Sunday, June 26, 2011

When Color Becomes Pallor

In a dysfunctional group perhaps one of the most heinous acts is not the separation from loved ones nor is it the dryness that one’s soul must find a way to endure, it is the lack of color. Edgar Allen Poe described it as one’s life without the presence of music. It is then ‘that Color becomes pallor and home becomes catacomb’. What becomes missing is the rhythm of life or that which sets a pace where our psyche and heart strives to find and keep pace. What is the real issue here? The reality is that one who has left a dysfunctional group has artifices shattered and demolished and the stark reality of a life without any given structure provided is the only presence and worldview.

Nehemiah’s Night Walk

I am reminded in this case of Nehemiah and his nocturnal walk through the ruins of Jerusalem- once a shining city where the presence of God was ever apparent and radiated, at least in the Hebrew’s mind, to the world at large. Yet he stood there amongst the rubble and charred stones from the sieges that took place there in the final death rattle of the city and on into captivity. But he saw something that the dysfunctional expatriate must see: The city was still there and although wrecked , the material to build it again was already provided. There was a chance, a slight chance that the breath would once again be given back to that place and it was his task to see it through. From modern physics, it is a known fact that nothing ever truly disappears, it is merely converted back into energy. As Nehemiah stood there, he did not see the rubble as much as the task at hand to take what was there and rebuild. In that night when all the color was drained through the lack of light, where red is grey and yellow white, Nehemiah saw it all from the inner light God had already provided. The color had returned to the charred stones and rubble of a city whose back was broken. My friends there are very important solid foundations in our lives that once supported facades that our God has seen fit to blow upon and wreck. While we might mourn the lost rhythm, we must now admit to ourselves, it was not the rhythm of God but another’s. Perhaps our own or a vision given to us by another that we followed but the real truth is God did not see fit or intend for us to follow it any longer. He saw fit to change it, to restore us back onto the path. To allow us to stand in the rubble of what God had not intended. We must remember the lessons of the Old Testament and God’s dealings with Israel when they sought to serve forms and idols versus God. What God did was blow upon them so fiercely it swept away everything that was not Him and all that they were left with was ashes, stones and building rubble. What we often focus on here is the God’s judgment of an aberrant life. But what must really be seen is God’s mercy to allow them to no longer go their own way and build their ziggurats that would reach to heaven. Friends, it is the mercy of God that will bring us to stand at night where all color is gone and what has been built is gone. It is then we have a choice and mark what I say, we can live in the pallor or allow God to fill us with vision and so color once again. What does it take to do the latter?

The Fade to black and white.

In a dysfunctional group many times, the onus is on the person. The responsibility for living a life ‘according to the scriptures’ - I say this tongue I cheek, because in most cases, it is not according to the scriptures, but according to another who has laid out the pathway blazed in their own perception and experience. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Many of the teachings we receive over a lifetime are what I like to call ‘secondhand’ but in this truth, there should always be the balance of the inner witness within us all. When we sense a check in ourselves, it is not always because we see in error (as we have possibly been told) or that we are deceived, it is the warning that the color is draining from our lives. I have a personal story regarding this. When we were entering the ‘days of draining color’, my wife up until that point had a very large ‘mercy flow’. She reached out to families in need and made sure that families that were without that we knew never had a barren Christmas tree. I remember traipsing to houses unknown with bundles and unloading them on families whose parents were wide eyed with humiliation and yet thankfulness – oh but the children is what I clearly remember. Friends, it was all color. When my wife relayed this to someone who visited our house from the group we were to become a part of, she was told to ‘be careful with that gift, it is the least of the gifts. When you extend mercy, you tend overlook people’s sin and give them an excuse to continue, you tend to coddle people, when they need to be woken up to make changes…’ Very well said, at least we thought at the time. Sounds good, but in the back of all that a steely and cold objectivity that resembles more what Jesus came to eclipse; the Mosaic law. It seemed solid and even correct…to my power of reason so the questioning of it was put aside. I doubted what God had done and what I had actually experienced in the face of this teaching. What I have come to know is that this is not uncommon. The legalist is quick to imbalance the unsuspecting and gain initiative over them; to steer them away from their own experiences with God and replace them with other things such as precepts and their own teachings. What must be perceived at this point requires a lot of spiritual discernment and listening to one’s own conscience. If it is filtered through our own mind and thought process, most likely we will not choose rightly. This is where legalism is most powerful. You see, it makes sense to us, that is, it is logical. But a major indication of the poison of legalism is the lack of mercy and the vaulting of the scriptures over the object of God’s affection: us. In the story of the Brothers Karamazov; there is a depiction of this to where the very Christ is spurned by the religious and this ultimately is what happens in a legalistic dysfunctional group – the doctrine becomes more important than the people and the individuality of the person fades into anonymity and the pluralism where all diversity in the body of Christ is blotted out in the orthopraxis of the group.

“They will be amazed at us”, says the Grand Inquisitor to Jesus, “ and will think of us as
Gods, because we, who set ourselves at their head, are ready to endure freedom, this freedom from which they shrink in horror; and because we are ready to rule over them – so terrible will it seem to them, in the end, to be free. But we shall say that we are obeying you and ruling only in your name. Again we shall be betraying them, for we shall not let you have anything to do with us anymore.” Indeed, “Why have you come to disturb us?” The Grand Inquisitor means to take this Jesus who has come again, bringing freedom once again, and burn him at the stake in the name of the Church”

Here is a scriptural case of the above. In Matthew 9:9-13, the story is about the calling of Levi. Ironically, we all know from the scriptures that Levi was the name of the tribe that would carry the Law before the people and be the priests and intercessors for the people before God. They were the executors of the Mosaic Law. Jesus is at table with Levi (Matthew), and calls Levi to follow him. The Pharisees with him make the distinction between themselves and the fact that Jesus is eating with publicans and sinners. Jesus turns them to the scripture in Hosea 6:6 where He quotes the heart of God His Father: “I desire compassion and not sacrifice…” This is the one thing that would penetrate the heart of the Pharisee. You see they themselves would have quoted another scripture as most legalists would do out of I Samuel 15:22-23 – to summarize this it says ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’. To the legalist who is blinded by spiritual pride, if Jesus would have tendered this instead, they would have thought themselves justified but He did not quote that scripture. How many times I have heard the latter as a hammer to bludgeon the follower and of course to challenge to any teaching of the legalist and dysfunctional leader is to receive the title of ‘rebel’ and we all know ‘rebellion is the sin of witchcraft’. What is implanted in the member of such a group is that to question the teachings is rebellion. This is what exposes the mask of the legalist – false virtue – that is designed not to make free but to produce bondage and fear.

From that point on was the beginning of pallor for my wife and I -- all in the name of virtue. This is the spiritual ice we embraced and we became frozen, metering grace and love by the measure given to us. It was to those who mirrored our own reflection and who walked and talked as we did. We shut ourselves out to the world at large and called from our cave and made beckoning waves to passers by to come join us in the darkness, where it is safe and where life can be laid out in the particulars and in the following of it, all the color drains. We were not convincing obviously, we did not grow. What was this chalked up to? Well there were two scenarios. First, God had not called them into the ‘light’ who took the time to visit us. We were the stalwart faithful and all else was deception and would lead to destruction. Or second, it was because we were not implementing fully what the ‘Lord had showed us’ and so God was withholding the blessing of spiritual fruit from our preaching our gospel. But through it all, oh the inner voice that said, ‘something is wrong, why aren’t you growing as a church and as a people?’ To this we turned a deaf ear and pressed on through the years. The whisper became a shout and when we began to listen to it, to take paths that the Lord directed us to take, we fell from the graces of those who led us. While they believed the first scenario and parroted it back to us ad naseum, they used the second as a club to pulverized any leading outside of their perception and power. Eventually they came and laid waste, took everything and left us in the rubble. What we did not see then was the mercy of God masked in the ferocity and brutality of those few days. He had by His hand removed us from the dark caverns of dysfunction and the stilted religion into which we had ossified. While those with us could not bear the strain of it, I do not blame them, it is all they have ever known. They decided the cave was safe and warm. Habit and familiarity ruled their thoughts and the decisions made were through remote control unbeknownst to them. We were devastated and dear ones, sons and daughters allowed anger to overtake love and were told the conditions of reconciliation was capitulation. In other words, it had to be our own souls because there was nothing left to take. But God would have neither occur. We stood in that dark night for years waiting on God to bring a plan for re-building. Friends in that process, we learned again the God we served not the one presented to us. We had given back to us what was ripped away. What was the first thing that thawed from under the ice? It was mercy. God taught us mercy. Mercy in delivering us. Mercy in blowing upon the facades we had allowed to be built. Mercy for the vision and truth He had brought to us that caused so much pain. Mercy to divide and separate us from those we loved because He was jealous over us and would build a city in which Mercy would be the banner because Mercy is where He dwells most.

The present pallet

No longer black and white. The colors are returning. We seem to find a new shade or stroke that adds dimension and life. Our lives are filled with mercy. Our words are permeated with it. Our building is filled with it. Where there was once law there is now life. People have seen the light there and I have to say I have seen all forms and kinds of people from the business man to the drug addict throw themselves upon the mercy of God in the last year than I had seen in twenty plus years as a cave dweller. This is the truth of it. This is the real not the ideal. This is the return of color and the blotting out and covering over of pallor. Many times an artist will reuse a canvas. In fact many masterpieces in museums today are painted over something the artist found not to his liking and had an eventual vision that overtook what was on the canvas. This is what God did to my life. May He do so to yours. Let Him blow upon the facades you have built. Let His mercy flow down the streets and the buildings of law and stone be swept away in the flood of mercy. Will there be rubble? Oh yes, but a dear fried has said to me 'What a Difference a Day Makes' - I have taken this to heart. Hand me another brick.