The next time I fall …

An hour and a half ago, I thought I knew what I was going to write about.

I was going to deal with a scandal in the American church that I had heard no one publicly address.  I had made a note of it on my list of potential “topics to blog about” yesterday.  Today, it kept coming to mind and it seemed like it was the right time to deal with it.  In my mind, I was marshaling arguments, crafting sentences, getting my dander up to condemn the sin I saw in the church that everyone seemed to be ignoring like the proverbial elephant in the room.  But not anymore — I was going to nail its leathery hide to the wall!

And then, a funny thing happened on the way to the first word.  God, who I suspect had planted in my mind the subject, now planted in front of me … my reflection.

I’ll walk you through what happened, starting with Amy Grant.

Amy’s been on my mind lately.  First of all, a friend of mine had made a post over at 5 Loaves 2 Fishes, a Christian discussion board that I’ve been a part of, on and off, for years.  They were discussing an attempt to legalize same-sex marriages in the state of Maine.  My friend’s response (click here for the full text) was that he was far more concerned with people in the church acting like the world than people in the world acting like the world, since we are supposedly committed to God’s will instead of our own.

Then I was over at a temporary agency yesterday, picking up some paperwork for a one-day assignment, and a song came on the radio: “The Next Time I Fall” by Peter Cetera and Amy Grant.  I am more than a little familiar with the song — it came out when I was in high school, and was “our soung” with the first girl I ever dated.  (Considering that she, like Amy, was a Christian while I, like Peter (as far as I know) was still unsaved, it was rather ironic, looking back.)

Now, I have a history with Amy Grant’s music.  The first CD I bought after giving my life to Jesus was one of hers.  Through her albums, I discovered numerous other Christian artists: Gary Chapman (her husband), Michael W. Smith, Michael Card and most notably Rich Mullins.  I worked at a Christian radio station for seven years and played her songs regularly.  When people condemned her for being “too secular” (whatever that meant) or “selling out”, I defended her, pointing out the spiritual content in her lyrics.  Some of her tunes I liked, some I thought were a bit lightweight theologically, but I was still in her corner.

Until 1998, when with a declaration of “irreconcilable differences” she divorced Gary Chapman and married country singer Vince Gill, who stated point-blank that he was leaving his wife for the specific purpose of hooking up with Amy.

That hit me where I lived.  I had been backing her against all comers for the better part of a decade, saying that she wasn’t as spiritually shallow as some would claim, and then she does something like that and her whole defense for it is, “oh, I prayed about it, and it seemd like the right thing to do.”  Even though marriage among Christians is a covenant before God, “’til death do us part.”  Even though she had written and sung innumerable songs and done numerous interviews about making marriage work and how committed she was to Gary.  Even though Gary was still committed to her, despite her apparently talking about deep-sixing the relationship for five years before actually doing so.  (Interestingly, five years before was the first time she worked with Vince, on the song “House of Love.”  But that might be coincidental; only the people involved know for sure.)  Even though she and Gary had three children together — I’m a child of divorce myself, and I know firsthand the damage it causes the kids.  Even though she was a public figure, and therefore an example, for millions of Christians in the U.S. and abroad.  I don’t know whether all of that factored in for her; if it did, I thought to myself, it apparently wasn’t factored in enough.

Since then, I simply haven’t listened to her music.  If she comes on the radio, and it’s within my power, I change the channel.  If she comes on TV (as she did a couple of years ago to sing “God Bless America” at a baseball playoff game), I click it off and find something else to do for a few minutes.  If there’s an interview with her, I don’t read it.  I felt betrayed by her, I felt lied to, and while I didn’t publicly slag her, I privately kept my distance.  If you’ll forgive the Sopranos reference, she’s dead to me now.

So I was going to hoist her carcass up tonight as Exhibit A for how so many believers in America claim to follow Jesus, yet divorce willy-nilly at roughly the same rate as their pagan counterparts, according to all the polls.  How all these people claim to be living a Christian life while ignoring Jesus’ words that “anyone who divorces his wife [or husband, presumably], except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32).  How it’s our lifestyles of unbelief that an unbelieving world finds so unbelievable.  Oh, the rhetorical flourishes were flying around in my mind like mosquitoes in a swamp, let me tell you.

But I kept running into a problem.  All the fancy phrases I could come up with sounded to me like the words of a self-righteous twit.  I kept trying to re-work them so I wouldn’t publicly embarrass myself (I really don’t like being publicly embarrassed), but they still came across like the speech of someone I wouldn’t want to be around.  Like the kind of things I heard some Christians say that drove me away from the Gospel for a while when I was younger.

And that’s when it hit me, with the force of the revelation it was: those words sounded like they came from a self-righteous nincompoop because I was acting like a self-righteous nincompoop.  Dangit, I hate when that happens.

But let’s face it, if I was going to lay the smack down on Ms. Amy Grant Chapman Gill on the basis of Matthew 5:32, what was I to do about Matthew 5:27-28:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Have I looked at a woman lustfully?  Um … yes.  Yes, I have.

How many times?  Er … would “too many to count” suffice for an answer?

Even while being married to the Supermodel, who should by all rights be enough “eye candy” for any man?  (Sighhh.)  I’ve done it while she was right next to me, though I did my best to hide it from her and not hurt her feelings.

Am I likely to do it again tomorrow?  Can we skip that question, please?

So, if I read the plain text of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that:

  1. Amy Grant is guilty of adultery.
  2. Ray Anselmo is just as guilty of adultery as Amy is.
  3. And by implication, maybe Ray Anselmo shouldn’t get on his high horse about it, but instead repent of his own sin.

Ironically, a particular song came to mind as I realized that.  Remember me saying that the first CD I bought after my initial commitment to Christ was by Amy Grant?  The song was from that very album — a tune called “What About the Love?”  Quoting the pertinent verse:

I looked into the mirror, proud as I could be

And I saw my pointing finger pointing back at me

Saying, who named you accuser, who gave you the scales?

I hung my head in sorrow — I could almost feel the nails

I said, this is how it is to be crucified and judged

Without love …

The next time I fall, I’m going to do what we all need to do — crawl back to God and ask for His forgiveness, knowing that His compassion and mercy are infinite, and that He made provision for eliminating all my sin through His Son’s death on the cross.  And the next time I see someone else fall, instead of decrying the decline of morality in our culture and using their hide to make the point, maybe I should see if they want any help — and if so, try to help them.  Plus ask God’s mercy on them, whether they want help or not.

And I should probably recognize that doing that doesn’t make me anything special — I’m simply a sinner who’s been given another chance (and another, and another, and another, ad infinitum) by the only non-sinner in history.  Passing that compassion on is the least I can do.

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One Response to The next time I fall …

  1. dhelmer says:

    Ray,

    Glad you didn’t go the “self-righteous twit” route. There are enough of those around, anyway… ;)

    –D.

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