The Persecuted Church, the True Self, and a Lost Story

Growing up, a lot of traps were pre-determined for me, and I was a hospitable Type-A place for accepting these immanent perils seamlessly. Through osmosis I gained a robust wariness of other ways of thinking, to both my benefit and my harm. I was a good host to the necessary and superfluous transplants–of right, ordered, and true, and the red, white and blue. There were so many traps to beware of; vigilance found a home in this Enneagram 1. To name a few: The liberal agenda. Those who baptized infants. Immodesty. Gays. Sexuality period. MTV. People who wouldn’t learn English. Feminism. Ferngully. People who wanted to take advantage of the hard work and generosity of others. (I did not grow up in fear of gluten, however, and I devoutly continue in this doctrine.)

When I read Psalm 31 with this sense of Christianity, I understand why the church can become a somewhat bureaucratic enclave of similar-thinking people. The WORLD is out to get US, and the vulgar and sinful traps of the other people are encroaching. The unity births from what is going on on the outside more than what is going on on the inside and the motivation is about safety and adding to the numbers. While a victim mentality is so often hurled as a discrediting insult to those reliant upon public aid or protesting systemic injustice, it also describes a segment of the Christian Church that primarily understands itself as persecuted and, therefore, justifiably and righteously self-protecting.

Of course the whole of scripture, the arc of the Story, warns us that the traps are much sneakier than Us vs. Them. The traps are inside the sanctuary. The snares are inside the postured martyr herself.

As humans, we look inward increasingly as we grow up. I might invite the Divine to show me where I am and what God would have me see, change or grow, as I become more self-aware hopefully. Parts of my defense mechanisms and the distorted lenses I use to view the world and God will hopefully become less required for survival, and less important to my story; those could be considered false parts of self. In exchange for the arms length between limiting but useful mechanisms of protection and performance, I hopefully gain greater value for things that do not rely upon circumstances–the true self God endows us with, that Jesus makes possible. The false self is not to be shunned and ignored as though it never had a purpose or affected the journey and relationships now, but it must have space enough to be examined and dealt with.

So too, as we look inward on this Bride, though our talk of Her is always imperfect, we grow in Self-awareness as its bought in members. We examine it as subparts of the one, holy, apostolic, catholic Self of Church for we are it. Good and bad. False and true. When we take inventory of where we are as Christians, we grow in the ability to peel away parts of the false Self we have collectively adopted and inherited and passed on, and, because our story is redemption, find a truer Self.

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As I have looked and considered more of the underpinnings of this polarized time in our one-ness, and thought more about my background and the outspoken evangelical voices of the day, at least one thing has come into focus. One thing about the American Church’s false self has become clear: Whatever unity that comes from a collective sense of Christian-centric persecution has increasingly become a toxic and alienating death sentence.

It’s not that Christianity is in vogue. It’s that it’s not even a part of the conversation (unless you count political exploitation). And therefore, it’s not a band of the persecuted and the hunted. Self-protection limits the adaptability, discernment, compassion, and generosity of its bearer. Adopting this orientation has skewed our identity to a degree that causes us, 100 steps down the line (i.e. Franklin Grahams and Rod Dreher…), to resemble nothing of our Story, our Savior, and our supposed Hope. This false self in our Church has run a muck and instead of being simply irrelevant to our culture, we have become an official mechanism of hate and hypocrisy. It turns out the bunker is very, very deep. Insofar as we allow leaders with this worldview to represent this Church, our meaning will be continuously hijacked by a paranoid and bizarre narcissism. Where did the Good News go? Who is in charge of Our Story?

By placing ourselves as the sympathetic central character of every social and political scenario, we have normalized and prescribed the dismissal of truly vulnerable groups of people and problems that are actually central to our collective identity and creed. Or, in other words, imperative to our true self.

This reckoning time is heart-wrenching and the R-rated times this presidency has brought forth has certainly shed light on places that previously enjoyed a blur. Light, we believe, overcomes darkness. But it is grim to wake up sometimes.

May we release the traps we set in our sleep and wise up to the ones around our necks. May we listen to the prophets and shut up the liars. May we turn to the leaders who have walked with Jesus in this Church, without enjoying any power or privilege for doing so. May we reach a truer Gospel Self as we re-find our Way.

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We are not so separate.

My son has started drawing me “kind of like a pumpkin” and considering how difficult it was to get the milk from the bottom of the grocery cart this morning and, eventually, stand up again, I think I’m embracing the image.

It’s that time. When, though you want to save it up knowing a sieve of sleep is coming in the form of a live baby, rest is slippery and complicated. (At what point do the pillows become more of a nuisance than a relief…) When all the things that need to be sorted or planned or written down seem too tiring, so instead you waste energy searching for the perfect, stupid […insert baby product here…] ad nauseam. When (in my limited experience) people begin pointing a little and laughing a little at your convex mid-section and you just hope, HOPE, that you’re not showing any midriff.

We wonder what he will look like and how each of his brothers will embrace and challenge and give in and resist his arrival. We pray for a similarly smooth birth, and hope for that same nurse that was at the other sons, the same room as them, because wouldn’t that be fun, and for new and different eyes to see a new soul, a new person who stands apart from our other frameworks.

I also pray my stomach skin doesn’t end up mid-thigh length by the time this is all said and done.

The physical expectancy we witness in ourselves, in a 1st grader, in a preschooler, and in our community, because of this little son, is so helpful for nurturing a faith-expectancy in the bigger, more abstract places in which we long for change. The growing, the nearing, of a baby’s life–of so much that is certain but so much mystery–echoes, no, foreshadows, the next chapters we long to read elsewhere. For that one person’s freedom and self-confidence. For that new job. For the courage to enter a church. For the resolution to an injustice that has steamrolled our security, our savings, or our very family. For peace in a wandering, distant mind. For wholeness in a bankrupt marriage. For a friendship that is like the mountain air.

May the pregnancies we see offer spiritual meaning to our day. May the new cries, the new mess, the new skin of a baby whisper to us, lead us, forward in our prayers and hope. May we find our future, our next step, in the daily occurrences and observations that seem commonplace. We all carry the longings; we all have the sleepless nights of needs and worries. May something as simple as an awkwardly large pregnant woman or a squawking newborn babe indicate the holy, the next, and the coming in our own lives for our stories are shared. We are not so separate.

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The fastest and slowest year.

The destination has become cloudy and the way there so long.

It’s been over 3 years that we have been actively pursuing adoption. It has been a year since the vulnerability of the children and foster parents in the system became all too clear. Unsuspecting, unprotected, and undone, we went into shock in the wee hours of June 15, 2014 and she was taken to strange places in an unsafe carseat, never to be returned and never to be told goodbye properly.

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Among many of the lies we were told last June 14th, it was said that we could resolve the “problem” in the next week. Sunday was torture. Offices closed. Ryan nosedived. Monday was hopeful. There were things to do–people to pursue. Weeks turned into months and still no answers and no baby for the bottles in our drawer, no body for the pile of folded clothes on the couch. No explanations for the destruction of evidence that would release Ryan from the nightmare, no communication from the force that negligently and shamefully put our family and our foster daughter in danger. It took several months before the county decided “Inconclusive,” due to the reputable nature of the supposed reporting party mixed with the refusal of said person to ever comment or validate claims and the lack of evidence on 6 different visitations to find something wrong with our house, parenting and children. Don’t worry, we were told–some foster parents have 20 inconclusives in their files and were still caring for children. We did not find this comforting, but quite alarming. And it didn’t make this 1 right, and it didn’t guarantee our continued involvement in this system.

Sure enough, a month later, our license was revoked–unheard of for 1 inconclusive indictment. We contested; we asked for the review meeting. More letters, more references, more certified mail. A meeting was finally scheduled. Almost 4 months later, they changed their decision to hold us, with the caveat of an extra class for Ryan. 3 more months. Now we’re in line for another home study as all the ones during the investigation were for a different purpose. And time keeps marching on.

June 14th sticks out in my mind because it was unjust and the end of much naivety. And aside from all that it was the death of our care for a girl we loved. It started baby girl on the most traumatic month or more of her life. It began a series of exhausting initiatives that ultimately did not free us from two lying people with major baggage. There is no grave, and it was a slow death, but its severity still stings.

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By today, I would have thought we would know more about our destination, this journey, this way that started so long ago, with the best intentions and tenderest of hopes. We still wait.

Another thing happened June 14th of last year.

While we were pleading for her to stay, being lied to and about, and packing a bag, a dear friend was finding hope. Her life in many ways had been smashed to smithereens by a person in whom she had trusted and with whom her life and identity were intertwined. She had been betrayed and left, and was in the fresh, fragile season of gathering her self back up under God’s grace. Unexpectedly, June 14th became a significant day for her too; she saw her offender. And, because there was a miracle and her heart was strong, she had compassion. That night, she told me months later, she experienced and extended God’s mercy and love in new ways and in the tumult of faith confronting real life, she forgave. She had a powerful initiation into a freedom and new chapter that began with seeing a broken person who had hurt her deeply with God’s eyes. It was liberating and necessary–she didn’t begin the day ready for that, and she didn’t orchestrate the destination; along the way, hope and new life took hold, and she was rescued. Easter happened again, and disorientation began to be designed into reorientation.

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Her account of June 14th is also mine and mine is hers; they are both true. Juxtaposed on this anniversary is a cross of suffering and a lily of resurrection. I am so thankful for the gift of her memory–for that story that informs my own and helps us keep moving in the grief and confusion. That reminds me that we need each other, at our weakest and best, and that the goals and plans are simply kickstarts to us moving at all. Along the way, Grace is there. Along the way, we hurt and we laugh. Along the way, we see things we were not looking for, and perhaps would have never, ever, asked for. And along the way, we find we were not, and are not, alone.

Forward, onward, all of us, all that has been, together. Immanuel.