecting himself off and on in order to be understood, she cried with him. 

She didn't want to get him in more trouble for talking long with her and she needed to get home, as well.  She asked him if he felt safe; he assured her that there was no physical or sexual abuse taking place.  It was time to say goodbye.

“Is it ok if I pray for you, Billy?”
“Do you pray?”
I used to; I don’t anymore.”

“I used to; I don’t anymore.”  He’s 12 years old and already his faith has been decimated.  The very people who are to care the most have crushed him the most.  Only twelve and his spirit is already broken.

She walked home and he went back into the house of those who steal dreams and rob kids of hope.