It has been just about two weeks since my last entry and to say that things have changed in my life would be a gross understatement. I find it funny how things work themselves out often without the use of my hand. For example, two weeks ago I didn’t have an internship site, now I do. Two weeks ago I would have been ashamed to claim a Lutheran identity as my own, now I’m not running away from it. Two weeks ago I didn’t feel like I had a place where I belonged, now I know I do.
I have never been one to fit the mold. Whether it was the fact I was the poor fat kid growing up or the theological misfit causing trouble in college for often no good reason, I have never felt as though I was what everyone else thought I should be. Often I have felt misunderstood, ignored, denigrated, and sneered at. I feel like people have always resented my place among them because of my tendency to question the established thoughts and practices.
What some may or may not know is why I have such a distrust for those in authority, especially those affiliated with the church. While there have surely been those people in my life whom I know I can trust both within my family and within the church I have had my share of those who have done nothing but foster an attitude of distrust within me.
Growing up, my parents were divorced. While my older sister and brother might remember a time when my parents were together, I cannot. My earliest memories of my parents in the same room involve shouts and harsh language designed only to break the other down. As kids were always told they didn’t want to put us in the middle, but that is exactly where we always ended up. Choosing one over the other. Being forced to see one as right and the other as mental.
I wish I could say that when my parents remarried trust was rebuilt with those in authority but it wasn’t. My mother remarried two other times and both of those men treated her and us abusively. Physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse were all things I had experienced by the time I was a sophomore in high school. I cannot begin to tell you how fast I felt I had to grow up. Whether it was because my dad and I had a blowout and didn’t talk for near a decade, the fact that we were poor, or because I had to defend my mom from a drunk, I felt that I was more mature than those who should have been parenting me.
There was one place though where I thought those in authority actually did care for me and that was my home church. But year after year disunion, disloyalty, and disingenuous behavior forced more people out than I can count. Anonymous letters, unloving ultimatums, and harsh confrontations were the backdrop of that one place that had been the only place of stability in my life. For whatever reason, this misuse and abuse of authority did more to cause my distrust than what I experienced at home.
In college and at my first seminary my distrust only grew. In private a professor defended me and in class he hung me out to dry. Time and again I felt they were hiding behind their theology as a convenient excuse to espouse a disinterested view in the world around us. I have spoken before about what sem had done to me and how it broke me in ways I never thought I could be broken. How people in that role of ecclesiastical authority over me did little to protect me and more to protect their own collective interests. All of these experiences have contributed to a great distrust for authority, especially ecclesiastical authority, and have without a doubt caused me to be ashamed of a theological heritage and perspective that defines who I am.
But now I sit in a very precarious position because once again I am in a position of having someone in a role of authority over me and at first I was nervous. Coming back to seminary this is what I had feared the most. That I had to subject myself to yet another person who in the end wouldn’t really care about me and wouldn’t see me for the person I am. Yet somehow I found my way to a church and to a pastor and now I stand in that very position that two weeks ago I feared wouldn’t even be a possibility.
It amazes me how things can change, how perspectives can change. My wife and I just spent a weekend in a church we never set foot in before, with a people we didn’t know, and for the first time in I don’t know how long I feel like I am right where I belong. Like I am in a place that is going to be for me something I have been missing. A place of love. A place of hope. A place where I don’t have to be ashamed. A place where I don’t have to be afraid. A place where I am cared for as a person, regardless of my past.
And as I sit here tonight, reveling in the place I have found I know that there are so many people who might never know what I feel. What it feels like to be loved. To belong. To be secure in yourself and your heritage. To be proud and honest. To be true to oneself. And for those people my heart truly breaks. Nobody should ever feel as though they don’t belong. Nobody should ever feel insecure about who they are and where they came from. Nobody should ever have to hide behind a veneer of falsity. Nobody should ever have to deny the person that they are.
This is where things need to change. This is where we need to find a better way. Not just we as in the church but we as in the world. August 28th marked the 48th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech. What has always stood out to me about King is his concern not only for those held down because of their race, but his concern for any injustice anywhere. When King died he was in Memphis because of a garbage strike. When he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he meant it. He lived it. In that shadow we too need to live.
Where King had a dream, we have the chance, the opportunity and the ability to create a new reality. A reality where we turn to one another and embrace one another not as enemies but as brothers and sisters. A reality where we realize that all of our lives are dependent upon and inextricably related to each other. A reality where we care for one another as each of us has need. A reality where we without reservation show one another the love and acceptance every single human being deserves. A reality formed and defined by love.