Gatekeepers

Prelude:
I’m feeling scattered today, like I should edit the bejeepers out of this essay, but then again, I’m afraid that I’ll be afraid to hit Publish if I study it too closely.
Let’s see…

*************

During the past year or two, I’ve found myself on the brink of tears too many times to count. My anxieties, concerns, and frustrations are no bigger or more significant than anyone else’s – they are just a unique mix of what affects me most.

Oddly enough, however, I’ve not had what you could describe as a really good cry in, well, I can’t remember when. I feel the surge of emotion coming. I find a safe place to emote. I wait for the exact moment when floodgates should open and then………

nothing.

Oh, perhaps I whimper a bit. I close my eyes and put my head down or in my hands or on Tim’s shoulder. I feel the sob. I just don’t do it.

A friend mentioned this could be hormonal. I tried to investigate on the Google, but didn’t really know what words to use in my search. And if any of my seasoned friends have insight, please weigh in.

Anyway, I have the feelings, I am familiar with the feelings, I relish the feelings of a really good cry. I know the value of the resulting catharsis.

But here I am.

Though there are many aspects of life that affect me greatly and have frequently brought me to tears (in the past, at least), I believe the one most difficult for me to take can only be described as man’s inhumanity to man.

In the twilight times between alert and asleep, I find myself fighting off visions of what I’ve learned about the profanity of the Holocaust, slavery, human trafficking, and child abuse. I am and always have been horrified that people intentionally design – and evidently find either delight or pride in – creative ways to inflict the greatest pain to those weaker or younger, smaller or less able to defend themselves. When I am the most vulnerable, the evil one invades and poisons, disturbs and leaves a trail of hideous thoughts and pictures. My only defense is prayer and sleep.

Similarly, I have an on-going resentment of bullies – the obvious schoolyard version as well as the more insidious political-, business-, church-, and family-leader types.

Recently, though, I have been troubled by something much more subtle. Something that has caused a tragic kind of division and conflict. I am bereft – so many [of us] who claim a faith based on the love of Jesus have developed a strong “my way or the highway” posture, leaving those we believe do not fit the perfect Christian profile in the dust. And, without significant behavior and belief adjustments, they will forever remain unfit to join the Faithful.

It is not that we, as the Church, fail to admit the past and most egregious faults and misuse of the Bible. I believe, by and large, most of us readily condemn the mindset of men like Rev. John Hale (best known for his involvement in the Salem Witch trials) and the pious yet cruel Rev. Daniel Weeden, a 19th-century slave-owner who brandished both the Bible and the whip with precision.

We are quick to speak of the atrocities committed by our forefathers with disdain and contempt. Good golly Miss Molly, how could anyone who proclaims the love of God do any of those things? or even tolerate other people doing them?

And without pause, we are just as quick to vigorously defend our more-recently-formed positions about equality and freedom for all.

But with that, I fear, has come an unholy and pitiful position: we have finally figured it all out. We at long last have discovered how God feels about every ding-dang issue, and we do not hesitate to broadcast loud and clear that all controversy is gone – we have the answers.

There’s no mystery. Nothing is unknown. We have lost our wonder.

And, with that, we have diminished our compassion. Despite the regular trips to visit, comfort, and help communities and countries in despair, we look around at the lifestyles and choices of those in our own neighborhoods and, with a wide brush, thickly paint Unworthy over those whose lives look different than ours. Or the ones that don’t live up to what we believe are God’s standards.

My lovelies, I have no right or desire to persuade anyone that what I believe to be God’s intention is what really is His intention. In thousands of ways, to thousands of questions my answer must be, “I don’t know.”

Because I don’t.

But we, as a Church, don’t like vague. We want our communities to live by checklists, chapter, and verse. Even though we acknowledge the bigness of God, we want every question answered and every person accountable. For some reason, we, as the Church, have become the gatekeepers and send out the most confusing of messages to the world as we stand as judge and jury…

  • Please come in just as you are.
  • All are welcome here.
  • “God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are.” (Phillips Brooks, 19th c. clergy)

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuut….

  • You can come IN, but if you really want to BE “in,” please sign off on our rigid mission, vision, and value statements.
  • And if you want to serve or be in ministry, or even get past the last pew, well, the hoops get very high and very small.
  • In a nutshell, you can’t be this or that, or have done that, or continue to do this – or you will soon feel very unwelcome.

I don’t think we want to be mean or careless. We don’t go around looking for ways to exclude people.

At least I hope we don’t.

But honestly, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the Church, and especially the American Church, bears little resemblance to the early church – a rag-tag group of misfits and ne’er-do-wells that did not have the benefit of a whole Bible or an organizational model, meeting in homes and on hillsides, listening to the words of untrained leaders and unapologetic followers of every stripe, worshipping with no hymnals or curated worship “experiences.” The only thing they knew was that God loved them all because Jesus told them He did – and proved it with His own life.

So what happened?

I don’t know.

Jesus didn’t keep love a secret. In simple words He told the disciples – and us –

A new commandment I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. 
By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.

John 13: 34-35

Outside of that, any of the hard questions can sit down and zip it because I don’t think they are all that important – not in the long run anyway. Not in the eyes of Jesus.

Now, back to tears.

This morning’s playlist included Brandi Carlile’s The Joke. Yowzers! And as I listened and without warning, I disintegrated into almost uncontrollable sobs. It was amazing.

Carlile sang to the ridiculed, bullied, and marginalized people with love and encouragement, helping them see that their lives have purpose. Helping them see that, in the long run, the critics and bullies will lose. Billboard said:

The lyric of “The Joke” was prompted by an encounter with a “really smart” and sensitive young boy “talking about how hard of a time he has at school,” says Carlile, as well as the longstanding involvement of the singer and Shepherd in War Child, the British charity helping refugee children. “Those were the people I wanted to comfort and tell of the coming redemption,” says Carlile.

Songs That Defined the Decade: Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Joke’

And I’m in tears once again just thinking about it. Perhaps it’s Carlile’s stunning voice or the rich vocal and instrumental arrangement that contributed to my at-long-last feeling of letting go. Music has that power.

But I keep replaying the words. Words that should ring loud and clear in the hearts of anyone who follows Jesus, who believes His words to be Holy and Inspired, and who dares embrace the dangerous and provocative nature of His deep and abiding love.

Anyone with the audacity to say, “You don’t belong.”

Because His love is the same for every single one of us

Every. single. one.

*************

Coda:
Well, as you can see, I didn’t chicken out. If it’s confusing or poorly worded, has mistakes or misspellings, or takes liberties not open to me, I’m so sorry.
But I did it.

And, as always, as I continue to learn and grow, I pray for you …

Photo by Kyle Mackie on Unsplash

6 comments

  1. I have found myself crying by surprise when certain songs play or while watching a movie. If no one is home I really give in and go get the box of tissues!
    Almost always catches me off guard. I think I did hear something about hormones and lack of tears 🤷‍♀️

    Liked by 1 person

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