Church Stories: "Forgive them, Father"

'Sun, Son and dad...' photo (c) 2009, Nisha A - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The following post comes to us from the anonymous blogger behind Registered Runaway. It's one of the most important guest posts I've ever shared: 

***

I cannot imagine what it would be like to grow up without a dad.

Not just the physical absence of a father, but with a workaholic, all-too-serious sort who just so happens to have his name on your birth certificate. The jerk who chooses conference calls over chanting at a Twins game. The idol who forever promises a fishing trip that never happens. The drunk who just spent away your soccer money.

I have been so blessed.

See, my pops is the total package. If you think yours is better, you are wrong.

The most magical memories of my childhood consist of getting chased by him around the house, falling asleep while he yawned through Bernstein Bears, sitting securely in his lap as sirens rang. Beyond being the playmate of my siblings and me, he was always our biggest fan. Whether it was sports, music, school plays, or video games, he covered us in his confidence.

But, being an un-athletic son of a father who loves sports, my performance as a player was always a sensitive spot.

There was one time in particular....

I am a slow runner. Known this since I was little. Just an accepted fact of life. So, it makes perfect sense that in 5th grade, I signed up for track. The consequences of this courage were not fully realized until I faced my first meet.

There I was, waiting for the shot of the gun in my hurdles heat, looking right and left at the boys and girls who were gritting their teeth as if they had waited their whole lives for this moment.

Then,

Shot.

Hesitation.

First hurdle knocked.

Last in the pack.

Second down.

Third down.

Everyone is watching.

Across the line, all alone.

I think, in those seconds of slow-moving shame, an emotional instinct kicked in and I involuntarily looked up for my dad. Feeling like a failure, I imagined that maybe he would give me an “oh well” look or some sort of pity eyes. But the moment my eyes met his, I knew I had won something.

He was all smiles.

Thumbs up.

Laughing, not insultingly, but in a “way to finish!” way.

I smiled.

I laughed.

And forgot about failure.

He wears the cape better than most, and walks more humbly than I wish he would.

In the moments after I came out of the closet, that same dad swept me up in his arms. As I cried and cried, he whispered “I love you!” “I love YOU!” He was more than just the dad I needed him to be in that moment. He was more. He is more.

As these things commonly go in the post-closet period, we sought out resources as to what we should next. After much searching, a good friend who was heavily involved in the ex-gay crowd recommended that my parents, especially my dad, watch a video entitled “Homosexuality 101”. It’s a short, 20 minute show that can be accessed online.

Sitting in the family room with my older brother, I heard sniffling and staggering steps approaching me. It was my dad. He was weeping. He started telling me how sorry he was that he failed me as a father. He spoke of how he pressured me too much to succeed and how that probably created a distance between us and how there were so many unmentionable mistakes he made. When asked, I couldn’t get an answer as to what they were. He was heartbroken, and more miserable than I had ever seen him. I can’t even imagine what his thoughts were at that moment.

See, he had just watched a video that told him that the reason why a young man develops same-sex attractions is because his father never established a close relationship to his child at a young age. He did not express his love fully enough for the young boy in question to reciprocate, and in turn, trust him. The mystery of homosexuality could all be tied back to the dad who wasn’t there.

In layman’s terms: Dad, you screwed up. The pain your child feels is a direct result of your refusal to display a love that the child could believe in. You probably didn’t take him to enough hockey games, or ever confront a scraped knee with “rub some dirt in it.” You made yourself an enemy to your boy and now the consequences of your ineptitude have made him into a homo. Go sit in the corner and think about what you have done

Really?

This guy?

The daddy who kissed me on the head every night before I fell asleep and, without fail, told me he loved me every chance he got? The man who ended any argument with another reminder that he loved me? The guy who was always there? At every sports event? Every play? Every recital? Every trip? The dad who abandoned his job whenever I took ill? The father who rocked me in his arms at my most vulnerable moment?

There was never a single second (unless I was behaving horribly) that I ever,  ever felt like a disappointment to him or that I wasn’t loved by him. There has never been a deficiency in our relationship at all.

Despite the evidence of this theory being fully debunked and labeled a myth, the Church continues to call it Truth. And being a man of the Church, my dad bought it.

The paralyzing guilt of imaginary memories of running away from his paternal role has landed him in church-inflicted purgatory.

Even as I fight using reason, faith, the American Psychiatric Association, my mom, his friends, therapists and every piece of rational data out there, I have yet to fully uproot his convinced culpability. He has started to parse out fact from fiction, but the trauma of that video still haunts him.

And I don’t know why.

I don’t know why the church pedals reparative therapy as an answer to their theological dilemma, despite it resulting in countless suicides. I don’t know why they think it’s fit to equate gays to rapists and murderers. I don’t know why they say dads make kids gay.

I don’t know why they flog my father.

But I do know how I am to respond.

Even if it’s through clenched teeth.

 “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”

***

Be sure to check out Registered Runaway.

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Church Stories: A Plea to Engage in Racial Reconciliation (by Grace Biskie)

Today I am pleased to welcome Grace Biskie to the blog for a guest post on the difficult topic of racial reconciliation. Grace serves with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as the Regional Coordinator of Black Campus Ministries in the Midwest. After twelve years in ministry, she is transitioning to a new role as Program Coordinator for a foundation serving high school students in NYC and Kalamazoo, MI. Grace is working on her first book, Detroit's Daughter, a memoir about surviving her father, her brother, abuse, racism, Christians, boys, and poverty, while growing up in Detroit. She is married to Dave, and raising two sons, Ransom, 6, and Rhys, 2. She loves speaking, writing, social networking, photography, fashion & swiss cake rolls. She hates horcruxes and human trafficking. You can follow her adventures in trying to lead a purposeful, grace-filled, beautiful life on her blog, Gabbing With Grace, or on Twitter.  

***

Transient

I grew up in a home where my older, white brother called me a "stupid little nigger" more times than I can count, and where I countered with "ignorant, loser honkey!" more times than I care to admit. My brother had grown up in an all white neighborhood until White Flight swept through in a little under two years. He was thrust into being the only white kid among black kids who stole his bike and beat him up. Outnumbered on the streets, he took it out on me at home.

I learned from blacks, at a very early age, that whites were manipulative, selfish, always out for "their damn selves" and NOT to be trusted. I learned from whites, at a very early age, that blacks were violent, stupid, unacceptable human beings who were less important than themselves and most of all, "not safe." I learned these things from my family, my church, my friends’ parents, and my private, Christian school. The racism was across the board. It came not only from the "poor folks of Detroit,” but from the Christians, the Muslims, the poor, the rich, the educated, even the homeless. It seemed like everyone had a bad opinion about white, blacks, or Arabs.

Eventually, the racism swirling around me became a part of what I believed to be true about the world: a few whites were great, most were tolerable, and the rest deplorable. These “truths” were seared into my brain like a brand on a baby cow. I'd been branded with racism.

Things came to a head for me on September 11, when I blamed the events of the day entirely on whites. The more whites talked, cried, formed prayer circles and sang Kumbaya, the more a war raged in my heart against them. It doesn't matter who flew the planes, they were provoked! By white people!

Then God began a slow and gentle process of healing that started with acknowledging the pain and devastation whites had caused in my life growing up. After many years of prayer, journaling, therapy and relationships, I was delivered from years of racism—my own and the racism of others against me. And yes, I came to see the events of 9-11 much differently.

But this is who I am: I am racially, culturally, spiritually, physically, ethnically black AND white. As an American Christian trying to live in the tension, I am as screwed as it gets. If there was a club for confused mixed kids, I’d be captain, head of the Department for the Racially Insane. For shits and giggles, God brought me a white husband. I'm a biracial woman who identifies as African-American. I grew up in Detroit, among urban, working-class blacks while my white mother sent me to a suburban, lily white, private Christian school and a large, white Baptist Church who denied me baptism in 1987 for being "half-black." Later that year, they passed a vote in which blacks were allowed baptism and therefore membership. The pastor who vehemently fought for me and other blacks to become members was maligned by his elder board and fired. Later, he committed suicide.  

For all these reasons and more, I have been unable to disengage with the issues that plague black and white Christians in our country.* I've tried to disengage. Lord knows I've wanted to disengage. But I simply can't untangle myself from the racist web into which I was spun.. And it's for these same reasons I feel terribly sad when I watch whites disengage.

To not know African-American history is to disengage.

To attend a large white church and never ask how the church got there or why it's staying that way is to disengage.

To never admit, let alone assess, your power and privilege as a white American is to disengage.

To not seek to understand why blacks were (and are) so angry about cases like Trayvon Martin's is disengage.

To decide to live in a mostly white community with no thought as to why it feels safer or mandatory for your family is to disengage.

To not read widely about racial and ethnic issues in our country is to disengage.

To allow yourself to be in places where everyone looks like you 90% of the time is to disengage.

To raise your kids to be color blind is to disengage.

I don't toss that list out lightly. Nor do I present it with judgment or condemnation. I am not looking to set you on a point-of-no-return guilt trip. None of that from me. Please consider this an invitation for you to love me, your neighborTo disengage is to fail to love.

I have been truly loved by many white people, most of whom I work with while serving in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. When I feel loved and cared for by a white person it's because they've done their homework and tried to understand my perspective. They know that they can read twenty books a day, but until they actually build a real relationship with someone who sees life differently, they are never going to get it right.

The hard days are the ones when I interact with whites that think they have the whole issue all figured out. They are quick to defend their white privileges and quick to point out their black friends. They make assumptions, and ask me to represent all blacks by answering that age old question, "what are black people so mad about?" That's not what engaging looks like. That’s what verbal self defense looks like.

The problem with disengaging is that it's not what God intended for us. I believe God expressly asks us to love people who are different than us. He especially desires for us to love those who would be considered our enemies. Take a look at Revelation 21; we know how this ends: We live in that not-yet-but-all-ready-here Kingdom, where God will bring together every tribe, every tongue and every nation, all of us speaking our own language, wearing our own cultural garb, eating our good cultural food. I'm talking about the day when Jesus' redemption brings total shalom to all peoples, complete peace between all people and God, all people to all people. In this partay of ALL partay's, the Hutu’s and Tutsi's will have a glorious celebration together. That final picture includes African-Americans and white Americans together…with no funky attitude problems.

No under-the-breath judgments.

No wealth gap.

No opportunities stolen.

No lynchings.

No death.

No gang wars.

No tears.

No blame game.

No race cards to be pulled.

No "shit black people think (white people think) about black people" YouTube memes.

If this vision excites you, know that your engagement in pursuing peace and health between African-American and white Americans is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he told us to pray like him: Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

If this vision doesn't excite you, I might ask if you’re working toward building God's Kingdom at all.

I don't feel badly asking whites to engage on issues of racial reconciliation, because I'm asking you to be obedient. I'm asking you to play a deeper, fuller role in bringing about God's Kingdom. I'm asking you to follow me as I follow Jesus…right up to that cross. You don't need a Masters in urban planning or relocation into the heart of Detroit to have a shot at being a life-changing, Kingdom-building reconciler. Yes, those who have the power to change things systemically should. But the rest of us are regular Joes. If you find yourself paralyzed by lack of cataclysmic, life-altering options, take a deep breath. There are lots of ways

Here's one: How about starting by displacing yourself? Go somewhere where you are the only white person for miles. Attend a black church or go grocery shopping in an all black neighborhood. This one small step can work wonders. Displacement allows us to identify, understand, and walk in the shoes of something African-Americans face nearly everyday in America. Facing a little fear under the tush never killed anybody.

Read stuff. Two of my favorite books include Being White: Finding our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp, and More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice.

My relationships with whites have been beautiful and ugly and everything in between. The man who caused me the most pain, my white brother, was redeemed by my husband, a white man who has become my knight in shining armor in all things racially related. I have watched him read widely and displace time and time again in order for the gospel to move forward among black college students when no one else is willing to "go there." I’ve seen this journey cause him tremendous pain, but I’ve also seen it lead him to the greatest blessings of his life. It's not just him, though. I’ve witnessed many other whites seek to understand and engage, when I know they could walk away. I have been flabbergasted by white colleagues within InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who have time and again sacrificed in little and gigantic ways to bring others to the table. I came to the Lord through InterVarsity as a college student; being a part of reconciling whites to blacks and blacks to whites is my heritage, my honor and my hope.

Trust me, I understand your desire to disengage, to worry about many other things in life. But I need you. The world needs you. African-Americans need you. And whether you like it, know it, accept it, or have yet to fully live it, you need African-Americans.

***

Tell me, have you ever been invited by an African-American Christian to think more deeply about these issues? What do you see as the major problems the Church needs to address regarding the division between African-American and white Christians? What are your joys and triumphs in pursuing racial reconciliation between white Americans and African-Americans?

*Note: I acknowledge there are many other racial and ethnic issues to be addressed by the Church regarding ethnic groups living in the U.S. However, I am primarily speaking to the issue I know and live while trying to respect the fact that only so many things can be discussed in one blog post. Please know I am not trying to ignore the issues that exist for our Asian-American, Latino-American, Native American, etc. brothers and sisters in Christ. I acknowledge that much more could be said on any number of issues. 

***

See our other church stories:

Church Stories: Embracing Faith as an Aspie (by Erin Thomas) 
Church Stories: Cursed Creed (by David Henson) 
Church stories: Facing my brother’s addiction (by Rebecca Howard) 

Church Stories: Being the Change We (by J.R. Goudeau)

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Church Stories: Embracing Faith as an Aspie (by Erin Thomas)

What’s it like to live with Asperger's Syndrome in the Church? Today we find out from the talented Erin Thomas. Erin is a self-styled mix-up. Advocating for the end of the modern slave trade, she hopes to open a small intentional community retreat for exploited youth in Canada. Her blog, The Underground Railroad, is a small rag dealing with human trafficking and other justice issues. When she’s not writing creative non-fiction, short stories, and poetry, Erin spends her time working on her Masters of Arts in Urban Studies online through Eastern University, fighting for the last carrot in the house with her two rabbits, Bug and Sage, and enjoying mentoring time with local youth both in and out of church settings.

I hope you learn as much from her perspective as I did! 

***

Transient

It’s my faith that marks me as peculiar.

Oh I see the looks when I stand off by myself—(thou shalt not interact unless thou art commanded to come)—but my interpretation skills can be a little off, so that group of women at church I see as a minefield might actually want me to come and chat. Seriously? This is making friends? You’ve got to be kidding me.

I tremble at night when my synesthetic mind brings to life eternal torture… damnation… how the flames of Hades are seven times hotter than the hottest fire on Earth – seven times! I learned these things during a week of Bible camp when I was nine. But I played by my unwritten rules—(thou shalt believe the Bible as it is taught so thou shalt avoid God’s eternal wrath). The night terrors began soon after; the fixation on paganism, Satanism and witchcraft after that; and the hallucinations by the time I was twelve—(thou shalt believe what thou perceiveth with thy senses; they are measurable references proving truth). 

Break the rules?

Never!

To ask an Aspie to break her rules would be to ask her to stop breathing. Often, not even she knows her own rules, much less the game being played.  And on a daily basis, Christianity is most definitely a game – and the players play for the win, or burn in hell. There is no second place. Evangelism is critical, with the blood of the unredeemed on our heads—(if they die because I have not shared the Gospel, I am to blame.)

Make relationships.

Build relationships.

Cultivate relationships.

Nurture relationships.

Initiate relationships.

No matter which way you play it, Christianity is a social extrovert’s game and no amount of self-help preaching of “accept thyself” will change that—(thou shalt shake every hand of every person entering the church building in order to be a devout Christian).

Do they know? Do they know that small talk is next to impossible for me?

Oh sure, I want to know about your views of social justice within the first five minutes of meeting you, but your name? I will remember it about as easily as your face—for shame! A good Christian knows names and faces so people always feel welcome. 

Do people know how long it takes me to recharge after social functions?

Do they understand the guilt and shame inherent to losing the Christian game day after day?

Do they perceive the confusion they cause by saying “You don’t look like someone with Asperger’s…”, or “everything you experience, NTs go through too. You’re only labeling attention-seeking behavior with a flavor-of-the-month name”, and “Jesus has the power to heal your mental illness.”

1. Anyone who knows anything about the autism spectrum knows that like NTs, no two Aspies are exactly alike,

2. If I was seeking attention, I would strip naked in a bar on $3 Mojita Night; besides, I had never even heard of Asperger’s Syndrome until my diagnosis, and,

3. Asperger’s Syndrome is not a mental illness. It’s a neurobiological condition, a PDD – Pervasive Developmental Disorder. We are born this way. We can learn to be socially bilingual, but we are out of the spectrum of “norm” (who’s Norm?). Even so, we are your engineers, inventors, poets, artists and dreamers. The need for support is great, but the need for healing as Christianity defines healing isn’t.

We Aspies are notorious for literal thinking – taking at face value what is said, read or written. Thus, it is often recommended that we not participate in organized faith practices because we are too vulnerable to depression, severe anxiety, and even suicidal ideation because of faith-based guilt.

Maybe if my parents had known this growing up, things might have been different (not that they preached the hell-&-damnation Gospel, despite taking us children to evangelical churches). I was clinically diagnosed when I was 30 years old, after months of investigation, careful study, and gentle probing.

Yet faith had already literally rooted itself into my life. Was I now to let go?

No.

As logical as it seems to stay away from teachings that cause such debilitating fear (so much so that the thirteen-year-old me created escape plans for the inevitable AntiChrist Army that would march down our street to shoot me after the rest of my family had successfully been raptured), it would be even less logical to believe that God would create a group of strange people created to be forever distanced from Jesus because we can’t know Him in the right way. 

Processing the world differently, stilting about awkwardly in social groups, saying things at the wrong times or not saying anything at all can be hallmarks of being an Aspie. However, my three-dimensional visions of faith in Jesus Christ stamp me as more odd than any PDD. 

Want to support an Aspie in faith? Stop playing the game. We want to be a part of family, but for that to happen, we need to help create new rules. Who knows? Your weirdness might find a home in the Aspie world.

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Church Stories: Cursed Creed by David Henson

Today I am thrilled to share a beautiful and challenging guest post from my friend David Henson.  

David  received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalist. He is currently a postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church and writing his first book.  David is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student. He blogs here, and you can find him on Facebook and Twitter. He enjoys hearing from anyone who reads his work, especially, but not exclusively, if they like it.

***

Transient

When my faith foundered, the voices echoing the Nicene Creed in the cavernous halls of an ornate Episcopal church in Alabama caught me. Buoyed by the voices of the saints past and present in that parish, I felt my faith picked up at the seams and pinned to angels who carried me over canyons of doubt. It was as if, unable to reach toward heaven on my own, the confident voices of those around me raised my own voice like a marionette doll, awkward, but vaguely human.

The Creed saved my faith. It saved me.

Now, though, I wonder how many of those strong voices that I felt had carried me in my weakness relied on me just the same. And, maybe, this is the true beauty of the Creed, not that all those past and present raised their voices in utter faith and bold assurance of things unseen. Perhaps it is in the feeble offerings of each voice, giving strength to the crippled, cracked cries of the next, that the Creed's true power lies. That every time we say the Creed together, we create our faith together, spinning it out of the thin, stained light, the musty, moth-eaten faith of our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters.

How ephemeral this faith is, shimmering on quivering voices, threatening to disappear with its images of God and to leave behind only the smell of stale coffee breath and peppermint gum.

When we affirm our faith with the Creed, are we really simply affirming our faith in the faith of others, past, present and future? 
Yet, out of such a beautiful, farcical facade, faith and community can be created, like gold from straw.

Currently, there is a popular video about the Nicene Creed circulating in my social media circles that implores Christians not to be "robots" when they say Creed, but rather to make it "real," whatever that means. I think it's a well meaning, but ultimately misguided, attempt to make the Creed relevant and interesting to today's generation. Most troubling, the video edits the Nicene  Creed's most important word, changing "We believe" into "I believe." In effect, it transforms a communal creed whose meaning is built upon the historic confession of Christians for centuries into a personal one whose meaning is built upon how an individual feels about that confession at any given moment. It robs the Nicene Creed of its power and authority and forces it to submit to latent individualism.

But the Nicene Creed transcends individual belief. It transcends my doubt and your doubt, our skepticism and our disbelief because it is dependent on something much greater than the whims of our conflicted and troubled minds.

Some days, the Nicene Creed is transcendent. On other days, there's not much left in the it that I believe as I once did, with the conviction that would make it "real" as the video implores. It's not so much that I've dismantled the deep mysterious myths and stories of the virgin birth, the resurrection, the one baptism for forgiveness of sins, the existence of one holy, catholic and apostolic faith. Rather it's that I have realized that these true mysteries of the Christian faith have little to do with how I feel about the content of such stories. On those days when I disbelieve, I proudly proclaim I am nothing more than a robot mumbling through the Creed and allowing the voices of the saints past, present and future wash over me, like a salve, not to restore my faith in belief, but my faith in community. In these moments, I am much more aware that the community of the church is so much more than the sacred stories that bind us together. And, that somewhere between the two— my faith and the historic faith — lies something holy.

It is as fragile as decaying lace. And as beautiful, too.

But it is a beauty tinged with a curse. As the pious above chant of the God begotten of Light, the unfaithful faithful call out in ragged whispers their own stories of Inquisitions, of lost political battles at important councils of faith, of unjust executions in the name of the Christ and of excommunications to shore up power. And, then, there are the ones who could not manage to say some form of the Creed, or say it convincingly enough, and found themselves on the coal-black end of a burning stake. They are God's children, exiled by the Creed, Christians made non-Christian when the faith was forced through the sieve of statecraft. They are our forefathers and mothers of the faith, crucified for unity, now calling out for resurrection.

The recent video sanctimoniously reminds viewers that "some saints have sacrificed their lives in defense of this Creed." We would do well to remember how many heretics — real or imagined — were made to sacrifice their own lives because of it, too.

So, I mumble the Creed with reluctant lips and an eager heart, begging forgiveness for it even as I am healed by it.

Still, I confess it every Sunday, regardless of how real it seems, because what itrepresents — the faith of the historic church — is so much larger than my feelings about.

The Creed saved my faith, completely, and it continues to as I limp along the path of Christ. But I can't help but feel that sometimes, it damns me just as fully.

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Church stories: Facing my brother’s addiction

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing stories of people’s church experiences—some inspiring, some frustrating, some encouraging, some heartbreaking. (Read Jessica Goudeau's church story: "Being the Change We Seek.")  Today’s post comes to us from Rebecca Howard.* Rebecca is committed to the Church and passionate about calling the people of God into deeper community with each other and those around them. Professionally, she researches adolescence, trauma and faith and how they intersect. Her story today is about how well-intentioned Christians responded poorly to her brother’s addiction. 

'Silhouette' photo (c) 2010, docentjoyce - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I’m not sure when my brother died.

It’s tricky because while in some ways he’s very much alive – he breathes, eats, sleeps and has temporal mass –in others he is a walking ghost.

For at least the last decade and arguably several years longer, my baby brother has been an addict. Alcohol, women, opiates – he dabbles in many vices. All of them destructive. All of them expensive in myriads of ways. All of them symptoms of larger problems no professional can seem to accurately assess, diagnose or cure.

Before you ask, yes, there have been professionals. Therapists and learning specialists dotted the landscape of his troubled adolescence. As we, his family, felt the sweet sensitive boy of his childhood slip through our fingers we gladly prostrated ourselves at the altar of anyone who claimed wisdom—first and foremost our local evangelical congregation (more on that later).

But as his high school experience slammed to a close in a series of disrupted celebrations, we began to face the inevitable: drug addiction.

For many years we lived in denial. It’s easy to do – how can you accuse someone you love of being one of “those people”? You convince yourself it’s only a phase, only one party, only a short span of time. As addicts are expert liars, the line between casual experimentation during adolescence and full-blown addiction often sweeps by unnoticed. We were a good family who made good decisions and lived upstanding lives – surely our youngest was not caught up in that world. But the last months of his high school years brought many events which convinced us this was all beyond our control. We began to grapple with the reality that the little boy we had watched grow up was dead and something new was living in my brother’s body. AddictBrother was a lot different than RealBrother, and we were not quite sure how to get RealBrother back.

After several confrontations, ultimatums and interventions, he chose to go to a 90-day, residential treatment facility in a far-away state. When he emerged from that program seemingly sober, we thought for sure our nightmare was over. Instead it would continue over the next several years – ruining his college experience and possibly damaging his future as an adult. Deception, followed by brief honesty,  followed by residential facility, followed by further deception marked the rhythms of the next few years of our lives. As I type this, he is in the process of transitioning from residential facility number six to halfway house number two. He has been kicked out of facilities, relapsed several times and spent a weekend as a homeless beggar. While he has finally reached the point of desired sobriety, his inner angels seem to be constantly shouted down by his greater demons. We are continuously walking the tightrope of trying to help him make good choices and trying to keep him safe and alive. Trust me, the moment where you have the choice of letting your baby brother be homeless or going to rescue him is not one anyone should have to have.

  As he makes this transition, we cling to hope. We have accepted the death of the boy we once knew and are eagerly anticipating getting to know the NewBrother who will be resurrected out of the destruction.

I could regale you with stories of the past few years: things I never thought I would have to know but do, like the street value of OxyContin or the smell of a detox facility. However, I want to share something especially painful: the reaction of the church towards our family crisis. 

We are a faith-based family. I have attended church services since I was in the womb and have been in leadership positions in various congregations since I was 11.

We are not a periphery family. My parents were close friends with much of our pastoral staff at the church I grew up in. In the past decade I have been a youth worker at several churches, worked at various faith-based nonprofits, served as a missionary and was a seminary student. The faith community is central to the bedrock of our family.

And yet people of faith have routinely sucked.

I have been told his addiction is my fault, my parent’s fault, Satan’s fault. I have been told I am simply not praying hard enough or I simply do not have enough faith. I have been told my life is too stressful for someone to be in community with me. I have been accused of being a bad youth worker since I couldn’t even keep my brother out of trouble. I have been told this is God’s plan for our family and if we just keep persevering, God’s glory will be known and it will all be worth it. I have been told that my suffering at my brother’s choice is simply “my cross to bear.”

None of that was helpful.

None of that was loving.

None of it was the correct response.

His addiction is not my fault. Nor is it my parents’ fault. Nor is it Satan’s fault. My brother’s addiction is a horrible mixture of choices and biology, but those choices are his own and are not a reflection on my parents or myself ,and especially not my abilities as a youth worker. I have prayed and wept and fasted and screamed for God to intervene. And to be honest, I do not care how much God deserves glory – if the last decade of my life was just for that purpose, I have no desire to serve, love or worship that god. 

I needed to be held as I cried.

I needed to be told that someone else knew life was hell and they were sorry.

I needed to be reminded it was not. my. fault.

Really, what it boils down to is that I never needed platitudes and I always needed to be loved. I never needed to hear the casual, flippant response of "well, I’m praying for you" at the conclusion of the conversation. While I understand that is the only programmed response within Christendom to crisis, it is faulty. I never needed to be told that I was enabling my brother with the ways in which we were trying to help him find life. If you do not have professional degrees, do not diagnose people or situations. It helps no one and could serve to damage further.

Throughout the years I have found people who have trudged the battlefield with me. Who have driven me to visit him in facilities and helped me hide from dealers to whom he owed money. Who have fixed me meals when I could not muster the energy to press a microwave button and who have forced me to laugh when I forgot what joy felt like in my soul. I cherish those people and hopefully they know how much. They have mostly been people of deep and abiding faith and I am indebted to them for helping me find glimpses of heaven in the midst of hell.

Community is necessary in crisis.

How can the church be present in crisis?

 By being present.

The holiest thing anyone has ever told me is “I am so very sorry” and meant it.

You can tell when someone is deeply sorry and when someone is trying desperately to end the conversation because they’re uncomfortable. It should tell you something that after ten years of this garbage, I am still shocked when someone looks me straight in the eyes and expresses their sorrow over my pain. It’s like a breath of fresh air and honors me more than those people probably know.

So I suppose that’s my call to the Church: be present, be loving and join in their brokenness. Fix food and run errands, but most of all, provide a safe place for them to feel validated in their pain. Provide glimpses of hope in the tension of suffering and don’t offer answers you don’t have.

Love requires patience and often patience requires the willingness to sit in the brokenness of humanity and groan along with it.

May you find the strength to do that and in turn provide that strength to others.

Above all, may you learn the holiness of “I am so very sorry.”

***

*name changed to protect family privacy

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