A pastor calls, tells me he’s hearing voices again. These aren’t the voices of the alternate personality, the new age spirit guide, or the self-harmer telling him to run down the hall double-fisting scissors. These days, he hears the very real voice of history, of sex, of regret.
“What if she comes to my church? What if she stands in the back of the congregation and outs me? What if she tells of all of those last-time-we’ll-ever-do-this nights we shared, the ones just after college? I was supposed to be a minister in those days.” He says this aloud, wonders whether it might end his career as an up-and-coming preacher in his conservative tradition.
“Have you told anyone?” I ask. He is silent.
His dalliances were almost twenty years ago. He still carries fear that the world might discover the truth: he is a fraud.
A woman calls–a local church leader–and she outs the demons she’s wrestled with since childhood. She outs, and outs, and outs, explaining all the ways she’s hidden the slashes left by demon talons. Long-sleeved dresses, pretty bracelets, adornments–these are fashionable sleights of hand. Rattle, rattle, rattle–hear the jewelry rattle. Look at all the pretties; there’s nothing to see on the skin, beneath the skin, down to the veins.
She speaks her pain, picking up steam, tells me she’s ready to unhide. Then she asks, “but what if they reject me?”
“What if?” I say, more as a challenge and less as a question.
Christian culture has made a mockery of grace. You know this mockery. It goes something like this: I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see. Well ain’t that freaking amazing?
We expect our Christian leaders to be once broken, yes. But once amazing grace has been applied, we expect perfection, or at least a certain modicum of respectability. We expect them to exercise holy discretion, to keep their more unsavory bits unexposed, maybe even hidden for the sake of some god-ish illusion. Even if we don’t expect it, they expect that we expect it, and so the circuitous cycle of fear and shame continues unbroken.
This life of faith–how often is it the impetus to secret away our more damnable acts; how often is it the impetus to shame others into secreting away theirs? Secrets, secrets everywhere, but look at all of our pretties.
I’ve lived a little life, and here’s the truth the human experience has taught me: I once was lost, and will be lost again, was blind, and sometimes still can’t see. This exercise of faith is one of fumbling around in the dark, and that’s part of the good news. Good? Yes. Who here has it all together? You? (Great-God and howdy-doody; feel free to move along in your perfection.) I fumble; you fumble; everybody fumbles. No one is expected not to fumble. Fumbling is part of the human condition. Fumbling is natural. And without a good and painful fumble, how would we ever learn of our need for a bit of help?
We have tidy closets and others stuffed with junk. The junky closets, don’t they cause the most angst? But how to unpack them? Why unpack them? I suppose our good friend Jimmy gives us the answer to both of these questions:
Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.
(James 5:16, The Message)
The human condition is the everyday juxtaposition of our hidden junk, our hit and runs, our late night dalliances, our secret pills, our covered cuts–our hidden wreckedness–against the eternal put-togetherness of the Divine. If you want, I suppose you can keep hiding that wreckedness. But if you’d rather not, if you’d rather find a little healing, if you’d rather release the projection of your illusion in favor of hiding yourself inside the put-together Divine, there’s really only one way, at least the way I see it.
I suppose the point is this: if you’re one of those pastors, one of those quasi-famous speakers of faith, one of those authors, or elders, or deacons charged with leading the church, give the people (of which I am one) something real. Show them your closets, all of them. Ask for their help unpacking and organizing the particularly junky one, and offer help unpacking theirs. Lock your broken arms and sing a new song in this kind of community–we once were blind, and and sometimes still can’t see.
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