A Time to Keep Silence

I’m not sure if the news on racial divides these days is really worse than it was before, or if I’m just paying more attention because it’s happening in my hometown. It’s possible that I just can’t ignore it now because my newsfeed is full of it. I’m ashamed to admit having publicly ignored it before. Beginning with Ferguson, whenever #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter came across my newsfeed during the last couple of years I just went on a facebook hiding spree of those I found particularly distasteful (sometimes outright racist), hit the “like” button on a few posts or articles I “supported” and moved on. I didn’t want to engage. The thought of posting something of my own and having to talk to someone I disagreed with was too overwhelming. If you are not already aware, this is a prime example of my own white privilege.

But this time… this time it was too close to home. I returned to Baton Rouge after 10 months out of the country on the day Alton Sterling was executed. I sat in front of the television most of the day, tears streaming down my face during every news break. I wept, and I watched as my Facebook newsfeed filled with passion and compassion from friends and writers all over the country… I decided to “like” and “share” without thought to who may disagree. The time for me to keep silent has come to an end. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help noticing that many of my Baton Rouge friends, both black and white, remained silent on the front of racial reconciliation. I engaged with more friends out of state than I did here. And I was so encouraged to see others, like myself, who’d previously been quiet come out in public support of Black Lives. I started a screenshot collection of their posts. I desperately wanted to see a silver lining.

But yesterday morning, something changed. At first, all I saw were postings of news reports on more violence and the deaths of Baton Rouge Police Officers. If I’m being honest, I fought numbness and forced myself to face the sadness of continued loss of life. I’ve grown weary of tragedy. But as the day progressed and I refreshed my newsfeed, I didn’t just feel sad. I started to get angry. People who have been largely silent in the face of tragedies the past few weeks suddenly found their voice, railing against “these people” in all caps. I saw profile pictures light up with blue flames and blue lines, one after another. I was reminded I had facebook connections I’d honestly forgotten were there, it’d been so long since they posted anything. I was annoyed at the convenience of their grief. How is it that they have only just had their hearts broken enough to publicly lament? How have they escaped this tearing, this wound, inflicted by injustice upon injustice, the kind that feels like torture, intended to make you scream?

Rumi-On-Silence

In my disillusionment I briefly entertained the notion of deleting the facebook app from my phone and disengaging, just to curb my growing annoyance at people I otherwise know to be kind and reasonable. But then, among the local support from the silent ones I began to see support and prayers for Baton Rouge from my friends around the country, the same ones who’ve been defending black lives with vigor. I was reminded by them that standing for justice and fighting for love is not something we do only when it is convenient to our pet causes. Lament is worthy of being heard no matter where it’s coming from.

I have to confess that the most telling silence the last few weeks has been that of my black friends here in Baton Rouge. And I know because I’ve checked their pages just to be sure I haven’t missed something. Some of them are people I have had painful, halting conversations with about exactly how it’s different to grow up as a black American – particularly in the South. They are the ones who made my blind eyes see colors as they truly are, not how I wish them to be. And while the rest of the country seems in an uproar over the things taking place in our hometown, they grieve quietly. I know, because I’ve reached out to a few of them. While I want to wail, rend my garments and scream, I watch their eyes fill but refuse to spill, demonstrating a strength that comes from years of practice I have no concept of. I echo their fears. I want to say, “This isn’t my Baton Rouge. This isn’t my city.” But when I listen to them I know that isn’t true. This has been my city for years. I just didn’t want to see it.

I was talking to a black friend last week who said she wants to do something to bring change. Talking doesn’t seem to make enough of a difference. I told her that her story can make a difference. That people like me desperately need to hear voices like hers. I told her about my screenshot collection. I told her that her voice matters. She looked back at my tear filled eyes and said, “Bekah, how are you going to tell me my voice matters when my life doesn’t even matter?”

I felt my heart crack and later, it shattered. What could I say? I could tell her that her life matters, to me. I could start there. I could use my voice of privilege to try to make others see how much her life matters. But it doesn’t seem like enough. I alone cannot make her believe a truth she has seen disputed in the blood of her brothers all her life. That night, I sobbed in the arms of my father over the injustice. Coming to believe I have a voice worth hearing has been one of the most affirming experiences of my life. Knowing that she is unable to believe the same simply because her skin is a different color, broke me. It isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be that way. I want it to be different.

For my black friends I understand if now is a time to keep silence. I understand if the weight is too much. This is a grief you cannot count on all of humanity to share. I wish you could. Like Job, perhaps you must sit in silence. I want to sit with you. But, I want to learn better from the friends of Job. If you will permit me, I will lament for you… And when your time of silence is past, I will do whatever I can to be sure your voice is heard. Because your life matters.

But so does your voice.

 

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Dichotomy: Part II

“…And I wanna draw a map, and sing:
‘He restoreth my soul, and leadeth me in righteous paths,
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’
As if I believe it.
And I used to believe it, and someday I will again.
But right now I’m barely holding on to the love that saved me from sin
And I don’t know who I am, the whore or the virgin,
Or just a girl with a heart as dark as death itself and a whitewashed tomb for skin.

And I need a resurrection…” ~ Dichotomized, Emily Joy

…This poem became my prayer. I wasn’t sure if the “me” that “should be” was who I was , or if who I felt I was – a confused, broken, and lost girl – was actually me. I didn’t know what was happening. In a moment of clarity I said that I felt like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. I’d done everything right, followed the rules, served faithfully, put in the long hours — because if I didn’t, who would?  And how was I rewarded? My heart was torn out and trampled on. And I felt cheated. It was like bitterly watching as a prodigal came home to the loving embrace of the Father and I couldn’t be a part of it.

It wasn’t fair.

It had been a long time since I’d felt the embrace of the Father. I no longer knew what it felt like to respond to His love. I only served because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. I was afraid of going to hell. I was afraid of disappointing everyone. I was afraid that without all my Christian duties, without my “title,” I would lose myself.  I knew that service motivated by fear wasn’t sustainable. But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t make myself love Him.

I was done.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ~ John 8:36

I knew I was a “son.” But I’d never felt free. I had made myself into a slave, trying to pay off a debt I no longer owed. I wanted to know what it was like to be the prodigal, to run away for a while. I made up my mind that if I ever came back it would be because I wanted to, because I loved the Father, not because I was afraid.

Fearfully, I confessed this to a friend who wisely told me,

“God has given you your freedom, Bekah. If you want to get the hell outta dodge, then do it. He’s not making you stay. Really. It might take a little time ‘outta dodge’ to realize that He’s not putting dogs on you to bring you back.*” 

So before I could think too much about it, I walked away. Quietly, tentatively, not even sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do.

I didn’t get very far.

Grace is an Ocean

Grace is an Ocean

Within a week of walking away I found myself swimming in the deep sea of forgetfulness, long suppressed memories floating to the surface. And suddenly, I needed Him. I didn’t have time to examine my motives or wonder if He loved me. All I could do was cling to the hem of His garment. And He picked me up. And washed me, over and over with the water of His word, His grace, His love. He held my hand and walked with me, shining His light in the darkest corners of my memories.

I’ve spent the last 5 months sinking into His oceans of grace, becoming saturated by His love. Under the reign of spiritual abuse, grace and love were meted out only in the smallest measures lest they be “abused” in excess. I never knew they were available to me in endless quantities. The law of the Spirit of Life has set me free.

I am free, indeed.

I know I’m not the only one who has ever been unable to receive the grace and love of God. As the “older son” I felt like I was spinning wheels trying to feel worthy, trying to make the Father notice me. But I was with Him all along, and everything He had was available to me.

Whether you’re the older son or the prodigal, He’s waiting.

Come home brother, sister. Lets go swimming. 

Part I..

*He knew I’d be back – he just didn’t tell me. 

Dichotomy: Part I

Trigger warning for mentions of spiritual abuse.

If you’ve been here very long, you know that I spent nearly 10 years in a spiritually abusive church.

During my internment in this group I learned to believe that the love of God was expressed most effectively through the confrontation of sin among our brethren. We were told that the essence of love was to be warned of our sin and given the opportunity to “bear fruit unto repentance,” thereby proving the sincerity of our redemption.  In fact, the most unloving thing one could do to another believer was failing to warn them of sin, carelessly allowing them to blaze their path to hell.  I was drawn to these people for their transparency, nakedness, and vulnerability. Their teachings were presented with strength and conviction and were the farthest thing imaginable from the “cheap grace, prosperity gospel” I had grown up with.  I dove in without looking back.

the hot seat

What I thought ‘vulnerability’ looked like.

When I say we were transparent, vulnerable and naked, it was in the sense of being found in the hot seat with the “light of fellowship” aimed at our flaws. “Search me and know my heart” took on a new meaning.  There was an expectation of confession. Deeper, hidden sins were expected at the root of the “obvious symptoms.” Those who responded well to correction were embraced. Those who did not were ostracized or eventually excommunicated via manipulation.  It didn’t take long to adopt the pattern of response that would garner the most positive results.

I vividly remember my first confrontation. I was 17. My heart pounded a foreboding rhythm as I sat across from my young friend in her living room. Haltingly, painfully, she “brought her offense” to me.  I had speculated that she had a crush on a boy in the youth group and conspiratorially giggled to my sister a prediction that they would marry. My friend learned of this and felt hurt. Rather than bringing her feelings directly to me, she followed the pattern set before us, consulting with our youth leaders. She was counseled to formally confront me according to the rules of biblical discipline. My examination took place with church elders in the next room, sanctioning the practice and “supporting us in prayer.”

What had started as a case of hurt feelings ballooned into accusations of foretelling, divination, witchcraft and rebellion.

I was angry, indignant, as I listened to the charges against me.  I felt betrayed. How could the whisper and giggle of a teenage girl lead to this? My anger was quickly squelched by the ultimatum laid before me by my friend. The requirement was that I repent, turn from my ways, and by means of a trial period prove my sincerity lest she and other church members be forced to distance themselves. If I continued in my pattern while claiming to be a Christian, they would fulfill the biblical mandate, “with such a one, do not even eat.”

My blood ran cold and my head spun. This was no idle threat. Just weeks before we’d excommunicated a friend of ours, carefully navigating the legalistic steps of “biblical church discipline.” I knew I was in danger of losing the first real friends I’d ever had. This was not a time to exert my will. I wondered if I was so deluded that I’d become demon possessed. I wondered if I was a witch. At the very least, I assumed my friends and leaders must be able to see a great blind spot in my life. So I tearfully pledged repentance and promised to work harder to overcome rebellion. I became utterly humbled, and for many years lauded that encounter as the nearest I’d ever been to Jesus in the flesh. Because only Jesus would get himself dirty enough to save one as close to perdition as I.

That was only one of many such confrontations, both conducted for me, and sadly, by me. I regret to say that I participated in these inquisitions as eagerly as I sought them for myself. Over the years I grew anxious if my friends did not point out my faults. I believed that any failure to confront me indicated they no longer cared and were content to let me slide right out of grace.

The truth was that many of them had grown weary of this fruitless charade.

Over time, I began to recognize what was happening and knew I had to get out.  I was the first among my friends to leave the church. I didn’t know who I was or what I believed. A crisis of faith became a very real crisis of identity.  I draw my sense of being from the people around me and suddenly I had nothing familiar in proximity. Who was I? Did I really know Jesus? If not, who was I serving? It was months before I felt I could hear from the Lord in the wilderness, alone. But I was determined to stay by His side, wrestling, until I came to some kind of reconciliation with Him.

This poem epitomized where I was. It became my desperate prayer. But would it ever be answered?

This story isn’t over yet. Part II coming soon.

from Dichotomized, released 01 February 2013, Emily Joy Poetry.

Jesus, Jesus.

Last fall I left the church I’d been a part of for almost 10 years and in the months since, I am coming unraveled. This isn’t elegant. It’s ugly. The work is unfinished with no end in sight. But I’m learning not to fight it. I’m not rushing anything. I don’t care how long it takes to heal. Meanwhile, I will not pretend that it is all okay. I’ve worn a mask for too long.

Through breaking my silence I am discovering the freedom of being free. 

In the process of leaving the flock I’ve been wounded, yes. But watching my friends and family extricate themselves with matching wounds and worse has made me want to come unglued.

There is no easy answer for this. So please keep the platitudes and cliches to yourself. I know you mean well, but when you tell me not to let it get to me, I call bullshit. When you tell me that I can’t take on their pain, I call bullshit. When you warn me against bitterness, I call bullshit. And please don’t take it personally. I’m not saying that those things aren’t true or necessary. But in this moment the mama-lion in me is roaring. I will mourn with those who mourn, now in the time for mourning. I will not put aside my righteous indignation because it may make someone uncomfortable. I will not be silenced for the sake of social grace.

I will cry out, “Jesus, Jesus” with Blind Bartimaeus, drowning out the scoffers.

I may not look the tidy portrait of a Christian you want to associate with. I am so far from “figuring it out” and I stopped trying to have it together some time ago. So if you need to keep your distance I will understand – truly. Me-a-year-ago would have kept Me-right-now at arms length. Because Me-right-now doesn’t have all the right doctrine. And me-right-now lets four letter words fly a little too freely. Me-a-year-ago would have secretly envied Me-right-now for the freedom I abuse. Please believe me, I understand. And it really is okay. Because I know there is grace for me right now. And so much more abundant grace for Me-a-year-ago than I could have imagined.

His grace is not as easily frustrated as I once believed. 

jesus jesus there are those who say they love you 
but they have treated me so goddamn mean 
and i know you said forgive them 
for they know not what they do 
but sometimes i think they do 
and i think about you…

jesus jesus i’m still looking for answers 
though i know that i won’t find them here tonight 
but jesus jesus could you call me if you have the time 
maybe we could meet for coffee and work it out 
maybe then i’d understand what it’s all about

 

This song has been bouncing around in my head for two days now. It has no pretty resolution. You are forced to sit in the tension. That’s where I am right now – in the tension. Which is difficult and unfamiliar, because I dearly love happy endings.

For now I cry out Jesus, Jesus. It is enough.