Don’t Become the Thing You Hate

It’s been a while since I’ve written here.

coloradoMuch of that has been due to a significant life change: since my last entry last July, I’ve moved from Texas after accepting a marketing job with a ministry headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In the wake of all the adjustments, I’ve had to lay a few things aside temporarily, not the least of which have been this blog and my gaming channel on YouTube. But there’s been a bit more to it than that…and it’s kind of a long story.

Working at a non-profit organization with other Jesus followers has been nothing short of a humbling experience. I remember the same feeling several years ago in college when I was exposed to a bit more diversity than I expected at the Christian university I attended. At first, I thought I had what some might call “homecourt advantage.” I had lived right there in Texas for several years beforehand and didn’t need to worry about adjusting to the humid climate or surrounding environs. I had been involved in church and was surrounded by other believers for so long that I thought I had all the Jesus lingo down and could say all the right things. I figured everyone would have the same perspectives and backgrounds.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were deeper lessons to learn. The preeminence of grace and the person of Christ. The importance of rest. The need to go deeper instead of wider in relationships. The benefits of listening to those with whom you disagree.

History has a strange way of repeating itself, because it’s happened again.

Vancouver_new_Car_DealerOne of the reasons why I started this blog was because I wanted to share my perspective on a variety of issues after emerging from a cult-like environment as a kid. When so many of your formative years have been defined by the abusive, toxic trappings of authoritarian theology and graceless exhaustion, you start to notice it wherever you go. It’s like that feeling you get when you’re a new car owner and see cars like your own while driving around. It’s difficult to get it out of your head. The more I thought about the shadows of my past, the more I began to notice them in my present where I walked, albeit in less concentrated doses. So I decided to do what I could and start speaking out about the less obvious stuff – the root issues of the heart I had personally avoided for so long.

When I was little, much of what I had been taught was anchored in the notion that because our eisegetical proof-texting of the Scriptures was theologically sound, we were wiser and more knowledgeable than our peers. As a teenager who hadn’t quite yet grasped why that hermeneutic was harmful, I would arrogantly stand on the sidelines feeling like I had a deeper perspective about sticky issues like relationships and mental health than those around me. The irony was that I had barely scratched the surface compared to my friends who had actually weathered some tough storms related to those issues.

5976474_origFast forward to adulthood, and there’s a new temptation that emerges when actual knowledge and wisdom get added into the equation: you may have more life experience, but unless you dig down deep into the heart and understand why the methodology of your past was so toxic to begin with, you’re bound to repeat everything – only this time, you’re the one who’s making the decisions. And as a result, it’s even easier to feel like you’ve got it all together after that revelatory turning point. Now you are in the driver’s seat.

That’s what I fear had happened to me after sorting out my beliefs and owning my faith in Christ once I realized I wasn’t the uber-ultra-hyper-elite Jesus follower I was often told I’d become by adhering to a bunch of extra- (read: non-) Biblical standards. All of the discovery from that point on felt euphoric. For once, I was in command! I now realized what was missing from my youth. But the funny thing was that in my efforts to speak out against all manner of issues tied to my past, my identity was still tied to the very thing I was trying to avoid instead of the Savior who rescued me from it.

pendulumOne of my pastor’s old mentors said something I’ll never forget: “We think we’re balanced creatures, but in reality, we’re pendulums just waiting to wildly swing back and forth.” No matter where we may land ideologically, it’s very easy for us to acknowledge where we’re not being heard and feel the urge to tip the scales so that we or our viewpoint hold more weight. One of my friends’ friends took this idea so far that he felt entitled to be a jerk on social media just because he had been put down for years.

I hope this blog hasn’t taken on that kind of tone, and I’d like to think it hasn’t. My original intention was to draw attention to issues around which I hadn’t heard much discussion and provide a safe place for readers to discuss those issues. But in doing so constantly, it was easy to develop the attitude of a critic on the inside and feel like that teenager on the sidelines again. It was easy to limit my engagement to the world of social media where people could shout out what was on their minds with minimal repercussions. It was easy to avoid the real world where I’d have to understand and work with a variety of perspectives from people who didn’t exactly share my passions.

That’s why I’ve felt humbled after beginning work at a ministry.

It was easy to walk in on that first day with that critic’s perspective. But much like the perspective of my childhood, grace was severely lacking. I had been shown grace by so many people in the midst of my own struggles, and here I was, having trouble demonstrating it to others who were just as desperately in need of it as I was. In the months that followed, I began to see beauty in that imperfection. I began to see wonder again. And I finally came to a realization I had been putting off for so long – my past didn’t have to define me. I didn’t have to be all about the problems that were tied to the place I came from. I could still be as passionate about those issues while still knowing that Someone greater than I transcended them and was ultimately working miracles even when all of the conditions weren’t quite perfect.

Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not planning on going anywhere with this blog. I’m not planning on refraining from addressing important topics related to abuse, healthy relationships, and unhealthy theology. But I guess my perspective and methodology have shifted a bit in these last several months. My identity is less rooted now in my past and more rooted in the freeing work of Christ – and it’s such a refreshing feeling. Maybe I’ll mix up my posts a bit and do some movie reviews frequently, or just write about life here in Colorado or personal growth. Because life is so much more than the struggle. That’s not to say that the struggles aren’t there. But it’s the way we respond to them that says a lot about where our heart is. I don’t say all that as someone who has overcome yet another struggle, but as someone who needs grace to continually overcome it each day. I have to remain anchored in the comforting rest Christ offers, or else I’ll lose myself obsessing over whatever new problem comes up.

criminal_justice_jurisprudenceThe other night, I was reminded of how sad that can be while chatting with a friend who also came out of a rather theologically oppressive background and has been experiencing many of the same realizations. It’s been difficult for both of us to avoid succumbing to the pendulum swing as we’ve seen so many people with similar experiences – including ourselves at times – avoid addressing the root issues that made those environments as toxic as they were. Instead of finding balance, many of us have ended up creating “safe” but toxic environments of our own in which a bunch of rules are enforced in the service of avoiding people and opinions we don’t want to hear. In the case of one such closed group on Facebook she was a part of, the admins who were in charge were vetting potential members to make sure that they weren’t abusive, dangerous people – which is totally understandable. But the way they did this was just as much of a witch hunt as the harsh judgmentalism that defined where they came from. When one guy was being screened, they noticed that he was wearing a rather nondescript article of clothing that they immediately found incriminating. It’s just really sad that at the end of the day, all that really happened was a cosmetic change – they merely traded one type of oppression for another. Only this time, they happened to be the ones in control.

Healing is a process. We all have a story, and we all have scars of some sort. Some of them don’t heal right away. Some of them take an incredibly long amount of time to heal. But if there’s one unhealthy barrier to that healing, it’s perpetuating the cycle that broke us in the first place. If you’re struggling with figuring out where to go after emerging from an abusive situation, my heart goes out to you. Your hurt is real. It’s valid. But it doesn’t have to consume you. Please find support. Find people who understand. Find people who can speak truth into your life – that you are valuable, that you carry worth.

But wherever you go, please don’t become the thing you hate.

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