Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rend the curtain

Shane Koycsan’s  spoken voice poem called To This Day,  is a poignant description of the effects of bullying.  “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me” is a hollow phrase when it is remembered that the long-term effect of name-calling and other harassment is to create a divide, or draw a curtain between the one hearing and the one speaking. 
A bullied child is a lonely child.  He/she does not have permission to step into the inner circle.  This lack of acceptance creates a lack of relationship, which can have long-term effects because there is not a way for the child to learn what friendship means.  To learn what it means to love and be loved.

It is not the pain of the name; it is the pain of loneliness and rejection.

Names will hurt; they will hurt for a long, long time.

I frequently noted that the children most likely to bully were not mean or arrogant.  In my assessment, they were afraid.  Often, they were afraid of losing esteem from others or afraid of looking stupid.  More often than not, they were afraid of someone who was different – as if the difference of someone else reflected poorly on them.  If he doesn’t like the same football team, if she doesn’t dress the same way, if he isn’t interested in the same things, if she doesn’t know the rules about what is cool, then maybe what I am doing is wrong. 

The bullied child must be isolated so the insecurities of the bully can be appeased.  
Fear becomes contempt.  A curtain is drawn and a child is isolated from a relationship.

I find this to be equally true of adults.

I was thinking about the concept of fear becoming contempt when I was reading Numbers chapter 14.  Here the Children of Israel react in fear to what ten of the spies sent to the promise land have to report:

However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. . . Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”  So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.  Numbers 11: 31. . .32-33 (ESV)

Not even the words of Joshua and Caleb could ease the fear and prevent the Israelites from rebelling against God.  In chapter 14, verse 11, the LORD asks Moses:

“How long will this people despise me? Numbers 14: 11 (ESV)

Their fear turned to contempt.  They drew up a curtain and separated themselves from a relationship with God. 

It’s all about the relationship.  When there is a curtain, the relationship suffers.

I know in my heart I am not capable of saving myself.  This creates a fear that permeates my life, and breath, and soul.  One would think that this fear would turn me to God, yet I cling to the sin that I should trust only myself.  God has the strength I desire so my fear about my situation becomes contempt for God. 

My sin, my fear, my lack of trust, my pride all draw up a curtain between God and me. 

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. Matthew 27:50-51

This is God’s response to my fear and my contempt.  Jesus gives His life and God’s love rips the curtain from top to bottom.
It’s all about the relationship.  In bullying and in faith; it’s about the relationship. And only God can mend that relationship.

Here are God’s words to those who are being bullied and to those of us who draw our own relationship curtains: TRUST

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
    all day long an attacker oppresses me;
 my enemies trample on me all day long,
    for many attack me proudly.
 When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
 In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can flesh do to me?
 All day long they injure my cause;
    all their thoughts are against me for evil.
 They stir up strife, they lurk;
    they watch my steps,
    as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
    In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
 Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, thatGod is for me.
 In God, whose word I praise,

    in the Lord, whose word I praise,
 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me? Psalm 56: 1-11

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The convenient forgetting of sin

My mother-in-law does not remember that she is a bit wobbly on her feet.  Each time she lists to the side she is amazed that she almost fell.  “Well, I’ve never done that before,” she usually asserts.  Because she doesn’t remember her wobbles, or her falls, she is reluctant to use the cane recommended by her doctor. 

I accidentally found a way to avoid an argument about the cane when I informed her that without it we could not get away with using the handicapped parking hanging tag.  She really enjoys prime parking and the idea that she is getting away with something.  The last time we got out of the car she asked me if I thought she should limp to really make it look good.

You go, Dorris.  Eighty years old, wobbly on your feet and on your memories, and still finding delight in sticking it to the man. 

Sometimes she looks at me and sighs in despair.  When I ask her what is wrong she tells me that I shouldn’t have the burden of caring for her.

This is one memory I wish I could preserve in her mind: Dorris, you are not a burden.  I love you.

I do admit it wears me out to take her some place as I must constantly think about the safest path to a chair, encourage her to take my arm and remind her to “use the cane instead of swinging it around.”  I find her a seat and go to take care of something, but must frequently turn my head to be sure she has not wandered off. It strains my brain to try to stay one step ahead of her.  Even with a fading memory I suspect she still tops me by several IQ points.   It wears me out to try to remember what she says and how she reacts so that Paul and I can make thoughtful decisions about the level of care she needs without prematurely taking away any freedoms she might have at the moment.

It wears me out, but it is a good tired; it is a privileged tired.

I thought about lost memories and burdens when I worshiped at the Ash Wednesday service.  We come to Christ burdened with our sin and that sin becomes His burden.  

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

It is a burden He took on willingly, lovingly and completely.  This truth is something we need to remember, yet, it is too easy to forget.

I know that for me, it is easy to forget my sin.  Once I do that, I lose sight of why I need my Savior.  This is a constant struggle of this life, but what amazes me, again and again, is how difficult it is for me to forget my neighbor’s sin.

Young children are convinced that everything they do is an “accident” while what their peers perpetrate against them was surely “on purpose.”  This comes from a lack of perspective taking; a skill young children are just beginning to learn.

As an adult, however, I have no such excuse.  If I can so easily forget my sin, I need to learn to forget the hurt someone else has caused me.  I think what often gets in the way of this forgiveness is the motive I assume the other person has for their behavior.  

She just wants to put me down so she can feel superior.

He just wants to keep me quiet.

She just wants to hurt me because she is angry.

He just wants to make himself look good.

Forgiving the sin would be easier if I could stop assuming I know the motive.  

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” I Samuel 16:7 (ESV)

God asks me to forgive the behavior (even as He forgives my sins) and to remind me that assigning motives is not my job any more than it is a skill I can accurately accomplish. This frees me from a significant burden.  It steers me back to my relationship with God and in this way strengthens my relationship with my fellow Christians. 

May this Lenten season reminds us of Christ’s complete love and sacrifice.  May it be a season that reminds us we do not carry the burden of our sin and we do not carry the burden of the sin of others.
Our burdens have been exchanged for love.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (ESV)