Monday, 29 December 2014

The Paradox of Freedom - Part 2

I shared in my last post about the revolutionary discovery I made after my husband left me - that I actually had the freedom to choose whether or not to forgive him! And that it was only when I found out I was free to choose, that I was truly able to forgive. This is what I call the paradox of freedom.

Now it's been many years since that momentous realisation. Since then I've seen a precious friendship turn into marriage, been blessed with two more amazing sons, suffered spiritual abuse, lost my 'religion', and embarked on a faith journey with a freshly-revealed God.

I trusted the church system and the people in it, and that trust had proved worthless. I was betrayed and rejected by the very things I'd staked my life on. (More fool me!)

And the interesting thing is, it was this second experience of betrayal and loss that led me to an even greater understanding of the paradox of freedom.

The path out of spiritual abuse has led me through what I can only describe as the deconstruction of my faith. I questioned the incontrovertible 'truths' I'd been fed all my life and re-examined my beliefs.

But it seemed that the more freedom I felt to doubt and question, the more I believed.



I've slain sacred cows and dissected their remains. I've embraced doubt and uncertainty. I've rejected man-made traditions, and wrestled and argued with the God of eternity.

(Inevitably, this has led to further accusations of being a false prophet, as well as being denounced as a heretic.)

Yet it has been in embracing the liberty to question, and the freedom to doubt, that I have discovered an amazing truth.

When you let God out of the (religious) box, he's more than you've ever imagined. More wonderful. More loving. More wise. More compassionate. More... "I am"!

And as I've chosen freedom to step out of the box myself - and been totally honest with God (including voicing my anger, my questions, and my difficulties) I've found my faith has deepened, my trust grown and my walk with him has developed a reality I've never known before.

I find myself in a place where I have fewer answers, but greater confidence. More questions, but way less fear. My faith is no longer cut-and-dried, but it is of infinitely more worth in the cut-and-thrust world I inhabit.

In losing my 'religion', I found freedom in God!

The Paradox of Freedom - Part 1


Many years ago I found myself, completely against my will, dealing with the loss of my marriage. I'd spent 7 years married to a man who lied and deceived seemingly without conscience, who was a master of emotional manipulation, and who acted as if the world revolved around him alone. While his regular outbursts of anger only occasionally resulted in physical abuse, it almost always ended with him breaking things - usually my things!

We'd been living in London and I had taken our baby son on a holiday back to Australia so the family could meet him. While I was there, my husband contacted me and told me he'd applied for a job back home and asked me to stay until he had an answer. After several weeks of being put off like this, I rang the company he said he'd applied to - and discovered the whole thing was a lie. When I confronted him with it, he got angry with me... again...

Now as you can probably imagine, having been treated like dirt for so long, and then abandoned with a year old son to care for, I was pretty distressed about life! I fought to save our marriage, but he just didn't want to know. Eventually, his mistress became pregnant, and I had to face the fact that my marriage was dead.

I set about trying to find my way out of the pain of betrayal and rejection I'd experienced, desperately trying to pursue God's plan for us. I knew I had to forgive my husband, but it was so hard! Some days it felt impossible.

In the midst of my struggle, I picked up a book about recovering from divorce. In it I read the most profound thing I'd ever heard: that I actually had a choice whether or not to forgive my husband!

That may sound really stupid to you, but I'd grown up with a christianity that amounted to a set of rules, a standard that 'must' be reached. If you were a christian, you had to forgive. Being a christian was synonymous with 'doing the right thing'. And doing 'the wrong thing' meant facing the shame and censure of family and church.

But here was this book, written by christians, declaring that I had a choice! I was free to forgive or not - it was entirely up to me! The book did explain that there were certain realities that went with whatever I chose, but nonetheless, I did have a choice.

This was a totally new and revolutionary idea to me! I wasn't being coerced into anything - I was being set free.

And the paradox was that once I realised I had the freedom not to forgive, I found that I wanted to forgive him. Not because it was 'the right thing to do', but because I wanted to be free of the anger and pain that was crippling me.

I'll be honest - it still took time and effort on my part, and there were still days when I wanted him to be hurt as badly as he'd hurt me, but I was doing this for the sake of freedom not because someone was telling me I 'had to'.

I had a choice and I was free!




Saturday, 20 December 2014

I'm not Asking for Perfection!

I've had many conversations over the last 2 or 3 years that revolved around my experience of abuse in the church and my subsequent disillusionment with that institution.

There have been people who disapproved of me being upset and who therefore assumed that somehow I was the one at fault. Others were distressed that I would even suggest that there was anything wrong in 'their church'. Then there were those who recognised there was something amiss, but didn't want to get involved.

But, interestingly enough, there was one line almost every person produced. "You can't expect the church to be perfect - it's made up of imperfect people."

Now on the surface, this sounds like a true and wise observation. It is true that we are all imperfect, and it is wise not to expect the perfection from such people.

The only trouble is, it was not perfection I was expecting.

It was fruit!

Even a cursory glance at the New Testament will reveal the truth that we are supposed to bear fruit. And that fruit should be in keeping with our source.

Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

So what does this fruit look like?

"...the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."

The early christians were renowned for their love, joy and humility, even in the face of persecution and suffering. People noticed that they were different and wondered why.

Yet these days, particularly in the western world, there seems to be no difference in the behaviour of those in 'the church' compared to those outside it. We all seem to live and behave in exactly the same way. And yet we keep assuring ourselves, and others, that we have a better way to live. We keep selling this idea, and yet proving it's bankruptcy by our failure to live it.

Something is seriously wrong!?

We have greater access to more sermons, commentaries and teaching than any generation that has ever lived. And yet we still witness bullying and abuse, power plays and politics in 'the church'.

We're inundated with 'christian' books, conferences and programs, but nothing changes - they seem incapable of effecting the transformation they promise.

We say we follow a God of love, and then we act hatefully towards those who don't comply with our expectations. We say we embrace freedom in Christ, and then want to control our brothers and sisters, insisting they conform to our way of thinking. We say Jesus is the head of the church, and then we program the Holy Spirit right out of our services.

The dissonance between what we say and how we live is overwhelming!

I'm not asking for perfection. I'm asking for fruit in keeping with the Vine. I want our actions to line up with the words we speak, and the promises we make. I want to see in each one of us the proof of a living, redeeming, transformational God.

It was because I believed we had a better way that I stayed so long and fought so hard in an abusive church situation. It was my hope that as each one of us pursued God above all else, we would somehow get through it and become a living testimony to his grace.

In the end, my hope proved futile. It seems we had no better way, no hope, no good news to offer others - just the putrid stench and unbearably bitter taste of our own counterfeit harvest!

Despite all the accusations to the contrary, I don't hate 'the church', and I don't despise my brothers and sisters in the institution.

But I do want the 'better way' we talk about to be manifest in how we live and interact with each other. I want the cry of Jesus's heart - that we be known by our love - to be realised in our midst.

I'm not asking for perfection - I just want to see fruit!



Friday, 12 December 2014

Father Forgive Them...

I was angry last night!

The big, green, Incredible Hulk type of anger.

This morning it's the quietly sickened and disgusted type.

Why?

Because friends of mine are hurting badly - torn to pieces by religion.

Because they are just one more statistic - victims of an abusive institution erroneously called 'church'.

Because religious leaders seem to think it's actually ok to throw their brothers and sisters under the bus.

Because they don't seem to care about the damage they inflict as long as they stay in power.

Because they use their position to denounce family members, in an attempt to control the narrative.

Because they can't seem to understand that the words of judgement they preach from their pulpits apply equally to themselves.

Because they ignore the words of Jesus and lord it over their brothers and sisters.

Because members of 'the body' seem to think this is normal and so they don't stand up and shout, "NO! STOP! ENOUGH!"


And because it's Just. Plain. Wrong!



Saturday, 6 December 2014

Persuasion

There's an ancient story about a competition between the sun and the wind. Apparently the wind was boasting to the sun about being so much stronger. The sun, on the other hand, was arguing that gentleness could be just as powerful. After each fails to convince the other, the sun suggests a competition.

Just at that moment, a man is seen walking down the road. The sun points him out to the wind and suggests that whoever can persuade him to remove his coat is clearly the greater of the two. The wind agrees.


Anyway the wind decides to try first. It blows and blusters and buffets the man - trying to obtain its objective. The trouble is the harder it blows the tighter the man clutches his coat to his form.

So the wind tries harder - until it blows the leaves from the trees and the birds from the sky. But to no avail. The only thing the wind can achieve is to make the man cling to his coat for dear life.

Frustrated and exhausted, the wind admits defeat and makes way for the sun to try.


Well the sun steps up and starts to softly shine on the man. It gently glows and then brightly beams... and pretty soon the man is not just unbuttoning his coat, but removing it altogether!

Amazing, right!?

And the moral of the story? "Gentle persuasion is stronger than force."

Now there is a reason I'm sharing this childhood memory. I've been pondering the question, "Who do we emulate when we are discussing our beliefs with others - the wind, or the sun?"

Are we so convinced of our own righteousness, that we bully and bluster, threatening hellfire and damnation, in an attempt to compel people to agree with us, to enforce our absolute "Truth" upon our listeners? Are we harsh in our interactions with others, 'justifying' it as defending "The Word"?

Is disagreement rejected out-of-hand? Do we use scripture verses to beat others into submission? Do we pour scorn on anyone who dares to suggest a different way of interpreting them? 

Or do we shine with the warmth of love and kindness? Are we gentle with the vulnerable? Do we speak softly to the broken? Do we make it pleasant (and safe) to sit and talk for a while?

And in meditating on these things, I think I may have stumbled on something of value!

Maybe - just maybe - people would respond more positively to our message if we tried a little more warmth and little less icy blast!

What do you think?