Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Removing Veils - revealing leprosy

There's a fascinating little story in Exodus 4, where Moses asks God a question about how, if he agrees to lead Israel, people will know that God has sent him. The surprising answer from God comes when He tells Moses to put his hand in his coat. He does so, and when he pulls it out, it's leprous - diseased. Then he puts it back in his coat, and pulls it out again and it's whole - pure - baby soft. And then God says: "that they may believe that the Lord has appeared to you..." In other words: "Your credibility comes from people seeing your ongoing transformation from that which is diseased to that which is healthy and life giving."

Somewhere along the way, it became conventional wisdom to believe that our strength and credibility come from presenting ourselves as perfect. Thus do we go to great lengths to hide our weaknesses, even to the point where it becomes tragically ridiculous. Consider Bill Clinton's denial of his sexual misconduct, and the classic statement: "it depends on what you mean by the word 'is'". Or, consider the current adminstration's refusal to address their gross failures in the Iraq war (too many to mention, including blatant neglect of the rule of law w/ respect to torture, under-equipping of soldiers, mis-leading statements to the press, a general failure to understand the complexities of centuries old Islamic divisions between Sunnis and Shiites, and corruption among subcontractors). In spite of all this, things are "going according to plan." Such absurd declarations remove what vestiges of credibility remained. This kind of pride isn't the sole property of any single party.

And politicians aren't the only ones guilty of 'cover up'. We're told in II Corinthian 3 that Moses did the very same thing, wearing a veil to hide the fact that God's glory was 'fading away'. The man who was told that the progressive healing of the leprosy of sin in his life would be his credibility, became guilty of pretending he had no sin, by hiding behind a veil.

I think the point here is that we all need confession, and we all need to be less fearful of being authentic, open about our failures and weaknesses, struggles and doubts. When we brings our weaknesses out into the light, people are then able to see, over time, God's transforming work. But if we begin by presenting a posture of perfect health to others, we've nowhere to go but down, as our true selves come into the light. The story is told of a man who went to a one of the early church "desert fathers" to confess his sin, but was told by the ancient sage that he must first listen to the father's confession of his own sins, so that there would be a sense of mutuality and humility in the conversation. This is needed more than we realize, for it is only when others see us for who we really are, that they are able to see, support, and celebrate the journey of transformation that is intended to be the Christian life.

This being the case... why do we tend to hide our sins? How can the church create a more supportive environment, a safe place for confession and authenticity?


At 2/10/07 19:53, Anonymous Allison said...

Amen, brother! I think there is a misconception that if God is working in our lives, all is blessing, beauty and blemish-lessness. However, one look at the Bible and God's peeps are shown to be fatally human: fraught with sin, imperfection and loads of selfishness. Really, who are we trying to fool that we can achieve something greater?

Maybe I am just more fully acquainted with my fallen-ness than most. Maybe my sins are those which Christians tend to stack at the top of the list, so they are harder to ignore. But what a relief, what a blessing, to be truly known, for the good and the bad, by God and people alike.

And guess, what? Just like God's people in the Bible, He uses me right where I am. Little old warty me: still on the journey, never quite there yet, a born sinner, yet full of hope and thirst for redemption. My authenticity is an offering to God, not just to free myself, but to offer freedom to those around me.

Speak up! The truth is that you are a fallen, broken, redeemed, beautiful child of God. Let ie all work together for His glory!

At 2/10/07 20:11, Anonymous bj said...

Great topic, Richard! I sometimes feel that in order to get in the best small group or be a part of a cool ministry team I need to be strong, witty, beautiful, or atleast long past my trials with wisdom to show for it.

At 3/10/07 08:29, Blogger Eric said...

A friend of mine always says, "the only taboo sin is the one happening right now". We tend to be great at sharing habitual sins we've kicked-I used to smoke, look at pornography, sleep around-because these can be seen as victories after the fact, additions to a "cool testimony" or similar to when we're in an interview and someone asks what our weaknesses are, and we reply, I tend to work too hard, care too much, and am a stickler for company policy.

I've found that in a setting where there is trust, all it takes is one person to share current sins and struggles, and others will open up.

I think the biggest hindrance to that openness however, apart from shame and embarrassment, is that we often love our sin too much to confess it. If we confess it, people might come alongside us and help us change.

I think this is why so many of us struggle with forgiveness. We don't feel forgiven because we keep on committing the same sins over and over. And God (and other believers around us) becomes a cop looking to catch and punish us, rather than a father, a lover or savior looking to heal us.

At 3/10/07 08:35, Blogger David said...

Do we truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? Shouldn't our confession begin here as our pilgrim friend discovered in "The Way of the Pilgrim"? Our hearts long to love God as we know we should but we fail; most often quite miserably. It seems certain that all of our stumblings originate from this one falling point; the lust of the eyes, flesh and the boastful pride of life bear witness to a heart that does not truly love God. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.

At 3/10/07 12:19, Blogger Meepsie-dom said...

I like the clothing connection here - both the Garden of Eden and "The Emperor's New Clothes" come to mind. "Who told you that you were naked?" In Adam and Eve's cases they blame others and of course the answer for the Emperor is "no one did." When we are naked literally and figuratively, we are exposed and vulnerable. But it's also an opportunity to be strong, to feel confident in one's skin and be ready to accept Christ's washing away of sin. Then we can feel the warm breeze of God's presence and do something that makes a difference, however imperfect.
I "keep the veil on" because I think "no one wants to hear this," or it shows I don't really learn from certain mistakes (the sins I do over and over again).
Our social norms seem to admire risk-takers, but not those who take risks being vulnerable. I'll work on this knot on my veil to see if I can get it undone to take it off...

At 5/10/07 05:56, Blogger Birgit said...

Loved your post Richard! This is so true - and the cover-up simply hurts people around us too! Many greetings to you from Austria! :-)

At 5/10/07 09:32, Anonymous sierra said...

Confession outside of trusted friends
in a world of seemingly full of confessions almost seems like a flaw itself. My family and friends experience the transformation and know the facts of my life but taking that to the world, in my opinion, is a tricky. In my case, I am new to the Bethany community, "So, it would be something like this, "oh hello, I am diseased and broken in this way, nice to meet you." Close friends on my life journey can see the transformation and I share with family about my spiritual life. I think it falls flat in a non-intimate or unprofessional relationship.

Conversely, I have always been drawn to the catholic confessional idea but not being a catholic have never experienced it.

I think public confession would be a path or a choice, certainly not for everybody, carte-blanche. As someone who has mostly practiced an open book for those around me, I can attest to the sometimes catastrophic consequences of revealing ones warts.

God knows, my close relationships know, I know. God may be in the details, generally speaking though, until you reach the top of any transformation, human beings are wiser to just stick with a general outline.

At 5/10/07 14:23, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

a good word Sierra... and I agree - I don't think the point is to hang everything out all the time in front of everyone, but rather, to somehow find a way to stop pretending that we're farther along on the journey than we are, for it's the pretending that is damaging in my opinion, as it results in the discouraging notion that all those around us, with their smiling faces, are untouched by the frailties of humanity. It reminds me of "Moaning Lisa" one of my favorite Simpsons episodes, from season one. Catch it if you can!


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