I Once Was Lost and am Lost Again, Was Blind but now Can’t See

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.

*This post brought to you courtesy of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith.

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  • 1lori_1

    Brennan Manning came to mind when I read your post. At times I want to start myself an alternate blog. I will call it the good, the bad and the ugly. But I fear that it would have to be a closed blog. We’re all protecting our soft under bellies. Jesus was so good at seeing right through us, but thankfully He always loved that part too.

  • 1lori_1

    And thank you for this reality!

    • sethhaines

      Thanks so much for reading along and sharing.

  • HisFireFly

    “Lock your broken arms and sing a new song in this kind of community” amen, amen and amen again – the kind of community I seek

    • sethhaines

      Here’s to that kind of community!

  • Thanks for this one. I’ve been thinking about an upcoming interview about a different season of life that will take place in the middle of a really hard week (er, month), and opportunities like this always make me wonder how much of myself I really should bring to the discussion. Your words today were (as they often are) quite timely.

    • sethhaines

      Good luck with the interview, and be unashamedly you.

  • Josh Freeman

    I think there are multiple facets to events we call “salvation,” “confession,” and so forth. The watershed moment is a real thing: the first dawning of the light, the first flush of hope, the first expanding of the lungs beneath un-burdened shoulders. Yet both salvation and confession have to be worked out, don’t they? We still have to abide, to continue, to “make this our common practice” (I’m assuming you were referring to *James* 5:16, right?). So the long game is a real and necessary thing too, and ultimately probably more important.

    I used to think the problem was that we just sucked at that long game. Instant gratification, lack of nuance, intolerance of tension, and all that. Saved or not? Right with God or not? Sin in your life or not? That’s how it was when I was growing up, but it’s starting to feel like there’s a critical mass in the Church who are getting some distance from that approach. We see the problem, at least.

    It seems like, though, that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we live our lives. We see there’s this problem, and every now and again a few of us manage to gather around a campfire or a table or at a conference over a long weekend and Stuff Happens. Man, we say. Why can’t we have that more often. We gotta take this home with us, keep this space open, keep this conversation going… but then somehow it just never really happens, and All The Things build up again. Which makes it worse, because didn’t we all just turn a new page at that last gathering? And it isn’t just a matter of making time. It’s something else, a barrier I can’t quite put into words.

    Am I the only one who keeps seeing this kind of thing happen? How do y’all deal with it? How can we keep walking in the light of confession and restoration, and not just wandering under a street lamp now and again?

  • dan waits

    tell your preacher friend to forgive himself & let it go. If she shows up, be humble, contrite, & real.

    it was 20 years ago!

    if his church can’t handle something like that that happened 20 years ago, especially when some of the deacons are probably right now doing the big nasty outside of marriage, then this preacher doesn’t need to be there. He needs to move to a church or place of ministry where they are living a real life in a real world.