...we might experience illness and the symptoms that come with it, but we are not our illnesses. We are not depression, anxiety, cancer, tumors, amputated limbs, developmental delays, or any other clinical diagnosis. Yet for many who cope with the reality of illness, mental illness in particular (I'm biased here and I will fully own that), the line between diagnosis and identity is blurred verging on nonexistent. I think there's something wrong with that picture.
I knew of a friend who is what some call a pain top, or as many in the general culture might say, a dom. We’ll call him Pan. We were acquaintances but not very close when I reached out and asked, “How would you feel about beating me?” almost as casually as I might ask a neighbor for a cup of sugar. It was one of those moments where I internally thought, “Am I really doing this?” Going over to his apartment the first time, he began — very intensely. I had to interject, asking for a “warm-up.” I also realized I probably should give him some more info about why I wanted to be beaten, to experience deliberate physical pain in the form of floggers, canes, and other such tools of the trade.
"Ash is about saying 'I'm sorry'... Ash is about making things right." Isn't that what we're told the point of Lent is: a journey towards repentance and reconciliation made tangible, palpable, in the Passion of Jesus? What better example of brokenness than Jesus torn apart on the cross? What better sign of restoration than the Resurrection?
It's noon. If we were on Jerusalem time, we would be anticipating the moment where the lights go out, where darkness covered the land. We'd be approaching the beginning of the final three hours before Jesus spoke his last words and heaved his last breath. We'd be getting closer and closer to the moment where the veil separating the sacred from the profane. In short, we'd be nearing the end.
In the grand scheme of things, we are all strong people, some more than others. Yet many perceive themselves as weak, needy, broken and irreparable. Maybe this is because very few of us know how to see ourselves truthfully. Maybe the mirrors into which we gaze are actually broken, or maybe we're simply looking into them wearing blindfolds, unable to see anything at all.
Because my sexual orientation places me in a minority while my race, gender, and class afford me a certain level of power and privilege, I often find myself teetering between the world of the powerful and the world of the marginalized. That being said, I strongly agree with much of what Flunder has to say. "I preach faith-based sermons to build self-worth and self-value in the lives of people who have often been stripped of all that is right and good. I strive to see peace and a sense of security present in the lives of those I paster, preach to, and serve... This is a peace born from the assurance that God will come through for us; God is on our side. This is what I believe; this is what I preach"
My point is this: I'm not alone. No one is alone (yes, all you Sondheim fans, I just went there). In this fact alone I've found some solace. Traveling along a river, climbing some cliffs, traversing a canyon, I find comfort knowing that someone is only a duck-call away (forgive me, the lowly city boy who struggles with nature analogies). Even this afternoon, I had a phone call with a new friend who is also asking questions, who is engaged, who wants to go deeper. In fact, I've had a number of these conversations as of late. Maybe that's why I'm content being in the wilderness. Maybe the wilderness has more to offer than the real world, than the insanity of urban, bureaucratic institutional life.
Over the past few years, I've learned something really intriguing. For many of us, we learn who we are through the eyes and words of others. Some of us are able to develop a sense of self in a mostly independent fashion. The rest of us need a little bit of help. Unfortunately, our own brokenness often keeps us from seeing others as they truly are, especially those part of them that we might envy or feel missing within ourselves. When someone else's wholeness makes us more aware of our own lack of wholeness, we have a tendency to put on blinders.
I strongly believe that every single person suffers from some level of brokenness, but I also strongly believe that every person is capable of wholeness. Even more importantly, I think we all carry a piece of the Divine within us... a God-mark. I've been blessed to have a number of people in my life who could see that God-mark within me and told me so, most often during times where I was really struggling to see it in myself. When I can't see it in myself, it's often harder to see in others. In fact, when I don't feel it myself, I tend to project my lack of self-worth onto those around me. Thankfully, over time, I've learned to become more cognizant of this tendency and become more able to stop it mid-process.
Being in seminary, something about the environment tends to bring the depths of our brokenness out. It takes a lot to endure having your beliefs and presuppositions deconstructed and torn down. Sometimes, it gets the better of you. Now in my third year, I've witnessed a good amount of frustration in myself and in my peers during this journey of deconstruction. Often, it ends up getting directed at others (I do this as well... I'm not placing blame). The stress of being transformed turns us into something other than who we are... something angry, violent, judgmental... something weary, worn-out, burdened...
The biggest danger we face is a lack of self-awareness... a lack of perspective. When in a place that's strange and unfamiliar, we can't see who we are, and by proxy, we can't really see who others are. It's like being in a funhouse, full of mirrors that distort us and make us feel discombobulated. We have to be careful... we have to know that we're all on this journey together, and that we still all have that divine breath inside us. Everyone feels shattered from time to time. We can't take that out on others, especially those who seem more whole to us. When we speak to each other, we need to do so in love. When we make another person aware of a way in which they are manifesting brokenness, we need to do so gently, with compassion and understanding... even when we don't want to. Let's face it... one reality of being human is that we don't always like everyone we meet (for various reasons). But we are called to love them... a call that is not always easy.
Imagine what the world would look like if we engaged with others from a place of love and a presupposition of worth. Imagine if we put our whole selves out on the table, and in kind we respected and valued when others do the same instead of attacking their vulnerability because we're fearful of our own. Imagine being able to trust the ways others perceive us because we trust their love for us. Imagine telling others of the wholeness we see in them... both a wholeness already present, and a wholeness prophetically spoken into existence by the hope we carry within us. Imagine being a part of making someone else whole... of making everyone else whole...
How's that for a change of perspective...