Today's post is inspired by something I read over on Rachel Held Evans' blog about a statement a representative of a large protestant denomination made about which sins Jesus isn't okay with, and what we should do when people commit them. I'll save my snarky comments for personal encounters with people in my community. But what occurred to me as I read the backlash on her Facebook comment feed was: "Isn't this a little like the pot calling the kettle black?"
Sure. Maybe it is. But then I started to consider what drives me to do that to others. Defensiveness. Which is a by-product of ... you guessed it, fear.
As a 6 on the Enneagram (a spiritual personality assessment tool) I know a lot about fear. Some of the delightful things about us 6's: we worry a lot, we think too much, we are afraid of being let down and betrayed, we seek security against reason. Bleh. We have good traits too (like our loyalty, and dedication, and thoroughness), but it's these less-fine qualities that came to mind today in all of this blog comment and denomination shaming madness.
In essence, when I feel afraid of loosing my stability or security (including my beliefs), particularly when I am most triggered, I get defensive and sometimes combative. Which maybe is why I recognized this trait in some of the comments I was reading from both sides of the argument today. It felt to me like fear was seeping through their hearts and out through their fingers on the keyboards -- fear of being wrong, fear of being judged by Jesus, fear of loosing, fear of letting go, fear of being changed.
It got me wondering if perhaps some of these people (like myself) are so afraid of God not loving them in the midst of their own sin. It's taken me years to get the truth from my head to my heart that the Law of the Old Testament was there to reveal how much I needed Jesus, and then Jesus came and at great sacrifice took care of it all for me (and you). And now I get to live in grace (as do you). Jesus did what I couldn't, and he's moved on. He'd rather walk with me down the path of life, letting me be transformed to look more like him over time as we talk and walk together. He knows I have stumbled, and I'll continue to stumble -- but perhaps in different ways, with less recovery time, or with much more endurance than before. But I don't experience him waiting for me to fail. I do experience him loving me just as much then as he did the moment before.
We are a grace-deprived church -- not because it's not been given by Jesus -- but because often times we're afraid it's too good to be true, and/or we have a hard time reconciling some of God's less charming actions in the Old Testament. Or perhaps the biggest reason: We haven't experienced grace for ourselves in our earth-bound relationships. When we don't have a foundation of grace experiences throughout our life, it's hard to swallow it when it's given to us and it's sure as heck hard to give what we don't have. So what if we could embrace grace together? Giving and receiving, understanding none of us got enough of it in life; and Jesus is offering us all more than we deserve. And that even when our neighbor hurts us, maybe they're just scared. What's the worst that could happen?
Talk with me...
At birth I was named Christine. My name means, "Follower of Christ." I doubt my parents fully knew the significance my name would carry for me at the time. As the years have passed my name has become true. Not neat or orderly or all that well at times, but I have become a follower of Christ. I've pursued him in response to his call in my life, in my relationships, in my vocation, in my education. My name gave me a path to follow. It was a hope fulfilled, and it is in process of being fulfilled. Given by earliest caretakers, it's a call, a banner, a vision for my life ... all in nine little letters.
But I've also been called other, less lovely names: needy, stubborn, entitled.
Unlike the name "Christine," which makes me smile and feel known by the one calling me, these other names cause hurt, pain, and shame.
When people name us, whether it's a given name or an attribute they see in us, they are asserting power and authority over us -- for better or worse. And when we respond to those names, we agree with them. I don't know how many of you may have seen or read the Game of Thrones series, but in the current season on TV there's a character who's been renamed.
Theon Greyjoy is the heir of a lord in the series, and holds a prominent position in another land. Although he arrived to this other land a captive he made it his own -- not unlike Joseph in the Bible. However, during a siege he's taken captive again after some pretty gnarly behavior of his own, and after psychological and physical torture his captor renames him: Reek.
"You don't look like a Theon Greyjoy anymore. That's a name for a lord, but you're not a lord, are you? You're just... meat; stinking meat. You reek! Reek! That's a good name for you." ―Ramsay Snow to Theon Greyjoy
At another particularly cruel part of Theon's story, Ramsay asks Reek (who's by now psychologically submitted to his captor) if he loves him, and if so, to do him a favor: to pretend to be someone he's not -- Theon Greyjoy.
Sometimes, like Theon, I've done things I wish I hadn't. I've been stubborn, jealous, lied. However, a name is more than at attribute or description of our actions. Our names give us our identity. So when I respond to someone calling me a name, nice or not, when I respond in my actions or my heart I'm submitting to a new identity, when the truth is: at the core my identity is still beloved of Jesus, even if I'm not acting like it. That's what grace is. And that's why naming and renaming is such a large part of the Gospel narrative.
Even before Peter denied knowing Jesus, when Jesus knew he would, Jesus gave Peter a new name and a vocation. And when Peter eventually denied Christ? A short-time later Jesus finds him, calls and commissions him again, saying, "Do you love me?" To which Peter replies, "Yes, Lord." Jesus says, "Then feed my sheep." Jesus didn't take back Peter's new name because he acted un-"Peter"-like. Jesus was reassuring Peter and reaffirming who he was, even after he failed so fundamentally. Nothing had changed, not even Peter's name.
When we're young we don't get to choose who has this naming authority in our lives. But as that changes we get to choose who we spend time with: people who know us and name us, or people who only see the outside of us, our mistakes, and limitations. People in my life now have named even named things in me I haven't seen in myself, like: beloved of Jesus, courage, visionary, avant-garde, artist. Some of these are fundamental to my identity, others support and affirm it or display its special blend of Jesus' grace in and through my life. For these people, I am supremely grateful.
Talk to me...