Second in series: Advent 2017
THE INCARNATION & ABUSE (PART 2)
For our talks last week and this week we are reflecting on this moment in time our culture is in — with so many men in power being exposed for sexual abuse and harassment. A month or so ago the waves really started to get big with the “metoo” hashtag on social media And it’s picked up since TIME magazine, maybe you saw, for their Person of the Year, gave the title to the women who were the first "silence breakers”, as they’ve come to be known Something my friend Anna said last week stood out to me: we’re hearing about abuses going on in high profile environments like politics, media, and Hollywood, but just think about what that must mean about low profile environments like retail or the service industry or corporate offices
This is a topic that matters in very real, heavy ways for specific people in our community And also, you know, a big part of the vision of this church is to equip people to be able to have the hardest conversations life presents, not try to run from those or avoid those In our experience, most adults just don’t feel very well equipped to do that. We’ve been taught how to laugh with other people; we’ve been taught how to impress other people; we’re certainly taught how to join other people in judgement and disgust over something (particularly on the Internet) But I think most of us would not say that we’ve been taught how to have productive conversation about delicate matters, or to be vulnerable with other people We want the people of this community to be the most present and engaged and sensitive people in our neighborhoods This is why we decided to set all of this as our topic for these two weeks — sexual abuse and the building tide that is exposing how prevalent it is
Just to jump right in, here’s what we’re wondering: What if this is a movement of God?
Today is the second Sunday of Advent The 4 weeks in the Church Calendar set aside to prepare to celebrate on Christmas "the Incarnation” That is: God coming to humanity as a human in Jesus And part of the tradition in marking Advent is reviewing yearly the scriptures from the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) that set the stage for the type of God Jesus would eventually show the world One such passage was included in last week’s Dinnertime Prayer for the Sundays of Advent that we released, and it will also be a part of our Carols service next Sunday (it’s one of our favorite Sundays of the year here! come and bring a friend!) The passage is from the Ancient Jewish prophet Isaiah. He writes this:
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined... For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
Light coming into darkness Jesus himself would also use this same image multiple times to talk about what he was about -- what God is about. "What is hidden," he says at one point, "will come into the light." And is there a better image to describe what is happening right now with men in power being exposed for sexual harassment and abuse? Light coming into darkness According to Isaiah and Jesus, this is the kind of thing that God is all about… so what if this is a movement of God?
In last week’s talk, Kyle and Marijean (who leads our Women’s Ministry here) got us thinking about: how we as a community can join in on this movement They encouraged us toward, above all, asking God for help to be brave… because bravery is a big part of what this takes. Of course for victims to speak out, but also for men and women who hope to be allies Because the darkness is more complex than we might think
There was one story Kyle told last week, for example, about an experience he and I had while at a restaurant recently. The story got us thinking more broadly about uneven power dynamics — One of the cultural factors that makes sexual harassment and abuse more likely to occur We witnessed a man in the booth next to us be physically rude to his (and our) server, shoving his hand in her face to dismiss her because he was on the phone when she was literally just doing her job asking for his order… And then, adding insult to injury, he proceeds to complain loudly about this to his friend at the table, demeaning the server for, according to him, having no sense (so loud I was sure she could hear) As the two of us sat there unable to not notice what was going on in in our booth because this man next to us was so loud, we both sort of asked each other at the same time: should we do something? At this point, when Kyle was telling the story last week, he led you all to believe that we jointly responded. That’s not actually the whole truth. Kyle is far more a man of courage than I am. The whole truth is that he responded, and I was sort of like Piglet from Winnie the Pooh, cheering him on but too anxious to engage myself. Kyle tells me, in what I honestly think was inspiration from God, if I just confront this guy and tell him you’re being horribly rude, that’s not going to go well. So, instead, he went to the server and told her: That man was horribly rude to you. I know this sounds strange, but can I pay for his meal? I’m going to go tell him that I did but then tell him he should tip you what would have been the cost of his whole meal plus tip as a way to apologize to you. So Kyle did that. This guy heard someone say to him: That was about one of the rudest things I’ve ever seen. And he heard someone tell him to apologize not just with his words but with his wallet.
Here’s why I tell this story again… It’s an everyday example that shows us that the power that needs to be disrupted is not just people in authority. The power that needs to be disrupted is, in many ways, the culture we live in. It’s subtle, it’s under the surface, it’s “everyday stuff” (like interactions with our servers at restaurants, but countless other things too) that we usually take little notice of.
Really, we only scratched the surface last week So, along those lines, and holding in mind our current cultural moment in which sexual abuses are having light shined on them… Kyle and I have asked our wives to help us out this week, They are women, and we are not. And women are who need to be listened to and who communities need to be taught by right now. Michelle unfortunately has had to stay home with a sick little boy so Keziah is going to share on behalf of both of them to helps us better understand subtle ways all of us participate in our culture of abuse and harassment and uneven power dynamics Of course this goes beyond gender. We must talk also about race and ethnocentrism and socio-economics, but for today we’ll focus on gender.
As a man, I feel myself wanting to dismiss things like all of this as hypersensitivity. But, men, our demand for the more clearly black and white matters to come into the light will carry more power if we refuse to defend the more gray matters that we could keep in the dark without ever being called on
Or I was listening to a podcast recently that asked its listeners to consider the technical definition of sexual abuse: unwanted touching I’ll tell you what it makes me personally think: I wonder if I took my high school girlfriend farther than she actually wanted to go. Do you, like me, have something like that? It is very easy for many of us to approach this matter as if the problem is out there, but I want to challenge us not to do that — The problem may indeed be worse out there, but we will dull the sword we are fighting with if we try to use that fact to let ourselves off the hook The way of Jesus is this: we do not earn the right to point the finger at someone else until we have pointed the finger at ourselves. Jesus famously said: how can we speak to someone else about removing the speck in their eye until we remove the plank from our own.
So, here’s how I want to finish our time today: I want to suggest to us today the practice of Confession as a wonderful gift. If you can, try to put on the shelf right now whatever ugly, shaming, or manipulative versions of confession you’ve experienced in the past Instead, let’s return to the image from Isaiah and Jesus Light coming into darkness… hidden things being revealed The good version of confession is a way to agree with this movement of God… participate in it If we welcome the light, even on things we’re ashamed of, it is freeing! Because that’s how we realize perfection has never been demanded of any of us… Life does not come down to how excellently we can do it, life comes down to how honestly we can do it Everyone of us has done and will again do things to feel ashamed of If this is part of our culture, there’s no way to escape that fact What we are called to do by Jesus is: even so, live in the light Do you catch the nuance here? “Live in the light” — perhaps you've heard that as an exhortation from a religious leader before — I want to be clear here. That does NOT mean: Live excellently or perfectly (if we are carefully reading Jesus and the Bible) It means: live honestly And let me be clear again. That does not mean we overshare with people who have not earned the right, or that we put everything on Facebook Live in the light means: live humbly… in touch with the fact that you will sometimes do things that you’ll feel tempted to keep hidden in the dark… And that’s when the way of Jesus is so freeing to experience — when we decide: even so, I will live in the light. It is vulnerable, yes. It is scary. It opens you up to be misunderstood or criticized or lose some of your image. But it is freeing! Imagine not feeling any need within you to defend yourself. Imagine feeling at rest and peace about your image, even as people misunderstand you. This is the good version of confession that I want us to experience today. And my hope for us is to feel safe to try out A Specific Practice of Confession Confession as a practice is not a literal thing — it’s not as though "we are not-forgiven until we do this" or "we’re going to hell until we do this" or whatever — Doing this as a practice is just an attempt to enact something physically that is already true spiritually, so that we can feel it… It is for us, more than it’s for God. God doesn’t need our confession to forgive us. As St. John wrote, “God is love,” so forgiveness is his specialty. Jesus’ life and death and resurrection are a testament to that. The issue is us feeling that to be true… in our bones… to the point that we don’t have to convince ourselves, we don’t struggle to believe it. That’s what doing confession as a practice can help us experience. And the practice is as simple as this: Expressing out loud our confession to someone we trust to respect our privacy. And having that person speak back to us: “you are forgiven”
If you feel you could benefit from A Specific Practice of Confession, here’s what I’ll suggest... While our band leads us in singing and praying together this morning, I want you to ask God to fill you with the courage you need to confess During this time, we always have a prayer team available to help anyone interact with or hear from or receive from God You’ll know them by the badge that says Prayer Team And, today, in specific, our prayer team is going to be available to receive confession. So, prayer team out there, just so we’re all on the same page: should someone take us up on this offer, all we are doing is: receiving the confession and then speaking back to that person: “you are forgiven” Then you can ask afterward if they’d like further prayer But, in terms of the confession part, that’s all you will experience -- We say it often but it holds special importance today: you will receive no unasked-for advice, and everything you share is confidential I’ll say this to my fellow men in the room especially - consider taking this opportunity to practice confession today This is not “you’re going to hell unless you do this” This is come into the light, free yourself from the need to hide or defend yourself or stay in the dark, This is soften your heart because you will like that better, as scary as it is to pursue
O Come O Come Emmanuel - 2 verses and candle