Monday, January 12, 2015

Trust the process

"Trust the process."

Anyone who has been down the road of following Christ's call into ordained ministry hears something along those lines - "trust the process." Call me snarky (go head ... it's ok. I've been called that a lot.) but I am not inclined to trust the process. Why? Because processes are run by people and, well being a people myself, I know what we're capable of doing and the level at which we can wreak havoc, destruction and colossally screw things up.

And it feels right now like the church I love has screwed up and one of its leaders has colossally wreaked havoc and destruction. I speak of the collision between the SUV driven by our Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook and bicyclist Tom Palermo who died as a result of his injuries. Bishop Cook is now in jail on a $2.5 million bail. She is charged with manslaughter, drunk driving and texting while driving. And it isn't the first time. She was arrested on a DUI just four years ago. In both cases, her blood alcohol content was extremely high (.27 & .22 respectively) indicating a high tolerance to alcohol ... meaning she is alcoholic.

Heather Cook was elected as bishop suffragan in May 2014, consecrated in September 2014, and this collision happened on December 27, 2014. According to the reports from our Bishop Diocesan and members of the search committee, they were only given minimal information about "a candidate" having "a prior DUI." Anyone who works with alcoholics and those in recovery know that this was just insufficient information to make an informed and pastoral decision about letting a candidate go forward in the process. Too many people looked at this and wanted to be forgiving. But forgiveness without accountability is nothing more than enabling. And our church enabled Heather Cook's disease and set her up to fail by not asking the tough questions about her plan of sobriety and putting her forward too soon. Heather failed us by choosing not to treat her alcoholism. Trust the process? Hell no!
Base coats going on

So imagine my frustration when that phrase bubbled up while I was writing an icon. I've just started writing icons. I've always loved them but for many years was too afraid to try writing them myself. My growth as an artist was stunted somewhere between crayons and finger painting. But back in August, I took a leap and enrolled in a class on iconography. I was encouraged by someone I knew who was an artist ... and suffering from alcoholism. Sadly, his relapse resulted in a catastrophic meltdown of our relationship - mainly because he began to turn his abuse on me when he drank. I refuse to put up with abuse. But before that meltdown, he encouraged me to take this iconography class ... and for that I will always be grateful to him. I ended up really liking it and it helped me get through some very difficult times this fall.

First skin highlights ... in orange!
I had always heard icons are prayed into existence. It's true. You can lose yourself in this if it is your calling. You "write" or paint them beginning with dark colors and adding highlights - moving from darkness to light, from chaos to Christ. The funny thing is ... you have to trust the process of writing them because there are times when you just cannot see how this whole thing is going to turn out. That's especially true when you start working on the faces of the figures. They start out with a base coat called "protoplasmos" ... yeah, protoplasm ... and it's this olive drab color that looks hideous. This is followed by a first flesh highlight that is tangerine orange ... yeah ... tangerine on olive drab. It just looks weird and I felt my anxiety going up when I looked at it. Then I heard it ... "trust the process." OK ... here goes ... yellow oxide next ... then yellow oxide and titanium white ... then the enliveners of titanium white. Getting better with each coat ... still looking a little weird.
Finishing the icon

And then it happened ... painting the eyes and suddenly BAM! There's this face looking at you. Seriously, a real honest to goodness face! Trust the process ... it worked ... and it taught me something. Our process isn't finished - God is still working things out. This horrible tragedy of death resulting from alcoholism and our church's behavior as an enabling family system is a wake up call to us. A wake up call that our process is flawed, we have been in denial and we need to start holding not only candidates for ordination and leadership accountable to sobriety but also have a consistent pastoral way to remove clergy from their charges when their disease becomes active and give them the opportunity to get treatment to be well.

Trust the process of revising the process. I pray we have the courage and faith in Christ to do a step 4 ("Taking a fearless moral inventory") and move forward into a more life giving future for the sake of Christ and the people he loves.

Trust God's process - there is one, though we may not know it. God isn't finished with us yet. God isn't finished with Heather yet and hasn't given up on her. God isn't finished with the artist who inspired me to try and hasn't given up on him either. And God isn't finished with me either.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's complicated

I love the options you get on Facebook for setting your relationship status. Single, married, divorced, widowed, in a relationship, in a domestic partnership ... and then ... there's ...

"It's complicated"

Really?? In my world, that's not a relationship status as much as it is a page out of the Book of DUH! Of course it's complicated ... it's a relationship!

St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians that "we see through a glass darkly but soon we shall see face to face." He's speaking to the truth that so much of our lives and selves are hidden from the sight of others - never from God, but definitely from others.

We all wear masks to show our best selves off to the rest of the world. Nowhere is that more evident than on Facebook where everyone pumps up their profiles with how cool and hip they are - even as their lives are falling apart behind that computer screen. What we put on social media rarely hints as the broken screwed up parts of ourselves - the parts we fear, the parts others will reject, the parts we hate, the ugliness within. No, we put on our masks and pontificate about our brilliant lives, our stellar ideas (especially when those ideas can be positioned as superior to someone else's), our fantastic careers, etc. And yet all the while we are inside knowing this isn't the whole truth.

It's complicated, isn't it? When the public persona doesn't match the private despair. When the face we show everyone else doesn't match the one we show to our spouses or loved ones. Some people have a high degree of transparency and what you see is pretty much what you get. Others have mastered the repressed dual life and hide behind a mask so well that they really don't know they are doing it anymore ... until they are under duress and the mask slips. It's complicated.

Christ died for the whole of us ... but most especially he died for those ugly repressed parts of ourselves that we really don't want to show others - the complicated stuff. "By his blood he reconciled us. By his wounds we are healed."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

No, you don't have to take it anymore

October is Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness month - sometimes called Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) to cover those relationships where the abused and abuser are not living together but are involved in an intimate relationship. It's a difficult topic and one the Church has a checkered history in addressing.

For too long the Church's leadership, dominated by men, often took the stance that violence in a marriage was because the woman was failing as a wife. She was often counseled to go back to her abuser and, in some way, be a "better" spouse. Of course that never worked. Deferring to the abuser just kept the cycle of abuse alive and well - no matter how deferential or demur the wife tried to be to please her husband.

Just in the past 30 years, with the rising number of ordained women in many denominations, the Church has begun to address this problem for what it is - an abuse of power by one spouse over the other. Yes, we also acknowledge that women can be abusers and men are much less likely to report due to culture norms about masculinity. We also know that DV/IPV can occur in same sex couples just as easily as in heterosexual ones.

Several of my Facebook postings this month have addressed abuse and violence. Too many people have misconceptions about how Christianity addresses DV/IPV. Admittedly, there are still corners where the pastor will uphold the position I previously described ... but this is not representative of all Christians! There are plenty of churches trying to address this issue and an excellent book on the subject is Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence by The Rev. Anne O. Weatherholt, Episcopal priest (and one of my mentors). She wrote the very first tract for Forward Publications on the issue of DV back in the early 1980's.

One area of serious confusion is over forgiveness and reconciliation when it comes to being abused. Often people think because Christ calls us to forgive those who abuse us (just as he did from the cross) and we are taught to follow St. Paul's instructions to "be reconciled with one another" it means that we must continue to remain in abusive relationships to be "good Christians." This is a misunderstanding and twisting of what forgiveness and reconciliation are about.

Forgiving your abuser is releasing the rancor, hurt and bitterness over what they have done. Ideally, you can do this face to face; however, this isn't always possible because of their abusive treatment of you. Forgiving doesn't require you to subject yourself to more violence. And forgiveness isn't really forgiveness when it comes with threats of more violence. When one is in an abusive relationship, the time to forgive is not while you are still involved with your abuser and still suffering attacks! True forgiveness can only come when the violence ends - whether due to your abuser getting help or you leaving the relationship.

In his book Forgive And Get Your Life Back, The Rev. Dennis Maynard explains that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation or restoration - they are three distinct steps. Jesus taught us to forgive so we can let go of the anger, bitterness and resentment which hold us back. Reconciliation is the next step after forgiveness but due to our sinful nature it may never happen. Reconciliation can only happen when both parties turn away from the abusive cycle and seek to amend their lives and make the radical changes necessary to stop the abuse. For the abuser, this means counseling - deep therapeutic work to seek the self-understanding necessary to put a stop to their violent behavior. For the abused, it also involves deep therapeutic work to heal and to strengthen their sense of self-worth so that they do not seek out the same kind of abusive relationships again. If alcoholism or drug addiction are playing a role in the violence, seeking treatment for these conditions is also crucial as without it, the abuse will continue! Without substantive change on the part of both the abuser and the abused, there can be no meaningful reconciliation between them.

Reconciliation in the Church is a powerful sacrament which can be a means of grace to offer a way forward for one or both parties providing they are doing the necessary healing work to stop the abusive cycle. However, sacramental reconciliation does not promise that both parties will be reconciled to each other! It may be years after leaving an abusive relationship when one or both of the parties will seek the sacrament for healing and moving forward into the future. The sacrament isn't just about confession of sin and contrition over it. The sacrament calls us to change - to repentance and amendment of life because Christ calls us to be transformed people. Christ is always ready to meet us where we are but he is not content to leave us there!

Jesus suffered the abuse of the world when he died on the cross for you and me. He died on that cross at the hands of his abusers so that we would not have to. He came to bring us life. Abusive relationships are not life giving - they are death dealing. There is nothing in our Christian faith which condones abuse or violence at the hands of anyone.