Archives For shame

<strike>Bruce</strike> I’m sorry, Caitlyn Jenner has been all over the news of late regarding his/her gender transition. We’re supposed to believe that a man of 65 years of age has felt like a woman all of his life, and is now letting <strike>his</strike> her true self out.

Well and good. None of us can see inside Caitlyn’s soul to judge this for ourselves. But what I find hard to fathom is that the same folks who are so loudly trumpeting the fact that we must support Caitlyn, can’t get behind Rachel Dolezal. I mean if gender dysphoria is indeed a thing, why not racial dysphoria. The woman seem to have so strongly identified with the black experience that she believes she’s black.

In this relativistic, pluralistic culture in which we live, who are we to say otherwise? Personal truth (“my truth,” “my experience”) trumps objective reality everyday of the week. We can be whomever, and whatever, we wish…

Except if we’re Rachel Dolezal claiming to be black. Then, no, that’s not okay. But if one is a woman, for instance, who objects to <strike>Bruce</strike> Caitlyn Jenner’s conscription of femininity without living the feminine experience, the one is termed “transphobic.”

My conclusion is that, along with Chesterton, “Our Father is young, and we have grown old.” We have grown old in this sin-soaked world. Sin has tainted everything–everything–we see, hear, taste, touch, smell. Our reason is fallen. In my worldview, gender dysphoria is a consequence of sin. As is claiming to be something we aren’t (this would be termed “lying”). 

But.

AND THIS IS AN AWFULLY BIG “BUT.” Nothing puts us outside the love and grace of God. There is nothing truer than what He says about us; namely, that we–whether we are Caitlyn Jenner, or Rachel Dolezal–are never beyond His love. That He sent His Son. That whether we are gay, straight, bi, transgender, or claim to be transracial, all He asks is that we come to Him to let Him make of us something new. We can debate all the live long day  about what is, or is not, sin.

But in the end, we all need Him.

That, my friends, is not relative.

This isn’t a story I want to tell; rather, it’s one I have to tell. It may seem to meander some as I set it stage, but every word represents the truth as I understand it. 

First, the distant past. It would seem that seventy some years ago, my paternal grandparents split up because my grandfather was abusive (they had two daughters at this point). Later on, they tried to reconcile, and my dad was the result. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last, and my dad was forbidden from knowing his dad (or his dad’s side of the family). I’m told he saw him for the last time at the age of twelve. Fast forward to the early fifties, and as they were playing my dad and his sisters found out their mother was remarrying that very morning. I’m given to understand that neither my aunts, nor my dad, had any idea about the nuptials.

Not too long thereafter, at the age of fifteen, my aunt came down with a case of the pregnants. My understanding is that, at some time after their wedding, my step grandfather began touching his step kids. For instance, kids being kids they would have the radio on at night; because it was ostensibly loud, dad would come into the room to turn it down. Apparently, the radio’s knob isn’t what he fiddled with. It was, again, at this time that my aunt got pregnant and moved out. 

As is so often the case, no one talked about it at the time; it was much, much later that folks began to compare stories. There were other things, too: this same man would stay up late watching “snow” on the television. He also apparently jabbed babies in the back of the hand with his fork should they dare reach across his plate at the dinner table… By the time I was born, he was older, nearing retirement age. Perhaps he had beaten whatever demons afflicted him? Who knows? What I heard is that despite what my parents knew about the man, I was left there as a toddler (my grandmother was home). When my mom picked me up, she smelled a funny smell. In fact, she called my cousin, stating that “his sweet baby face smells like semen.” Whether this is true, or not, I’ve no idea; it is however entirely consistent with the man’s character.
Blessedly, I have entirely no memories of this incident. What I can tell you is that, as I briefly sketched out above, it’s not the only such story to swirl around this man. In fact, upon her deathbed, my grandmother threw her hospital tray at him, inviting him to “Go to Hell!” Apparently, she could no longer ignore the the reports she heard, and wanted to clear her conscience in light of her impending demise.

Ladies and gentlemen, abuse is cyclical. Growing up, my dad was distant. Sarcastic and cutting when he was present, but all the awhile emotionally unavailable. He was long gone before he ever left our family. I can’t say with any certainty what he went through as a child; he’s never spoken to me of it. In fact, we don’t speak at all.

That is the legacy of abuse. It destroys families and shatters lives.

We all know that, since the beginning, sin is a pernicious condition endemic to our race. No one can escape its effects, there isn’t a single soul who hasn’t sinned; evidence of it is everywhere. Into this sin-darkened world a light came, proclaiming a new way.

A way to be free.

But as stated above, sin is pernicious, and doesn’t want to let us go. We don’t always choose that freedom. And the Bible itself says “there’s pleasure in sin for a season.” It feels good–so we don’t want to let it go. Or in letting it go, we don’t replace it with something else, and fall again into same old same old (wondering how we got oursleves here).

Jesus said (I’m paraphrasing), of demonic harassment, that having found the house [soul] swept and in order, it returns with seven spirits worse than itself. Now the context may be possession, but the application is further reaching. You it isn’t enough to just repent, and cut a sin out of our lives–that activitity must needs be replaced by something positve.

Something God-honoring.

If you know you need to stop doing x, pray, confess, and put y in its place. For instance, if you’re struggling with pornography, make sure you have the accountability of a trusted same-gendered believer. Moreover, don’t put yourself in the situation where you’re going to be tempted. Don’t have a computer in your house where you can be alone with it, but rather out in the open. Moreover, don’t take your tablet/smartphone/what have you into the bathroom.

Beyond this, when temptation arises,  call your accountability partner and let them know what’s going on. Have them pray with you. Flee that sexual temptation by:

Going for a walk

Going to the gym

Going for a drive.

Writing, journaling, painting…

In short, some creative (rather than destructive) endeavor.

Whatever it takes to replace that sin in your life with something good.

The same goes for any sin. If it’s overspending, over eating, whatever. Do your best to avoid the situation, and fill that void with another healthy, God-honoring activitity. It may take time, but don’t beat yourself up for your stumbles.

Just keep moving forwards.

How about you? What do you do to combat sin?

'Dysfunction Junction: Cold Spring NY Photowalk' photo (c) 2010, Nick Harris - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I don’t want you getting the wrong idea–I wasn’t beaten as a child. The spankings I got, I earned (helping your buddy try to burn down his grandmother’s garage, anyone?). I wasn’t a battered child, but I’ve got come to the conclusion that abuse is never just physical.

There are psychological, and emotional, abuses, too. And if I was abused, it was in this way:

I was ignored. One of my earliest memories is being told to go away, relax, unwind, watch T.V. And then later, when she checked on me, my mother was aghast to find me drinking a beer in front of Sesame Street. Why? “Because it wat daddy do.”

When I fell, got hurt, got a boo-boo, there was precious little soothing; instead, I was indoctrinated with the mantra “I’m alright.” Even though I most decidedly was not alright. They say the lessons learned earliest go the deepest.
And are hardest to overcome. I’ve been alright far too many times when I shouldn’t have been. Been okay in places I never should have been…

If my mother’s chiefest failing was practiced indifference–emotional diffidence, my dad’s was indifference followed by the bitter wash of sarcastic chasers. I would go from being ignored to verbally masticated, spit out, left to put myself back together…

And I had to be alright.

After their inevitable divorce, the neglect only deepened. My mom, of course, didn’t share her pain; instead, losing herself in work, she hoped (I think) to give others something she couldn’t give herself: an intact family.

And my dad? Our relationship was as defined in the divorce decree: I saw him twice a year. His second wife hated my brother and I…

Divorce touches millions of families. And my life, seen from the outside, may have appeared to be, while perhaps less than ideal, a privileged one. I was white, lived in Scottsdale, had a roof, clothes  food. In short, the basics.

It has taken me years to pin down just exactly what I didn’t have:

A sense of love.

Part and parcel with growing up latchkey was, I guess, a sense of parental guilt. There were precious few boundaries, and even fewer consequences. I was left to my own devices, to indulge in whatever I wanted.

It’s a wonder I just got into smoking, and not drugs. My interest in porn was labelled “healthy curiosity.” If my childhood was defined by anything, it was these three things:

Neglect

Pornography

And Stephen King

I turned inward because there was nowhere else to go, no one to go to. My mom eventually had a live-in boyfriend, who’s example, and idea of culture, consisted of pizza, cigarettes, and “martoonis” in front of the T.V. This was my exemplar of manhood.

I wanted to escape, but had nowhere else to go. My dad didn’t want me, my mom was too busy, and this is “white privilege?”

None of this was talked about. I had to navigate a broken family, adolescence, on my own.

Habits developed then have not always been conducive now to  building healthy attachments. I’m almost 45 years old, and still bitter about what I didn’t have. Why couldn’t I have a normal, loving family? Why don’t I have meaningful relationships with my parents, brother, etc?

For years, as a growing Christian, I thought it was my job to put up, shut up, keep the peace. I allowed so many unhealthy things to happen, so many hurts to go unaddressed. I want to let my parents off the hook, say they did the best they could…

But I don’t believe it.

That’s why I want so much to be done with them. I can’t seem to get past the things which they’ve done, or I’ve done in relation to them. I want to say there’s too much water under the bridge. I don’t feel listened to.

I want to be done, but can’t. Because…

Because God.

He’s the God of second, third, thirty-third, and seventy-times-time chances.

Because He’s given me chance after chance, though I’ve blown it time and time again, I can do no less. I have to try.

If there’s a lesson I’ve learned in life, it’s this: the things we like least in others are usually the things which dislike about ourselves. That hurts to admit.

I’m not perfect (far from it), and neither are they. They dealt with their own demons, as I’ve dealt with mine.

God help me, I’m willing to try.

That’s the best I can do.

It’s not bad to feel ashamed when we’ve done shameful things. There is such a thing as a healthy regret. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.

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This post is not about that kind of shame. But rather about the shame that we, the culture, and church project. The kind that makes us worry more about our reputations, than about getting the help we need.

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