Should We?

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For a couple months now I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Patrick Grach, pastor of Lifehouse Church in Hagerstown, preaching on a variety of topics. His current series, “Let’s Talk” may be one of the most intriguing and not sure I would have even thought of doing it when I was a preacher. Last week he spoke about politics and our citizenship of heaven and this week on Gender and Gender Identity. The whole series is on hot-button issues we face as a society and culture. You can find Lifehouse Church at http://www.lifehousechurch.org. His style, if you’re curious, is similar to what I had done, trying to make you think rather than, at least most of the time, spell things out. I call it a discerning and conversational style of preaching, rather than authoritative and “on high”. Something struck me as he spoke this weekend, pushing me to expand on a topic he mentioned when speaking about gender and related issues to roles, men and women play, in our society.

He spoke early on about the level of confusion and chaos we live with as cultural and society as a whole. On a side note, he spoke all of it while suffering with a kidney stone; yikes! The natural inclination when there is chaos and confusion is to try to control, to bring order, because none of us likes the feeling of being wrapped in the winds of a raging hurricane. We will do everything we can do avoid it in our lives, if at all possible. I dare say, and some would be critical of such a point, is the choice we have made to allow children to make choices for themselves, not wanting to box them. “I want them to decide.” Here’s the truth. Kids, no matter the time growing up, need to feel safe and secure, to know boundaries. It’s part of their development process, so when the time comes for them to begin to break away from parental thinking and beliefs, they actually have something to push and rebel against. It’s part of the natural stage of becoming a teenager and hopefully a mature adult.

Now, though, we are finding more and more young people living in that state of confusion and chaos and not knowing what to do with it, where anything goes. They don’t have the familiar pushbacks that most of us would have, such as values and religious beliefs, and so they simply keep pushing against a movable wall, making it increasingly difficult to establish themselves as individuals separate from the traditional family and societal role. Whether we want to believe it or not, teenagers are supposed to do stupid things. Everything about their neuro-wiring tells us they will, if they’ve been given a proper set of boundaries and something confining them in one way or another (safety and security) they will rebel. They literally can be neurotic at that age! We all know it; we were all there!

We mustn’t forget that we as a society have created this space of “where we used to be and this place of reckoning” in which we find ourselves, practically bouncing off and talking past one another. Rather than allowing ourselves to be in the uncomfortable space of unknown and confusion, we typically, as culture and society, have a way of sending the pendulum swinging hard right or left rather than trusting we will be moved to a place of legitimate change and growth. When it comes to the issue, I take a much more conservative approach, knowing full well the psychological world is inconclusive as to the attempts to changing pronouns, one’s gender, and identifying in ways other than male or female. Beyond that, I’m not even sure I could argue a point for or against knowing the other aspects, the nurturing side of development, young people have grown up in during this century. We’re still too close to it all and have not had the space to evaluate fully and with objectivity.

I would argue, though, the reading often cited, Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (NIV), can be interpreted in a variety of ways and for our own growth needs to be. There is the mainstream belief that God created two, male and female, of which there is great truth. We can see that with our own visible eyes. However, the creation stories are much more about creating a new world order out of chaos and confusion. There is a great separation taking place, between heavens and earth, and all the rest from the writer of the Genesis account, but then there’s the reconciliation of bringing what was separated, divided, and chaotic into one. It is, in the spiritual realm, the primary goal, two becoming one.

It’s short-sighted to limit it to marriage, although a legitimate interpretation. There are, though, many of us who are not married and do not enter into such union. Does it simply eliminate the rest of us and serve no purpose or value to our own lives? Does, somehow, the illusion of the other, complete us, resonate within us, even though it’s flawed thinking? In my experience, the healthiest of relationships are between two who have done their own hard work and sought that interior reconciliation within themselves. In other words, people who have learned to love themselves first. It certainly does not indicate perfection, though, since the work is never done and the other often does reveal blind spots as to what we need to confront about ourselves.

The marriage of male and female, on the surface is one thing. However, there is a deeper marriage we’re invited into, within our own spiritual journey, our own given gender of male and female and the masculine soul of the woman and the feminine soul of the man. It may be needed now more than ever! Patrick, the pastor, made a very necessary point and a reality we at times have witnessed in politics and religious life. Strong, authentic women who have done their work expose the insecure, boyish men who we have often settled for in many aspects of our life, boys in a man’s body, never having had to mature beyond teen years. It is one of the great crises of our time, and more often than not, we just accept it as normal simply because it is so predominant in our culture. It leads to immature and underdeveloped me in positions of leadership often leading to scandal and heartlessness. His simple point, men need to love and women need to honor. When both step up their game it creates a more whole person and society.

There is, though, the issue of confusion and chaos and the challenge we now face with gender identity, gender politics, and gender roles. Like most realities, we focus on our own need and forget to evaluate the long-term implications for not establishing boundaries for young people. As I said, safety and security are key for kids. As adults we hopefully outgrow it and recognize there is no guarantee of tomorrow, all while maintaining healthy boundaries ourselves, modeling and mentoring for younger people. Young people aren’t in a position to handle such gray areas and yet it’s what we have created for them. Life is full of gray, but for kids, it’s this or that, like it or not. I was recently filling out an application asking me what pronouns I refer to myself as. I simply shook my head even though I understand why. I by no means have it all together and have questioned many things about myself and who I am, but I also know that there is a deeper identity that defines me more than a gender. It is the marriage of masculine and feminine in my own life. It’s not like we don’t get into bitter battles at time, of course, the battle within myself. It is, though a marriage requiring constant work and the only one leading to greater wholeness.

At a time when safety and security are necessary, it would behoove us to teach the many facets of ourselves before we go through drastic measures of change, a more methodical approach to development. I by no means claim to have all the answers on such difficult subjects, but I do have the foresight necessary to recognize and ask the question, “Does just because we can mean we should?” Is it any wonder why some demand we put the skids to progress, not simply because of a lack of desire for change, but at times, because it feels like too much is being undone. If we do anything, we’d benefit society’s well-being by asking how what we do and don’t do impacts future generations, despite our reactionary nature as Americans. Living split lives has simply become the custom. We see it in the way people are abused, revealing more about ourselves than anything. We see it in the disdain towards people who are different than ourselves. We see it in the degree of immaturity existing in this moment of time.

We have, after all, forgotten the larger narrative of our lives and the deeper identity we share, in the Creator. It may be spoken in different forms and languages, but at the heart of who we are is love. When we first learn to love ourselves and be in relationship with ourselves, we find the complementarity we desire with people of other genders and find the deeper sense of safety and security in the love we really are, neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile. Simply, at the heart, we are love. It’s this perspective, to love and be love, we need in days of chaos and confusion in order to allow a new created order to be formed, not rooted in the here and now but for the generations yet unborn. Just because we can, by no means, means we should. Let’s dialogue…

Wholly Reconciled

Genesis 2: 18-24; Mark 10: 2-16

Here’s the secret.  It is about divorce and it isn’t, or at least not the way we’ve come to expect.  Regardless, though, it’s a tough message today, especially in a time where if statistics are true, nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce.  It’s a sad reality that we live with and through.  But if you look closely, the Pharisees and Jesus seem to be talking past one another and speaking of different issues, at least on the surface.  Maybe Jesus is also aware that divorce, like some many other things are merely symptoms of deeper problems that we miss or fail to see.  Yet, Jesus gives clues by his very response to the Pharisees to their question that they pose in order to trip him up.  In the end, Jesus, yet again, exposes them for who they are and the part of themselves that they consistently fail to see.

You see, there are also hints in the readings themselves.  If it was about the Mosaic law in which they question Jesus, then we would have had that as our first reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, but we don’t.  Mark takes us back to the Book of Genesis and so does the Church in the formation of the cycle of readings.  So it’s about divorce, and yet it’s not.  When Jesus responds he tells the Pharisees that the law is there because of the hardness of their hearts.  He doesn’t cast out the law or demonize it in anyway, but rather exposes it for what it lacks, a heart, just like the Pharisees.  He proceeds to then return us to the basics, to the Book of Genesis, male and female God created them, in God’s image and likeness.  A hardened heart and a creation account sets us up for totally missing the point on where the real divorce and separation lies.

You see, male and female God created me.  Male and female God created each of you.  We’ve already been created whole and yet over our lives become fragmented and separated.  There has certainly been enough done on human development that tells us that men have feminine souls and women have masculine souls.  Yet, no matter how much we are told that, our binary way of thinking and acting in this worlds moves us towards separation but it also moves us towards the lie that first leads man to fall in the creation accounts.  The lie is that someone or something out there is going to complete me, is going to make me whole, and so I go searching everywhere else but the interior journey.  It’s what continues to cause war, division, and certainly separation and divorce in all aspects of our lives.  We have certainly seen that play out in the political scene the past few weeks, that when we become separated and divorced from ourselves, it becomes solely about power and nothing else.  It’s why we continue to have immature leaders in the Church and immature leaders in civil government because we are terrible with dealing with how we ourselves have become separated.  It’s all indicative to just how separated and divorced we are, most typically between head and heart.

But that’s the issue with Jesus and the Pharisees and even the disciples in today’s gospel.  It’s why the second part of the gospel is so important when the disciples try to keep the children from coming to him.  It’s always the most vulnerable that are most impacted.  Again, we have seen that play out in our politics.  We try to destroy the most vulnerable in order to satisfy our own sense of power.  It has shown us just how little interior work is done by some of our leaders where they totally disregard the other.  Just like the Pharisees, it points to their own separateness and divorce.  From the very beginning, God made us whole.  The rest of our lives is spent trying to bring the pieces back together and it’s hard work.  Yet, if we don’t learn to reconcile our own masculine and feminine, male and female God created them, we will continue to fall prey to war, violence, division, and this sense of being separate.  When we fail to reconcile all of it within ourselves, we can never move to a place of equality, despite the way in which we were created wholly by God.  Jesus moves to level the playing field and the men that felt they dominated and held the power wanted nothing of it.  They couldn’t see, just as we can’t, our own blindness.

The more we separate from ourselves, from each other, from God’s creation, we can pretty much guarantee that we have separated ourselves from God.  When we do that, we don’t even open ourselves to experiencing God in a fuller way.  God becomes simply about power and justice yet missing mercy and forgiveness.  God becomes about anger and vengeance yet missing loving and compassion.  When we can’t bring them together within ourselves, that we can be both just and merciful and all the rest, then we fail to see that about God as well.  It’s because of the hardness of your hearts and when the heart is hardened, the vulnerable become the target.  Ironically, and paradoxically, that’s precisely where we will find God on our journey.  It’s about divorce and yet it’s not, but really about learning to reconcile our own complexity rather than blaming.

Divorce is a tough subject but it is not limited to those who have literally experienced divorce in their lives.  It’s a reality that plagues all of us from the first time we began separating and becoming fragmented in our lives.  The first time when we learned as children that we had no value for one reason or another, thinking that life was about power and strength but never coupled with mercy and love.  It’s the divorce that plagues all of our hearts and has spilled over on the world stage of politics and Church life.  We have seen it with our eyes.  Yet, people praise it and gather with their tribes.  All it does is show how bankrupt it all is and how little we do to teach people what really matters.  It’s easy to get hung up on divorce and all the rest, but when we’re honest with ourselves, it impacts all of our lives.  Like the gospel reminds us, it is only Christ that pulls it back together, the complexity of our lives.  We’ve seen enough divorce in so many different capacities.  It’s time to reconcile beginning first with myself and yourself.  It’s because of the hardness of our hearts.  It’s time to create the space in our own hearts and lives to begin to reconcile these realities of our lives that have become so splintered and so much about power, leading to deeper divorce and separation.  It’s time for reconciliation.