Letter to a Minister

The following is most of the text for an email I will send to the minister. Certain details are different but that’s more of privacy than anything. I also didn’t include any local issues other than the ones already discussed with someone on either the Deacon Board or the Financial Board.

Where Ya Been?

I’ve been asking God to actually speak to me this year. I am quite adamant, it has to be Him, not my voice, the voice of a minister, or the voice of a believing friend. It had to be Him and only Him in simple terms that I can understand. That was January of this year, before that the big ongoing prayer was “make me into something different”. I felt like I had a character flaw that needed to be removed from me. I clung to 2 Co 12:9 for dear life, even if it upset me that the answer may actually be ‘no, rely on my grace more’. Mostly, though, I’ve been in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Nod is a place of hard work, little reward, and great frustration. Frustration is the most accurate way to describe where I’ve been. This wasn’t a localized frustration, this was with most areas of my life. I was frustrated that I am unable to read the Bible and enjoy it. I was frustrated that my denomination is doing crazy things that hurt others. I was frustrated that my family was not doing very well. Praying only made me angry – the more I prayed, the angrier I got. After a while, my conversations with God were basically angry from start to finish. I fell into fatalism (not a slam on Calvinism) and basically shrugged whenever I addressed the Almighty.

Why pray at all? Habit, I guess. I would start to pray and catch myself. I’d apologize to God for taking his name in vain and mention that I still can’t hear Him. There weren’t many prayers outside of the morning prayer of “Still me. Still can’t hear you. You’re still sovereign. Whenever your timing allows, it’d be nice to hear from you. Since all things are foreordained, I’ll just say goodbye for now instead of so be it.” (One translation of Amen is ‘so be it’.)

I knew He cared, but since He is sovereign, I couldn’t rush Him or change His mind or otherwise change the events He set into motion before the creation of the world. There was not any real reason to get all worked up about when He’d answer or what His answer would be. He cares, He’ll do what He does, when he does it, and I just have to wait on His timing. Of course, I ended up getting all worked up about it. When the Bible speaks of a dividing wall of hostility, I know what it means from personal experience.

Backing up a little bit, I had been praying that I could just accept. For example, when someone addresses a church and talks about getting back to discipling, I want to just accept that is good for them, even when they are proclaiming that it is a biblical mandate. I would beg God to prevent me from being triggered by anything. Despite that, I felt like I was triggered every week. The downside of thinking that about 85% of what my denomination (and myself as a former member) did was in error is that there are a lot of triggers.

I was tired of asking ‘why’ and trying to explain that I wasn’t bitter about my past. I was tired of having many queries turned back on me when I sought clarification. I was tired of leaders in other churches contacting me because I had sent an email to a third party. I was really tired that justice felt delayed and that no one was listening. I had reasoned that if I wasn’t triggered in the first place to ask ‘why?’ or ask ‘can this be done biblically?’ or ask ‘where is that in the Bible?’ then I could be more at peace because nothing would really bother me. I’ve been praying for things to stop bothering me now for at least two years, maybe longer.

It’s not a great epiphany that straightened this all out. I finally heard Him, which is what I wanted all along. No, I didn’t hear the James Earl Jones voiceover or see a beam of light. After the 80millionth “just help me”, the answer came through a discussion with my wife and more came later after some time to retreat.

God made me to ask ‘why’. I’m always going to want to know ‘why’. It is a good thing to ask ‘why’. The idea He gave me was, “Be who I created you to be.”

It is human nature to complicate a simple idea with explanations and caveats of possible implications. Sometimes, this can ruin a mountaintop experience. Fortunately, this is much less an emotional experience than a spiritual experience. It is the feeling that the tumblers of the combination lock have just set in the right place in order to open the door. It is something that resonantes in mind and spirit, not just the heart. Still, it is fair to provide a little bit more of what that really means in a practical sense.

Sin is a part of my life, but I was not created to sin. (Romans 6:1-2)

No one was created to be sinful. As a result of the fall, sin is a part of our lives and even a part of our nature. Still, God did create sin into us. It is not our purpose to sin. Through Jesus we are forgiven of our sin and live under grace. That grace is not a license to sin.

Practically what this means is that I am not created to sin against others. Sure, we may get into conflict (not a sin), but it can be worked out. Despite my best intentions, I am going to say things that will hurt another person’s feelings or offend them in some way. When that happens, I should deal with it the best way available. Knowing that some offense is inevitable, however, does not provide license to wantonly abuse others only to claim that they misunderstood my intentions. Injury (real or perceived) has occurred and that injury must be addressed. Arguing about intention rarely resolves anything. Put another way; if I rear-end someone’s car, should I apologize or suggest that they not put on brakes?

Asking ‘why’ also creates discomfort. It is the same kind of discomfort that I had in discussing my vasectomy with anyone. I don’t mean the procedure itself, but my need to have it in the first place. The why questions are:

  • Why do I have some 1 in 6.4 million genetic rarity that no one can readily explain?
  • Why will my children have to be concerned that their children may have more severe issues than they had?
  • Why was I created to pass this anomaly on?

In talking to others about it, many would say things to me like ‘two is a good number’ and ‘you got one of each’. I would mention that part of dealing with this is that my wife and I always wanted three children. In my own mind, I asked the question, “Why would you risk having a third child with potentially severe medical issues?” Thankfully, none of my friends and family spoke this question aloud to me. They would ask other why questions focused on “why are you so certain that the genetic issue is you?”. I bring all this up to say that asking the former question (why a third child with issues) is the type of question I want to avoid. The latter question (why do you think it is you) is uncomfortable to discuss, but was ultimately helpful in dealing with the situation. This is the type of why question I want to ask.

Some things are not my fight (Proverbs 26:17-21)
Dr. King once said that the absence of tension is negative peace, while positive peace is the presence of justice. Put another way, negative peace is only the absence of direct violence while a positive peace is also the absence of structural and cultural violence. In terms of the ICoC, I believe that most, if not all of the direct abuse and problems have been addressed while some of the structual and cultural issues have not. As someone that is a part of this community, it is fair to discuss structural and cultural issues. However, personal issues are not mine to deal with. If someone invites me, I’ll still tend to avoid it unless both parties are comfortable with my presence. I cannot make every situation resolve well and it is unwise to invite myself to be party to a conflict I’m not a part of. So if you want me to talk to your minister, I’ll politely decline.

All of this is well and good, you may say, but what about the angry praying and Bible reading and all of that? Good question. As far as praying goes, I follow the advice of John Piper and work through prayer in eight steps:

  1. Incline my heart to god (Psalm 119:36 RSV)
  2. Open the eyes of my heart (Psalm 119:18)
  3. Enlighten my heart (Ephesian 1:18)
  4. Be united in heart (Psalm 86:11)
  5. Be satisfied with God (Psalm 90:14 RSV)
  6. Strengthen my joy (Ephesians 3:16)
  7. Pray to produce acts of love and service (Colossians 1:10)
  8. Hallowed be your name (Matthew 6:9)

This works pretty well on days where I am disciplined enough to do it correctly. Sometimes I get stuck at step 1, sometimes step 4, other times step 5. Sometimes I do step 6 in unhealthy ways, but I’ll get better over time. I want the final step to be more than an afterthought. I want to end prayers differently that “your will be done in Jesus name, Amen.”

As far as the reading goes, it is still difficult to hear God’s voice, even after I pray. I still hear so many commentaries and speakers that I wish I could unlearn. Being able to be at peace with God frees me up to deal with this. I still feel like it’s not as ‘deep’ as I want it, but at least it doesn’t frustrate me so much anymore.

Thank you for being my friends and reading. You are a blessing to me and I hope to be a blessing to others.