I’ve avoided IF: Gathering for a couple of years. The direction the group was headed at the time wasn’t one that I could follow. Gather ye pitchforks while ye may, but I’m just not “progressive,” theologically-speaking. I actually believe that God is real and Satan is real and there is a spiritual war going on and that the things recorded in the Bible happened and that the commands on the pages are necessary to life and salvation. I believe in terms and concepts like Sin, Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection. While I certainly don’t believe that people who don’t claim the title “Christian” can or should live as if they are, I do believe that those who call themselves followers of Christ have to completely, fully buy into the fact that He gets to make the rules.
(That’s all without nuance, because I also believe in interpretation, historical context and the proper, responsible handling of Scripture).
Some of the speakers/teachers associated with IF in the past have been people with whom I don’t align. And that’s fine. I’m not saying that only people I agree with have a right to speak or teach. I just chose not to tune in. Not a big deal.
Then I heard the buzzing of Twitter last Friday night.
Rebekah Lyons: made some remarks about anxiety and pooh-phoo’ed #MeToo.
Christine Caine: joked about schizophrenia.
Overall: “conservative” theology, which is just so backward.
Everyone was very upset.
I thought, “Huh. Interesting. I should look into this.” Because I’m curious. I like to know things.
I watched the entirely of the first session, which is over 4 hours long. (Full disclosure: I took many breaks and did it over a two-day span). Whatever joke Caine made, I didn’t hear. (That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; I probably missed it). I’m not the biggest fan of hers, but her message was rock-solid. Nothing Lyons said bothered me in the slightest; not once did she say that anyone who suffers from anxiety (or, by extension, other mental illnesses) shouldn’t take medication or see a therapist. Additionally, the fact that she pointed out that women don’t rise in order to stomp on men – as men have so often done to women – didn’t cause me to twitch with anger.
Listen: I nearly committed suicide. I take Zoloft every night. I’ve been in therapy three times for myself, totaling roughly 2.5 years, and am currently in couple’s counseling with my husband as we wrestle out what God has for us since our lives look nothing like the lives around us (i.e., I can’t have children). Anxiety constantly buzzes in the back of my mind. I’m part of #MeToo and #ChurchToo. I wake up every morning with the knowledge that, at any moment, my liver can (and will certainly eventually) go to crap; words like “cancer” and “transplant” are never far away. My joints always hurt. My head throbs with migraines on a regular basis. Not a day goes by that I am not nauseated and exhausted.
Without doubt, I am hyper-vigilant for any mushy, gushy, false, prosperity garbage teaching. I am the enemy of the “health-and-wealth” preacher. I will without hesitation do battle with anyone who tells me to “pray it away.” For 10 years I have openly, publicly, shared about my suffering and how, in the upside-down way of the Kingdom, it has brought me closer to the Lord.
Do I believe that the church has to learn how to have difficult conversations? That we need to stop assuming that the “American Dream” is God’s plan? That we need to wise up to the fact that pain is, in fact, promised to those who follow Christ? That the hurting people who sit in the pews every Sunday need to know that there is a place for them?
I also believe that, sometimes, we are sensitive in unproductive ways.
That we go looking for something over which to be offended.
That, because we do not fully pursue healing, because we remain in a place of victim-hood, we read into (hear into?) messages things that simply aren’t there.
If I got upset every time someone made a joke or said something idiotic about anxiety, depression, OCD, infertility or suicide, I would literally never leave my house and I would definitely never go online.
There’s a difference between consistent, ongoing abuse and something said without consideration. Were Lyons and Caine flippant at points? Perhaps. It is important for communicators to choose their words carefully. Do they need to issue apologies and submit themselves to a social media flogging? No. Look at the entirety of their ministries, their teachings. Is there an ongoing pattern of idiocy or simple, isolated, human moments that we all experience?
Do not mistake me. Leaders are not immune to needing correction. But we cannot go around assigning beliefs and motivations to people just because others in our lives have had those beliefs or motivations at one point or another. That is not fair to those others and, in so doing, we set ourselves up to be re-victimized over and over again. What kind of life is that? Where is the room for trust, for grace, for relationship?
I know that some of you reading this are real mad right about now. You want to tell me that I don’t understand. You want to dismiss me as not being “woke.” So let me just go ahead and smash the last little bit of your toes: At some point, we have to move forward. We have to press through. We have to square our shoulders and decide, by the mercy and empowerment of Christ, that we are stronger and tougher than all the hurts of the past, present and future. We stand, bruised, bloody and sweaty, believing that our God is with us, come what may. We don’t slink around like invertebrates and we don’t continuously, obsessively claw off the scabs so that we can keep on bleeding. We have to stop indiscriminately demanding heads on platters in an effort to make ourselves feel better.
Pain is real. Jesus is also real. Choose Jesus in the midst of pain, keeping your eyes fixed on Him. That’s the message I heard during the first session of IF: Gathering. It’s a message we need to sit with. We have to learn to shun the extremes of both denial and dwelling. Jesus is in neither of those. He is instead in the middle, in the muscle-burning, soul-stretching work of one foot in front of the other, throwing off the things that would weigh us down and take us out.
Because, you see, people are dying out there. They need to see, to hear, the hope in our lives, the hope that gets us out of bed each morning. That will only happen if we are willing to go where they are, beyond ourselves, to the places God calls us. We can only do that if we are willing to submit to His healing work, a work of transformation that leaves the scar but heals the wounds.