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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Your abusive response, how it affected me, and what I’m doing about it

My dear offender:
I’m told by several people, some of whom are beloved and trusted mentors, that I’m not to be offended about what you did, how it made me feel, and how I felt it caused me to react. That has caused me no end of pain! And the worst thing; I don’t know why. I am confused as to why I feel guilty for feeling so angry toward you. It has left me feeling like I’m the only one who did wrong. And I know that that’s just untrue! What I cannot understand is what I did to cause you to do what you did.
So, what am I to do? I hardly know why I’m pouring my heart out to you. My heart says stop, but I just cannot. Again, I’m forced into a tyranny of guilt for lacking some sort of obedience; that in feeling backed into a corner I’m the one who offends God. I mean, how can that be?
I know you cannot care. Look at the fruit of your ongoing treatment of me; all is well according to you. “Let’s just move one!” But I wonder if you secretly harbour a view that poisons me and my character. You probably say nothing about me to others, but part of me doesn’t believe that. I live in this in-between land, because you’ve shown no interest in reconciling, in telling the truth, for the good of both our futures. You know I’m the only one marooned, and you cite that as my ‘immaturity’. Secretly you’re not over it either; you deny it happened, you deny your own healing, because you’re the one in control. You’ve lost nothing and you’re no minister of reconciliation—when that’s the role you committed your life to.
So, we’re both a laughing stock to the enemy of souls; a church divided is Satan’s delight. But you go on as if nothing’s happened, disregarding the quenching of God’s Spirit because of what happened. You’ve heaped a ton of salt on a gaping wound, and go on as if, “There’s nothing to see here.”
Yet, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is where it ends. I’m tying this off. I’m letting you go. I’m casting you free. I recognise I must love you, in spite of what you did, and I know that God knows that this repulses me. I see how Jesus is using what you did, and how you did it, and how deeply I was hurt, to come closer to me, knowing his pain makes him more kin than ever. If you feel any pain, and somehow I do wish you do, not only do I wish that would compel you to respond to my wishes to reconcile so mutual understanding might be attained, but I do now wish that any pain you do bear would vanish according to your being forgiven. I wish that that feeling of forgiveness would also convict you to repent and tell the truth knowing you’ve been mercifully pardoned. Incredibly, we all have! Just please, for this moment, bear my truth, as you trust me with yours. But please make no excuses for the abuse.
I want to experience God’s riches again myself. I know I’m forgiven, but what happened between us has left me feeling incapable of giving what I’ve received. I feel estranged from God’s justice, because others who claim to be godly seemed to care nothing for it. Or, it was their justice, and theirs alone, that they fought for. God’s justice could wait. That’s hopelessly inadequate and hinders the Kingdom of God, all so your power and purposes might thrive. But all the while the Kingdom purpose and prerogative suffers.
What I’m doing is this: I’m pleading for God to give me a second chance, for the seventh time, for the twenty-eighth opportunity, to get this right. I will not give up. You meant if for my harm, but God meant this for a purpose that only now am I beginning to see: I take this moment, I recognise the power in it, I let you go (again), I do it with a free heart, and I entrust your debt to God, for the Lord to do with it what Divinity knows best.
I cannot tell the future, and I do not know what will come of this, and I do fear my affection may again run awry, and I do pray for God’s mercy if that event should take place.
Lord of my being,
Watcher over my life, Bearer of my burdens, the One who is the Glory set before all humankind; take mercy on me, a sinner, who desires to do good, who desires to once more experience Your glorious freedom. Give me that taste of Your divine majesty, that these slurs would live to die today. Grant me your peace. Grant the other person and this situation some sense of Your countenance, that at some point a meeting of minds might occur for the purposes of truth and reconciliation for Your glory. As I’m humbled, keep me humble, and make and keep my heart to be true. All I want is You.
Meditation from God’s heart:
Dear one,
Thank you for pouring your heart out in honesty. I know your pain and I feel for your confusion. I also know their heart. I long for you both. Know that you’re loved, both of you, and know that I see; you know I see all things. Feel justified in that, but please do go on in your letting go the best you can. Know that I know how hard this is for you. Don’t lose sleep over anxiety of judgement; that, I nailed firm to the cross. Yet, there will be justice. You will have it. Do what is true. And, know the stillness that comes from my heart for you, for them, for all humankind. Be transformed continually by the renewing of your mind. Take each thought captive and bring it before Christ.
I love you,

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Being understood without being defensive

Empathy tells us, through the portal of another’s pain, that care is required, usually through the means of understanding, but defensiveness stifles empathy’s flow.
Years ago, the flow of the communication in our marriage around conflict had two channels; one that was good, one not-so-good. One where I would communicate my pain in a way that would leave my wife feeling attacked, and another way I would communicate my pain where she was able to empathise.
In the first situation, I did not bear my pain well, and whether me being upset was my wife’s fault or not (most often not!), she would end up wearing it. In the second situation, I bore my pain responsibly, in that I owned the fact of the ugliness of my feelings.
In the first situation of my communication, I hadn’t discerned that the one I wanted understanding from had also become the target of my displeasure. I felt horrible and needed others to feel horrible along with me. It solved nothing and only upset us both.
In the second situation of my communication, I discerned correctly, that though I was in pain emotionally, nobody else knew what I was feeling, and if you had have asked me, I could hardly tell you what I was feeling, either. From this standpoint, I simply reported how I was feeling with no defensiveness in sight. I didn’t know what I needed to fix my problem, but I knew simply being understood helped a great deal.
When we’re in pain, we feel perplexed. When we’re in pain, our loved ones want to help us, and it’s tragic, not to mention harmful, when we cannot moderate our behaviour in such a way as to recognise that being in pain makes us vulnerable to hurting others in the process.
We are vulnerable to many assumptions, to the stresses that bring us to the point of pain, to the loss we feel, to the doubts that dominate our mind’s eye, to just feeling awry, and to so many other things that feed into a feeling state we just cannot bear.
If only we can stay the moment, and bring stillness into the core of our pain, and to be medicated by the Spirit of God, who calms us, which is a mystery.
When we go to a loved one to share our pain,
we must go with the willingness
to ‘own’ our own pain.
It’s clearly not just our fault that we’re experiencing this pain. There are reasons and there are causes beyond even our awareness. But if we take our pain to an unknowing person, one who is simply there and available to listen and to seek to understand, we must take our pain to them in a responsible way.
We cannot attack them, just as we need to be careful that we don’t go to them in such a despair that we cannot be turned around. We need to go to them with a simple preparedness to share our heart in a way that owns the state of our own heart.
No one should be condemned for feeling what they feel. Indeed, it always feels a risk to report exactly how we feel, for the judgement we feel we may receive. But if we are prepared to share what we’re feeling, without defensiveness, we make it easier for the person supporting us to empathise.
Isn’t it beautiful in a relationship when we both seek to understand and to be understood? But if we demand to be understood, people will never understand us. We can never demand to be understood, but the desire to be understood is a human need.
With this in mind, we ought to fervently seek to understand, knowing that when people truly need understanding they will often come across as demanding to be understood, and they may not even be aware of it.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Friday, June 28, 2019

The detail in your story makes it interesting

While I have told many fragments of my story here, I’m very well aware that there are many other people who have incredibly interesting stories, but many of these people discount their stories as being hardly interesting let alone sensational.
But if your story is told in sufficient detail it will enthral just about everyone. You don’t need a redemption from drug abuse story to be interesting, but many of you have overcome significant obstacles and have had transformation occur in your lives. You don’t need to have been abused, though many of you do have an abuse story to tell. You don’t need to have lost a great deal of anything, but many of you have suffered immense losses. You don’t need to have suffered relational breakdown and divorce, though many of you have. You don’t need to have a story of doing life with a special-needs child, but many of you do have one. You don’t need to have experienced atrocities, but many of you have. You don’t need to have a near-miss story, though just about everybody does have one or even a few. You don’t need to have a dysfunctional family in your history, but guess what, there is bound to be dysfunction in your family. You don’t need to have become famous to have had a successful life, and many of you have been blessed for the faithfulness of your deeds over years. You don’t need to have a history of mental illness and challenge just to survive or make ends meet, but many of us have these threads in our story.
All these are stories to be told!
Even if for private consumption.
The list will run on and on and on. Once you start to write your story down, you’ll be amazed at how interesting the detail is. And if nothing else, even if we never publish a book, our stories are newsworthy in the annals of our family history.
Can I encourage you, sincerely, to consider writing down your story?
If nothing else you’ll find it a cathartic experience, and even if it is tough, it will be a source of healing, as you pick through your own narrative, and plumb the depths of memory through research in establishing truth. You will find God speaks. Suddenly, as our past comes alive, relationships deepen and thoughts of others blossom. It can generate impetus to repent and cause or seek reparation and restoration.
Your story is an interesting story. And the more you tell of it, the more fascinating it will be to people who either can relate or can hardly relate. Our stories are captivating. They enchant our sense for a reality; these things of history really happened. You can well imagine having a few to several very interesting chapters.
In telling your story, not only are you blessed to focus, and in the achieving of what can be an enormous task, you also exemplify and gain courage in the sharing of your story. You may find that there are parts of the story you feel you cannot tell. It is wise to do no harm, but we do live in a day where it is all the more acceptable to tell our story as it is.
Most importantly of all, having decided to research our story, and having committed pen to paper or keystrokes to the ether, we embark on the journey of our lives. Surely if there’s anything that we possess it’s our history, our time, our story, our legacy.
Finally, I cannot reiterate enough, your story is interesting—and probably fascinating—if it’s told in sufficient detail. As soon as we dig down deep enough into the emotionality of our story, and how we really felt, and describe it in telling ways, we make a significant and striking statement out of something quite routine. And more importantly, we’re granted the opportunity of connecting with ourselves at a much deeper level than in the past. This is a crucial part of healing!
Your story is interesting, and no less captivating, especially when you take the time to describe how events took place, how what took place made you feel, what the affects were, what changed, and how it impacted you and others.
I’ve often wondered if heaven is a place where all our stories become ours in a redemptive way; God remaking history in such a way as to give us something we never had or the highlights reel that we can enjoy eternally.
Our stories are significant and they’re important to God and to others. God gives to us all a story to tell, and now is the life to tell that story.
Your story is so significant that God ordained it as a precious requiem for his glory. Everyone’s story is a remarkable testimony of living breath, of thought, of movement, of space, and of existence.

Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What’s wrong with the world isn’t always ‘over there’

This is primarily to the Christian. And as I write this, I speak to myself. One of the best things about writing is how God’s Spirit admonishes me in the errors of my ways. I’m constantly getting it wrong. Yet, I am practicing repentance as much as I can.
Like many Christians as well as those who do not believe, the past few days and weeks have been tumultuous, notwithstanding which side of the ‘freedom of speech/religion’ fence you sit on. The tussle within me has swung continually back and forth from, “Lord, why do I care so much about this?” to “Lord, when will this go away; haven’t we had enough outrage already?”
I’m in a precarious position from a livelihood and heart perspective. I work in Christian schooling, as a chaplain, and as a manager of a national peacemaker ministry that serves Christian schools. I’m entrenched in conservative Christianity. Yet, I find my views are not completely aligned with the vocal right that represents the Christian schooling voice in Australia. This concerns me. Am I unfaithful? I know that my denominational faith espouses liberty of conscience, well, in theory at least. Am I still allowed a differing view? Is my view that much at a discord to the flow of the stream that my career/ministry is in jeopardy? Well, if I listen to the argument of the Folau camp I needn’t worry; they’ll have my back, right? I won’t have to worry about my discordant view because they will respect my disagreement to the point that my job will be safe. Well, I’m not so sure. My gut tells me I’m out on a limb already. There are many stakeholders I serve who could be dismayed at my views. It’s not that I disagree with a position the religious right have taken, it’s more how they’ve done it.
But this isn’t the only problem I have. I have a theological problem with Christians who war with other Christians. We will be called children of God if we are peacemakers, said Jesus. So, if we’re warmongers instead, what does that make us? What do we make of Jesus’ final command—“Love one another as I have loved you, and in that way the world will know you’re my disciples.” You see, it just isn’t good enough that as Christians we attack one another. Whichever side we are on, it is sin. And all sides of all Christian arguments would do better to confess their sin and repent. Repentance is not a once off deal as even Folau has suggested in his infamous post.
Here’s another problem. None of us can cope with disagreement these days. It’s probably a mix of the social media culture we live in, where each to our view is king or queen, together with the fact that many of us live in comparative privilege, or at least have learned to think in privileged ways. We more aptly think of the other person as being the privileged one, but just sense the hypocrisy in that; as proof, think of others who disagree with you and their views of you. It’s fortunate that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt us. We aren’t as good as we think we are. Neither are they. We all think there should be freedom of speech and religion until someone vehemently disagrees with our stance—and then we shut the other down. All it takes is one party being offended and it’s downhill from there. If you think, “No, I don’t do that,” I think you’re a liar. We’re all easily exasperated.
A further problem is, no matter how much I know you, and no matter the trenches we’ve fought alongside each other in, no matter how much we’ve been ‘for’ each other in the past, when an issue emerges we’re both passionate about yet diametrically opposed on, it turns into such a sharp disagreement it separates close friends—think Paul and Barnabas. (And even Paul called the Galatians ‘stupid’ at one point!) We are all easily hurt, and how tragic it is when a solitary issue of ideology separates close friends. But it happens all the time. And it is just so easy for both to say, “I’ve been abused!”
I could have titled this article, “division is the devil’s dastardly tool to divide the discerning.” By this I mean, all people who care, care deeply to the point of outrage, and our outrage carries us all the way to the hills our relationships die on. And ultimately, we fail to live out the final command of Jesus—“Love one another as I have loved you”—which would be our definitive evangelistic witness to an unbelieving world—“In this way the world will know you’re my disciples.” The world sees us behaving like Christ’s own when we behave like peacemakers.
Overseas, there is the issue of the US immigrant/refugee crisis. It is dividing families and churches and the people of God. You have Dr Russell Moore and Gerry Falwell Jr. And a gargantuan barney!—a Twitter tirade. Everyone taking sides, especially Christians. It seems more important in the heat of the moment that we make our point, that we get to scream into another person’s face, albeit over the ‘safer’ platform of social media, where offences are heaped on offences, fuel is lit, and both sides are at it—from the safety of a keyboard! Where is this getting us? Sure, if we make a controversial statement that regales with truth, we are bound to get a lot of traction on social media from those who agree with us, and perhaps also from those who are gutsy enough to disagree with us, who may then be shouted down by our likeminded acquaintances.
There is always a bigger issue at stake in any of these political, theological, economic firestorms we find ourselves in. Can’t leaders in the world see this? Wouldn’t it be better to get alongside our enemies and find strategic solutions that give everyone hope for peace?
Instead we have leaders who at times behave as privileged animals on both/all sides of the political and faith divides. People charged with the responsibility to lead don’t have courage enough to face fire from their own people in getting results all could live with. This is the job of leadership. But these leaders are lobbyists. They only care about a win-at-all-costs solution; the solution they represent. And so, a real solution will never be negotiated.
Division is the devil’s delight
but those who seek peace draw on God’s might.
Make an enemy into a friend
and you bring Satan’s goal to an end!
It’s time for the real Christians—
those who are called ‘children of God’—
to rise up and make peace all over this planet.
But this will never occur where outrage
has its way in our individualistic hearts.
The question each of us must ask,
as we surrender our biases, acknowledge our sin,
and do battle with the task:
Jesus, how do I love my enemy?
We need a different way, just as we all need to recommit to following Jesus, and not just our own warped sense of interpreting God’s will, which we dangerously assume we’re totally right about. Remember that we all have biases, and none of us, no matter who we are, has the full degree of God’s wisdom (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
But there’s one thing that sets all practicing Christians apart, and that is the fruit of faith through the practice of continual repentance—a daily turning back to trust in God.
What a difference there could be in the world if Christians, and especially Christian leaders, sought to honour God, serve others, and grow in the likeness of Christ, especially amid conflict.
As the Kingdom of God’s glory comes to pass,
the wiles of Satan wither and die at long last.
There’s more at stake here than what we think.
More than even the issue of freedom of speech/religion.
More important than allegiances to lobby groups is our allegiance to Christ and what Jesus commanded us to do.
What’s at stake here is totality of the Christian mission.
Divergent factions of the Christian faith are ripping the mission apart in a single generation. Now more than ever we need unity.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Men and Women, Ridicule is Killing Us

I’m egalitarian. No surprise there if you read any of my thoughts. I’m a passionate believer in the ideal that men and women are equally important and capable in any role, leadership or otherwise. I believe that inherent in humanity—because both women and men bear the image of God—is material equivalent for the purposes of God. I believe God made humanity equal.
But I also recognise that we live in a divided world. Geopolitically, economically, sociologically, and theologically; just four realms where the factions are seemingly never more popularised and polarised.
Egalitarianism has its opposite in complementarianism. (You may already be bored at my use of ‘isms’.)
Let me get practical: at the sharp end of both poles we may encounter such advocacy that egalitarians ridicule men (or the women who are complementarian) and complementarians ridicule women (or the men who are egalitarian).
Clearly the ridicule gets us nowhere
other than more frustrated or ‘I gotcha’.
The lack of respect shown may deliver social media traction and attention, but it just further distances us from an elegant solution God has in mind.
I read in recent article by a woman domestic violence researcher that we’re making things worse, and not better, in this #MeToo age, by further shaming men when men have enough to deal with.
As I read the article, in honest dialogue with myself, I really had to appreciate what the author was saying. Only this morning I experienced afresh a sense of humiliation that I believe men are particularly susceptible to experiencing. This is not to say that women can’t be humiliated, but I think it is poignant that men are particularly prone to a specific form of shame, and when men are shamed it takes them into a dark place relationally—violence often results.
The author of this article mentions more than once that men generally fear the idea that women might laugh at them. Men also feel susceptible to attacks from other men. The author of the article genuinely wants to find out what is needed to halt the surge in domestic violence. And she acknowledges we’re getting nowhere if we don’t attempt to understand how we can help men.
Now, if we believe that it is a hopeless case, and that men can’t be helped and can’t change, we might as well give up now, and accept the diabolically unacceptable statistics.
The best way to get the most out of a man, generally speaking, is to give him the respect due any capable human being. He is worthy of appreciation, of tenderness, of kindness and compassion.
We must empathise with the plight men find themselves in, whilst also finding ways to aggressively target recalcitrant men (through focused you-change-or-we-will-help-you-change Policing).
If men have a problem, and we can agree that it is shame, we may easily postulate that women have a problem, and agree that women, too, hate being the subject of ridicule by men.
Surely shame can’t simply be the cause of the problem for men and not for women.
Can we just agree that shame is just as big a driver for women, whilst also agreeing that the causes and effects of shame in women are different to the causes and effects of shame in men?
I know so many women who are incredibly capable, and just yesterday I was reminded of an innate capacity that several women have that this man does not have and will never have. Women, for my mind, have more stickability than men, because, in my humble opinion, there is less privilege driving entitlement in women, generally speaking. (I recognise my own male privilege coming out in situations where women might say, ‘Come on, let’s just get on with it’.) Women are not just helpers; they are definitely leaders as good as any man.
I said it about men, now let me say the same thing about women: the best way to get the most out of a woman, generally speaking, is to give her the respect due any capable human being. She is worthy of appreciation, of tenderness, of kindness and compassion.
We must empathise with the plight women find themselves in, and encourage them to achieve whatever they feel they’re called to achieve.
So where does this leave us?
Might we achieve more with men if women empathised more? And if men who were advocates for women’s rights were a little kinder to men with different views.
Might we achieve more with women if men empathised more?  And if women who were advocates for men’s rights were a little kinder to women with different views.
Could it be that we just need to start the process in faith?
We may achieve more in our advocacy if we learn to work together, appreciating the heart and hidden drivers, the real interests, in the person we just don’t understand.
One day we will all meet God, and we can expect to be asked, “What did you do with your life, and how did you love me and others?” And, of course, God will already know the answer, and so, of course, will we!
It’s ironic that women are at increased risk to domestic violence when men feel ridiculed. As men and women, we all need more of us to stand up and speak graciously yet firmly into the injustices that happen all the time.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Test of Character is Not Challenge but Context

Nothing is torched quicker than reputation. That which is under attack is character. I have endured loss several times, yet, for me at least, nothing is a patch on the loss experienced when your character is assailed.
“Before we determine character from behaviour,
we must consider context.”
— Dr Stephen Lennox
Like probably you, I used to be a subscriber of the wisdom that suggests that a person’s true character emerged under the pressure of testing. Today I am not so sure.
There have been times in my life where I have conquered major challenges, including loss, without stumbling, and have even grown as a result of such a character test.
But there have also been times in my life when, under the strain of major challenge, I have stumbled and fallen; even to the point where I have been ashamed of these failures. And it has taken me a long time to realise this:it is not challenge that is the sole test of the character, but it is context.
It is all the facets of the situation, in concert, that need to be taken into account.
Let me put two situations before you; two circumstances that I have been in.
The first was coming into a new church situation, a broken man who had just lost his marriage. In this season I certainly felt tested. I was being tested. The church did not know me from a bar of soap. Only as I looked back was I aware that I was being tested. In trying to determine my character they gave me every chance to succeed, even if it was hard for me to break through. There were enough people there who were for me, which counterbalanced what I discerned were the number of people against me, who were yet to be won over, who just needed more time to get to know me. Even though my character was being tested, I felt I had been tested in a fair and reasonable way. How did they know they could trust me? But they also knew they were obligated in Christ to love me. Indeed, I felt the disciplining of the Lord in this!
The second situation, without going into too much detail, involved the circumstance of antagonism. I definitely felt goaded as I look back, even if I couldn’t detect what their motives were beforehand. It was like I was being set up and there wasn’t the component of care present like in the first situation. This is very emblematic of the schoolyard situation where the bully pushes the good kid too far, and just as the teacher turns around, the bully is shoved to the floor. So, what did the teacher see? Who do they punish? This is how abusers use gaslighting so effectively. They anticipate that there will be negative response, and, with purposeful and agile strategy, they maximise the injury to the unknowing victim.
The level of unknowing is the key. Survivors of abuse are very often blindsided. They don’t think like abusers do. They’re not malevolent. So, when they are ‘caught out’ emotionally, like something happens they didn’t expect, they can quite easily seem to overreact, which in the circumstance—remember, context—would not be an overreaction. How do you react when you’ve been deceived? Not very well!
The key emblem in victims is one of defence, whilst the key emblem within the abuser is attack. The victim doesn’t anticipate being attacked, but the abuser is always prepared to mount a defence.
The main point of this article is that there is more to character than a single event or even a seemingly connected series of events.
The key test of character is not the presence of a major challenge, which are the circumstances for which any of us could fail. Push any of us too far and what’s the result?
The key test of character is context. It does not matter how strong our character is if we find ourselves in a ‘character test’ where there is no love nor compassion—i.e. in abusive situations, most of us most of the time will respond poorly. Of course, there are people who do not care about love or compassion. This article is about those who do genuinely care about and need to receive both love and compassion. And yet, here’s another complexity: there are people who seem to care a great deal that love and compassion go their way, without appreciating that others need it just as much.
Whenever someone’s character is being tested remember first what they’re suffering.
Compassion for the person enduring the test will go a long way toward their meeting their challenge.
Be careful not to judge a person for failing their test if you don’t know exactly what they’re dealing with. To know and to understand is empathy.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Sorry, that’s too Wild at Heart

In the Spring of 2003, suddenly the most calamitous winter descended, straight from the bowels of latter Proverbs chapter 1 (vv. 20-33). Shocked by an unprecedented anticipation, numb to the extent of the ferocity of my feelings, in despair to an awakening I couldn’t ignore, in being castigated, I was brought to the precipice of hope.
My hope was twofold: first, I’d found God. The Lord was my hope. Yet, secondly, I also hoped to put my broken marriage together again. This second hope was a noble hope, yet, like we all do, I often made it an idol. You see, my grief made it such a pressing priority to fix what was interminably broken. I couldn’t adjust to my loss. And whilst I did everything I could to turn my life around—and I did—there were facets of my situation that I didn’t have control over.
As I reflect today, this is the wisdom I have discerned:
Recovering from loss is as much about what we do
about the things we cannot control
as it is about the things we do change
regarding the things in our control.
One of these, though it is hard, is easier than the other.
For me, I could do the latter—I changed the things I could. But I bargained on a hope that I might be able to change something I could not change. This article is about how Christian teaching can mislead. I like to think I always behaved appropriately, but I also need to accept that I probably occasionally didn’t.
This is an article about men and how they treat women. We need to be aware how we treat each other. But in terms of men, we—society I mean—believe in the sociological development of men. We’re growing in our belief in the sociological development of women. If you struggle with the feminist, just imagine the world they see! All of us with God ought to be on the same side! But we clearly are not. We too easily place a doctrine, a philosophy, a theology ahead of humility and make idols of the mysteries of God, losing our love for our fellow brothers and sisters, which is the entire game.
I believe in men. Don’t worry, I know the value of initiation for boys in bringing them along the way to manhood. I am a convert of books like Iron John (1990) by sociologist, Robert Bly. That book alone was pivotal for me even as a mid-40s man. It explained so many things that I needed to be aware of for myself and for my work with other men. But it was my failed marriage that taught me most about women.
This is the point where I need to make a confession. At a crucial time in my life, when I was trying to put my first marriage back together again, I found Wild at Heart (2001) by John Eldredge. It was a new book back then. As it was for many men, it quickly became my seminal text. It was my blueprint for my number one objective: a beauty to rescue. I made it my prime purpose to do everything I could to be the man I thought my beauty needed.
The trouble was,
and this book does not consider this question,
did my beauty want to be rescued?
I say to my guilt and to my shame, that it wasn’t until recently that I asked this question. “Do women even want to be rescued?” And, if so, “under what circumstances?” The book presumes, from a complementarian theology, that women have one way of thinking and one psychology—which is and has to be a dumbing down of reality.
Surely it makes men feel good, and purposeful, and champions no less, when they have a conquest to conquer. Doesn’t it seem a little outrageous that we don’t presume women might not have the very same desires. The complementarian theology pigeonholes women and men in categories; men are forced to be leaders and must ‘man up’. Women are to be led, and, at the worst extremes of this ideology, to be submissive.
Wild at Heart encouraged me to pursue my beauty to rescue (my ex-wife who was done with the marriage) without even as much as a query as to whether it was the appropriate thing to do or not (whether she wanted me to do that or not). It set the narrative in the fantasy world, which would be okay if it weren’t so compelling. Perhaps the most dangerous issue was that I, and other men who have read this book, could easily imagine that our behaviour of pursuit—especially when it isn’t or wasn’t called for, and certainly when it isn’t or wasn’t appreciated—is or was justified as appropriate, even godly. And it wasn’t just my ex-wife, a pursuit (or a hope I kept alive) that lasted nine months. I became infatuated with another woman and held an unrealistic hope for her too, never really understanding how it must’ve felt for her. As I say, it is to my shame that I realise the folly of these behaviours. I could hide behind the way I was led, and I can hide behind Wild at Heart if I wish, but the truth is hiding won’t achieve anything for me or anyone else.
Let’s just be honest for a moment.
If even one woman is pursued
when she doesn’t want to be pursued,
why do we romanticise the concept of pursuit?
Such an unwanted pursuit is sin… it is abuse.
It’s a deplorable situation! As men we have to really ask why is it that books like Wild at Heart appeal to our hearts so much. It’s because they make us feel good, because they make us feel brave, and because it speaks to humanity’s heart in us that wants to overcome for a good and holy purpose.
It must enrage many women, that within the role of privilege, where the genders are definitely unequal, that men get to feel virtuous in potentially doing violence. You might think that’s a bit strong but think of any action that anyone does to us without our consent.
Where anyone insists they do something for us,
where we don’t have the capacity to say,
“No thank you very much,”
it is violence.
My ex-wife may have appreciated me fighting for her and for our marriage, but a humbling fact is I never asked. She may have appreciated some of the things I was doing. But I know in my own heart some of the things I did were not helpful. I know marriage reconciliation can be a messy business; it almost always is. But can you see how easily we may be motivated and led to do something for a holy purpose in a completely unholy way? It doesn’t take too much to imagine the beauty we seek to rescue feeling stalked. What a reprehensible result. One of the best things I have ever done in terms of the relationship with my ex-wife was simply to commit to friendship with her; to retain a portion of love in my heart for her as a person, as the cherished mother of my children, as the daughter of God she is. And we have remained friends all these years. I have even been employed by her.
I’m not against men. I am for men. I am a man and I know how hard it is to be a man. But we must also presume similar challenges exist for women. We certainly need to be able to empathise, between the genders, with one another more.
We need to get out of fantasy land and into the land of reality. As men, we need to be doubly and triply sure that our actions of ‘pursuit’ are wanted, because if there is even the slightest chance our actions are unwelcome we cause violence, and in this we betray not just a sister, but God as well.