Month: June 2014

The Double Bind: A Pastoral Response to the Presbyterian Church

On Thursday evening I scrolled through my Facebook posts and saw many of my colleagues and friends celebrating the Presbyterian Church (USA’s) resounding vote on marriage.  While one vote requires Presbytery action and the other vote impacts places where same-sex marriage is legal, there is no doubt pastors and sessions have their work cut out for them across the country.

As I read the articles and the “Amen’s” and “Alleluia!”  I also thought of those whose voices were silent on the subject. Most importantly, for me, I thought of the congregation I serve. I am relatively new to this congregation. We are just starting to rub elbows, build trust and create community, and now we have to talk about “the big issue.”   I believe my role as a pastor and spiritual leader is to remain non anxious, above the discord, and with the people.  My role is to speak the truth in love, be prayerful and help lead a congregation through division.

Are we ready for it?  Can we go down that road and face the things pastors and congregations fear the most?

Here are the fears I think we as pastors fear:

1. Losing People1-ephesians-4-body-of-christ

2. Losing one’s own integrity

3. Losing self-respect

4. Losing the Church

A friend of mine wrote, “I know that some of my friends are excited over the vote today at General Assembly of the PCUSA, but I also know that  many of our friends will be faced with turmoil and chaos as a result of todays decision on marriage.  Churches will suffer conflict and pastors will be placed in untenable positions that have no answers — except double binds.”

Here’s the thing about double binds:  they are harder to get out of  than they are to get into.   The double bind can most easily be understood as  a way of “coping with the impossible tension of separation verses symbiosis.”  The double bind is what every child feels as the grow up — they want to fly and spread their wings, and they want the security of home.  Leaving home feels anxious, staying home feels restless.  The only way to get out of a double bind is to do the work of looking inward at ourselves and  at who God is calling us to be.  Eventually we come into ourselves and feel secure with who we are.

The same is true for the church: If a congregation has differences of opinions, we can’t pretend that we don’t have different opinions.  We have to talk, pray, think, read, listen, discern, reflect, change our minds, stay present, and remain non anxious. Above all,  the answer to getting out of a double bind, is not by killing the body itself.

As one who has a long history of practicing yoga, one would think I could get myself gracefully out of a double bind. – Let me tell you, it’s not pretty.  But I can tell you that when I  am stuck in a double bind, the last thing I want is for someone to make me more anxious, or cut off my breathing, or kill me. What I need in a double bind is breath and patience.  I need to breathe through the bind, get comfortable in my discomfort,  and patiently, slowly and gently unwind.

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So here we are Church.  Many of us find ourselves in a double bind.  Let’s begin by taking a breath — maybe three.  Let’s be comfortable with discomfort.  Let’s be patient with each other. Take it slow.  If you try to come out of the bind too fast, you will fall and hurt yourself.  Use your head and stop thinking about what you look like.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, I doubt he thought, “Someday this will be quoted at every wedding and be written on every newlywed’s wall.”  No, he wrote the letter to a church that he loved that was in conflict. He wrote it as a pastor who was in a double bind.  He wrote it to a church that he desperately wanted to see stay together.  He wrote as a pastor who loved the church and its people:

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.

4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So as a pastor who loves her Church and it’s people, this will be how I get through this double bind.  I will suffer long and be kind. I will not be envious or puffed up, or rude or provoked.  I will bear, believe, hope, and endure.

The Peace of Christ be with you.

1cor13-lovesm

 

 

 

 

 

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Giving Up

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We have lost something as a society.  You may not want to admit it, or believe it, but it’s true.  We do not trust each other any more.  We do not trust our neighbors, our leaders, the media.  The word for 2016 was “post-truth,”  narrowly beating “fascism.”

There is a lament in this statement, because we used to trust each other.  We used to believe fundamental truths, “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”  Does that truth still apply in our society today?    Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Those who claim the name Christian have very different understandings of what that means, and that fact that Christians don’t trust each other, they take this sentence and use it as a battering ram instead of as a message of hope and love.

We used to have shared enemies, like Russia.  If we didn’t trust or like each other, at least we could all agree that we really didn’t trust Russia.  Having a common enemy at least brings a sense of unity.

We used to stand for the American flag, put our hands our hearts, join together in song.  Even if we disagreed with a policy or a practice, at least we would all stand together as community at the ball game and claim a unified loyalty.   The choice not to stand feel disrespectful and insulting to the rest of us who are standing, but more than that, it’s symbolic act that says “I don’t trust you.”

If church, organization, country, family, any system does not trust, then the system has collapsed and it is vulnerable to false prophets, (see Jeremiah), false teachings, (see Corinthians), and false hope, (see the Gospels).

What is required to regain a lost trust?

It requires the desire to trust again.    Look, if we don’t want to trust each other, then we won’t. If it serves us to fear each other, then we will keep fearing each other.  We have to choose to trust each other. We have to want to believe that people who see the world differently than we do are still people. We have to see each other.

But just having the desire to trust is not enough.  It begins with our internal, fundamental truths.  If we believe that Jesus said to love God and love our neighbor,  and if we believe that to be a fundamental truth, then why don’t we act like it?   If we believe that, “all men (and women) are created equal,” then why don’t we act like it?  We cannot expect society to act one way, if we are not willing to act that way.

We must hold each other accountable. If we hear hatred, bigotry, dishonesty and cruelty, we have to speak up and speak out.  Part of trust, is loving each other enough to say, “that’s unacceptable. You are hurting our society. You are pouring words into the impressionable minds of our children, and they trust you.”  When we give adults permission to be cruel and do not hold them accountable, we are telling our children that it’s o.k. to be rude, hurtful and even violent.  Part of being a trusting community is holding each other accountable.

We need to

We use words like “commit,” “follow,” “join,” “come,” “serve,” when it comes to defining discipleship, but we forget to recognize that in committing to one thing we are in return denying something else. If you follow, you also leave something behind. If you join a community, you also have to accept the community. In order to receive a gift, your hands have to be empty.

What do you have to let go of in order to receive whatever it is you truly need?

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to give up.
To let it go.
To turn it over.
To surrender.

Surrender has a secret,
Surrender is strength in disguise.
It takes courage to give in.

What do you hold on to?
Is it perfection?
an unmet expectation?
guilt?

When Moses took the Israelites out of Egypt,
I wonder if he looked back over his homeland and thought,

“Where in the name of God am I going?”

When Jonah sat in the whale,
and Jeremiah cried at the river,
and Isaiah called out in the wilderness, did they think,

“What in the name of God am I doing?”

When the disciples,
before they were disciples,
when they were just regular, every day people, busy working,
supporting their families and Jesus came by and said, “follow me” and they dropped everything,
did they feel little nauseous?
I wonder if they looked over their shoulder at their belongings: Their boat. Their income. Their security.
I wonder if other fisherman shook their heads and called out to them,
“Stupid fools! Hey Peter, can I have your net?!”
Did the future disciples look down at their shuffled feet in the sand for a second and ask,
“Why in the name of God did he call me?”

When Mary poured oil all over Jesus’ feet, and let down her hair and the room was filled with aroma,
I wonder if she stopped for a minute before she entered the room, stared at the jar and thought,

“Only for the love of God, can I do this.”

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Now we cannot…discover our failure to keep God’s law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, “You must do this. I can’t.”

Dear God,
I would really like to be in control of things and the people in my life whom I love. I want to keep them safe, happy, and healthy. You have asked me before to follow you and I ran the other way. You kept at me, like a little cat on my heels. You kept at me until I picked you up and let you in. You called again, and I finally put down my arms and said, “O.K. I give up. I will follow you. If you really want me or think I have something worthy to offer then I am yours” And you said, “You are going in the right direction, go in peace.” What I didn’t know then is that you would keep pursuing me, that you would keep at me and keep asking me to put down my agenda, my plans, my control and surrender myself over to you again and again. I forget all the time that I belong to you. I hold things that keep me from being held.

Dear Child of the Covenant,
How stubborn you are. How hard on yourself you can be. How often you drown out my voice with your worry and your fretting, and your complaining. Trust me. You are my child. You belong to me. Put down the burden of worry. Put down the desire to please, stop worshiping the false idols of material things. Put away pride and power. I am enough. You are enough.  You belong to me. Give me your hand and follow me.