Quick quiz: “I know I am loved if someone goes to the trouble of really listening when I speak for myself, instead of just listening to what others are saying about me.” True or False?
Okay, and now for extra credit: “I know what it is like to have others be afraid of even hearing what I might have to say for myself, so I protect them by not really saying it.” True or False?
My last blog referenced how to know which football team to root for on TV by identifying the color of their uniforms. That’s my wife speaking for herself! And, borrowing from such a metaphor, I at least implied that fear and love are wearing very different colored uniforms. And if perfect love really does cast out fear, as we read in the Bible’s New Testament, I John 4:18, then it pays to know which side we’re on in this contest. Are we sometimes rooting for fear even against our own self-interest?
Even yesterday, while watching our Cincinnati Bengals with my mildly interested wife at my side, I noticed her looking up and yelling, “go, go, go!” when she saw a ball carrier advancing down the field. My immediate reaction was to yell back, “NO, STOP HIM! He’s a bad guy! We’re for the Bengals!!!! He’s with the Ravens.” I offer this little exchange as an example of how we all sometimes root for fear in our world, even when it is against our own self-interest. But the bigger irony in all of this is that, as a husband, I am sometimes afraid to hear my wife’s own voice and so I fearfully correct her. I take away her voice, because she’s rooting, in my humble opinion, FOR THE WRONG DAMNED TEAM! In my own way yesterday, I found myself rooting for the right football team but for the wrong marriage relationship, which is far more in my own self-interest than the meaningless outcome of yesterday’s Bengals-Ravens game. I was rooting for fear against love. I was rooting for the wrong colored uniforms, far more than Sue was.
Okay, let’s stop there for a minute.
Have you ever been on the side of a relationship where your voice was dismissed, taken away, not heard, or was otherwise countered? Have you ever been afraid to speak your mind because, frankly, someone else would be afraid to hear what you really felt or believed? Or wanted? Or needed? Have you ever allowed anyone to take away your voice? And, bottom line, have you ever felt unloved in a relationship?
These are rhetorical questions, because for many years in my practice of marriage counseling, I saw families where one voice was privileged above all others. Or one voice was silenced. And so that unit functioned on fear, rather than on love. We call these dysfunctional families, or dysfunctional marriages. And in my own role of counselor, I would need to gently call the couple, or family, out on their own crap. “Is it okay if she/he speaks for you rather than letting you speak for yourself?” “Is it okay if she/he speaks to me about you, or would you rather she/he speaks directly to you about her/himself?” “Or is that not okay?” “Does that ever happen at home, or is it just happening here in my office?” Rhetorical questions, but they needed to get answered, aloud, in order to help restore a bit of balance in this unit. And restore some love. It was an essential part of re-storying a family or marriage whose narrative had somewhere along the line shifted from love……….to fear. “When was it that she/he stopped listening to you? I wonder what you said that caused her/him to silence your voice?” (As noted above, it can sometimes be as subtle as rooting for the wrong ball carrier, or the wrong colored uniforms.)
Now some of you know that in my own life’s work I went from being a clinical social worker to being a pastor after 30 years or so. But what you may not know is that I found in dealing with the church a kind of dysfunctional marriage with Jesus. One in which his voice was too often not heard or accepted. One where he was silenced. One in which he was only spoken for. Or spoken about. And, as with all dysfunctional marriages, they make for dysfunctional families in which even the children are not lovingly listened to. Once they grow out of those early cute talking stages where kids say the darnedest things, and dare to become wrongly opinionated or moody teenagers, their voices are somehow silenced. (Newly joined church members may resonate years later when their voices no longer seem to matter very much.) The family functions with fear, not with love. They root for the wrong colored uniforms, even against their own self-interest. (Here I’m obviously speaking of church families, as connected to the church’s own original marriage to the Christ. You know. The one who speaks for himself using red letters in the Bible.)
If one reads the New Testament beginning with the Gospel of Matthew, it’s interesting to note when the red letters, the voice of Jesus, really get going big time. It’s in Matthew 5, after the message of Emmanuel is delivered in that first Christmas story of Christ’s birth, that this now grown-up Emmanuel starts to really talk. A lot. Solid red letters. Has a lot to say, in case anyone loves God enough to actually listen to what he really has to say for himself.
Early on, Jesus tells about what others have said “about” him. Those who did their own part in talking “for” him. And he goes about rather gently and politely correcting them. As if to say, now that I am allowed to speak for myself, here’s what I really think, or really feel, or really believe, or really mean. “You have heard it said………but I say unto you….” Jesus gets his own voice. And his disciples, those who actually went to the trouble of climbing up the high hillside in Matthew’s Gospel, 5:1, begin to love Jesus as they give him his own voice. They let this new Emmanuel of Christmas now grown up…….speak for himself. For a change.
That, my friends, is what most needs to change within today’s church, if we’re to restore or re-story God’s own preferred story or narrative in our world today. We need to give Jesus his voice back. We need to let God speak for himself, for a change. Not Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, the Prophets. Not Paul, Peter, the Apostles. They try their very best to speak about God and for him. They inform our theories and theologies, or dogmas and doctrines. But when they are doing all the talking, we stop listening to Jesus. And before we know it, our marriage is based more on fear than on love. And we wonder why our family isn’t getting along like it should. Why are we so divided?
Are we afraid to let God speak for himself as Emmanuel, Jesus?
Are we afraid of those red letters in the Bible? The ones that sometimes contradict what we thought we knew for sure “about” or “for” God? Are we afraid to give Jesus his voice back? Are we afraid to be more than Christmas and Easter church people, where we see Jesus only in silence lying on a manger or dying on a cross? Or speaking to us from before the resurrection? Are we afraid of that Jesus, or do we love that Jesus enough to let him have his own voice?
Again, I’m asking rhetorical questions, but they need to be answered, aloud, in order to establish a bit of balance back into the relationship between Christ and Church. Otherwise, this old retired marriage counselor is predicting we’re only going to see a dysfunctional family based on fear. Rooting for the wrong colored uniforms. Against our own self-interest.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” — I John 4:18