I’ve just finished reading The Help. And it has left me with a tangible hunger for truth, for saying the things that go on under the surface of our lives.
While The Help is a story about African-American ‘help’ just fifty years ago in the deep south of the United States, the emotions of it brought me right back to the experience of growing up in the church.
Even as a child I saw things, perceived, wondered at things. The persona and posturing that comes with church (and I am talking about the institution, not the body), remains to this day. We are only now breaking free from it. Barely.
Only now, in my own recent years, have I come to recognize the claustrophobic nature of organized religion.
At the same time, my own gifting and calling is to the church (the body, not the institution – and yet how gnarled are these two things together!).
As a prayer minister, and because people tell me a lot of things in general, I know much that goes on under the surface of our lives. So many dynamics at any one time – most of them unspoken, brushed aside, becoming the unmentionable and the thing by which we are bound.
I think of the pastors wives I’ve been aware of; the mean one swinging bible verses ad nausea, the scared one like a skittish wild rabbit in the woods – one can never get too close, the management one who told me husbands must be managed well.
I think of the marriages celebrated and the lies embedded. Of one woman who just three weeks earlier (along with her husband) had been applauded for their 53 years of marriage, then confided to me that a full half of those years had been miserable, completely miserable, and the only way she had managed was to ignore her husband on a regular basis so that he was not so mean to her.
And this is marriage I asked? Is this truly the heart of God?
I think of the little girl raped by her pastor father each Sunday evening. Of pastors who speak to women only when their wives are not present. Of duplicity and needing chaperones and those afraid of a good old fashioned hug. Where relationships are poisoned by hearts that only presume evil.
I think of the men and women holding back on dreams and callings and visions so that they do not offend or step out of line. Of husbands afraid to risk and women afraid to dream. I think of the church leadership teams that have rough weeks every week, internal difficulties eroding the spirit and heart of the team.
I think of people so overworked they have no time for leisure, of families so ‘committed’ that their own children don’t know they are loved and accepted.
I could go on and on.
Of the shame at being human. The perfectionism that destroys. The modesty mantra that poisons mens minds and compromises women. A rape state is kept alive and well in the church, right up to this very day. It sickens me.
We forget that purity and holiness are attributes of God granted to us – these are not ours to claim.
But most of all, a state of denial pervades. All things must be glossy and shiny. And we must be happy – always. Or, we must be struggling – don’t be too happy now. Or we must be busy… and always let others know how busy we are.
Emotions are feared, honesty kept at bay. But the snarls get out through the cracks. Poke us and you really see what is there.
Rules must be kept. Unspoken rules abided by. Posture to whom and when figured out and maintained and passed on to others.
Where passion for Christ is confused with hatred for others. Where shunning happens on a regular basis. Where fear drives our decisions and policies.
We forget (have never really known) that love covers a multitude of sins and that love drives out all fear. That grace means teenage pregnancy is a gift to that mother (are all babies truly gifts or not?). That its not sex before marriage that destroys, it the shame that does that, heaped on by all those looking on.
Unable to admit to our own dark pasts we are unable to meet others in their darkness. Without compassion we are impotent.
Denial keeps us from being real. Being real is what I long for most in the church. Where we are no longer in shock over the young teen compromising herself for love because we get it that many of our marriages are about this very thing.
Where condescension falls away because we get it that the world over we are all the same, and many are better than us.
Honesty where we can speak the horror of this and the degradation of that and where we are not sugar coating it all or calling it okay.
Where we get it that to leave abuse means to leave all abuse, even the abuse in churches.
And its not about ‘them’, its about us.
How can we know the deep love of God if we are not honest? How can we find grace if we never allow truth to penetrate the lies and the falseness of our lives?
In my own work with individuals and with congregations, the task is always about honesty. Can we admit where we are messed up. Will we acknowledge our need of help. Without acknowledgment there is no help.
Where we acknowledge we are made real. We find love pressed down deep and grace running over. This doesn’t start with ‘them’, this begins with us.
For the many who bring lists of sexual partners with a hunger to be free of the resultant soul ties, there is freedom – only as they bring the list.
For those abused there is healing and hope – only as they acknowledge the abuse and say it how it was.
For those stuck in pride, condemnation, contempt, fear, posturing, presumption, there is relief and the easy yoke that Christ speaks of – only as they speak these heart sins for what they are, and allow themselves to be broken.
Having read The Help I recognize courage. Courage to speak it how it is. Courage to voice emotions and fears and uncertainties that most of us find very hard to get to.
It’s the courage to bring into the light what is there for all to see but which few are mentioning.
This world of honesty is the place before the throne of God, it is the holy of holies where all pretence falls away. It is the place where the kingdom of God is made manifest on this earth and we risk to have the Lord truly be the lifter of our heads.
Here we become real.
God is big enough for this place. Are we?