Is God Longing For a Pound of Your Flesh?

I had thought earlier I was done with reflections on peace, but came across some resources which tie into a theology of peace-making.  They focus on, of all things, atonement theology.

For those not in the know, atonement theology asks the question Why did Jesus have to die?  I am coming to believe our answer to this question has a direct connection with our response to questions of violence and peace-making.

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In the Gospel, we find God appearing as one of us in Jesus. Scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 5 tell us that somehow, God coming as Jesus, this human being who died the horrible death of crucifixion for our sins enables a bridge to be built so that people who have been cut off from or estranged by God can be reconciled to God and at peace with God.

To people who feel cut off from God this can be a very liberating message.

I still remember growing up in a very rule-based religion that pictured God as an angry King out for his pound of flesh if you did not live up to his standards. It was overwhelming for me to discover through friends in a Christian club in high school about a God who loves me, no strings attached. I heard about a God who thought I was so worth love, that God risked all – even suffering and death – to embrace me in God’s arms. I remember the turning point when, while listening to the words of a Christian rock song about the cross, I realized Jesus went through what he went through so I might know I am forever loved, forever embraced, and forever accepted by the Creator of the universe. It changed my life and is why I do what I do every day as a minister.

But one thing later bothered me: I understood that in Jesus God risked death to open wide God’s arms to embrace me in love. But why did we so often talk as if somehow it was necessary for God to forgive me for someone else to die? Why did we talk as if God required anything before God would forgive anyone?  Where did this idea that God was out for a pound of human flesh come from? At times our way of talking about why Jesus died made God seem pretty bi-polar to me. I know something had to be off with how I grew up hearing God’s justice and love working together.

ImageI also found many people who were not Christians saying “look, your God you claim is love is a child abuser. He beats and kills his son to save you. That’s not love. That’s sick”.

I would always answer saying “Well, you don’t understand the Trinity – the Son is God, the Father is God, the Spirit is God … so it ain’t like that”. Which, though true, didn’t answer the question – Why couldn’t God just forgive us without someone dying? Isn’t God “God” after all? Can’t God do anything? Doesn’t this picture of God paint God out to be at best a bully, and at worst a really violent person in a pinch?

After all, when we forgive each other, it doesn’t always have to have strings attached.  And certainly I don’t have to wait til someone suffers or dies in your place before I can forgive you.

The last few years I’ve found a number of Christians also asking this. They point to Jesus’ teachings on non-violence in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and Jesus’ own example of non-violence, and suggest that this picture of a God out for human flesh, who can only be appeased in somebody dies, and only then forgive us doesn’t square with Jesus’ call for us to be nonviolent in order to perfect like God is perfect. Nor does it fit how Jesus extended forgiveness in his earthly life, which we Christians say is out picture of who God is.

A number of theologians have suggested that a picture of God more in line with Jesus’ example is one where Jesus’ death on the cross is not about violence or bloodthirstiness in the heart of God.  They are calling us to rediscover the many other explanations of atonement which Christians have embraced both long before what I heard in evangelical churches growing up appeared, and which now are being forged long after such explanations first became popular.

I want to suggest a few authors we can turn to in order to begin to explore what a God who is not out for a pound of flesh might look like.

First, let me suggest the writings and talks of C. Baxter Krueger, a southern preacher and theologian.  In addition to writing theology in popular language Krueger also has created a line of fishing lures. (You can bet based on my previous posts on fishing that a theologian who makes home-made fishing lures is a man after my own heart).

Krueger calls Christians to rediscover the foundational ideas that the early Christians, who helped put our Scriptures together into one Bible, embraced. Central to these ideas is the understanding of God as a Triune God of love. In his ministry Perichoresis (see http://www.perichoresis.org/)  Krueger points to how losing sight of the idea of God as including in God’s own nature a community of love has led us to envision God as split between extremes of love and justice (by which we really mean vengeance), imaging an angry hateful God who is our Father and a loving caring God who is God’s Son who rescues us from the Father.  This leads us to miss the point in so many aspects of our Christian lives.

Krueger beautifully explains how realizing that from start to finish God is a community of love, fully shared between the Father, Son, and Spirit and now fully available to us transforms our picture of love both on his website and in his books.  A good starting place in exploring Krueger’s thought is the following blog on why Jesus had to die:

http://baxterkruger.blogspot.com/2008/03/on-death-of-jesus.html

 Another author I would encourage you to look at is James Allison.  James Allison is a theologian who explores the connections between the thought of Rene Girard to modern Christianity. Girard taught that we get our theology wrong by thinking God is the one demanding a pound of flesh. Instead, he says that it is we, human beings, who are trying to demand a pound of flesh from each other from the beginning. And when God comes in our midst, it is not God demanding a sacrifice from us but we demanding a sacrifice from God.  It is not sinners in the hands of an angry God, but a loving God in the hands of angry sinners.

James Allison gives a very thoughtful presentation of what the story of Jesus looks like if we understand that it is we, not God, who are the blood-thirsty ones, in his little article, “Some Thoughts on the Atonement”.

Recently James Allison and Brian McLaren both did a talk on this same theme and its implications to contemporary Christianity available as a pdf here  and as a podcast here .

Allison has put some of this material as a Christian education course at http://forgivingvictim.com/. That resource, Jesus the Forgiving Victim, is on my Christmas wish list (hint, hint) because I think re-discovering how the Gospel dethrones violence of the strong to the weak is an important thing Christianity in our day needs to grapple with.

A final resource I would mention on the discussion of the atonement is Tony Jones’ A Better Atonement.  This book explores the in’s and out’s of various approaches to this question of why Jesus died.

My own personal conviction is that the approach that sees in God this drive for a pound of flesh is not just at the heart of some of the mind-crushing legalism so many believers face, but also at the heart of why so many feel they must embrace the slave-holder Christianity mindset I have spoken of before. To feel right with God they feel they must scapegoat some other group, drive them out, sacrifice their humanity. It also I think is at the heart of how easily here in the Dixie-belt we wed our Christianity with calls to warfare or prejudice. It is also why I think too many Christians too quickly are willing to call for warfare against “culture”, against people with different values, or even against people of other faiths.  Ultimately we become like what we worship, and if we believe God is out for a pound of our flesh, it is easy to let such an image of God influence us to feel it is OK for us to be out for the pound of flesh of others.

Discovering that Jesus is in fact the Prince of Peace I think is so important for us finding the way to join Jesus on the path of peace-making, in a world of violence, bigotry, bullying, and war.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Psalms for the Psych Floor

This poem is one I shared earlier, but I feel is a good follow up to my post about domestic violence.

I hope it blesses you!

And I’m not just whistling Dixie.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Psalms from the Psych Floor

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“O come, o come, deliver me,”

cried those under Pharoah’s lash.

Their hearts longed to soar free

with eagle-feathers bright and brash.

Staff raised high, Israel did see,

with mighty ocean crash

the flaming light of liberty

their backs freed from burning lash.

Moses-parting-red-sea

Like waves I hear this cry still roar

echoing in many deserted hall

lined with cots for the homeless poor

abandoned by those called great and tall

whose money moved to distant shores

when profits began to fall.

homeless in jesus arms

“Deliver” echoes still in whispering call

where others lie, victims of a hidden war.

Their broken bodies writhe in withdrawal

from poisons that trap them like iron doors

and wrap their minds in darkling pall.

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“Deliver” cries children from other homes

whose minds and bodies lie broken by neglect.

Their hearts bear wounds and scars like broken bones

that will not set but must lay wrecked

uncertain for minds what healing comes.

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Oh God, who set old Israel free and yet brightens our sky

what light in such shadows can you bring

what freedom shine in their eyes.

“Deliver, Oh deliver,” their stories sing,

and I cannot help but question why

and what shape will we see rise on morning’s wings

in answer to their ceaseless cry.

sunrise freedom

Words and Hands that Kill

I want to continue you looking at how to be peace-makers here.
Last week I shared some about how to find inner peace, but in continuing to look at the question of peace, I think it is important to realize such violence can begin not just in some foreign land, but right here in our homes. As a way of looking at that, I’d like to share a sermon I preached a few years ago about the problem of domestic violence in our homes. Too often as Christians we fail to realize the true horror of domestic violence, and our own need to begin being people of peace in our homes and with those closest to us.
Last year I was blessed to serve as a chaplain at a domestic violence shelter as a part of my CPE internship and in that setting I saw even more clearly the pain and heartache domestic violence brings, and the need for us to make ourselves people of peace and our churches places that work to combat such deadly and often overlooked violence.
And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,
your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

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Matthew 5 (World English Version)
21 “You  have heard that it was said to the ancient ones, ‘You shall not murder;’ and ‘Whoever shall murder shall be in danger of the judgment.’  22 But I tell you, that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.  23 “If therefore you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you,  24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him in the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison.  26 Most assuredly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there, until you have paid the last penny.

This is the word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
To introduce this message I want to share with you some stories I found in researching today’s topic, from Christians who have dealt with it.   A number of these quotes come from the website hiddenhurt.co.ok .

“My meeting with Paul was really just a typical ‘boy-meets-girl beginning. I was an eighteen year old single mother. Initially, there was no attraction for him, but I developed one. He was good looking and very funny. He moved in with me.“I didn’t know what early warning signs were at the time, but boy, if I had known then what I know now! He was overweening at first, courted me with roses, charm and passion. But he was terribly posessive, and didn’t like me talking to other men, and had a sort of strutting, stereotypical masculinity. He could be very crude about women at times, and I found myself constantly justifying him to family and friends.
“The violence started, as I now know it does, with name calling, which graduated to pushing and hair pulling. It eventually became violent battery. I was ashamed, and covered the bruises. I feared him, but I also pitied him. I didn’t know that he used his story of a terrible childhood to manipulate me. All I saw was an abandoned child.“… I believed I deserved it. Many friends left me because I would not leave him. Desperate to hang on to the few I had left, I started to lie and say he was not hurting me, that he’d changed. In six months, I was not the young woman he’d met. Life depended on keeping him happy so he wouldn’t hurt me.
“At first, I believed him when he said he was sorry, and that he would change. I started to not believe it after a while. But by that time, I was terrified. I fully believed he was capable of killing me (he did go on to murder a male).“The sexual violence seemed to utterly despoil all my fantasies of loving and being loved. He would sometimes tell me I was a stupid, prudish bitch who needed a good fuck; he seemed to enjoy desecrating my highest ideals. I wondered if they were worth hanging on to.
“I didn’t know what to be to stop it; it didn’t occur to me to think it was strange that sometimes he said he was doing it because I was a whore, and at other times, because I was a prude. I now know that it was not about anything that I was or was not. It was about him. At any time, I was never permitted to say no. Strenuous refusal met with beatings.
“But you know, I never stopped thinking about escape. While I was busy telling him that yes, I was looking forward to marrying him so he didn’t beat me bloody, I was secretly looking for a way out. Being honest about leaving meant beatings, violent rape, death threats. I tried to leave several times; once I got the police to come and get him out. The lady across the road persuaded me to take him back.
“Of course, I sometimes felt that I loved him too…”
Another quick story:“I chased after the Lord, wanting nothing but to live my life for him. Yet something happened when I started dating Thomas.
“He was two years older than me. He was also the son of my youth leader. He grew up without a father in his life, and struggled a lot with feelings of anger and abandonment. I knew all of these things very well, but have always had such a mercy heart. To this day, I do not know why I didn’t listen to the wise counsel of my family and friends. I think that I thought I could save him.
“It was three months into the relationship that I knew deep down in my heart that something was wrong. The emotional abuse is what I saw originally. The way he could manipulate me was amazing. He was a brilliant talker. He was my first boyfriend, so I seemed to think that it was all normal.
“After about three months, was when the verbal abuse began. By this point, I was so brain washed that I thought I deserved what I got. The more the lies were poured over me, the I more I believed that it was true. All of the horrible names, all the horrible descriptions of who I was. My character was smashed. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t seeing my family. I was so isolated. That fall I moved into my dorm room at a lovely, private liberal arts college. I wouldn’t listen to anyone about how I needed to leave him. I was so convinced that everything that was wrong with the relationship was my problem. That as long as I tried a little harder, if I could fix all the things that he said were wrong with me, that Thomas and I would be fine.
“Then the physical abuse started. The twisting of my wrist, the smack across my face, the shove to the ground, the hand around my neck. I was so weak. I weighed in at 90 lbs at this point. My fear, my anxiety level was sky rocketing. I couldn’t keep anything together. I felt so small, so vulnerable.
“Just a month after I moved into College, my parents withdrew me. They had no idea how horrible it all was, but they knew something was terribly wrong. It took two months after that for Thomas and I to completely lose contact. I changed my phone number and talked to the police. The longer I was away from him, the more I really saw what had happened. And that is when all of the healing had to start. I started seeing a counselor, and even at this point, almost two years later, I see her about once a month. Jesus Christ brought me through all of it a lot stronger. I was so angry for a while, not understanding why God let it all happen to me. And I still don’t know. I know it was my own mistake to not listen to the wisdom of my gut, and the wisdom of my leaders, to not have started that relationship with him.”
These are but two of the stories I read in researching today’s sermon, but there are hundreds, even thousands, not just of women but also men; not just of adults but also children; not only straight people but also gay and lesbian.  All the stories have something in common: being physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually used and abused.  And many, though not all, also recount how the church failed to be there for them – at times by simply not talking about the issue; and other times by encouraging them to stay in the abusive situation in the name of forgiveness.
Does God’s Word give us any wisdom about situations of abuse like these stories depict?  Does it speak to some of us who are victims of abuse?  Or family members of abused?  For that matter does it speak to any of us who may be abusers ourselves?

I believe that our Gospel reading describes clearly the pattern of behavior that leads to abuse.  As it does so, it gives us a Word for abusers.  It also gives us a message for those who are victims.  Finally, it provides a challenge for all God’s children.

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To being with, I said that our Gospel reading describes the pattern of behavior that leads toward abuse.   Jesus of course is answering a question not so much about abuse directly, but about murder.   Jesus warns us that we often think that murder is simply an act, where we kill another person.  So we say “sure I cussed Gary out” or “I hate Terrence to the core, but I haven’t shot them in the head, so I’m golden”.  Jesus says, no, you’ve got it wrong.   Murder does not happen in a vacuum, out of the blue for no reason.   Murder is the end result of a way of thinking, a way of relating.  If you have that way of thinking, that way of relating in your life and heart, you already are on the path of the murderer.  Murder begins in the heart.  The answer Jesus says is not just to avoid killing people but to avoid the attitude toward others, the way of relating to those in our life that lead to murder.“Yawn”, you might be saying, “preacher you said you were going to talk about abuse.  What does this have to do with that?”
Turn to someone and say “Abuse is murder writ small”.  Turn to someone else and say “because when you abuse another, you kill a little part of them every day”.
You see the pattern of behavior that Jesus describes leading to murder is the same pattern that leads to abuse.  In fact, if you really follow the news you would be amazed at the times a man or women kills their spouse and children in a fit of rage – and often kills themselves as well – when things are studied by the authorities, they find that man or woman had a history of abusing their spouse and children emotionally, verbally, and physically.  This is why I say that abuse is murder writ small.  The ultimate end result of the attitudes and actions in abuse are murder.   A person being abused is murdered a little everyday.  And often the physical abuse will escalate to the point of accidentally killing someone; the emotional abuse can become so damaging one is driven to take their own life.
Let’s take a moment and look at the pattern of behaviors Jesus describes.
First it begins in one’s heart.  Jesus begins by describing the first step toward abuse and murder is being angry without cause.  This does not mean that anger is a sin.  It is talking about the tendency to outburst of anger and rage, not based on real injustice but as a reaction to situations.   For example, I have had people in secular jobs I have been in who came to me, knowing I was a pastor, describing a spouse or friend blowing up at them because they didn’t make their coffee just right or because they talked to another person without anything romantic going on, but their spouse was irrationally possessive and jealous.   We should become angry when we are mistreated, we should speak out and act to stop mistreatment.  But this bursts of rage, outbursts of anger, at times over trivial things, is a sign that something is not right in our heart.  It may be a sin of possessiveness, it may be emotional damage that needs to be worked through.  But these outbursts of rage without cause, or not in proportion to what has gone on is the first step toward abuse.
Elsewhere in the book of James the Holy Spirit inspires the Lord’s brother to write, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1.19).   Again when someone is quick to blow up into a rage, this is the first step toward both abuse and murder of passion.  Jesus says allowing yourself to blow up like this, over tiny things is sin.  It is murder writ small.
This does not mean feeling angry is sin – but allowing your feelings to cause you to blow up at others.  If you have this problem, you need to address it right away.  You need to go to God about it, ask for help to learn to control your anger.  You need to avoid the sin of blaming your anger outbursts on others.  All that is is making excuses.   For some people praying, meditating, and having Christian friends to hold them accountable is all they need to stop anger outbursts from escalating to abuse.  But for many people – and almost all for whom these outbursts have moved from just feeling upset to blowing up in abusive ways – this change cannot happen without real professional help.
Verbal-Abuse-3-lGet help!
You may say “God can heal me” but remember, God can use others to help you heal.  Saying “God why don’t you change me” when you don’t pursue the help available is like the man who said “God save me from the flood” and refused to take the boat, the raft, and the helicopter that came offering to rescue them.   That person didn’t want rescue on God’s terms.  Don’t be like that with your relationships.  Get help now.
To those in relationships where people seem to be blowing up about little things – be careful.  Yes, at times, all of us blow up at others in frustration.   But if the person you are with has a pattern of this, how do you not know they won’t get worse, not better?
Turn to someone and say “you deserve God’s best, not leftovers”.  Turn to someone else and say “don’t be a doormat to anyone”.
When you stay in a relationship with someone who blows up at you at the smallest thing, when you excuse it as if it is nothing, you are paving the way for being turned into a door mat your whole relationship.   If someone consistently does this they need to be told “you can’t be in a relationship with me unless you get help”.  The road from angry outbursts to actual abuse is a slippery slope of but a few steps.
The next step on the journey is words that kill.  We say “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” and then we read in the news about young people committing suicide because of verbal and emotional abuse – words that kill.   This is not just true of teenagers – many adults are driven to suicide by constant verbal and emotional abuse.  This is why in Proverbs 18:21 we are warned “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”.  Our words can kill.
So Jesus describes two types of abusive speech, words that kill.  First insulting another and next calling them ‘Raca’, which is to say “fool” or “useless person”.  As one of our stories illustrates insulting another can become a form of abuse.  When we say “you are so stupid”, “You are so ugly”, and phrases like that we may not be hitting someone with our fists, but we are emotionally hitting them.  We kill them a little each time we do that.
“Raca” is a term sometimes translated “fool” that is from the town Jesus grew up.  It means “empty-head” or “useless”.  We have a lot of words like that in English, like whore, the b-word, f-er,… most of which like them I don’t use in church.   But we can say similar things without cursing.   Those words treat another person as if they are garbage, as if they are trash.   And you can see if you think of it how anger outbursts, fits of rage, can naturally lead into these words that kill.
Friend, if you have fallen into the pattern of tearing down the person you are with, you are not acting in love.  You are killing them with your words.    You are tearing down their self-image.   Jesus says that these sort of words kill, they are murder writ small.   They are verbal and emotional abuse.  If you love the person you are with, you cannot let yourself keep doing this.  And if you say you love God, you need to stop, get on your knees, and ask God for the power to change.  You cannot verbally abuse another person and stay in friendship with God.
This is why Jesus says if you are abusing another, doing these words and actions that kill, you need to leave the gift on the altar.  Don’t even worry about it – God doesn’t want it from you right now.   You can praise Jesus all you want to with your lips, you can give big offerings, you can appear religious and even be a pastor in a church.   But you will not be right with God while you are killing others with your words.  And as I said with anger outbursts, if this is a pattern in your life you probably cannot change without serious and professional help.
Friends, if you are in a relationship where someone is tearing you down every day, you need to that the Bible says love builds up (1 Cor. 13) not tears down.   God made you for better.   You don’t need to take it.  You know sadly some people are a like a drug, we get them in our system and we are hooked.  At first they feel good, but they things go bad and they begin to destroy our heart, our life, our family – just like drug abuse does.   But we begin to believe the words used to kill our souls that we are worthless, useless, a waste of space.  Friend, you are not, never wore, and never shall be useless or a waste.
Turn to someone and say “You are a Child of God, in whom God is well-pleased, you deserve better than that”.  Turn to someone else and say “don’t settle for less than God’s best”.  God’s best for you is not being used, abused, put down day in and day out.  Just like the alcoholic has to give up the bottle to get well, you need to give up whatever relationship is tearing you down in the name of love.  For love builds up, doesn’t tear down.
The next step in the path to murder of course is a refusal to stop, which leads to murder.  The end result of abuse is murder, because who knows when the person wailing on you – or you, if you are the person abusing another – will not stop soon enough and someone will die?  And truly who knows when your acts of hurting another will become too much and that person will take their own life instead of enduring another day of a truly living hell.  Jesus may not directly describe the physical abuse that a person with fits of rage who tears you down through words that kill will engage in if they are allowed to continue and refuse to seek help, but jumps directly from that to the end result – murder.  But other Bible verses make it clear that physical violence, abusing your spouse and children is a sin before God because it is killing them a little every day.
Notice these words of God’s:
Psalms 11:5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
Zephaniah 1:9 In the same day also will I punish all those that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.
Malachi 2:16-17 “I hate […] a man’s covering his wife with violence, as well as with his garment.” says the Lord Almighty….”You have wearied the Lord with your words.” “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying “all who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?”. (NIV alternate translation)
Friend, if you are in a relationship in which someone is hitting you, kicking you, wailing on you, God does not want that for your life.  God made you for better.   Get out now, before it is too late.  You do not know when they will cross that line and kill you – or worse yet, damage your children beyond repair.
Friend, if you are a person physically hurting, hitting, kicking, using, abusing anyone else – I don’t care if it is your partner, your spouse, the person you date, your children, their children, whomever – you need to get on your knees before God.  You need to repent.   Jesus says to leave your gift at the altar, and set your pattern of violence right before you approach him.  That means finding help to overcome your abusive pattern of life is more important than coming to church, saying your prayers, or giving your tithes.   It definitely is more important than being a church leader.  I can’t tell you how many pastors, deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers I have known over the years who on Sunday would talk a good talk about Jesus’ love, and Monday would beat the tarnation out of their spouse or child.   They needed to put that gift back at the altar.  You are in no position to lead for God while you are locked in a pattern of abusing others.   If anyone here is locked in a pattern of abusing others, you need to repent of it to God and go get help to change.
A final word, to the church.  Too often we make the situation worse.   We mistake Jesus’ command to forgive with the need to go back to the person and have them in your life.  Forgiving another for their sin does not mean you go back into a situation where they can sin against you.  No.  It means you give the situation to God and begin to work through your anger and pain, so what happened does not hold you back.  Too often people get the message “forgive, work through your problems” and get the message that they need to stay with someone who is using and abusing them.  This, friend, I believe is never God’s will.
Even these words of Jesus’ get twisted into a weapon to hurt victims when people say “look! It sees go and make peace before you come to the altar” and they the victim to go and try to reconcile with the person who has used and abused them.  Friend, that is twisting Scripture in a particularly evil way.  I say this because if someone is abusing another person, the onus is not on the victim to “fix” the problem.  The onus on the victim is to get to help and safety, and to get away from danger.
The onus to fix the problem is on the perpetrator.  They must take the initiative, they must change, they must get help, and they must prove they have changed in order to have any type of godly relationship again with the person they have abused.  And by change I do not mean moving from beating a person 3 times a day to 3 times a week.
When I counsel couples with a history of abuse, even if they have a desire to reconcile as a couple, I encourage them to consider separating while they both get help.  The reason?  I do not think a victim needs to stay in a relationship being beaten and put down everyday waiting patiently for someone to stop treating them like a punching bag.  No.  If that person says they love you and wants to change, they will not stand in your way of you both separating until they get help and change.  And they will not want you in a situation where because of their brokenness and sin you will ever be able to be hurt by them again.  If they are insisting you give them a chance to learn to stop beating up you up with their fists and their words by you staying where they can keep hurting you, how much do they really love you?  If they really want to make it work, they will move out and give you space until they have learned to change their behavior and they will prove to you they have changed before ever asking to come back. Family of God, we need to make sure we support the victims of abuse, we stand by them, and we become a safe place for them to find help, and we quit making them feel blamed for wanting to be treated like a human being.
To close, I want to let you hear the words of a Savage Garden song that reflects on the experience of abuse.

Psalms from the Psych Floor

Earlier I shared a poem about some of my experiences as a chaplain.   I have also served as a chaplain before in homeless shelters, domestic violence centers, and on psych. floors.  That experience working with the homeless, addicts, the mentally ill, and those who are victims of abuse inspired the following poem.

Hope it blesses you!

And I’m not just whistling Dixie.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Psalms from the Psych Floor

pharoah

“O come, o come, deliver me,”

cried those under Pharoah’s lash.

Their hearts longed to soar free

with eagle-feathers bright and brash.

Staff raised high, Israel did see,

with mighty ocean crash

the flaming light of liberty

their backs freed from burning lash.

Moses-parting-red-sea

Like waves I hear this cry still roar

echoing in many deserted hall

lined with cots for the homeless poor

abandoned by those called great and tall

whose money moved to distant shores

when profits began to fall.

homeless in jesus arms

“Deliver” echoes still in whispering call

where others lie, victims of a hidden war.

Their broken bodies writhe in withdrawal

from poisons that trap them like iron doors

and wrap their minds in darkling pall.

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“Deliver” cries children from other homes

whose minds and bodies lie broken by neglect.

Their hearts bear wounds and scars like broken bones

that will not set but must lay wrecked

uncertain for minds what healing comes.

jesus child abuse

Oh God, who set old Israel free and yet brightens our sky

what light in such shadows can you bring

what freedom shine in their eyes.

“Deliver, Oh deliver,” their stories sing,

and I cannot help but question why

and what shape will we see rise on morning’s wings

in answer to their ceaseless cry.

sunrise freedom

Kudzu Christian: Chuck Fager — A Voice Crying out in the Wilderness

 

This week we have our first “Kudzu” feature.

“Kudzu” features are based on the image of the kudzu plant. If you ever get a chance to drive up and down the country roads all over the south you will see tree upon tree covered with the leafy greenness of this plant. Not only are trees covered with it but its winding vines have been known to be on fences, on walls, on roadsigns, and on streetlamps.

This plant has become such a fixture of the southern landscape many tend to think it is a plant original to the southeast of the United States. In actual fact this plant’s origins go back to Asia. It came to the United States through trade, but after being transplanted on southern soil became such a prominent and beautiful addition to our fields and hills that we adopted it as our own. The “Kudzu” features highlight someone who likewise has been transplanted into the south but have become a fixture in the landscape of southern life. Though not born here they have come to call the south their home, and by the way they bring new progressive ideas and perspectives into the south, they are adding to the beauty of our community like the kudzu plant beautifies our landscape.

One such person is Chuck Fager.

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Born in Kansas, Chuck became involved with the south during the time of the Civil Rights movement. A true Kudzu, Chuck has become a transplant to the south who is working to make it a more beautiful place by his presence. As Chuck shares about in his book Eating Dr. King’s Dinner, Chuck began his career as a peace and civil rights advocate joining in the work for racial equality with Dr. Martin Luther King. This work led him to eventually attend Harvard University and become a leader in the Quaker peace movement.

Eventually this work led Chuck back to the south, where he served for ten years as the director of the Quaker House, a ministry in Fayetteville, NC focused on curbing the violence that has at times been very prevalent in that military town. While serving there, Chuck helped the Quaker House continue its peace witness, crying out against the excesses of the military-industrial complex. Chuck also led the Quaker House to continue the work of fighting for civil rights, spear-heading work toward racial reconciliation and acting as a host for the work of women’s rights organizations in town. Under Chuck’s leadership the Quaker House addressed issues of domestic violence, continued to run a hotline for soldiers whose consciences lead them to question involvement in war, and also to speak out during the time the military Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy held sway against the many abuses that policy created.

It is in the midst of the debate about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that the congregation where I serve, Diversity in Faith: A Christian Church For All People, was formed as a new church plant of the Progressive Christian Alliance, and in that debate that I got to know Chuck Fager. Our church was focused on speaking up against the discrimination gay soldiers, many of whom were a part of our congregation, were experiencing. Chuck was a big help in that fight. And since then while he was in the Quaker House he was a constant partner in the work of speaking up against discrimination against people based on race, sexual orientation, disability, and gender.

Here is a video from that period, in which members of my church and of the Quaker House joined in speaking up against discrimination against GLBT people:

Since entering retirement from the Quaker House, Chuck has not stopped. He continues to be a voice for equal rights, for peace, and for God’s love who is changing the conversation in the south.

Below I include an article Chuck has written about a recent action Chuck has been involved in. Thank you, Chuck, for continuing to fight the good fight! You are changing the south for the better.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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My Moral Monday — July 22 2013

by Chuck Fager

Which Monday Is Best For Getting Arrested in Carolina? How About THIS Monday??

Why? A New Round of Racist Voter Suppression, for Starters. . .

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The “Moral Monday” protests in North Carolina’s capital have focused on various issues on succeeding Mondays: cuts in unemployment compensation & Medicaid; assaults on women’s reproductive rights; damage to schools — the list of depredations by the extremist legislature is so long that the protests could go on for months without repeating a topic. And on each Monday, those with special concern have entered the legislative building and submitted to arrest. The civil disobedience so far has been a model of discipline and decorum. The national media is starting to notice what’s been going on here for three months running.

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Today (July 22) the focus is to be the legislature’s blatantly racist efforts at vote suppression. It’s a multi-faceted assault, which I won’t try to describe in detail here; google to learn more. Suffice it to say that after attending several of these protests, today is my day to put on the plastic handcuffs.

Why? Nobody is trying to stop me from voting: I have all the IDs they want, and I’m white to boot. But struggling to end racist vote suppression is where I came in: 48 years ago, marching with Dr. King in 1965, I was arrested three times in the Selma, Alabama voting rights campaign which produced the Voting Rights Act and changed America.

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For 48 years, I thought that story had a happy ending. But a month ago the Supreme Court cut the guts out of the Act, opening the door to the current NC legislative assault, and many more like in other states.

Thus, if for nothing more than a kind of stubborn loyalty — to the memories of Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, and Jonathan Daniels and others who paid the big price for the cause–plus of course Dr. King, and the nameless hundreds more who endured jail, beatings, and other quieter forms of violence there — today will be my day. Or maybe it’s just a reluctance to let go of one of the few public acts of my adult life that I can still look back on and say: that–that accomplished something worthwhile.

The arrests are symbolic, of course; on our side, carefully choreographed and extensively prayed over; on the other, the cops have been on good behavior, so I’m unlikely to come home with bruises or broken bones. Nor do I expect our symbolic blowing of Joshua horns to bring the walls of this Jericho tumbling down: to speak plainly, the NC legislature has blithely ignored all the protests so far, and stuck to its agenda of dismantling almost all the institutions, laws, and safeguards that made this state at least in part a more humane place than, say, Mississippi.

(That’s my proposed slogan for the campaign of 2014 here: “Reclaim Carolina: Because One Mississippi Is enough.”)

All the same, I’m going to do it, so wish me luck. And if you’re here in NC, maybe next week it can be your turn. And if you’re not here, maybe it’s time to start something in your state . . . .

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