Thursday, August 16, 2012

From Need into Abundance

I am most definitely a product of the culture I was brought up in.  I was raised in a middle class beach-ish city.  I was given all of the opportunities my peers were, music lessons, sports in abundance, and academic support throughout my childhood and adolescence.  I grew up in a small main-line denominational church and so my perspective on the church is most definitely founded in my own experience.  This is the part where I stress these truths as disclaimer for the rest of the post, because I want to start a conversation with myself about the issue of abuse and healing for abuse victims within the context of the church community.  And yes I am having this conversation with myself, but I am putting it on my blog with a purpose...for others to be able to eavesdrop .  So since you don’t all know my background, I thought I would state it up front so that you can take in any truth or insight you find, and leave the rest out... you can chalk the unhelpful up to my own life experiences that have no greater relevance than to my own story.

The church has always been in a tricky spot when it comes to actually helping people be reconciled.  Reconciled to God, reconciled with ones self, and reconciled with community.  I believe one of the main reasons the church struggles is that it is filled with human beings...full of the image of divine, yet also full of depravity.  Unfortunately, we live in a time where our church seems to be functioning out of humanness much more than out of divine inspiration.  It is a truth that has broken my heart time and again over the course of the past 10-15 years.  And I have struggled daily to understand how God can turn the collective and the personal trauma into something of any sort of good.... especially when the traumas were committed in the name of God, if not overtly then indirectly as it was people in leadership subjecting the young and the vulnerable to that trauma.

A Collective Example:
I watched the systematic silence by the Catholic Church with regards to sexual abuse by priests and I sat there with my heart breaking and the tears streaming for the thousands of known and unknown children effected.   These young people weren’t just betrayed and victimized by the priests committing such crimes, but then were re-victimized by the response from church leadership and then later by the media coverage of the unfolding drama.  What I am afraid got lost in the media frenzy is that these horrible acts wounded young lives and that would change their course dramatically, for the rest of their time on this planet.  And I am certain that the Catholic Church is not the only church with these skeletons in their closet, they are just one of the largest examples and they got caught systematically covering the abuse up.  

A Personal Example:

I lived through a couple of experiences that while not quite as dramatic as the Catholic Church scandal, left similar trauma on my own young heart and unfortunately I too experienced spiritual and emotional trauma at the hands of a few exploitive people who also happened to be in some kind of leadership capacity at the church.  My story is one of subtly.  I was already wounded when I came into the church and by and large, the church was a safe place for my young heart to grow in faith.  For me there were dozens of wonderful people in my childhood that shared real and sacrificial love with me and did so in the name of Christ.  I am most certain that I have a faith today because of this cloud of witnesses that I was so blessed to be surrounded by.  I learned to walk and talk my faith because I was loved unconditionally and consistently over most of my childhood and all of my adolescence.  Unfortunately, I also endured exploitation by a couple of leaders, and it is unfortunate because my understanding of myself was shaped too much by the abuse, and not enough by the other more helpful and more plentiful experiences.  I am fully human and in my raw humanity, I clung to the bad while forgetting some of the good... and that is how it goes when abuse happens early in life.  I was already made victim before I got to the church, and so I was an easy victim for other people looking for something from me.  We all want to believe that everyone who enters a church and is able to be in leadership within the church will be safe...but that is just not reality.  

Evil is a force we deal with in the world because it is always lurking in the shadows.  Here’s the thing about evil though, it doesn’t have to be loud and pronounced in order to destroy innocence and leave a life long oppression on a person’s heart.  In fact most of the time evil shows up subtly first.... that is how good people can be lead astray.  If evil showed up with true colors, we would know it was enemy and we would fight it off.  Where there is darkness, evil will be close at hand...and since we all have both light and darkness within us, evil is never far away.  One of the most tragic things about evil is that evil produces tragedy, which then produces chaos, and that chaos cuts us off from community and relationship with Christ.  And the only thing that can heal such wounds guessed it...healing connections both with people and with Christ.  Good thing God is big enough to handle such a complicated paradox.  And I do not mean that as a trite band-aid, I mean that as truth.

So how does the collective trauma and the personal tragedy work towards something better for us all and for the church?  For me, it is absolutely no shock that the church is in decline right now.  I have heard it said that the health of a society rests on how the young, the elderly, and the vulnerable are cared for.  I know I just diced up the quote, but you get the idea.  If we judge the church by such measurement, then I believe the church is exhibiting mostly failure.  There are pockets of hope that I have stumbled upon, but I see this time as a time of pruning because the church is losing touch with both the divine and the human... walking straight onto the path of the type of religiosity that Jesus spoke harshly against during his time on this earth.  I think we are prone to cling towards religiosity when we are gripped by fear, and in this age we all have much to be fearful about.  Yet scripture proclaims time and again that Jesus conquered fear and death at the cross... so that we could live in abundance.  Not in abundance of things, or in abundance of titles or of wealth either.  God wants us to be at peace in relationship with him and to feel known and to know.  

Young people who have been hurt by the church are everywhere.  I happen to count myself as one of them, even though I have stayed close to church most of my life.  I have stayed connected because of the dozens of people who were safe for me and kind to me.  There are so many people out there that did not have that kind of balance for the abuse experienced in the name of God, and so I feel like it is a calling for me to voice my experience so a conversation can be continued outside of my own head.  It needs to be a conversation about the kind of changes the church needs to make so that faith communities can be helpful to those who need Christ’s love most... the victims, the young, the elderly, and the vulnerable.

We need to learn a better way to engage with the hurting among us in this age of disconnection.  We need to get better at how we walk alongside those who are in need, so we can better point them towards the horizon of abundance that Christ has already provided for us.  To do this we have to do more talking.  I need to share my past more courageously and those who have never experienced such tragedy, need to listen with open hearts.   It needs to be a discussion of kindness and I throw my name in the hat to be a part of the solution.  I have been given the gift to be able to journey from need into abundance, so I think I can help the conversation along.
What we do matters.  It can point someone towards deeper love, or it can derail a vulnerable soul.  What we do needs to align with what we say we believe and it should be based in love.  No.Matter.What.

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