Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Under the anger, there's grief. Above all, there's Jesus.

Man, I've been crabby lately. You've read a bunch of it here on the blog - even when the content's been straight news, I've picked words to flavor it with anger.

A few months ago, our younger son had his first ever Grand Mal seizure. Scared the heck out of the wife and me. Later that day, we had a ghastly fight. As exhaustion set in, we both realized we were not angry - we were heartbroken for our son.

Can't speak for my wife, but I know that as a man it is normal to drape rage over grief. It borders on cool to punch a hole in the wall; it is tres wimpy to dissolve in tears.

And as I read the Bible tonight, I realized that my feelings toward the church are deeper than the rage - I am grieving over what I loved and lost.

The church I loved is like Darlin' Clementine, "lost and gone forever." 20 years ago, people who didn't agree with me theologically were fine with recommending me for ordination. They could overlook disagreement because they saw my love for Anglican Christianity. Standing Committees and Commissions on Ministry full of folks divided over "issues" could charitably put me forward to become a Deacon and then a Priest in a church we all seemed able to share and love. Seminary Profs who thought I was nuts on various "issues" nevertheless graded me within the bounds of academic fairness, and Examining Chaplains who didn't like everything I wrote still passed me on all seven areas of the General Ordination Examinations. None of this would happen today, less than a generation later. This thing that used to be my church is considering "disciplinary changes" to rid itself of people like me... in fact, it is rid of many already by various means. The thing that used to be my church is run by corrupt, depraved ideologues...

But I digress. I said I was reading the Bible when this grief thing hit me. I was in Matthew 14:13-21. John the Baptist was killed off by King Herod and the other flotsam and jetsam of the royal court, the kind of people who probably seemed like the center of the universe in their time but are today lucky to make it onto a Trivial Pursuit card. It is an ugly, brain bending, heartrending injustice (Bob Duncan, call your - and I do mean YOUR- office). And what does Jesus do?
Well, not what I hope. He doesn't unleash a blistering page of King James-worthy "woes" against the corrupt King and his assorted drunk and bimbo courtiers. Nor does Jesus eulogize John and put some kind of uplifting "closure" (barf) on the incident. Rather...
As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.
It doesn't say he was crying, but we know that he was capable of that. It doesn't say that he was agonizing in prayer, but we know that he was capable of that, too. I suspect he was doing some of both - his divinity grieved by the injustice to righteous John, his humanity grieved by the manipulative murder of his cousin.
I really want Jesus to be enraged at this point. (Maybe he was - I'm wagering that Matt Kennedy of Stand Firm will have an incisive quote from Calvin, showing that Jesus went off alone to do push ups and martial arts Kata). Indeed, I want Jesus to pump up, retaliate and thus make it all feel better.
But Jesus does not retaliate - nor does he turn to jelly. Jesus realizes that a crowd has followed him... and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
And when his disciples are overwhelmed by all the need, Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. They all ate as much as they wanted...
He reaches into his divine heart and pulls out boundless, powerful compassion. He reaches into a sparse lunchbox and, looking to heaven, pulls out a miracle.
No matter how much I grieve the loss of my church, the same Jesus who filled his disciples' hands with miracles to share puts miracles in my hands to minister on his behalf. A lost love called The Episcopal Church cannot change that - although I will shed a tear or two that it doesn't want the power, the compassion or the miracles anymore, and that it will inflict a measure of hurt on me, my family and others.
Now, Jesus, hand me some bread and tell me what to do this day...


Anonymous said...

Fr. Tim,

Jesus (as God and man) DID take vengeance...but He targeted the real enemy.

He went into the crowd and healed and delivered them from demons and diseases...he taught/fed them spiritual food.

It was as though Jesus, Captain of the Lord of Hosts, had targeted an German prison camp, decimated the the guards and released the captives.

He took a huge toll upon the real killer of John the Baptist. Remember, Ephesians 6 - we do not wrestle against flesh and blood and our weapons are not carnal, but are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.

This is the best piece you've ever written among many stellar posts (I'll be praying for you and your family) and the people of Good Shepherd Sioux Falls must know what a treasure God has granted them. Keep being real and transparent...keep being fearless and true to Jesus! You are one powerful priest because of your suffering and your uncompromising love for Christ. The Lord be with thee, fill and comfort thee. Amen
(the code word was moanh...ironic, huh?)

Anonymous said...

Good point, Floridian, but I want to make a different one.

Fr. Tim, my friend, thanks for sharing this very personal and yet pastoral response. I identify with it strongly.

I too mourn the loss of the Episcopal Church I once knew and loved. But I may be farther along in the grieving process. Emotionally, I detached and left TEC at least three years, although I remain technically a TEC priest of the Diocese of Albany.

A lot of us are going to have to allow ourselves time and permission to grieve deeply, because what we are dealing with is nothing less than the DEATH of the old Anglicanism we cherished. A whole new KIND of religion is being foisted upon Episcopalians under the deceitful guise of advancing legitimate "social justice." Many of our colleagues in ministry still use the old lingo and speak of things like "righteousness," or "salvation" etc., but the content of those grand old terms has been radically altered to fit into a completely different and alien worldview that is relativistic instead of biblical, and essentially political instead of religious.

If I may offer a word of hope here, as a fellow mourner perhaps a bit farther down the road to wroking through the deep and overwhelming grief of losing so much that we once held dear, let me simply point to the incontestable fact that before a resurrection can occur, there must first be a death. A tomb cannot be emptied until a body has been placed in it beforehand.

And I do firmly and earnestly believe that while the Old Anglicanism, and certainly the old TEC, is dying, a brand new sort of Anglicanism is already starting to arise in its place. And that New (Reformation) Anglicanism will be far superior to the old one, as hard as that may currently be to imagine. It will be more faithfully biblical, more theologically coherent, more morally rigorous, and above all, FAR more aggressively evangelistic and gospel-driven than the old state church kind ever was, or ever could be. Thanks be to God.

I'm sorry to hear that your younger son has epilepsy, on top of everything else. May the Lord graciously uphold you and Melissa as you walk through this challenging and confusing time. He is faithful, and he will do it. Meanwhile, I'll be praying for you, brother.

Anonymous said...

- okay - story of my senior moment. I posted the message below on Sunday "for you" but on the wrong blog (Hills of the North - I got confused on the SF blog list.) I woke up Sat. or Sunday feeling that I needed to pray for you for grief and anger, and wrote the comment below. - Cathy_Lou
Fr. Tim,

I am not in TEC, but my heart goes out to you right now. The Lord brought you to mind for prayer this morning with the sense that this is a time of great grief for you.

Even when we steel ourselves for the likelihood that something bad will happen, it still is very very painful when the ones we tried to hope the best of (I Cor. 13) and that we prayed would change, that were warned of the consequences, go through with their actions anyway. Until the sinful action actually happens, there is always hope that it can be forestalled.

When the event happens anyway, it brings grief and pain to the ones who have tried to change it, but failed in the attempt and whose trust has been broken.

I pray that the Lord would comfort you, reassure you, strengthen you, and especially help you avoid and flee the traps of anger or bitterness, easy pits to fall into in a situation like this.

It is NEVER wrong or stupid or a waste of time to try to hope the best of others and try to warn them of the consequences. But the outcome lies with the Lord. "Be still and know that I am God."

Hope this makes sense.


TLF+ said...

Wow, thanks for these supportive comments. All glory to God if this post has value - the thought came quickly and clearly as I read Matthew - obviously the Holy Spirit giving understanding of Christ's words and deeds. Not a lot of "work" went into this - thank you, Jesus, for giving me the words.

Floridian, another friend emailed with the thought you express. Jesus was not passive, but destroyed demonic strongholds as he ministered to the crowd. Of course the Bible says that he did this from compassion, not from a human agenda of getting even. Still, the fight is indeed where you say - in the spiritual realm. I think one of Satan's strategies is to get folks like me angry at church "foes", thus distracting us from fighting on the right battlefield in prayer.

Thanks, David+, for "returning to stregthen the others." The encouragement means much, especially as you have crossed some of the territory out ahead of me. And thank you for affirming the need to grieve... I would really rather break things at this point.

Cathy Lou - thank you for this confirmation of what the Spirit is stirring up... even more, thank you for praying for us. Your message makes plenty of sense - "Be still and know that I am God" is indeed the message in this whole mess. If I look at the wreckage, smell the fumes, hear the crumbling, touch the jagged edges, I get profoundly disturbed. If I know who God is (Jesus above all!), I can walk through the valley of death unafraid and, in fact, quite comfy!

Blessings on you all.

TLF+ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I just read this over at First Things and wanted to post it: "...appearances are often deceiving because the line separating good from evil runs not between human beings, but through them." This is why we should fight only with Jesus' weapons and let God handle the judgment and vengeance. Only The Word can separate soul from spirit and discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. We must discern between good and evil, but pray for our enemies while resisting them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your candor, Fr. Tim. Your parish really appreciates you!


Anonymous said...

Fr. Tim, God bless you! Thanks for listening to the Holy Spirit. I printed this off for my rector. I suspect he'll be able to relate and hopefully, it will be helpful.

The Rev Canon Dr David Wilson said...

Thanks Tim

There's is a place waiting for you in the Diocese of Pittsburgh !!!


David Wilson+