New Beginnings in Dead Ends

I’ve been thinking a lot about church culture lately, as I do periodically. I think it’s fair to say the dynamics of what is normal and acceptable within the context of churches and religious communities is changing. The Southern Baptist Commission is voting this week for a new President, subsequent to the departure of the former president under the cloud of protest… protest stemming from the resurfacing of an old video of him discussing his thoughts and counsel for women who have been victims of domestic violence.

I’m sure this is connected to and a response to the Me Too movement, and the larger cultural transition that is questioning rape culture and narratives of gender and power.
Church, we are late to the table here. We have neglected and shushed and avoided this conversation for too long! And we’re at risk of losing our voice, failing to be the hands, heart, face, feet and voice of Jesus in this place where I’m sure God has something to say!

We need to acknowledge that we failed our people. We failed your mother, when we told her God would want her to stay with that man who doesn’t know the Lord, in the hope that she will lead him to Christ.

We need to tell you we were wrong when we suggested you watch the movie “The War Room,” and take heed.

We need to acknowledge that prayer is powerful and humble and trusts that God is aware of our struggles and our needs, and willing to intervene. While those things are true about prayer, it cannot be the sole call to action in response to narratives of harm, domestic violence, and spousal abuse. We perpetuate and are complicit in the abuse, if this is our only response. Yes, Church, intercede on her and/or his behalf! You can do that! But tell her to get out. Make a way for her to get out. Put together a plan, and quit hiding from these conversations.

Ask questions.
“Are you scared?”
“What are you afraid of?”
“What would make you feel safe?”
“How can I/we support you?”
“Does this change or make you question your understanding of God?”
“What parts of you need healing?”

Church, these things are tricky. These are tough conversations and hard topics to engage. But we have failed. We have failed to acknowledge that even in a very small church, it is likely that several households are contexts where abuse is very present and very hidden.

We have spent too long refusing to publish the complicated stories that leave us with questions or let us wrestle with the assumptions we’ve taken for gospel.

We must pivot. We must repent. We must listen and learn from the social supports that are decades ahead of us in this. Pastors, invite a director of a women’s shelter to share your pulpit, and to teach your people.

We must acknowledge we don’t have all the answers. We don’t. If you balked at the last 2 sentences, you are part of the problem. We must realign ourselves and our communities with the love of Christ. The LOVE of God.

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner presents a threat to the life of another? Because intimate partners are the #1 perpetrators of homicide among female victims.

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner physically harms or beats another?

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner holds the other captive?

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner causes the other to become depressed to the point of suicide?

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner withholds food from the other causing starvation?

Is it possible that God blesses the dissolution of a marriage in which one partner leaves the other’s body bruised, cut, tattered?
What if the body part is the soul/mind/heart/spirit?
Why do some of us hesitate there? Why would these invisible but often equally devastating and pernicious wounds be tolerated in God’s household?

This should not be.

I was that wife. I was that wife 7 years ago. And I named the abuse. In one-on-one conversations, I named the hurt, the emotional neglect, the deprivation of love. Well meaning Christians counseled me to pray more, to “respect him more.” And I believe that they did not intend or even know that these responses subtly placed the blame for my hurt back on me. Is it possible that I’m not praying enough or in the right way? Is there something about my view of gender and equity and partnership that is not aligned with God’s love and God’s desires? Am I corrupting this relationship because I expect to be treated as an equal?

Two years ago, I told my therapist that I didn’t think I’d need to be taking a daily antidepressant, if not for the continued presence of a spouse who questioned me, second guessed me, contradicted me, lied to me, and neglected my heart. I was suffocating in loneliness.

And over the last year, I have learned just how deeply I had lost sight of love. The experience of being loved was so foreign to me that for a short season, I confused simple human kindness, professional partnership, and platonic mutual respect for love. Oh how devastatingly small my portion of love had become, that kindness felt like a feast. I hadn’t even noticed. I was living, just barely, on the crumbs that fell through the cracks of the narcissist’s table above me.

Divorce didn’t feel like an option, and I can’t clearly explain why even now. I considered having an affair, just to sabotage my marriage, but what if he wanted to work through it? Also, I just couldn’t. In my despair and in my hopelessness, suicide seemed a better option that either affair or divorce. Seriously. And as I thought through the plan that came to me gently and softly, I had sudden clarity. What power I had given to the church! What power had I placed in what others might think of me! What power I had placed in my dogged determination not to follow the path of generations of my family before me! And how warped my view of God! God is LIFE, and this marriage had driven me to the door of death.

I did not kill myself. I got help. I let the blinders fall. I let those who had loved me and known me through the years of abuse name their grief, their fears, and what they’ve witnessed. I filed for divorce. And I have found support in such lovely ways with lovely folks.

There have also been criticisms and cautions and rumors leaking out of my church. Ugh! A church leader vented about me to a friend, “these people think they can just start over with a new family, and don’t realize their problems will just follow them into that new family.” This is not loving kindness. This is wrong and harmful on so many levels.

No, I’m not having an affair. I just decided after years of consideration that I’d be better off if I were single for the rest of my life than if I continue in this way.
No! I haven’t turned from the Way.
Yes, I’ve considered how it will impact my kids, and what is best for them. Having a living and whole mother is what’s best for them.

Church, we must learn better ways of responding. We are missing an opportunity to be a force of healing and relevance in these broken places.

And over the months and weeks, I’ve come to understand (remember) God is loving and life giving. And in the ways that my marriage depleted my heart, God grieved, and grieves, and witnesses… and I believe He intends to bring those bent and broken places to light and redress with love and healing.

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Even the church has an underbelly.

 

Dear church:

Hi. You may not know me. I am on your leadership team. I coordinate the volunteers who serve your most vulnerable – your babies and toddlers. I love on them, and play with them, and do my best to demonstrate the universal acceptance and love that God would and does bestow upon them. I have coordinated this team for the last year. There are 6 of us that serve in your nursery. We desperately need more.

I am a counselor. As a counselor, I only work with adults—because I like adults. I apologize if this offends. I sometimes offend when I speak truth about myself. I am your nursery coordinator. I do not actually like other people’s children.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I have two of my own that I adore, but others’ kids make me tired. Were it not for the grace of God, and a sense of calling to this for a season, I would find no joy in this service. And I am what you have to offer? I have served in your nursery for years – since I had my own in the nursery. Yeah – my 6-year old toe-head is the one who doesn’t belong to the Crams. There are others here who could joyfully serve, but they can’t because they are men. You, church, have blocked half of our eligible population from serving, and instead called forth leaders who struggle to find joy in their service.

The reason I began with an introduction is this: because of the small number of nursery volunteers, and the need to have two adults in that room on any given Sunday with one on the schedule as a back-up, more Sundays than not, I am in there and not participating in corporate worship. I reserve one weekend every 5-6 weeks to visit family out of town. I have been in church once on the last 6 weeks. Last time I was here, in this room, for worship, I greeted someone that I thought was a newcomer. She wasn’t. She thought I was. I’m not.

Because of my service to your littles, I did not know that today was a semi-annual church meeting. So I didn’t get the opportunity to make it known that your nursery staff is drowning. Your church is suffering.

Our body has a policy that prevents men from serving in the nursery, where there are always 2 unrelated adults and an open door, with a baby gate to prevent adventurous kiddos from wandering out. Yet next door, in the pre-school room, two sometimes-related adults, one of whom can be a man are behind closed doors for 1-2 hours. I recognize, and do not want to dismiss the trauma in a leader’s experience that informs this policy. However – we are too small to keep going in this way.

Last time I was in service – We discussed Daniel chapter 2. I wrote in my margins, “How would we respond if a prophet spoke up in this church?” Today, we discussed chapter 9, and my question still lingers in my head.

As of September, church, I will no longer serve in this manner. I will still be seen in the nursery for a bit, until other volunteers can step in. I beg you, church, allow men who are back-ground cleared, and able to joyfully serve, work in your nursery. Do not prevent 50% of this body from serving. We can’t afford it.

In love,

me

Everything Has an Underbelly

One of the most profound statements I may have made in the last year was, “Everything has an underbelly.” And I thank my friend, S, who later brought that statement back to me, as we discussed something totally different, months after the fact.

I have had the bubblings of this text for years, now. I have not written up to this point, because in truth, I have not known the ending. In the bath tonight, I realized why I have rarely come across texts like I imagine this will be: because we never choose to write them as they come. We often wait until the ending is known, and in doing so, we miss ( and/or often misrepresent) the struggle of getting there.

Sometimes, we withhold the story out of fear. Sometimes, it is out of not wanting to “air dirty laundry.” Sometimes, it is a way to protect the others involved in the story.

I am tired of waiting until the end is known. I want to give voice not only to my own struggles and questions, but perhaps to those of many others.

Here I will tell my story. Raw. Unfinished. Undecided.