I and others have observed that religion is about belonging and behaving….. about affiliation with others and embracing the values and practices of the group.
Life in Christ, Christianity, is about believing Christ is God and becoming Christlike through receiving the power of His Holy Spirit.
I recall having begun to feel like I didn’t “belong” by the age of 10. My sense of “place” was disturbed when we moved at the end of my third grade year. We moved again in March of my fourth grade year. I had trouble finding my “place” among kids who had been together since preschool. I did find a “place” in my family’s new church down the street. The loneliness had begun a deep longing to “know and be known”, “love and be loved”, “admonish and be admonished”, celebrate and be celebrated”, “serve and be served”.
My best friend from age 4 to 9 was lost to distance and lack of regular involvement in one another’s lives. It was years before I found another Sister-Friend with whom I felt “safe”. I was outgoing and sociable, but inside guarded. People viewed me as an extrovert and in some ways I am…. But at a cost to my own self.. exhausted and drained at times, more in the manner of an introvert which requires me to withdraw to rest. The one place I felt “safe” was at church in adolescence and young adulthood….. but close friendships continued to elude me. I longed for and demanded too much of people, it seemed, leading to disappointment after disappointment. I threw myself into my children’s lives and career and identity as Bill’s wife. Their social connections were my social connections. I was an appendix, it felt like. Until I attended an Emmaus Walk. It seemed I had found my tribe. The 25 years of participation in the community life of Emmaus were joyful years, growing years, forming deeply intimate friendships in Christ. I thought the church institution that had given life to the Emmaus Movement, with its very Wesleyan undergirding, was my “home”. I felt “The Connection”. And when I also felt God’s “call” to ministry ten years into my Fourth Day, I felt encouraged by many within the Emmaus Community and others who were part of the larger UMC. I spent years in preparation and training for the deacon ministry of “word, service, compassion, and justice” while also becoming a counselor and being led into emotional and spiritual healing ministry through spiritual formation and education
I was blithely naive and happy, like a sheep following the voice of its shepherd in green pastures. I had an abundance of kind hearted encouragers who affirmed my faith and work…… but there wolves in the midst, unbeknownst to me. And by the time I got to THE final stage of preparation for ministry I was emotionally ambushed by my not having realized that while I was busily studying and serving, the political and social landscape of the UMC, even in the heart of the Bible Belt was being completely changed. The very institution that had taken me in and given me a sense of “belonging” and had nurtured me into a strong posture of “believing” and into trusting the work of God in the process of “becoming”, suddenly was making it clear I lacked value and standing among those who had assumed charge. I was told my “passion” was admirable. But I was also shown that my spiritual emergence from “churchian” to disciple was suspect because it had been born in the crucible of an emotional mid-life crisis and salved by loving community instead of having been trained in an elite superior education (i.e. “approved” UMC seminaries.) I was told over and over with a dismissive snarl, “You don’t need ordination for what you do” by people who, it seemed to me didn’t even know what I do. My professionalism was scrutinized and criticized, unfairly, in my opinion. And my character was called into question. I had experienced depression over 10 years earlier and had a brief hospitalization and had required counseling and medication to regain stability. A lot of things had factored into that mid-life emergence from a cocoon within the church where I had found safety and growth. Suddenly I was reeling from what God showed me in that first engagement with the wolf pack sent to test my mettle. I saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall and heard God tell me that day, “This isn’t about you. It’s a bigger battle. Watch and wait.” And the more I watched and waited the more I saw that there was cause for concern because it seemed so lacking in obedience to God and service to the kingdom. That opened my eyes and one day I heard God tell me, “The institution of the church is an idol for you.” I knew I had to return to Jesus, my first love. God gave me release from the UMC institutionally while restoring me to a place of belonging in my own home congregation, as I still very much affirmed “meeting together”. God led me to start Titus 2. It became difficult to bear fellowship with the larger church having seen the wolves who had become intent on purging sheep like me from their midst, who saw themselves as the sheep and me as the wolf. It no longer mattered who was which, wolf or sheep, I no longer could remain in the company of the place where I first met those who viewed me as the enemy. I’ll be whatever God has created me to be, sheep or wolf but the two species can’t co-exist in peace until the Prince of Peace is over all.
One who had already confronted and overcome some significant self-identity and trust issues from childhood and young adulthood through depending on the Lord, suddenly discovered new territory to conquer in trying to trust the institutional church again. The system had demanded I be something other than what I was, even though the “me” I had become was the one nurtured in its own womb for 20 + years and the one God had called to pursue ordained ministry. I felt like a rejected adoptee, a mangy cur, a bummer lamb.
I retreated further into the Word of God and life in Christ which reminded me again and again to trust only God. And so I have become one who loves many, yet trusts few. I can see my own failings and often recognize them as some of the same failings of others. I’m willing to throw my blood-stained laundry on the line and wear it every day in order that those bloodied by their own skidding on the asphalt of the wide highway that leads to death may know they are not alone. And there is a way to get up again, breathe and keep moving. Too many deny their human condition and hide their secrets. The addiction community is right, “We are as sick as our own secrets” , and not just those with substance abuse or process addictions, but everyone who is subject to our marred human condition.
Thank God for John Wesley’s God-given wisdom about confessional community and accountability. God says repent, confess to Him and you will be forgiven and receive his Holy Spirit. Jesus’ half-brother, James, grew up alongside Him and after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension became the leader of His church in Jerusalem. James reiterates much of Jesus’ first (and oft-repeated sermon). James tells us to “confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another, that you might be HEALED!” Forgiven by God doesn’t automatically confer healing to the wounded heart.
That’s okay. The Holy Spirit will bring the precision of its cauterizing lazer light to the reborn heart to every dark wounded place in the soul, some we are likely not even aware of. It is not further forgiveness by God, that we need, God having already forgiven and imputed Christ’s righteousness upon us by our repentance and profession of faith. That mantle of righteousness is Good, as far as God is concerned. But God desires more…. That we might know the fullness of his love as His sons and daughters, as Jesus Christ does, and enjoy intimate fellowship with Him. It is God’s desire that He wishes us to embrace as own desire, too, for the fullness of life exemplified by Christ’s life and ministry to transform us into Christ’s ambassadors of peace and reconciliation to one another in a hurting world. The heartfelt confession of one sinner saved by grace to another sinner also saved by grace, both of whom know and embrace the pain of Christ’s suffering as having freed them from the lair of death and cleansed their wounds can then experience the deeper healing that the Holy Spirit, the Great Physician, attends.
When one is truly set free by the sacrificed Blood, made new by the Living Water and healed by the purifying Light….., a new testimony, a new witness, a new evangelist for Christ is commissioned to go and tell.
I’m called to teach and counsel the mind and heart in keeping with the Spirit’s Word and Wisdom to those directed to me by the Holy Spirit.
That door of legitimacy on ministry is not denied me by any authority of man or any institution on earth. To do it under Christ’s authority with connection to a community of Christ followers that recognizes and affirms my call and gifts is all that is required.
I’ve had men of faith, tainted by what is widely viewed by others as an errant reading of the whole of the Word and the Spirit of the Law and the Love of Christ tell me I had no authority to teach. I’ve had women of faith deliberately lie about me and make jokes of the holy call to ministry. But I have not been dissuaded by their opinions. Nor have I allowed my wounds to fester but I deal with them as I become aware of them. I forgive, but I do not reconcile with those who live in denial of their own wounds, who keep secrets, who reserve the right to indulge their disobedience and demand that others ignore it, or even worse, celebrate it as their personal freedom for themselves, rather than in Christ and in fellowship with others.
I read on Twitter the sad brief word of those who’ve left ministry or are sitting on the sidelines because of their wounds. But many not only left the church altogether, embittered and oozing with fresh wounds that won’t heal, some also turned their backs on God, saying if He’s the God of THOSE kind of people, I want nothing to do with God. How sad that even today, once again God gets the blame for the sins of people, failing to realize that they are simply shouting again as the crowd did, “Crucify him, crucify him.”