June 19, 2019

Hold The Light For Me

lightUPDATE: As usual, David Hayward brilliantly gets it right.

It’s been a long year
like a long sleepless night
Jacob wrestled the angel
but I’m too tired to fight

every Wednesday
for two years we’ve met
I’ve showed you all my anger,
my doubts and bitterness

there was no judgment in your eyes
just the silent peace of God
that felt so real in you

will you hold the light for me?

and I stay up late
because I cannot sleep
I don’t want to face the quiet
where its just God and me

I’m waiting for the gavel
handing me the sentence down
because I don’t believe forgiveness
or even repentance now

I want to feel redemption
flowing through my veins
I want to see with clear eyes
beyond lust and hate
I want the war to be over
and know the good guys won
and I want love to hold me
to know I’m not alone

standing around a willow weeping
we were praying in the backyard
in the chill of the night
the friendship light reminded me who we are

will you hold the light for me?

-Andrew Osenga, Hold the Light, from Caedmon’s Call, Overdressed.

It occurred to me yesterday that’s been 25 years since I was part of a church or Christian community where I could stand up and say with honesty and the knowledge of acceptance, “This is what I believe, this is where I struggle, this is who I am….really.”

Twenty-five years of finding the little ways to not answer certain questions. Twenty-five years of avoiding subjects during visits or meals. Twenty-five years of finding ways to listen, but not speak what you are really thinking.

Every so often, one of us will open the door a little bit and say “this is who I really am and where I’m struggling right now.” Before long, a response will arrive that reminds me of what passes for Christian fellowship these days: the dictation of piety from those designated to guard the door of the Older Brother’s Alternative Dinner Event (not to be confused with the Father’s party for the prodigal.)

I wonder how many people take that little risk of saying who they really are and get the same response?

I’m considered a fool by quite a few people because I’ve invested myself in the best way I know to declare a rebellion against this conspiracy of silence and deception: I’ve written my honest thoughts and struggles for all of you to read. Not as much the last few years as it first, because the cost was brutal and the enforcers meant business. I have deleted over a hundred and twenty past posts at this blog, none doing anything worse than chronicling a very average set of human struggles, because they could not exist and I exist in some quarters.

Now I’m working on a book that is going to be the only thing I know how to write: my own journey and what I’ve learned along the way, told in my own voice that I’ve honed in this space It will be my attempt to reach out to the others who have lived out the same experience, who have found they couldn’t wear the mask of piety and certainty any more; those who are looking for home in a landscape of closely guarded oases.

After twenty-five years, I have much more confidence in the awkward, unimpressive fellowships that questioning, searching pilgrims will create among themselves than I do in most of what is offered as “community.” I begin to understand that to talk to one another about real things, important things, unsettled things, you must take a great risk of becoming the enemy of those who use certainty like a club.

If there is going to be a “safe” place for many of us to be Christians with questions, issues, differences, consciences- then we are going to have to create the communities with whatever tools we have, and we will do so while being labeled and diagnosed.

Some of us must call attention to the reality of what is happening, and be prepared to endure the result. Others are just looking for a safe place to say they are not like the cookie-cutter spirituality that’s force-fed to much of the body of Christ.

Be certain, my friends, that it is dangerous out there. There is real power, money and influence at stake. If you define yourself as an individual and do not come to some religious conscience buyer to willingly sell your soul, mind and thoughts, then there is no telling what will be said about you or what the price may be.

I’m convinced- and will say so in the book- that many people leave the church as the only way to preserve their faith with any personal sanity and integrity.

You can send them all the epistles you want of what a bad decision they’ve made and how the church needs to be loved like your mother, but they aren’t going to buy it. The invitation to submit to being told who and what you are and what must be your answer to questions and issues far beyond the center of the Christian Gospel is being heard, and it’s being refused.

I thought today of all the young people I have shepherded through the church, doing my best to socialize them into a church-based experience of God. Now their faces pass before me. Some have found a church like the one I sold them: consumer Christianity and the suburban Jesus. But far, far more have simply walked away, never to return and rarely to even consider it. They are not the enemies of the faith. They simply cannot be part of our version of it any more.

We pray for them. We want them to come back and be like us. We lament the changes in their lives, but the truth of the matter lies with us and with what we refuse to see about ourselves as the custodians of “true Christianity.”

Could it be they had to get away from all of THIS in order to have some version of integrity? Is our definition of faith the sacrifice of integrity and individuality? For some, apparently that is the course, but I simply cannot make peace with that notion.

Many are not with us because they could no longer be themselves and be with us, even as they still carried their faith in Jesus and his Father with them as they left. We hear that claim and what do we say? Who do we blame? What is out standard response?

As Andrew Osenga says, we must look at one another face to face, and hear one another out, sometimes for years. We must be quiet in the face of the other person, and stop talking, talking, talking, telling them who they must be. We must stop dispensing instructions for the demise of individuality and the drowning of questions and differences.

We must find a way to hold the light for one another. To create that community we cannot find. To be Christ for one another.

Comments

  1. To me the confusion lies in what we really acknowledge as the church. Is it the denomination, your choice, or those that believe as Christ wants them to? Is not the later that which is called out in Revelation? As a person who decided that I was tired of the plastic rituals and whited tombs that many have become, I become more honest. There is a heavy price to pay for that, but being able to sleep at night, to have the assurance of Christ far out weighs human acceptance that you are a “good” Christian. If a few become honest it may catch on, I hope.

    Keep up with the hard hitting posts, some are on a journey, some need to start one.

    • Dan – I think you hit the nail on the head for me. My experience has been that, as with any organization, the “church” (little c) whether it be an “established church”, or even a more fluid group such as a home church, has the potential for corruption and mission drift. It has also been my experience that the solution to both of these problems (apart from the obvious necessity of divine intervention) is a grassroots movement toward repentance and revival. In the context of authentic Christian relationships, the best way to ensure the church is a place where such relationships and such authenticity are nurtured and valued is for individual believers to start having such relationships and start living such authentic lives one person at a time.

      I think what iMonk is saying is that some church bodies (or maybe even some denominations) devalue such authenticity to the point that it become tremendously burdensome (perhaps even dangerous) to live an authentic Christian life within the confines of that body of believers.

      Certainly, I personally agree that if your church (little c) abuses your spiritual person, you should remove yourself from the abusive relationship and find another church. However, I also agree, as many have posted here, that the answer is not to withdraw to points of relative safety and then snipe at the structures and leadership of those churches. At the end of the day, we do, in fact owe obligations to the church (little c) to the extent it is the local and most tangible representation to us of the Church (big C). We are to gently correct those caught in sin, cautiously lest we also become entangled, and then we must bear one another’s burdens. We cannot do this from our couches. We must live authentic lives among our fellow believers despite the risks that might accompany such an endeavor. I wish, as iMonk does, that more churches nurtured authenticity, but the answer to darkness within the church is not placing your own light under a bushel.