Hard Sayings and Love Songs

One lost sheep

A lost lamb

I went to my mailbox a few days ago and discovered a post-Christmas package.  I love getting letters and packages so I tore open the padded envelope and found that one of my cousins had given me a book.  It must be said that I have an interesting family.  I don’t maintain any relationships on my father’s side of the family largely because I’ve never met anyone from his line aside from his mother.  I do, however, know many people on my mother’s side of the family.  Firstly, my mother was adopted as an infant so I am not related by blood to anyone in her family.  While my grandparents loved both my mother and me as if we were born of their own bodies, there are times I have experienced a distinct feeling of “otherness” while spending time with members of my mother’s extended family.  There is a feeling of being invited but not included that permeates every social interaction, and I’ve never been able to overcome it.  I have, however, begun to wonder if this is just part of the human experience rather than a particular familial experience.  I digress.

My cousin (or second cousin once removed?) sent me a book.  She is a missionary in Latin America.  My husband and I have been supporting her family’s work there for years.  They do medical missions, help get sex workers off the streets and reintegrated into society, teach at a school, and the like.  I love her, her husband, and her kids, but we are not of the same mind.  This doesn’t bother me.  We live in a big world with many opinions, many worldviews, and even shared opinions will have nuanced differences.  But this book…

Part of my mother’s family is in publishing–Christian publishing to be specific.  They are successful and wealthy.  There is namedropping–“So, I just went golfing with…” followed up with a famous Christian fiction writer’s name.  There is good cheer and good intentions.  Hugs and compliments piled on.  Christianese is spoken with ease and fluency in their company.  It is an Ivory Tower.  I don’t wish to deprive them of their experience of Christianity or Christian fellowship, but it simply isn’t mine.  Underneath the toothy smiles and pats on the back, there is exclusion and judgment–an unwillingness to stop telling the private jokes and stories that the newcomers don’t understand as well as an assumption that their Jesus looks like mine.  I digress again.

The book my cousin sent me is Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from The American Dream by David Platt.  Great title, right? James Truslow Adams, an American writer and historian, coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book Epic of America when he wrote that his American dream was:

that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

In other words, Adams’ American dream was not necessarily about possessions but about opportunity for all people regardless of their station in life.  This is a foreign and absurd idea to societies structured by a caste or class system such as Europe, particularly a century or more ago, where one is born into title and class.  In those societies, if one is born into a lower class, then one has no opportunity to change one’s status regardless of talent, intellectual powers, or giftedness.  In America, it might be, ideally, possible to achieve almost anything with hard work regardless of your starting point, or, as Adams puts it, “to attain to the fullest stature of which [you] are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what [you] are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”  It is necessary to say, however, that there are people in this country who will never have the opportunity to rise above their station regardless of their efforts due to socio-economic factors and injustices of all sorts more specifically race, gender, or sexual orientation.  Hard work is valuable, but in many cases it isn’t enough.  Opportunity is a blessing that often passes by deserving people.  What is remarkable about Adams’ American dream is that he was able to actualize such a notion in 1931.  The idea that a person’s destiny is not predetermined by their surname, bloodline, race, gender, or rank in society is uniquely American as is the idea that one can fail and begin again.  One cannot abandon this concept entirely because, I believe, there is something valuable in Adams’ dream.  It’s why people from all over the world continue to cross our borders.

As definitions go, I don’t have a problem with the original definition of the American Dream.  So, to use slang, what is up with this book, and why did it irk me? Let me give you a quote, one of Platt’s primary theses: “He (Jesus) was simply and boldly making it clear from the start that if you follow him, you abandon everything–your needs, your desires, even your family.” (p. 10) Pretty provocative, right? I actually put the book down and started crying after I read that sentence.  I cried because that statement represents what was fed to me by people in church leadership for the first 20 years of my life, and here I was reading it again.  It hit a nerve.  I’m not interested in Platt’s opinion though.  I want the truth.  What is God’s opinion? Is Platt’s declaration true? His book is a New York Times bestseller.

Platt based that statement on what has come to be called the “hard sayings” of Jesus in Luke 9.  I spent the better part of a day poring over Luke 9, reading commentary, examining the cultural context, and looking at the original Greek.  I think that Platt’s interpretation of Luke 9 is wrong, and I’ll tell you why.  If something is true, then it’s true all the time.  God is not capricious, changing His mind from one moment to the next.  If I were to take an orphaned and abused child into my home, nurture her physically by giving her the best food and clothing, the warmest blankets, the safest environment, nurture her intellectually by providing her with the best books and schooling, nurture her emotionally by providing her with healthy modeling, love, support, and competent and loving therapists, and nurture her spiritually by sharing my faith in a loving and consistent manner, revealing to her the nature and character of God through my own actions, through the beauty of nature, the feasts and holy days that we celebrate, and the telling of the stories of our ancestors on whose behalf God intervened for their benefit, in hopes that she would grow to become an independent woman who could enter the world restored and capable of contributing, rooted in the knowledge that she is loved, cherished, accepted, and truly understood, then what would happen if I were to then tell her that her needs, desires, and family don’t really matter should she choose a relationship with God in the person of Jesus? This thesis flies in the face of how Jesus described himself and his ministry.  Jesus himself described his purpose and ministry in Luke 4 when he said: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.”  Another translation says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because I am marked out by him to give good news to the poor; he has sent me to make well those who are broken-hearted; to say that the prisoners will be let go, and the blind will see, and to make the wounded free from their chains.”  If God then is concerned about the needs and desires of his people in this case, then he will always be concerned.  It will always be a priority.  This is why I don’t like this book.  It takes the relationship out of our faith, and without our relationship with God it’s all just “trying harder”.  It’s all just empty religion.

Now, Platt does make some important points, and I won’t throw it all away.  Adams’ definition of the American dream is good from one perspective, but if we as a nation are only interested in pursuing our own individual rise to success and prosperity through the ranks at the expense of others, then we have a huge problem.  The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we are our brother’s keeper.  The wealthy have a responsibility to look after the poor and vulnerable.  We should not look away from those who are suffering.  You may think that you can do nothing, but you can.  That is one of Platt’s points, and it’s a good one.  He vilifies the rich and relies too heavily on a few biblical accounts which I think he misinterprets.  He is far too black and white in his exegesis and misses the Jewish cultural context to the point of being almost supercessionistic from which he draws his biblical accounts.  He is, however, heartbroken and full of compassion for the extraordinary amount of human suffering which he has seen, and he is calling for American Christians at large to make some fundamental changes so that the very wealthy American church can make an impact.  For this alone, I commend him and share his heart.  If you want to read a very detailed review of David Platt’s book which I found very helpful in my emotional state, you can find it here.

I don’t know why members of my family give me books.  Whenever I see them, I come home with books.  I don’t namedrop, speak Christianese, say “Bless you in it” all the time, and I swear from time to time.  They must think that I need more “ministry” or something because I don’t fit their mold of what a Christian looks like (most likely because I’m Jewish), and I’m not comfortable riding the elevator up to the top of that Ivory Tower.  I don’t like the view or the height.  Books like these do serve a purpose, I’ve decided.  They help me refine what I really believe because they challenge me, and I welcome the challenge.  I believe more than ever in a deeply personal God who is VERY concerned about my desires, needs, and family.  Alas, I struggled terribly after I read this book because it was so hard-hitting and, frankly, triggering.

Yesterday, I was feeling alone, questioning, and struggling.  My daughters are struggling, friends are struggling.  A friend of a friend died this week of renal cancer, and she left behind a husband and two small children.  I wonder what this man’s evening is like, sleeping alone in his bed where his wife used to be, tucking in his two little ones without her.  The shooting in Arizona is on my heart.  A little girl died.  One of my daughters is about the same age as that little girl.  A family is grieving and shocked.  There is an empty chair at their table.  There is an empty bed.  An empty car seat.  My mother called me a few weeks ago, and I haven’t spoken to her since 2009.  I go to bed at night thinking of these things, and it overwhelms me.  The grief.  So, I sat in my office yesterday listening to my daughter share her pain with me, silently praying.  There were no words really.  Just feelings.  I feel unseen, unnoticed, alone, and grieved.  And, I see an email come into my inbox from someone I haven’t seen in six years.  We used to go to the same church.  We used to be in the same small group.  This is the email:

This song has been going through my mind all day.  I haven’t thought of it for some time.  And you keep coming to mind, too.  I know how much you loved this song.

Anyways – since this song and you have been in my head today – I thought that maybe you needed a little blessing with it again.

The song he sent me was written by a songwriter whom I never met.  As the story goes, he woke up one morning, and the song was just there playing in his head over and over again.  The song is about the love of God the Father for you, for me, as individuals.  It’s a love song really, and I’ve posted it below.  God does indeed care about our needs, desires, and families, and I know that God used this long lost friend to tell me what I so need to hear.  Yes, the world is falling apart.  AIDS orphans in Africa, refugees, the Middle East peace process, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saber rattling in Iran, cancer, unspeakable poverty, the crushing financial crisis in Ireland, Greece, and other small European countries, our own country’s recession, human trafficking, not to mention every other possible form of human pain, but restoration starts with you and me.  If you don’t know how loved and valuable you are, how precious you are, how worthwhile you are,  or that God would leave the entire flock and pursue the one lost sheep, you or me, then how can you love your neighbor? How will you be effective in a world overwhelmed with death, disease, pain, and brokenness if your own brokenness, woundedness, and pain isn’t first tended to and healed? And, if you haven’t received the immense love of God, how could you ever love him back?

The Father Loves You

Don’t you know the Father loves you . . .

Don’t you know how much He cares . . .

Don’t you know He’s thinking of you . . .

Don’t you know He sees you there.

He sees right into every part of you . . .

He sees right in the very heart of you . . .

He loves you like no other could . . .

He loves you like no other would.

Don’t you know the Father loves you . . .

Don’t you know how much He cares (He really cares) . . .

Don’t you know He’s thinking of you . . .

Don’t you know He sees you there.

He knows the pain the hurt that you’ve been through . . .

He came to love you and to rescue you . . .

He loves you like no other could . . .

He loves you like no other would.

He sees right into every part of you . . .

He sees right in the very heart of you . . .

He loves you like no other could . . .

He loves you like no other would.

No one loves you like He loves you . . .

Yes, no one loves you like He loves you . . .

No one loves you like He loves you – He really loves you . . .

No one loves you like He loves you.

He’s holding your heart, He’s holding your heart . . .

And He won’t let you go, no He won’t let you go.

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3 thoughts on “Hard Sayings and Love Songs

  1. I came across your blog via your comments to another blogger’s review of this book. I feel coming across your blog has been a gift from God. Thank you..

    What I’d read from that best selling book and the author;’s response to the blogger seemed to affirm the kind of God I’d grown-up living feeling shameful around and afraid of – an angry, punitive, sin-tallying God that demands obedience or else you go to hell.

    I don’t know the details of your background, but it sounds similar to mine in nature if it involved sexual and emotional abuse over many years, PTSD as an adult. Not planning for the future because you never expected to have one. Coming to know the loving God of which you wrote and reading the lyrics of that song your friend sent your way touched my heart in such a healing way. I don’t know if I would be called a Christian, but I do believe in God and appreciate the grace God brings. I’ve tried to believe in a loving God and reading what Mr. Platt wrote really shook me. I felt unworthy, scared, immobilized and expected I would go to Hell, that there was no way I could live up to the demands of that God.

    Healing from the kind of thinking patterns and living patterns that such abuse can afflict is a huge job. Learning to trust and believe in being loveable is part of that huge task. I am still scared that I’m just fooling myself, trying to be comfortable trying to believe in a loving, giving and supportive God – when what I should be doing is following biblical rules, seeing Christianity as the only way for all the world, repenting my numerous sins and moving out into the world to save others. All that is in me (except fear and shame) tells me that kind of God is NOT the God of this life, this world, of all things.

    I appreciate your posts on this blog. I hope to come back and read more of them. Thank you for sharing your journey. You are not alone. I can relate to so much of what you have written. I find hope reading about your sense of self and relationship to God. I’m so glad you’ve been able to marry, have a family and build relationships and share here on your blog.

    Thank you,
    Anonymous

    • Dear Anonymous,

      You and I have a great deal in common–our struggles are so similar. I used to have my background on the blog under “My Story” in great detail, but I edited it. You would be right in your guess, however, that I was abused–verbally, physically, sexually, emotionally…It was longterm. It was capped off by an abduction when I was 18 which was, to say the least, horrifying and brutal. I grew up with all the religious bullshit from one parent–God hates you because you are worthless, but we’re going to continue to take you to church because He might decide NOT to strike you down with lightning anyway. On the other side, my grandparents were kind, committed Christians who had me during the summers. A different culture altogether. And, deep down, I loved God, and, as a kid, I thought Jesus was pretty great. It was the Christians I didn’t understand. To be honest, I still wonder….

      Your third paragraph is RIGHT ON!!!! Don’t give up. I’m right there with you. If I may, I would direct you to Graham Cooke–grahamcooke.com His “Art of Thinking Brilliantly” is almost like Christian CBT. His view of God is the best I’ve come across yet, AND he’s got a background of abuse although he doesn’t discuss it often. I say that to encourage you (and me) that it’s possible to get there from here. What I’ve discovered is that God is indeed all the things that I hope he is, and he isn’t growing impatient with me because I don’t get it. C+PTSD is hard on the brain. If abuse and trauma happened before the age of 20, it’s even harder. The brain is wired to expect the worst, to be hypervigilant, not to see a future, and it takes a great deal of time, effort, and deliberate re-thinking to rewire those neural networks, and it is a painful process. God’s not going anywhere. I think he knows just how hard it is, and I think he also knows that we see him through that filter, too. I say this for me because I’m having a hard time with it myself right now.

      Oh, and burn that book. Funnily, I just sold my copy at Half-Priced Books yesterday…funny coincidence, don’t you think? If it doesn’t fill you with hope, empower you, edify you, and enlarge your picture of yourself and your picture of who God is, and who he wants to be for you right now; then, throw it away. That’s my rule anyway.

      May you be blessed today and rooted in the deep and abiding love of the Father. May you come to know in the deepest part of yourself that you are beloved from your head to your toes, that you are not a disappointment to God, that he is proud of you, that his intentions toward you are 100% good, and he has slain the dragons of shame, fear, doubt, and self-loathing that would keep you suspicious of him. And, he would also have you know that the promises of Jeremiah 29:11 are true for you right now and for the rest of your life–“For I know the plans I have for you (he has plans for you which automatically means that you have a future whether or not you can see one), plans to prosper you not to harm you (there will be thriving, not plans for more pain and abuse although he never planned the original abuse), plans to give you a hope and a future (there’s that future again and it’s filled with hope not catastrophe).”

      Shalom,
      BH

      P.S.
      BTW, thank you for your comment. It encouraged me monumentally.

  2. Pingback: And Tonight There Is Pain « Out of the Mire

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