Tag Archives: repentance

In praise of healthy lament

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace” -Jeremiah 6:14

Dissociative disorder is defined as a “disruption or breakdown of memory, awareness, identity or perception.”  It’s a common occurrence among war veterans, physical and sexual abuse victims, those growing up in family systems broken by deep addictions, and among victims of religious/spiritual abuse.  The pain and trauma of the past or even the present is simply too much, so the person dissociates, meaning he or she moves into a different space, a safer space, by denying the painful realities of the present moment.  By denying reality, pretending there is no pain, and getting lost in some form of alternate reality, we find a fantasy land which is in the short run less painful.  But when the Disneyland we’ve created closes, we’re forced to face our pain again.  Eventually, if we hope to live the sort of full life Jesus promised, we’ll need to face to truth of our pain, both personal and collective.  Whether we do that, and how we do that, are perhaps two of the most important issues many of us will every face in our lives.

All of this, though, sounds very personal, a sort of clarion call to get therapy.  Maybe, but recently I’m struck by the reality that there’s a broader collective application of this dissociative tendency and our collective need to face reality.  Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia company (standard issue clothing at the church I lead) recently wrote, “I’m not optimistic at all. I’m a total pessimist. I’ve been around long enough, traveled around enough, and been around a lot of smart people to know that we’re losing. In every single category, we’re losing.” 

Wow Yvon.  Way to ruin my day.  I want to get up in the morning, hop in my car and drive my 1.2 miles to work, put in my time contributing to the industrial machine that’s drawing down the earth’s resources, drive home, eat my food that was raised in the industrial agriculture machinery that’s stripping the precious topsoil from land and laced with growth hormones and pesticides.  I’ll watch a little something on TV, endure a few ads reminding me either of my inadequacy if I’m prone to insecurity, or that the reality of my economic well being is predicated on other people buying crap they don’t need.  Then I’ll fall asleep and wake up the next morning with an injection of caffeine and do it all again.  I don’t want to be reminded of species extinction, or the fact that human trafficking and the oppression of women are at an all time high in the history of the world, or of the harsh realities in South Sudan and Syria, Ukraine and the oceans of pain on the streets less than two miles from my house – so I focus on my upcoming world cup brackets and Stanley Cup if I swing towards sport, or a new band if I don’t.  After all, I’m not part of the problem.  I pay my taxes.  Vote.  Stay sober.  Read my Bible and go to church.  Eventually the world will see the wisdom of the free market (or the socialist “single payer” solution if I think that way) and things will turn around.  They always do.

I can live that way, but this is dissociative; a massive form of self-denial.  With respect to things always turning around, the reality is that they “always don’t”, at least of the history of empires is any indication.  Jeremiah’s mourning in the 6th century BC was not only over society’s condition; it was over the massive, intentional, and collective denial of society’s condition.  If we take our cue from Alcoholics Annonymous we’ll recall the first condition of transformation is the admission that things aren’t just bad – they’re beyond fixing in the resources of our own strength.  If it’s Bible you want (and I hope you do) the same thing is declared all over the place.  The starting point of healing and transformation is staring the harshness of naked reality in the face.

At some point, it happens; it hits us hard.  We can see that though the system might be working for us, it isn’t working.  It isn’t sustainable.  It’s isn’t life giving.  It isn’t whole.  We see it, it hits us, and we’re filled with both grief and a longing for things to be other than they are for our world.  When we really see with clarity, and are willing to sit in the reality of what we see, we mourn.  When we mourn and lament, we open the door to even clearer ways of seeing and then, of living.  We re prioritize.  We confess.  We take a step towards wholeness; and then another; and then the steps become a journey; and the journey has a real joy in it, because it’s rooted in the truth and the truth, as painful and dark as it might be, will set you free.

There’s more.  Those who are willing, like the prophets of old, to look beyond the superficial categories of personal well being and forgo the temporary anesthetics of culture long enough to feel the pain will become part of God’s grand and joy filled solution, and this will happen for three reasons:

I.  Because we’ll think collectively

Our hyper individualized society makes it easy to dissociate ourselves from the sins of our parents, but we do this to our shame.  When Israel returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls of the city, the dedication included a lengthy confession of the sins of the parents. This isn’t a blame game.  It’s an acknowledgement that we’re shaped by our culture, by our family, or nation, or geography, and that there are scars because of it.  Our insistence that all’s well, that Adam Smith is wiser than Chief Seattle, that our internment camps were necessary, and that racism is behind us are all just a massive forms of denial.

We’re terrified of becoming negative, depressing people, but the reality is that my willingness to own every piece of the story that has shaped me lays a foundation for redemption and my own transformation that would be impossible as long as I cling to denial.

II.  Because we’ll make wiser choices

Seeing, owning, and naming the disastrous consequences of consumerism, nuclear proliferation, industrial agriculture, unrestricted free markets, commitment free sex, unrestricted access to abortion, will, if we allow ourselves to really see, change the way we live.  It’s in the wake of this kind of mourning that take bold steps towards simplification, or hospitality, or eating less fast food, or maybe even making a bold vocational change.  I’ve no illusions that these simple choices will change the overwhelming systemic problems.   But I do believe that creatively imagining a better world, as we’re wired to do, and equipped to do by the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the prophets (see Micah 6:8 here) will move us into a more joy filled, life giving, and peaceful existence, making us part of God’s solution.

III.  Because we’ll say Maranatha and mean it.

We who follow Christ have a grand hope and that has to do with the promise of his coming reign.  Just as the prophets are saturated with the bad news in an attempt to shake us awake, they’re equally overflowing with hope, as they envision all tools of war melted down, and an end to suffering, injustice, environmental degradation, and disease.  This kind of cosmic transformation won’t happen because I bring my own shopping bag to Trader Joe’s, even if I go there on my bike.  Still, every chance I might have to live as a sign that there’s a different kingdom than the prevailing kingdom of consumerism and trivialities will testify to the hope I carry in Christ.

All of it begins, though, with an acknowledgement that all’s not right.  So maybe join me in praying this Anishinabe prayer:

Grandfather; look at our brokenness.  We know that in all creation only the human family has strayed from the Sacred Way.  We know that we are the one who are divided and we are the ones who must come together to walk in the Sacred Way.  Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor, that we may heal the earth, and heal each other.  Amen

to which I’d only add:  Marantha!  Come quickly Jesus!

If you give a moose a muffin – and other kinds of repentance

The best children’s book series, in my opinion, is the “If you give…” series.  I like it because it speaks to the realities of cause and affect, and the importance of what Peter would call the “day of visitation”, but does so in a way that children and even adults can understand.  Each book begins with someone giving an animal something edible, and then this simple act leads to another act, and another act, and another act, until the day is filled with nothing that was originally anticipated.  This is the way of it for mice, and pigs, and the plural of moose.

Who knew that giving a moose a muffin, or giving a mouse a cookie, or giving a pig a pancake, could lead to such a flurry of activity?  But there’s more in play here than just children’s entertainment because in truth, much that is significant in our lives comes about because we took what we thought in the moment was going to be an insignificant step:

It was just supposed to be an elective class, but as a result of it she changed her major from drama to global development, spent a summer in Rwanda, and now works for a company focused on global health initiatives.  If you give a mouse a cookie….

It was just supposed to be a concert, but Mozart’s Requiem pierced his soul, pouring water on parched parts of it that had dried up due to disillusionment, growing up as he did in a strange blend of Jesus talk, racism, and obsessive social propriety.  He wept as listened and tasted again for the first time the reality and goodness of God.  This revival would lead to a different vocation that would take him around the world and help him give voice to people doing remarkable yet unsung things in Jesus’ name.  If you give a moose a muffin….

It was, for me, just a weekend in the snow, in search of powder and in hopes of connecting with a cute blonde.  The words of the speaker at this ski conference, though, were spoken only for me, it seemed, and before the weekend was over, I’d taken a major step in my life which eventually lead to a change of major, a change of college, which of course, would lead to my marrying a different person, and ultimately becoming a pastor, a writer, and a resident of what is, to me, the most beautiful city in the world.  If you give a pig a pancake….

We decide to get the wood floors in our house refinished.  We move the piano out of the room.  We decide the room looks cleaner, nicer, without a baby grand.  I envision how nice it would be to own an electronic keyboard and once again write music the way I did when I was young.  We start thinking about the meaning of simplifying our lives, and downsizing.  Just thinking about this makes me realize how insanely wealthy on the global wealth scale, and how this creates real responsibilities.  I read a book on the subject of simplifying.  We begin envisioning living lighter and, though getting there will mean more work rather than less, at least in the short term, we decide that this is part of our calling and start walking down a new and life changing path.

Someone watches a documentary on the global exploitation of women.  They only go there because they were flipping channels out of boredom.  Whatever.  Their eyes are opened, and they’ll never be the same, as they take steps to make the world better reflect the justice and freedom that God has in mind for us all.  Soon they’re deep in a story much larger than flipping channels and waiting for the new season of Modern Family.

I call these muffins, and cookies, and pancakes, and concerts, and floor refinishings, and documentaries, ‘catalyst moments’Here’s what all of us would be wise to remember about catalyst moments:

1. You don’t come looking for them; they come looking for you.  Theologically, this is what is called the ‘day of visitation’, and we diminish ourselves if we think that the visitation requires a burning bush, and an angel.  Visitations happen all the time – on hikes, in concert halls, in pubs, staring at newly finished floors, staff meetings, staying overnight in a homeless shelter, taking a class, listening to a person describe their deep pain or joy – there are lots of moments of visitation.

2. Our lives are richer if we’re paying attention.  One of the challenges many of us face is that religion often blinds us to moments of visitation.  The religionists of Jesus day picked apart His healing of a man born blind – “Why did this Jesus heal on the Sabbath?”  “How did he heal?”  “Are you really the man born blind, or a body double to trick us?”  They parsed and pontificated, but they never saw.  I’m convinced many Christians never hear what God is trying to say.  Some of them are too busy to listen, their minds constantly running 100 miles per hour, so that they never see the sunrise, or hear the Mozart or Mumford.  Right at the critical moment of intimacy, when his spouse has exposed her soul and his, the cell phone rings.  “THANK GOD” he thinks, as he answers and avoids yet again the single most important conversation of his life.  Visitation averted.

We need to wake up and pay attention, because visitation usually comes when we’re not looking, and if we’re either intentionally avoiding God encounters, or are just too busy, we’ll miss them over and over again.

3. Our lives are richer still if we respond.  If we hope to walk in God’s better story for our lives, it will be best for us if, in our encounters, we respond.  If God’s asking you to confess your sin to someone, do it.  If God’s asking you to take a class, or visit an orphanage in Romania, or volunteer for a medical clinic, or invite someone over, don’t ignore the prompts.  Sure, check things a bit to make sure you’re hearing from God, rather than just reacting to heartburn or lack of sleep, but when you know God’s speaking to you respond.

Robert Frost makes it sound like there’s a single fork in the road – one moment for Moses, or Jonah, or you, or me.  Without even trying hard I can think of about five hundred vital, life shaping moments, including:  a Sonic game in 1978, watching “The Mission” in a theater in Friday Harbor, a night climbing in Stone Gardens, a hike to Snow Lake, responding to an e-mail from an acquisitions editor, and choosing to go to Los Angeles for seminary even though everything in us wanted to be in the Pacific Northwest.  All these forks in the road have made all the difference.

How do you attune your heart to listen for God’s voice throughout your day and week?