tales from the outside: the road (part I)

My other episodes from the ‘outside’ have been based on experiences I witnessed or was a part of in the conservative evangelical church that was my community. They give a suggestion or a hint of a pattern which seems to me to be growing up in our open/conservative dialogue. It isn’t a pretty pattern, I worry that this is a warning sign of a deeper malaise. Perhaps we are, at a core level, speaking a different language. I hope that we can learn to become multi-lingual, listening, hearing each other.

So, to continue with my tale, I am choosing to say something of my spiritual, emotional, mental journey. For those who have found the nature of my previous episodes too hard to stomach, I offer this as a sign of hope, perhaps a pattern of how recovery might manifest itself. How we can learn to love each other despite many things being ‘lost in translation’ and how we can enable the road of healing to be taken, hard though that road is.

I partly offer this now as an interlude to the more uncomfortable nature of the other episodes, and partly because the story of my recovery is part of the process of living in and eventually leaving the community of which I write. It also started before I had to leave that community (in a way that some may find disturbing), and it is, in the end, from the perspective of the healed, restored and forgiven that I write.

I wasn’t entirely sure whether to call this episode ‘the road of lament’ or ‘the road of recovery’ or ‘the road of forgiveness’ or ‘the road of healing’ or what really. So in the end, because it encompasses all those, and more, it just became ‘the road’. I hinted before about this road of recovery, healing and forgiveness that I’ve covered over the last two years, but what I haven’t spoken of is the way that this road began, needed to begin. You see it is an uncomfortable truth to admit, especially as a Christian, that this road began with hate. I know, I probably shouldn’t say that, or at the very least not admit it to anyone beyond myself and God. Christians are not meant to hate, we talk rather of ‘dislike’, ‘frustration’, ‘anger’ – ‘hate’ is something else entirely. But I think that it is experienced much more in the Christian world than is ever talked about, I just think that most don’t recognise it, name it for what it is, it is unfamiliar to us and so it is left undealt with, to fester.

Brian McLaren’s character Dan Poole talks about it in the book ‘the last word…and the word after that’:

‘And something else happened as I stood at my storm door, my breath creating a slow pulse of fog against the glass. A hot, seething feeling I had hardly every experienced started to form deep in me. It was so unfamiliar, I didn’t know what it was at first. It felt like it came from my gut and rose like heat through my heart and lungs. Then it rose further and lodged in my throat, and then it ached in my head with a feverish sentence I never expected, never could have predicted: I hate Gil Zeamer. I hate that guy.’

Gil Zeamer is the character in the story who has raised questions regarding Pastor Dan Poole’s orthodoxy, leading to Dan’s enforced sabbatical.

I haven’t read any further yet, so Dan’s journey through his uncomfortable realisation that he is capable of hating, is unknown to me. But Dan’s experience is more familiar than I care to remember, to be honest. To acknowledge that within my heart there was a kernel of something so destructive that to give it its head would be to destroy myself – and probably others along with me - is hardest for those whose God is Love. But there was something more dangerous than giving ‘hate’ its place within me. And it was this:

Not giving it its place.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting unboundaried malice. What I am saying is that to acknowledge the presence of this feeling was to start the journey that would lead to forgiving and loving more deeply than I had thought possible. To ignore it or misdiagnose it or ‘nice-ise’ it (it’s only ‘mild dislike’ guv’nor) would be to create a situation where I was fully bound and bonded to a part of myself that I wasn’t even able to name.

So, surprising as it may seem the journey to forgiveness started with acknowledging that I was capable of hate. I was capable of being a Christian, loving Jesus, and yet still hate. Because once you acknowledge this you are quickly faced with the unsustainable nature of this way of being: ‘whoever says, “I am in the light”, while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.’

It is like a beautiful song in which a jarring chord has been introduced:

‘She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.’
lamentations 1:2

One of the reasons that I love scripture so much is that whilst I felt the judgment on my hatred, I was also offered a place to deal with it. Like Job, God was my problem (he would not allow me to remain where I was) but God was my solution. The trouble is that you do have to deal with your pain head on. I had to face the things that had been done to me, name them, accept that it was from within the Church that the damage had been done. It is not good enough to remain in a place that denies there was any bad stuff, just because we cannot get our minds round the notion that sometimes Christians behave badly, and sometimes local churches are not all they should be. I think that this necessarily leads to lament. ‘God, why did you let this happen? I was happy here, I loved these people, this place.’

‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
which was brought upon me,
which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.

From on high he sent fire;
it went deep into my bones;
he spread a net for my feet;
he turned me back;
he has left me stunned,
faint all day long.

My transgressions were bound into a yoke;
by his hand they were fastened together;
they weigh on my neck,
sapping my strength;
the Lord handed me over
to those whom I cannot withstand.’
lamentations 1:12-14

Lament is truly good for the soul. To take my pain and anger and, yes, hatred, and to throw them at God: True Sanctuary.

Now, I don’t want to diminish this process, this is not a once and for all moment. This is a process after all. But once I had begun this cycle, once I had found the Sanctuary, I saw a light of hope. There would be an end to this intensity of pain, and the experience would be fruitful, not empty of meaning or growth. And something else has entered my mind, unbidden almost, as I write this: that my experience is not simply my experience. It is a community experience. We all suffer if one part of the body suffers, and we can all grow through our experiences together. My experience was only one part of the story, there was a dialogue happening, both spoken and unspoken, which affected us all, and through which we can all grow and learn to love each other more fully.

In the Sanctuary a healing can take place, and did take place, for me. I wish to say full healing, but full healing I suppose isn’t possible in the truest sense yet. However, I guess I experienced the fullest healing possible that I could have imagined from the place that I came. Not to say that there are not ‘sore places’, press them and I might wince. There are some parts of Scripture that I struggle to read, even now. But even that is part of the ‘being healed’ both in the ‘it is finished’ and the ‘it is ongoing’ sense. I can see my bruises as part of my journey to wholeness and I certainly will never read Scripture in the same way again – and one of my greatest joys is the depth and richness of Scripture that I discovered when I dared to trust the Bible again; I very genuinely would not give that up for the world.

So, where are we up to? Well we’ve had ‘hate’, ‘lament’ and ‘healing’, so I guess we’re up to ‘restoration’. I’m sorry I probably should have made these all begin with the same letter, but I’m much more messy minded than that.

And, actually, for now I think it is time for a pause.

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