Sunday, July 22, 2007

Breaking My Heart

One of the most troubling things happening in my life of late is that so many of my friends are either divorcing, cheating on one another or otherwise putting each other through hell. It's killing me. A friend of mine just had her indiscretions of a year ago made public knowledge. Now she's trying to deal with the fall out. It's a mess. Institutional religion all too often gives us only two categories in which to understand indiscretion and/or brokenness: victim or victimizer. Thus, when one's brokenness is discovered, everyone, including the principle players, seems to rush to take up sides against the category they despise the most. It's awful. In the meantime, little or no healing takes place, because we're not taught how to seek that for the good of each other. Instead, the principle players retreat into self-interest—"I have to protect... love... find healing for... provide for... myself (and my kids).

Many want to blame my friend for not coming clean from the start regarding her affair. I'm convinced that the reason there is no sacrament of confession in much institutional religion is because there is no sacrament of forgiveness. We just don't have the tools to embrace brokenness, and we're too inhibited by bad theology. We believe we have a divine obligation to hand out scarlet letters, though we know that's not love. We do it even when it makes no sense to us—even when everything inside us cries out for something better—even to ourselves. It's tragic.

One of the major obstacles to loving better, I believe, is what we rehearse when we gather together. We rehearse karma instead of grace, "righteous" indignation instead of forgiveness, doctrine instead of faith. Don't get me wrong. Karma is legitimate and probably the best human beings can hope to apprehend in their own strength. But the way of Jesus is predicated on the hope of living beyond one's own strength. Nonetheless, we don't rehearse such victory, only the pitifulness of being "a sinner in need of saving" week after week when it's time for the alter call.

The question that comes to my mind as I watch these tragedies take shape time and time again—or hear people defend the structures that facilitate them—is "How is this working for us?" Don't get me wrong. I don't have all the answers, but I know a reason why few are asking Christianity for its take on the matter. Whether we've been blessed with any answers or not, how we live in committed relationship isn't working any better for us than it is for those who claim not our sense of accountability. And that breaks my heart, for I know the way of Jesus is better than that.


  1. Melvin, I can hear and feel your pain as you relate this story about your friend. It is a common story of the human experience. The problem you bring up, is that we tend to pass judgment on people, feeling morally superior. We have decided that we must uphold the standards in the church and speak up for the institution of marriage. This behavior displays our unbelief that God is capable of handling things.

    If we realized that earth is a classroom planet, that we are here to learn what we most need to learn in order to learn to minister and serve others, we would be less inclined to pass judgment on others. When we view everything in our lives as a choice of our soul, we then can take responsibility for everything that happens in our lives. We stop being a victim and understand at a far deeper level why we have chosen some experiences.

    Fear is at the root of most of our judgments. We are afraid that are mistakes are too great and too costly. The Kingdom of Heaven that we have in mind is very exclusive and usually prevents us from making mistakes--especially the "big" ones.

    God has a much greater perspective and understands the lessons we need to learn in order to grow us into the light workers in the world that we were meant to be. Of course, we have complete freedom of will, but this does not preclude us from learning some of our lessons the hard way. We learn what we need to learn in the only way we can. Otherwise we would have chosen differently.

    There are always consequences to our actions and sometimes they are very costly. The community of believers should be a place where we encourage each other to learn from our mistakes and stay connected to God. If we allow it to, every experience can grow us closer to God.

    How we handle criticism from other believers and how we let this affect our relationship with God is critical to whether or not we learn from our experience or we get to learn it on yet another go around. Of course, learning is always optional.

    Love is the great commission. Love is the salve that heals our wounds. Love is our greatest need. It embodies all of the commandments. And it is our greatest lesson.

  2. What I have observed is that betrayal is the last stage of a broken relationship. There usually have been many other stages of separation that have happened long before betrayal.

    I have never seen the value of placing blame. Once we determine who is at fault doesn't do anything to solve the problem even if both are "at fault."

    I agree with Julie in that fear is at the core of judgments and, I believe, at the core of the cause. I may be afraid that I'm missing out on life or I am afraid that I will always be in pain or I am afraid that I will be alone or I am afraid that I am with the wrong person, etc.

    Or resentment. I am shutting myself off from my partner or I am going to punish my partner or some other expression of anger and resentment that isolates the other.

    I believe that a healthy spiritual practice teaches people to connect within themselves. This is quite different than looking for "it" out there in another person, or in a mission, or in a profession, or a whole lot of other "out theres." I believe in an internal satisfaction that is not immune to hurt, but doesn't take hurt personally.

    In some ways I think we have idolized marriage. Probably because its so painful in its breaking, our hang ups around sexuality in this country, our obsession with certain ideas of romance, and because adultery is in the 10 commandments.

    If love was at the core of our community and our being I think judgment of a person or persons would serve no purpose because love's goal is healing and restoration, not punishment.

  3. Julie, thank you so much for your comment. Not that I disagree with the things you've said, but in the spirit of conversation I write back.

    What if life weren't a classroom--at least not in the Western sense of preparation for the real deal in some other space and time? What if life were the real deal, and this is our chance to live an eternal kind of life that will crossover into what we call the "next life"?

    I raise these question because I think its our Western conception of a dualistic existence (a la Plato) that at times fuels our passing of judgment and feelings of fear. We seem so afraid that God (and everything we're meant to be) is so way up there, and we're so way down here. Like cosmic crabs in a bucket we struggle at each other's expense to get to the top, hoping that by getting closer to daylight we get closer to God. I just can't buy that metaphor or the Platonic dualism that nourishes it.

    (For the time being, at least) I believe life--this life--is where we make our stand, not in preparation or in hope of reward, but in gratitude for the opportunity. Though I am right there with you that we all choose our path and have many lessons to learn along the way, it is for the good of others, which seemed to be the way of Jesus, not for the good of ourselves (not even for the lessons we have to learn and definitely not for our hope of reward), that we ought not judge or fear. Not because it's bad karma, though it is, but because it's selfish and petty and not loving to fellow travelers. The longer I live I become less certain that God cares about us "finishing the race," and more persuaded that what God really wants is for us to learn to travel well together.

  4. Melvin, I agree with you. The whole point is that we learn to love each other. I think that's our biggest lesson. We are really pretty awful at it when you think about it. Most of my life lessons have been to learn to love everyone--even--especially the ones that hurt me.

    Life is the real deal. A classroom concept doesn't mean that it's not real. I had a professor in Academy that was always saying, "Wait until you get into the 'real' world." Well, it's all real. Every experience has the power to teach us something important about ourselves and how we relate to others. Or not.

    God is trying everything possible to turn us into loving people and we just love to resist. Jesus is the ultimate expression of love. It is only by the power of the indwelling Christ that I will ever begin to love others or even myself.

    Passing judgment is about feeling morally superior. It happens when we feel insecure about ourselves and so we pass it on to others in the form of judgments.

    I really like your phrase, "travel well together". It sums up what we need to learn so well.

  5. Richard, thanks for your comment. I've been diggin' your blog.

    I think you're right to mention resentment, even as Julie brilliantly named fear as a culprit. If fear is a sword, I think resentment is that act of turning the blade outward. It's a bad deal.

    Marriage as idol... can't say I disagree. I've bowed to it at times.

    The question is how do we get love at the center of our communities. Our modern patterns of forming community seem to be predicated on so much other. Take institutional church for example. What brings us together are common beliefs, which we christen orthodoxy, or common practices, which some call orthopraxy. It's only then that we get around to mentioning that love is an ideal we should strive for. In that way of organizing, it doesn't seem like love has any real chance. It's too far down on the list of things to do.

  6. Love has taken a backseat in our organizations, communities, and sometimes even our marriages because the Source of Love has taken a backseat. We are always in danger of "idolizing" (or making an object or objectifying) the institution over the individual.

    Christ did not come to save institutions, he came to save individuals. We often fight harder to defend an institution or organization than we do to save the individuals within them. The individuals themselves can become objects that serve as pawns to help meet the end goals of the organization or institution. They can then be considered dispensable. You see this when partners are encouraged to stay together in marriage even when their is abuse, violence, or adultery.

    The high priest, Caiaphas, stated this idea very clearly when he said that it was better for one man to perish than for a whole nation. Love had ceased to be the ruling principle in the church at that time, and people could easily be dispensed with. Even the Messiah. It is a story that we have much to learn from as a church.

    Where will we be if we crucify Love? We are not far from crucifying the Messiah anew if He is forgotten and we have nothing more than formalism but no living Christ power within us.

    Love is what casts out fear. If we want to see less judgmental attitudes in the church, then we need more of Christ living within us. We can't prescribe change in others, but we can start with our own hearts. Personally, that keeps me fairly busy.

  7. What I have discovered in practice over and over again is that love shifts people very profoundly no matter what the context.

    And the type of love that I observe being most effective is a type of love that sees people and hears people without judgment and without investing in any particular outcome.

    I believe that when a person begins to tap into the deep authentic self, one taps into a profoudly compassionate moral sense. And the only way people can learn how to do this is to interact with people who have gone there themselves.

    This is not a theoretical practice you can learn from reading and thinking. It can only be understood from feeling. And, unfortunately, there are few places that we allow ourselves to feel without editing or blocking.

    And, at least today, Church is the farthest from that place.