I just added a new link to the front page of this blog (see the box over to the right, marked “FAITH RESOURCES”). It’s for another blog, actually — that of David Hayward. I discovered Hayward’s work through Michael Spencer (his blog is in the same box on the right) and was immediately hooked; I check it daily, sometimes twice a day.
Hayward is the pastor of a Calvary Chapel congregation up in New Brunswick, Canada, but describes himself as “an artist trapped in a pastor’s body.” And that’s kind of how his blog operates – quite a few of his incisive line-drawing cartoons, occasionally interspersed with a few paragraphs of observations on life, the Church and his life in the Church. He has real insight into how we North American Christians operate, how we relate to God and to each other, and how often it doesn’t make sense humanly or Scripturally (or both). And he doesn’t hesitate to use his own weaknesses and shortcomings as Exhibit A (or if he does hesitate, he doesn’t do it for long). Every time I read one of his posts or see one of his cartoons, I’ll find myself saying either “Whoa – I know that guy!” or “Ouch – that’s me!” He’s refreshing in his honesty.
Alas, what makes David’s honesty so refreshing is that in the Church, it’s all too rare.
I’ve always prized people when they’re willing to be open, to honestly confess that they don’t have it all together and need help (like the rest of us humans). One of my own heroes, a musician named Charlie Peacock, once did that at the end of a concert he was performing, and he later said that “it seemed that heaven broke open.” He and his band were crying, along with hundreds in the audience, as God’s presence filled the room. Later on, Charlie’s guitarist, Jimmy Abegg, described it this way:
All these kids [in the audience] needed a point of reference for their own Christian walk. Charlie supplied that in a new way. He personified a man of God to them, both in his weakness and in his obvious commitment to faith. I think his honesty shocked a lot of people who had been sold a bill of goods rather than a workable Christian faith. Everyone has sin struggles in their lives but they’re too often taught to deny them. Charlie was saying, “Hey man I’m just like you are” and through his vulnerability others felt an invitation to become vulnerable.
It was through the vulnerability of a friend that I was willing to be vulnerable enough to admit I couldn’t run my life – and gave it to Jesus to run. It was through the vulnerability of a pastor (referenced here, near the end) that I was able to be vulnerable enough to admit I’d dug a pit of sin in my life, and start the process of restoring my soul and my family to wholeness. I can’t emphasize the power that can come when one person admits the truth about themselves, when they stop hiding and show everyone around them that none of them need to hide either.
So why don’t we do that in the Church more often? I puzzled about this for the last week (I had originally planned to post this five days ago) before I realized that I already knew the answer to that, and only wished I didn’t. The reason we don’t do it more is because there are some in the Church who are not only unwilling to stop hiding, but will attack those who come out into the open.
A few months back, Steve Brown (whose website is also linked in that “FAITH RESOURCES” box on the right; sensing a pattern here?) suggested that one of the best things that could happen in the body of Christ would be if we had meetings in our congregations where everyone stood up and confessed our sins, in front of everyone. Just dropped our guard and laid everything out for God and man to see. Then there wouldn’t be anymore cover-ups, and we could get on with being healed and praying for each other, and loving and being loved. I thought this was such a great idea that I posted it on a Christian message board, saying “don’t you think this is brilliant?” As a matter of fact, nobody did – and I do mean, NOBODY. And the reason almost all of the responders cited was “if I confess my sins in front of my congregation, I’d be attacked unmercifully!” These are not new believers, either – almost all of the posters had been saved for a decade or more.
I can’t help but think (echoing James’ epistle) that “these things should not be.” Shouldn’t a meeting of Christians – people whose entire raison d’etre is that they’ve been forgiven by the Ruler of the universe – likewise be the people most forgiving of the sins of others? Shouldn’t the people who claim that “God is love” be the most loving toward those who most need unconditional love? And yet – as my fellow denizens of that message board pointed out, none too gently – it’s rare that we see it actually practiced. Or as one wag classically put it, “Christianity is the only army in the world that shoots its wounded.”
Thankfully, that doesn’t happen all the time, or I wouldn’t be here. That sin of mine I referenced in the January blog entry I linked to a few paragraphs back? Well, it (and my confession to my pastor, who heard it so healingly) took place near the end of October several years ago. That congregation had a tradition of hosting a Thanksgiving Eve testimony service, always well-attended. That November night, I got up, read Joshua 7:19-20 … and told them all what I had done. Looking back, I’m not sure why I felt I had to do it, only that I knew I did. The congregation could’ve tossed me out the door that night, never to return, and I don’t know if I would’ve blamed them, so conscious I was of my own sin.
But they didn’t. They forgave me, they said they loved me, they promised to pray for my and my family’s healing. Some of them brought me food (I tend to lose my appetite under stress, and had dropped twenty pounds in the previous two months). Three guys came to me at different times and told me they had been in the exact same situation in the past (there’s that honesty again), giving me hope that my situation wasn’t hopeless. One woman even confessed to me weeks later that she was having a hard time forgiving me for what I’d done, which I understood (heck, I was having a hard time doing it too!), but said she was going to keep trying anyway. That helped too, knowing that I wasn’t the only one struggling with it.
The result was that there was not only no need to hide anymore, but that everyone knew I needed healing and chipped in on the process. Because of that, I was able to deal with a lot of things in my past (some of which I hadn’t even known was there) and heal from them as well. Today I have a far healthier soul, and a far healthier family, because I took that step. It wasn’t the last step I needed to take, only the first – but it’s the first step that starts you on your journey. A journey I’m still walking, and will be until the day I die or Jesus raptures me, whichever comes first.
David Hayward has come to this same conclusion. Here’s a snippet from one of his posts, earlier this month, dealing with a time of discovery in his own congregation:
I must confess that I’ve discovered that there’s something liberating in open analysis. When a safe environment is provided for people to express their views, even if dissenting, they have a sense of liberation and involvement. Their place in the community has meaning. But it’s been surprisingly liberating for me too. Today, while I was having a meaningful and sometimes difficult conversation with a member of our community about serious issues concerning the community, I realized that I was okay with it. I realized that somehow the burden of the community wasn’t all mine, but shared by all those concerned.
Precisely. And so I’m committed, more and more each day, to being honest and open and letting the chips fall where they will. I may be attacked – in fact, I already have been (I’ll deal with that later this week, I think) – but I know it’s how God has called me to live. No more being a person playing a character (in Greek, hupokrites – from whence we get the word “hypocrite”), but being myself and dealing with who I am, as I am, before God and my fellow sinners. Only Jesus was without sin, and He never called us to “fake it ‘til we make it”; that line isn’t in Scripture. Instead he said, “follow Me” and promised that if we did, he would “continue to perfect it [His work in us] until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). That means I won’t be perfect until the day He returns (or I croak) and I join Him in eternity … but it also means I’m headed in the right direction.
The title of this post is a quote from an old Billy Joel tune, “Honesty.” Here’s the chorus in its entirety:
Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.
It’s what I need from you, too, my friends and family who are reading this. It’s what I’ll do my best to provide you. And it’s why I’m thankful for people like David, who are willing to be good examples of it for the rest of us.