“If our only response is to speak the truth in love to the exclusion of the hundreds and hundreds of verses that call us toward mercy, peace, kindness, hospitality, and patience while leaving judgment to God, the only One able to judge fairly and correctly (James 4:11-12), consequently also the only One who transforms and sanctifies, then I insist that you exercise that practice with every single sinner in your life. Every single one. Every single sin. Otherwise that obedience has no integrity. Every. Single. Sin. I want it called out in truth and love, I want it blogged about, I want it argued into legislation, I want it discussed in public forums outside of genuine relationships, I want articles, I want excommunications. I would respect a believer who calls out every sinner and sin around him in equal measure over one who selectively applies Scripture to certain categories. (I would not like that believer, but I would at least respect his consistency.)” --Jen Hatmaker
I’ve been in the middle of this weird personal crisis where I keep trying to determine what it means to be in community with other people, how to best use my gifts and even this strange assessment of what my gifts actually are. In a lot of ways, I’ve been limited in how I can write about it—partially because there seems to be weight in a word written and partially because I just don’t know what to say. Even identifying a starting point is difficult. Well, if you’re the kind of person who needs clear starts and stops.
A lot of people do—need clear starts and stops, that is. And those starts and stops must be accompanied by clear reasons and must be logical to the person listening. Rarely does the logic allow hurt on both sides and even less often does it account for the consequences of choice.
That’s where I’d like to start at least. I’d like to call it speaking the truth in love and just lay all my raw thoughts out there from the last year. That’s one reason the quote from Hatmaker caught my attention. Her basic admonition is that we tend toward the truth we feel is necessary to share and assume love is present because this person or that person is/was tragically unaware of his/her transgression. But it also caught my attention because I don’t know how best to love people. And as someone who often says the wrong thing without even intending to (or realizing it), I can tell you loving people in Christ and for Christ feels like the equivalent of holding a live grenade. I’m not sure when or how it will go bad, but I am sure we’re all heading downhill.
Usually, that means I’m hesitant to commit to people. I stand to the side and watch and carefully catalog what I notice. I see that you are afraid people won’t like you or that what you’re doing will be unsuccessful so you attempt to guide situations or people’s thoughts in the direction you’d most like them to go. I’ve noticed that you’ve been hurt badly enough to cushion your interactions with everyone. Most of the time, I catch your insecurity and your attempt to cover it with positive statements that often come across (personal opinion here) as hollow.
Watching has afforded me a wide assortment of knowledge about other people. Very often, people will be clear about exactly who they are if we are patient enough to pay attention. So while some of it is based on personal opinion, much of it is performed loudly enough that I get it without ever allowing my thoughts to enter the picture. That said, my problem isn’t really seeing people (for the most part).
I just don’t know what to do with that information. I don’t know how best to love you in your circumstance. Favorite says I come off as judge-y. I don’t know how that statement could be anything but true. If I can see you, but I don’t know what to do with you, I find ways to stay away from you. It’s that simple and that complicated all at once.
Here’s my struggle with how this applies to community, though: I deeply understand the theology of grace. I know myself and my tendencies and I am flabbergasted that Jesus would also see those things and want me anyway. My unsurety sits firmly in the fact that I have no idea how to react toward other people with that kind of grace even when I approach the situation with that intention. I either come off as the judge-y “speak the truth in love” Christian or I come off as the person who is completely dismissive of behavior that isn’t always best ignored.
So when it comes to best using my gifts within my current community? Yeah. No idea. And, unfortunately, just putting gifts into practice isn’t always the issue. (There’s a lot more to be said on that topic, but one thing at a time for now.)
I’ve never seen the play Wicked, but at the beginning of the song “For Good,” Elphaba sings, “I’m limited…just look at me, I’m limited…” I think of those lyrics pretty often anymore. We are so limited in our abilities and our responses—to ourselves and to others. Nothing is more clear to me than the need for a Jesus who can break through all that nonsense. So I keep asking—crisis, questions and all—what now?