Truth: Love in the Waves of Violence

(Heads up – this post deals with intimate partner violence and abuse/abusers/victims. Also, my partner has agreed to let me post this and she’s read it ahead of time)

My partner recently wrote a piece about trauma stewardship and how she has been handling her own history of trauma brought to the forefront of her soul by the intimate partner violence heard through our apartment walls. She’s been diligent in confronting the emotions and feelings and I’m so grateful that she’s working with her therapist to both understand and manage them.

But some days are still difficult for her and random actions, sounds, and images can – in a moment – flip the trauma switch for her. She wrote in her post: “…in the midst of remembering my trauma I was journaling and wrote, “I hate that he still has control over me.”” In spite of her very best efforts and countless hours of therapy, this man is still able to haunt her and control her actions, thoughts, and feelings. Though years and miles apart, he still enacts violence on her. It hurts her to know and live this reality and it hurts me to witness her actions and reactions to the ghosts of his violence.

If I’m honest though, it more than hurts me – it angers me. It angers me that his abuse affects our relationship. It angers me that his violence affects our physical contact. It angers me that he has a voice in our relationship, that he controls the direction of our relationship, that he lingers in the corners of our relationship. It angers me that his misguided, mismanaged anger angers me.

The lectionary gospel passage from Luke has Jesus continuing his Sermon on the Plain, focusing this week on loving one’s enemies, doing good to those who hate, blessing those who curse, and praying for those who abuse. It’s a stretch to say that even the kindest and gentlest people find difficulties following Christ’s call in this passage, let alone someone who has directly experienced pain and violence at the hands of others. As I read my Lord’s words I’m confronted with the steep mountain of Christ-likeness I’m called to climb.

While I know that I’m called to scale this mountain and live out forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation with my enemies – in this case the one who has abused my partner – I really don’t want to. I don’t want to love him or do good to/for him…I don’t want to bless him and pray for him. What I want to do is what he has done to my partner: I want to abuse him. I want to traumatize him. I want to make him suffer as much as he has made her suffer. And that, too, angers me because that’s not who I am called to be: I am not called to reaction, retaliation, and violence – I’m called to response-in-love, forgiveness, and healing; somehow, someway I’m called to both respond in love and flat-out love the one who hurt my partner.

That’s a difficult call to both hear and live into because it’s so counter-intuitive to the ways of the world that I so often witness around me. Violence is countered with violence…abusers are abused…murderers are murdered…an eye for an eye, right? And this call to respond in love is difficult to hear because it feels like I am accepting, allowing, and agreeing with/to his violence. But I don’t want to affirm his actions, I want to condemn them and ensure he never abuses another person. Can I somehow denounce and rebuke his violence – and the violence he’s caused – in a loving, Christ-like way? In the depths of trauma and ripples of violence can I live out Christ’s words found here in the gospel of Luke?

Perhaps I can begin to walk towards love for this man by first choosing to respond rather than react to the ripples of his violence. Perhaps I can love him best right now by resisting the swells of his violence that pervade my and my partner’s life through non-violent means:

  • by choosing to no longer accept the violence he imposed in my partner’s life nor accepting abuse in the lives of others around me. I choose to continue to stand with my partner in her trauma and refuse to accept any excuse for her ex’s behavior. I choose to stand with other victims of violence and listen to their stories
  • by choosing to no longer submit to the violence, instead standing against it in any of its forms, both in the life of my partner and in the lives of those around me. I will stand opposed to intimate partner violence and domestic abuse in all its forms and support organizations that provide safe housing for victims
  • by choosing to no longer seek or enact violence in retaliation or reaction to him or those who act violently towards my partner, myself, and those around me. I refuse to think of doing harm to this man. I refuse to allow violent ideations to control my response to this man. I refuse to allow him to take up space in my brain for violent reasons. Instead, I choose to deny violence in all its forms and remain committed to peace – even with my enemies

I can’t say that I’d be willing to seek him out and offer him a peace offering today, but I can offer him this: I choose to end your violence in my life. I choose my partner and I will walk with her, giving her access to tools to respond to the violence you created in healthy, life-giving ways. I choose to respond in love to your violence by not reacting violently. I choose to respond in love to your actions by doing to you what you couldn’t, by doing to you what you never knew, by doing to you what confuses you most. I choose to pray for you even if I can’t utter a word. I choose to love you even when I can’t. I choose to respond to you in love until you can do it for yourself and those around you.

And to my dearest partner, I choose to remain committed to you, even as the waves of trauma ebb and flow through your life. Never forget that I (and so many others) are right here with you as you navigate these waters. I pray that they will calm, they will lessen, they will fade away.

May we walk in mercy, love, and action all the days of our lives.

much love. sheth.

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany – Luke 5:1-11

Jesus has been born, baptized, blessed, baited and began his ministry in Galilee by being rejected by his own townspeople, evading their assassination attempt as he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Luke 4:30). Jesus delivers people from unclean spirits, heals the sick, and teaches in the synagogues – all work fulfilling the Isaiah reading that led to his Nazareth rejection (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19). Jesus is doing the thing he’s been called to do and the infancy of his ministry has already ruffled many a feather.

Jesus winds up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with crowds of people surrounding him – so great of a crowd that they were “pressing in on him to hear the word of God” (Luke 5:1). In an effort to alleviate the physical pressure (and perhaps to control the crowd), Jesus climbs into Simon Peter’s boat and requests that the fisherman and his partner row their new passenger out into the shallow waters just off shore. Perhaps out of fear of also being overrun by the crowd, perhaps sensing some power from this man Jesus, Simon does as he is asked and pushes the craft just off shore. The fresh lake waters lap against the side of the boat as birds float overhead and Jesus’ voice, teaching the crowd, rises above the disquiet seaside.

Simon has a literal front-row seat to the teaching, and he hears a message in stark contrast to the ones he’s heard so long from the rabbis in the synagogues. This man speaks good news to the poor and impoverished…this man cries for freedom for the captives…this man opens blinded eyes to Yahweh’s truths…this man claims freedom to the suffering oppressed. These are the words of the prophets of old, those chosen by God to speak for God. These are the words of the priests of old, those chosen by God to pray and sacrifice for the bond between God and creation. These are the words of the kings of old, those chosen by God to serve, protect, and defend God’s people. This man – this Jesus – is declaring the reign of God in the world! His words begin to seep into the deepest depths of Simon’s soul where they kindle the long-since extinguished flame held for Yahweh.

The proclamation comes to a close and Jesus turns to Simon, instructing him to move the boat into deeper waters where Simon and his partner should drop down their nets to catch fish. Simon snaps back to reality; he has believed Jesus’ words up to this moment but knows that fishing here and now will do nothing. He and his partners worked all night without pulling in a single fish…there’s nothing in these deep, overworked waters. But…but something moved him to begin rowing…if his soul could find a spark of hope, perhaps his nets could find a fish or two.

Simon and his partner get to work, letting down their nets into the Galilean waters until they reached the ends of their nets and immediately the side of the boat dipped towards the water. The men, confused, begin to bring in their nets but soon realize the enormity of the catch. They scramble to gain steady footing, using leverage to pull with all their might but their nets begin to give way under the weight of the catch. Holding tightly to their net they cry out to shore for their partners James and John to come to their aid. Simon and his partner – with Jesus at their side – wait, straining against the heavy haul of fish in their nets.

James and John in second boat hurries to Simon’s side where the small company of fishermen work together to bring in the catch – a bounty so great that both ships struggled to stay afloat under the weight of their haul. That fire that had kindled in Simon began to take hold in his soul and he felt equally blessed and troubled by the events that were taking place before him. While incredibly grateful and thankful for this gift from God, Simon’s sinfulness…his unworthiness… his shame struggled within him, bringing him to his knees before Jesus and the fisherman cried out, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus knelt down and looked Simon in the eyes and had compassion for him. For a long moment they looked at one another and Simon’s sinfulness became engulfed in the flames of hope and promise, belonging and belovedness; he met Jesus in his innermost being where the two embraced. At long last Jesus spoke words of assurance, “There is nothing more to fear. Nothing more. From now on you’ll be fishing for a greater catch, you’ll be fishing for people!” At these words Simon and company had no questions, no reservations whatsoever – they believed.

The men struggled and strained to bring their burdened boats to shore where they told the crowd to take as many fish as they wanted. The men hurriedly cleaned themselves up and abandoned everything they knew to follow Jesus.

—–

The beauty I find in this gospel story is found in Simon’s confession: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). I love these heartfelt words uttered by Simon because they encapsulate the meeting between humanity and God. When God comes near us we can’t bear to think of even imagining that the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all that was, is, and is-to-come would dare approach us. Why would God do such a thing? Why would God come near us when we’ve done everything in our power to dissolve and deny that relationship?

In Simon’s confession we see the incredulity of Jesus’ reaction in spite of Simon’s state of being: in spite of his sinfulness Jesus still gave Simon an overwhelming load of fish. How would Jesus dare do that for a sinner like Simon…like me…like you? How is it that in spite of all our sin, in spite of all our unbelief, in spite of our spitefulness Jesus still chooses to load down our nets with big catches?

And Simon expresses humanity’s reaction to God’s blessing: Go away from me! Don’t you see who I am? Don’t you see how sinful I am? I’m not worthy of your gifts! Each of us has a reason to express these same ‘go away’ words to Jesus. Our life’s history is riddled with moments of sinfulness that have made us feel like we’re unable to be in the very presence of God, let alone receive such a gift.

Our own life’s story might read like a ‘greatest hits’ record of sins but Jesus sees us just as he saw Simon Peter, and Jesus isn’t the least bit surprised because he knows us. Jesus knows our own relationship with Yahweh is much like that of Simon: darkened, cold, lightless and lifeless. Jesus knows our flames of life may have long-since burned out. But he doesn’t give up on us. He steps into our lives, calls us to work, gives us more than we deserve, and on top of all of that Jesus loves us even when we express unworthiness and unbelief.

In this fishing excursion at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry we witness the truth of the gospel: God loves us, God calls us, God blesses us, God invites us into repentance and restoration. God wants to be with us where we are. God wants to love us as we are and pushes us to do better and be better. Praise be that we are chosen, that we are loved, that we are blessed!

much love. sheth.

Truth: Travel Companion

In the morning, Chelsea May and I are leaving Texas, heading north to new locations (undisclosed for a week!) and new, unforeseen adventures.  I came to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to attend seminary, and I’m leaving in the wake of Hurricane Hannah, seminary completed and ready to move into ministry, married to my best friend and heading to new locations and new experiences.  It’s more than I ever dreamed of and more than I ever imagined.

When I landed in Austin I wanted to finish seminary and do ministry in a small town; I had no hopes or dreams of dating – let alone marrying – someone.  But God is funny, and by the end of our first year of classes I knew Chelsea May was going to be a significant person in my life.  While we got along in class, we somehow gravitated toward one another outside of the classroom and we just…kinda stuck together.  Going for late night pizzas…seeking ice cream on summer nights…going to church together…grocery store runs…movie nights and late night discussions.  Honestly, it’s one of those gross, fairytale, romantic montages from a rom-com that shows up on the Hallmark channel late at night.

And I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with the mushiness and the romance and the overly-cute nonsense that we do for one another and with one another.  It’s great – it’s what I always wanted and what I need in a relationship.  But I’m also okay with hanging out in our sweats and doin’ nothin’ on a Friday night as the cats run around the room like banshees.  And I’m okay with the arguments and the ‘serious discussions’ and being grumpy because it’s a Thursday.  I’m okay with all of this and all the unknowns, all the mysteries, and all the for-sures because I love her, and she, me.

Charles Schulz says it best for me as she and I rest up before our trip tomorrow: “In life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with.”  While I’m confident that the future is unknown and scary and a little worrisome, I’m also confident that when I travel with Chelsea May, I know I’ll be fine.  She’s capable.  She’s strong.  She’s confident.  She’s loving.  She’s ready.  She’s trusting.  She can carry my baggage when it’s too much.  She can help navigate my dangerous waters.  She can lead me when I can’t do it.  She can take care of me when I need it most.  She can do all the things I can when I simply cannot do them – and she will – because she loves me.  And she knows that I’ll do the exact same for her at any moment because I love her.

I’m ready to travel to unknown places and unknown spaces because Chelsea May will be with me every step of the way.  I’m ready to travel into these next moments of ministry and life because God is with us both.  I’m ready to go because we’ve been sent.  I’m ready!

much love. sheth.

Truth: Grackles.

I stepped out into the quiet of the early morning, the sun hidden behind a dense fog that had settled low and covered the tops of the buildings around me.  The temperature was cool – but not too cool – just right for a peaceful walk through the University of Texas’ campus on that Sunday morning.  And, within three seconds, that peace was immediately shattered by the cries of the grackles in the oak tree that stretched out above me.

These birds are loud and annoying, they congregate in large flocks, and they poop so much!  Dubbed the ‘unofficial bird’ of Austin, they even have their own Yelp reviews (“…grackles suck and they’re a bunch of noisy, messy bullies” or “great in theory, but in practice…are more problematic that other trash birds”).  People either think they’re fun and adorable in their own way, or people want them eliminated from the face of the earth.  I fall into the latter group and think the world would be better without these loud and annoying flocks.

Photo: Brad Lewis/Audubon Photography Awards https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/great-tailed-grackle#photo1

I walked under that broad-branched oak tree that morning, drips landing on my shirt and, as I wondered whether it was rain or bird poop, I longed for the small, quiet birds: hummingbirds, robins, chickadees, finches, sparrows.  Those birds that sing beautiful songs, or quiet songs, or that don’t sing at all but eat the annoying mosquitoes and gnats.  Those birds that build amazing nests and show off their fantastic plumage and break the monotony of the landscape.  I prefer those birds that I enjoy most and bring me happiness.

As I went about my walk that morning with the grackles shattering the peace and quiet I had hoped for, my mind drifted to that passage in Matthew 10, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs on your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (v 29-31, NRSV).

With a cry from the grackle above me (seriously – they make so much noise), I somehow hoped that Jesus intentionally chose to use a sparrow in this allegory for a reason.  I hoped that Jesus was saying “God loves the quiet, peaceful, beautiful and beautifully-singing birds.”  I also hoped that, in Jesus supposedly saying this, he was also saying, “God doesn’t love the loud, the brash, the bully, the annoying – like the grackle.  God actually forgets about them!”  Honestly, I’d rest peacefully knowing that my time in eternity would be spent with the sparrows that I enjoy, and not with the grackles in my life – both bird and human.

The loud grackles who shout their deceptive and misinformed opinions from the branches.
The annoying grackles who ruin the good things in life (and poop on everything…metaphorically).
The grackles who flock together – never welcoming outsiders – because it’s safer and easier.
The grackles that bully others and steal from the vulnerable.

As much as I wish that Jesus would say the things that would make me comfortable, he doesn’t.  Because God values both the sparrows and the grackles (and the peacocks and the raptors and the ostriches…and…and…) equally.  While I often hope that God would look on with contempt at the people who annoy me, or are rude to me, or seem to ruin all the good things in life, I know better.  I know that God looks on…and loves…and cares for them just as much as God looks on, loves, and cares for me. 

For God, the sparrows and the grackles are the same – both beloved creations, both tended with grace, mercy, and love, both adored and sought after.  And that’s good news, because honestly, we are each a grackle to someone’s sparrow!  There will always be grackles in our lives: people we don’t like…people we find messy…people we disagree with…but God loves us all.  And we should do our best to do the same.

much love. sheth.

Waters.

can you imagine this?

Almost weekly, for almost three years
I have walked, passed that big bowl
of water – dust settled on the surface –
unsure, uncomfortable, uncertain
of its presence I avoid
making contact of any kind
…eye…body…spirit…

fingers to wrists to elbows
diving deep into that bowl
she looked at me but did not stop
as she embraced those words
almost weakly for almost three years
I listened, heard words spoken
near it, about it, in it hands
scooped, sloshed, splashed
frolicking spirits overcome
about that good news –
I and you
– included
in that watery deluge.

can you imagine that?

Truth: Not Advocating.

Earlier this week, Chelsea May and I waited patiently in a building’s lobby as a morning game show played on the TV; we were there for an introduction and potential interview at a small, rural hospital for her future work as a chaplain.  Neither one of us were quite sure what to expect, but she hoped to have some general questions answered and perhaps we’d receive a bit of hope that this location could hold a potential position in her future.  She had been my cheerleader in other things that weekend, but this was my time to stand with her and cheer her on as she explored her calling.

With substantial coffee breath, the man we were to meet with arrived and apologized for his tardiness, then introduced himself to us, “I’m _____.  You must be…Sheth?”  Then, turning to Chelsea May, “And you must be [mumbled/jumbled name]?”  She corrected him, “I’m Chelsea May.  It’s nice to meet you.”  Before she could get that little line out, though, this man had turned to face me and began the conversation: “So you all are hoping to volunteer here as a couple when you move to town?”

Obviously there was a communication breakdown somewhere.  I looked at Chelsea May and she clearly said that she was hoping to do a CPE residency in the nearby large city and she was looking to do her clinical experience remotely, either at this particular hospital or at one nearby.  She wanted to know how she could do this residency without having to drive long distances every day, a valid question with a (hopefully) simple answer.

I’ve heard about women being ignored in conversations.  I’ve heard about women being treated as ‘less than’.  I’ve heard about men ‘keeping women in their place’.  I’ve heard about blatant misogyny but had never seen it in action…

Within the first five minutes I felt a horrible pain in my soul as Chelsea May was ignored again, and again, and again as this man conversed with me – not her.  He remembered and used my name – not hers.  He asked me questions about her and wanted me to speak for her.  He acknowledged that she was present, but not-so-subtly indicated that she should remain silent.  He inferred that she was my partner, that she would follow my ministry, that she would do and say what I would tell her to do and say.  His ignorance said that she shouldn’t/couldn’t work and indicated where he thought her place should be: at home making babies.

I was stunned as the minutes ticked by and this man talked with me about chaplaincy, a vocation that was definitely not mine but is hers – the woman who was walking with us.  She is the one called to this ministry.  She is the one who wants to work in hospitals.  She is the one who wants to care for the sick and walk them to health or to death.  She is the one who wants to care for people and their stories.  This was supposed to be for her and her calling, not me.

 

 

We endured the conversation through the hospital and steered it to an end because we had to catch a flight.  As the conversation closed, he told me he looked forward to talking with me in the future and was glad to meet me; he barely acknowledged Chelsea May and offered her a cursory handshake.  She and I exited the building and I immediately apologized for I-don’t-know-what…

…for wasting her time…
…for this man treating her as less-than…
…for not uplifting her vocation…
…for this man being a jackass…
…for all men who have treated her in this same manner…
…to all women who have had to experience this attitude and treatment day after day after day.

I apologized for not saying something more direct at the beginning
for not standing up for her and her right to be there
for her and her right to be in ministry
for her and her right to be a chaplain
for her and her right to be an equal.

Chelsea May, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that this man assumed you would be who you are not and denied who you truly are.  I’m sorry that this man ignored you and deferred to me.  I’m sorry that this man refused your presence, your call, your vocation.  I’m sorry that this man was the epitome of a hypocritical Christian, who “acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.”[1]

I’m sorry that this wasn’t the first time you’ve experienced this, but is just one of many moments that you’ll undoubtedly forget because it’s such a frequent occurrence.  I’m sorry that men have treated you this way in the past and that you have had to struggle and work and push so much harder than I ever imagined just to have your voice heard.  I’m sorry that we are not – and probably never will be – treated as equals.  I’m sorry that this happens again, and again, and again.

I’m sorry that I didn’t say something at the outset when we both recognized that this man viewed women as submissive beings for men’s enjoyment.  I’m sorry that I didn’t correct him and his thinking…I’m sorry that I didn’t steer the conversation to you… I’m sorry that I didn’t make room for you to stand up for yourself.  I’m sorry that I didn’t end the conversation but instead played the game to protect some future interest, when the higher priority should have been to protect you and your interests.  I’m sorry that I failed you in that moment.

Chelsea May, I hope that I will be better and do better.  I pray that I will heed the Sprit’s voice calling me to advocate for you – and all women – in all situations.  I pray that I will rely on God to empower me to use my influence and privilege for the benefit of others and not myself.  I pray that I will be a true partner with you – lifting up and encouraging you equally in all things in all moments.  I pray that you can live out your calling to serve God in chaplaincy and can face these misogynistic attitudes with strength, boldness, and resilience.  And may we both call out the jackasses when we see them.

much love. sheth.

 

[1] Brennan Manning

Truth: Heart.

Nearly two weeks ago I passed the Bible Content Exam – a feat that has taken me four times to complete.  As I made my way to the classroom’s door that morning, my school’s dean of students told me I could celebrate by eating some free breakfast tacos.  Passing a hard exam and getting free tacos is usually a joyous occasion, but I, instead, broke down crying, sputtering out, “I can’t eat anything!”

“Stress has your stomach upset?  That’s understa-“

“No (sniff) I can’t eat because I’m fasting because I have a (inhale) stress test today because my heart has been hurting (wipe nose on sleeve) and I’m terrified that I’m going to die.”

I’ve been having some chest pain for over a year – lately it feels like someone has their thumb against my chest all the time, but for the past few years there’s been other weird feelings in my heart.  Practically speaking, I have avoided the doctor because paying for deductibles, co-pays, and medication as well as finding time to make an appointment is all overwhelming.  But emotionally, being scared to know the reality of what may be wrong with my heart has kept me from going to a doctor (ignorance is bliss, after all); but not going to a doctor has exacerbated my fears and potential health issues.  It’s a terrible cycle and place in life, but it’s my life.

As I unloaded my ever-so-brief medical history on her, I could tell it was not what she was expecting in that moment – she has been with me in all my previous attempts at this bible exam and she was hoping for more…joy…because I had finally passed.  This health exam news was new territory for both of us and she did her best to pour on pastoral care mixed with an overabundance of re-framing of the situation.  She suggested I look at some pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and meditate on the humanity of Jesus’ heart.

This suggestion has been on my mind these past two weeks as my heart continues to ache and test results show ‘abnormalities’, forcing me to even more tests and unexpected unknowns.  But it’s made me ponder about the humanity and physical body of Christ.  I wonder if Christ ever felt weak as he trudged up a mountain to get away from the crowds…did his heart pound in his chest as he weaved through the brush?  I wonder if his chest felt like a thousand elephants sat on it as he prayed in the garden, knowing what would happen in the coming hours…did he have trouble catching his breath as he knelt on that rocky ground?  Did the stress and pain of his work ever affect his physical body?

The mystery of Jesus’ heart is just as mysterious as mine, but perhaps the mystery is where I can find my rest in these uncertain moments.  I don’t – and won’t – know the answers to these questions about Christ, nor about my heart, for some time.  Answers to tough questions require a bit of time, a bit of knowledge, and a bit of trust: trust that answers will come…trust that I’ll know what I need to know…trust that God, indeed, is in control.  I find it assuring that my God might have experienced something I am experiencing and that we have something in common…something we can talk about…something we can complain about.

There are some things I know are coming next for me: more tests, more doctor’s appointments, more leafy green salads.  And there are still a lot of unknowns, and I will work to rest in those unknowns.  And I’ll hope to find comfort that God had a body like mine, and perhaps it, too, had some issues like mine.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Man.

There was a question posed on Reddit this past Sunday: “Men of Reddit, what’s a thing that can be scary about being a man?”  I thought it was an intriguing question, and the answers that were given didn’t entirely shock me:

  • It is terrifying how lonely middle age is…
  • People expect you to be ‘okay’ in obviously dangerous situations…
  • Expected to make the first move…
  • She (my ex) spread rumours that I was abusive and violent…
  • Being told to ‘man up’ when you’re having a terrible day…
  • You could be the most depressed person on the planet and no one would give a shit…
  • I don’t want to be seen as a thread by people I would never hurt…
  • People don’t believe when we express sexual assault or abuse…
  • The sheer expectation that we can shoulder everyone’s stress…
  • The loneliness of it…[1]

Yes, as a man I’m comfortable walking down the street.
Yes, as a man I’m comfortable on payday.
Yes, as a man I’m comfortable leaving my drink at the bar.
Yes, as a man I’m comfortable accepting a first call to a pulpit.
I’m comfortable when these things happen because, as a man, life is sometimes easier.[2]  But…

If I’m honest, I’d have to admit that this Reddit thread’s answers and the stories surrounding them are not just heartbreaking…they are my answers and my stories as well, landing terribly close to home.  It’s scary as hell to be a man.

It’s scary, not just because of these things, but because there’s a lot riding on maintaining my manliness.  I must protect.  I must fight.  I must conquer.  I must be the god that is portrayed and passed down because there’s an “invisible male chorus of all the other guys who hiss or cheer as he attempts to approximate the masculine ideal…the chorus is made up of all the guy’s comrades and rivals, all his buddies and bosses, his male ancestors and his male cultural heroes, his models of masculinity…”[3]   I must maintain this idea of ‘man’ and ‘manliness’ because I dare not face the scrutiny of that chorus of ancient voices.

It’s scary because I’m supposed to be an autonomous machine – no feelings, no emotions, no tears (crying is a sign of weakness!) – the world depends on me sucking it up and dealing with it.  I try to talk to women about how weird it is for a man to cry and sometimes I feel like I’m speaking a foreign language to her.  It’s utterly unexpected when a man cries, when a man expresses his heart, when a man exposes his most inner heart.  It’s scary that men don’t have more opportunities to express themselves, and it’s scary that it’s expectedly-unavoidable when men are crushed by the burdens of un-expression.

It’s scary because as much as I’d like to, there’s not a damn thing I can do about this at all.  I don’t want to be emotionally distant.  I don’t want to ‘man up and deal’.  I don’t want to carry burdens because it’s expected of me.  I want to talk, express, cry, be free – but until the world allows me space to do so, I can’t do it.  Until the world admits that my world is scary, I will continue to bow under this weight.  It’s scary because men can’t admit that their world is scary.

Friends, talk with the men in your lives.  Help them to have expression.  Help to carry their burdens – and try to ease their burden.  Help them to overcome those ancient voices of doubt, fear, distrust, and stability.  Help the men in your lives to have friends – real, honest-to-God friends – who talk, share, cry, laugh, and be vulnerable with one another.  Help the men in your lives to understand that they don’t have to do it all…they don’t have to be it all…that they’re not alone.

May God give us vision to see the suffering of the strong.  May God give us hearts to connect to the pain of the powerful.  May God give us the ability to realize that we needn’t be strong nor powerful, but honest and real.  And when we are open and exposed with one another, may we be caring and grateful, offering peace.

much love. sheth.

 

[1] “Men of Reddit, What’s A Thing That Can Be Scary About Being A Man?” Reddit.com; Accessed 12/15/2019. https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/eaymhi/men_of_reddit_whats_a_thing_that_can_be_scary/

[2] I must say that I’m not comfortable with the idea that, because I’m a man, these things are inherently easier – I’m working for and promoting gender equality so it’s all uniformly easier.

[3] Philip L. Culbertson, Counseling Men (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 25.

Close


He spoke of silently weeping
after he had climbed to the top of Mount Sinai
and witnessed the rising of the sun
quickly light up the sky
in a splash of vermilion.

He told tales of slowly wading
into the muddy, reedy waters of the Jordan
standing as He did and baptized as He was
in those hallowed waters,
though, this time for the experience.

He recalled solemnly watching
as bodies moved to and from the Western Wall,
those silent – and loud – pray-ers who offered up
their petitions to God, who
no doubt listened intently.


Once, I visited my grandmother
after a long absence, and
as we silently sat in her room,
I held her hand.

I can confidently say, this:


I was closer to God.

 

Truth: Opposition

Recently I went before my presbytery to move forward in my ordination process and had to face a variety of questions about myself and my calling asked by church pastors and elders.  I stood before that fine group of people with my soul bare and naked and I attempted to answer their questions as best I could.  I managed to give an answer to every question, but there is one question I’m still wrestling with: “Tell us about the last time you interacted with – had a conversation with – a non-believer.”

I looked down at the ground, shuffled my feet, and tried to figure out when that last time was… when did I last interact with a non-believer?  Outside of the cashiers and other service-people I had given my money to, I couldn’t think of an honest and real interaction I’ve had recently.

My realization in that moment wasn’t a shock to me because I live in an insular community: I live with, eat with, study with, and recreate with my seminary classmates.  I haven’t ventured out to make friends outside this place because I’ve never before experienced a place where I can so freely ask questions about faith, about God, about church, and not have to worry about my questions.  While I haven’t recently had a conversation with a non-believer, I’ve realized that it’s been a very healthy few years of solely-Christian based conversations.

Seminary has been a place for me to wonder, to grow, to mull…a place where I have been able to get a better understanding of my beliefs, my faith, and my church.  Seminary has been a place where I have been able to discern, discuss, and debate…all while feeling free of judgement, ridicule, and persecution.  I have been able to hone my thoughts, understand who I am, and who I am in relation to God.

But realizing that it’s been nearly three years since I’ve last had a “real world” conversation, I know that I need to step out beyond these grounds and get back into those spaces.  Not because the world needs me, but because I need it.  I need those discussions, those push-backs, those disagreements.  I need opposition to help me grow.

May we find time to sit and talk with people who don’t share our same beliefs. May we make room in our lives for different ideas…opinions…and thoughts.
May we welcome disagreements and respond in compassion and love.

much love. sheth.