The Words Don’t Reach

Gentle Reader,

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name

The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down

If you see [her] in the street, walking by
[Her]self…have pity

You knock me out, I fall apart

We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable

– “It’s Quiet Uptown,” Lin-Manuel Miranda

Someone died.

I’ve been staring at the blinking cursor for a good few minutes, unsure how to go on. Or if to go on. But, blast it all, this is how it works. How I work. Something happens and I am compelled to put words to it. The words that I can’t speak, the ones that get caught somewhere between my mind and my throat, the ones that are released only through my often ink-stained fingers. The psalmist tells us that his bones grew old when he kept silent. I feel that.

A weekend of euphoria. Flying high.

Practically perfectly paced for a crash-landing as the reality of brokenness rears its ugly head once more.

And it’s a moment that the words don’t reach, even as I strain for them. Even as I grapple to make sense of what I logically, rationally know I will never understand.

What do you do with that? When you know you’ll never understand, when the opportunity for restoration has passed? When you’ll never have the important conversation or hear the acknowledgement? When you’re still dealing with the destruction, the ripples of which have spread far and wide?

I sit at Jesus’ feet and I tell Him that I don’t know. I don’t have the answers to these questions. I’m not even sure that I want Him to answer them right now. I just want to lean against Him, wrapped in holy silence and a love that requires no speech in its expression. He doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, He welcomes women like me to just this place, just this position, for it is here that we best learn.

Triggered. It’s a word I despise. It’s been abused and misused. People use it to silence constructive, valid opposition.

But here I am, the switch flipped, flashing back in my mind to every scene. Every interaction. Wondering what I should have done, could have done, differently. A deep, gnawing anguish in the pit of my stomach. The fear that every woman has, no matter how much healing she has experienced, that maybe, just maybe, she really did bring it on herself. Ask for it. By being too beautiful or too smart or too different.

Too…womanly, with the curves and the softness and the hair and the smile.

Frightened by what God designed and delights in.

Because you have been treated wrongly.

I suppose I should just get over it.

I wish it was so easy. I long for it to be so easy.

God, You were there. You saw it all. You know what’s true and what’s false. Please, reveal that to me. Help me, Father. I feel stupid and selfish for asking. I don’t even know why I’ve written this vague thing on this public platform. But maybe somebody else feels the same way. Maybe somebody else had the wind knocked clean out of her lungs in the space of a few seconds. Maybe he knows what I mean here. I know You do. Help me. Help them. Help us.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.

– Matthew 5:4, 7 & 9 (CSB)

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And so the Balance Shifts

Rage

Gentle Reader,

What better way to come back from an unscheduled hiatus than with something that will press the hot button of the day?

#thatshowIroll

The title of this post is taken from “Guns and Ships,” a first-act song from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award winning Hamilton. The Marquis de Lafayette has just returned from France with money and materials necessary for the very rag-tag Continental forces to engage in (what would be) the climactic battle of the American War of Independence. The balance, the characters sing, has shifted in their favor. A greater arsenal must equal victory.

That idea was imprinted upon the psyche of a young, new nation. We have yet to shake it – to our detriment.

It’s not about political parties. It’s not about philosophies regarding the role and function of government. It’s not about what the Second Amendment does or doesn’t mean.

It’s about us operating out of fear and anger.

I have to protect myself. Nothing and nobody is going to get me. They can’t tell me what to do. I know best. This world is scary.

I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t own a gun. While I don’t see the sense in it, I recognize that people have to make that choice on their own. Gun ownership is an issue over which reasonable people can disagree. I am here to implore you to take a step back and consider the frantic rhetoric that crackles through the air – especially if you claim the title “Christian.”

See, I know what it is to wake up and immediately be on the defensive. As soon as my eyes open, my mind begins to wonder what dangers await in the coming hours and attempts to devise plans to keep me safe. When my feet hit the floor, the sense of unease, connected to everything and nothing, pulses through my body. Therapists call this Generalized Anxiety Disorder and there’s nothing rational about it. Of course we must eschew recklessness and keep ourselves safe, i.e. you don’t pick up a rattlesnake for funsies, but there’s a difference between living within logical boundaries and paranoia.

Over the last couple of years I have watched my fellow countrypeople move toward paranoia. Neighbors aren’t simply neighbors anymore; they are potential enemies. Some find it impossible to be in relationship with those who may vote for a different candidate. Everyone is suspicious. Everything is a conspiracy.

Groups like the National Rifle Association fan the spark of fear into full-fledged flames of idiotic anger. Advertisements paint a picture of near civil war, with the “liberals,” whoever they are, out to “take your guns” or “trample your rights.” Their picture appears to be legitimized when some, perhaps well-meaning, perhaps not, call for a ban on all weapons, believing that the Constitution is more flexible than it is. Meanwhile kids get shot at school and cry out, begging the adults in charge to do something, but their voices are drowned out by the sound of large donations spilling into campaign coffers.

Nothing changes.

Fear and anger grow.

We who say we follow Christ have to get off this crazy train. How can we possibly go out into the world and preach the Good News, as we are commanded to do, if we see everyone around us in terms of friend or foe? If we are obsessed with being “right” in political, temporal terms? If we won’t learn how to listen to those with whom we disagree?

Paul tells us in the famous “Armor of God” passage (Ephesians 6:10-20) to put on the shoes of peace. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we are meant to leave footprints of grace. While none of us is perfect, those whom we encounter should have at least some sense of us being different. That there’s something about us at marked contrast with the world at large. More than the things we oppose, more than the things we don’t do. When we come into a room, others should sense the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is not something we manufacture. This comes about by daily, momently, submitting to His lead. Fact is, He doesn’t lead us to territorialism, tribalism, politicism, or any other -ism you can think of. He doesn’t goad us to anxiety and rage. He doesn’t teach us to see people as obstacles or enemies. The Holy Spirit is the fresh, clean, cool air that untangles the knots in our souls and expands our hearts to love as He does.

This past Sunday my pastor preached on hospitality and how it is so much more than having a nice meal with friends or family. At its root, hospitality is the love of stranger, the willingness to open doors and arms to those who are different – which is exactly what Jesus did.

We have to recognize and accept the role we have played in both creating and furthering divisions in this country. I am under no delusion of utopia. This, right now, is not Eternity. Nothing is as it should be. I am, however, under a strong sense of conviction. We – I – cannot waste time building fortresses, living in echo chambers or believing the lie that one man-made, man-led political party is more “godly” than the other. The world watches us in our pursuit of power and they don’t like what they see.

We can’t blame them for that.

Let’s decide, you and me, today, to remember that people are people. We don’t have to be afraid of or scorn someone because they vote differently, believe differently, dress differently, etc. God loves people, wherever they are in relation to Him, and it’s our job to be about the business of sharing that love. The way we live must align with the words we say, otherwise we truly are blatant hypocrites and can hardly be angry when someone points that out.

In our spheres of influence, however large or small they may be, let’s work to shift the balance toward peace. Toward a living out of “God so loved the world.” Let’s step out from behind our walls and break them down, brick by brick. Let the light shine and the grace flow.

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The Marks of an Angry Woman

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Gentle Reader,

I’ll try not to tread the same ground we already covered together in this post, but, you know, there are times in life when clear themes emerge. God is obviously talking to me – quite loudly and repeatedly – about anger and choices. We could place both of these topics under the heading, “Responsibility.”

What is my responsibility?

What isn’t?

Let me just throw something out there: Do you suppose that a lot of our anger comes from not knowing what we are in control of and what we aren’t? Do you think that much of our anger is misplaced? Clearly I am not addressing what is called “appropriate” or “righteous” anger. You should feel angry when you’ve been violated or abused. That kind of anger motivates you to address the wrongdoing.

I’m thinking of a more vague, bubbling kind of anger. This is the kind of emotion that makes you want to blow up at your coworker for being slow in his tasks or shake your kid for talking in that weird accent. It’s too big for the moment. It doesn’t really make any sense.

This is the kind of anger that’s actually looking for a fight.

An angry [wo]man stirs up strife, and a furious [wo]man abounds in transgressions. – Proverbs 29:22 (NKJV)

I wish I could be all saintly and say that I’ve never felt this way or been motivated by it, but, sadly, many times I find myself acting out of anger. I can’t point to any person other than myself when I think about the marks of an angry woman:

1. She is subtly cutting. She will sound sweet, but she isn’t.

2. She freezes you out for no apparent reason.

3.  She delights in playing people off each other.

4. She wants to be crabbby.

5. Her sarcasm knows no bounds.

6. Nor does her appetite for juicy gossip.

7. She is flat-out MEAN. Hurtful-on-purpose.

I don’t like that portrait. I don’t like it at all. I don’t want that to be me.

This has got to be why Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, wrote that we should “not let the sun go down while [we] are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26b). Anger that isn’t immediately and properly dealt with quickly becomes controlling. There’s no way to keep this tiger in its cage. The original offense might be stuffed into the subconscious, but the world and everyone in it is going to pay for it!

I have chosen to feed my anger. I have often been incapable of setting appropriate boundaries, in knowing what I am and what I am not responsible for, because of this monster. Make no mistake: it is a monster. A dark monster that clouds the vision while convincing the mind that all is clear.

There is something particularly vicious about a woman’s anger. I can’t define the difference between what I see in myself and what I see in my husband, but it exists. Perhaps it is the length of time or the tightness of grip. How quickly can a woman dredge up five years’ worth of offenses in answering the question, “What’s wrong?” I don’t know a single man with that ability.

I don’t want to be the woman who stirs up strife. The kind of woman who delights in making people fight… That makes me shudder. How  manipulative! No wonder anger and sin are so closely linked. It’s a short step from one to the other.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. – Galatians 5:13-15 (NKJV)

Sweet friends, let’s not destroy each other!

My journey to faith. (15)

Is it Right for You to Be Angry?

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Gentle Reader,

Most of us are at least nominally familiar with the story of Jonah, the prophet called by God to preach to the people of the city of Nineveh. Jonah decides that this a pretty ridiculous request and runs in the opposite direction, boarding a ship bound for Tarshish (either Carthage in Northern Africa or ancient Spain). A great storm comes upon the ship and the only way for the crew to survive is to thrown Jonah overboard. He is promptly swallowed by a fish, left for three days in what must have been a beyond-words-disgusting environment and is finally spit out onto the land after crying out to God. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches all across the city, telling the people to turn to God or be destroyed.

They choose repentance.

Jonah’s response?

This seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live!” – 4:1-3 (NKJV)

Seems a bit excessive, doesn’t it?

Jonah had good reason to be upset that the inhabitants of Nineveh would go unpunished. The city was the capital of Assyria, one of the cruelest nations in ancient history. Expansionist policies during the Neo-Assyrian empire (911-612 B.C.) consisted of “systematic economic exploitation of subject states. . .[and] vicious military action.” (1) This was no “live-and-let-live” type of conquest.

Assyria had intermittently harassed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, where Jonah lived, since its inception. While the decisive victory would come in 722 B.C. with the fall of Samaria and the deportation of at least 27,000+ from that city alone, it is safe to say that national prejudices were running high during Jonah’s time. He “does not want God to relent and is angry with Yahweh being true to Himself.” (2) Jonah wanted to see the inhabitants of Nineveh, and probably the rest of Assyria burn (see Luke 9:54 and its surrounding context for another example of this brand of intense disgust).

I understand Jonah’s anger. When someone has wronged me or those that I care about, I want to see them punished!

But then God asks a question:

“Is it right for you to be angry?” – 4:4 (NKJV)

Jonah certainly thought he was in the right, but it’s glaringly obvious in reading the text that he should feel the same compassion that God does. The people have chosen to turn away from their wickedness and God forgave them. Shouldn’t that be a cause for rejoicing?

Jonah is left shaking his head.

I haven’t been called to preach a message of repentance in an atmosphere of racial and cultural intolerance, nor have I ever pitched a fit about God forgiving someone and welcoming her into His family. Nevertheless, the question haunts me. “Is it right for you to be angry?”

There are times when we can answer this with an honest and unequivocal “yes.” Nowhere in Scripture does it say that anger is wrong. We should feel angry when we witness or experience abuse or betrayal. It would be abnormal if we didn’t. So, if someone spreads a rumor about me, I’m going to be offended. I’m going to be angry that this person felt the right and the need to be so hurtful.

Would it be right, however, to be angry about it months later?

I have heard it said that depression and anxiety are anger turned inward. Instead of expressing the sense of injustice, lips remain sealed and a placid expression remains on the face. It is a different story within. The incident is studied over and over again, the hurt growing each time it is looked at. Conversations are imagined, the “enemy” always coming out on the losing end. Eventually a place is reached where punishment is actively hoped for; it becomes easy to enjoy the misfortunes of others.

Someplace buried deep inside, where all the secrets are kept, it becomes easy to ask God to burn others.

It frightens me to know that I have the capacity to be (and have been, more than once) just like Jonah. How quickly anger can be blown out of proportion. How simple it is to expend precious energy fuming and fussing.

“Is it right for you to be angry?”

There comes a point when the only true answer to this question is “no.” We know that. We know when we’ve held on to the pain and the offense far too long. The stench of it clings to us like garbage sitting in the sun. We can’t go anywhere, do anything or be in relationship with anyone without the smell tinging everything. What’s worse, we’re not the only ones who notice it. All we come into contact with know, somehow, that the rage burns.

Anger can be constructive. It can motivate us to have that difficult talk, to stand up for the oppressed, to work to make things better. And that is the point – anger must move us to action, for in that action the anger dissipates. New perspectives are achieved. Energies are moved in a healthy direction  Holding on to anger clouds the vision and blocks the ears.

I want to experience this beautiful, blessed and messy life without the blinders of intense, misplaced anger. I want to rejoice in God’s forgiving spirit, knowing that His justice is still maintained and that He cares about the hurts I feel. I want to release the heaviness generated by carrying around so many things and people into His capable hands.

Old, musty anger robs us of joy and delight. It saps our energy. It makes us bitter, difficult and unpleasant people.

Let’s move on.

My journey to faith. (15)

References

(1) Chad Brand, ed., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. (Nashville.: Holman Reference., 2003.), s.v. “Assyria.”

(2) Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 233.

This post appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on April 24, 2014.