Of Logs and Motes and Sealing Wax
August 6th, 2007 by Sonja

It all began with a confession of sorts. Now I’ve witnessed some confessions before. The really heartfelt ones bring all witnesses to their knees. I saw one last night on (of all places) Law & Order – Criminal Intent. In this particular episode a nun confessed her part in a vicious hate crime that had taken place seventeen years earlier. She had spent the intervening years working out her penance in the convent; getting and keeping girls off the mean streets of NYC. But she had willingly and with malice helped to beat a black teen senseless and it had left him in a near vegetative state for years. He was about to die as a result of his wounds. I doubt I will ever be enough of a writer to describe for you the heart that went into her confession. I’ve seen it several times now and it brings me to tears each time.

It was a confession. A verbal description of the wrong done. It was complete with details and full disclosure of the depravity of the moment. It also included an understanding of wrong and growth in grace. The last thing that it included was a full comprehension that no matter how much grace, mercy or forgiveness God may give, there are still lasting consequences for ill behavior in the kingdom of men. The nun understood that giving her confession in the presence of police officers and a district attorney meant that it was “on the record.” The district attorney told her that it would be sealed and in the event of the victim’s death, homicide charges would be filed against her and the men who had committed the hate crime. She squared her shoulders, a weight seemed to lift from her and she looked him in the eye, “I’ll be there this time. But now I must tend to my girls.”

There has been a discussion carrying on in other realms of the blogosphere about another confession by Gary Smalley that occurred in the near past. Apparently, he did a lot of his writing while his heart wasn’t in it. But … he’s all better now. Okay. So I’m not really certain what’s so sinful about that. Writing was his job. A lot of people do their job when their heart isn’t in it. Perhaps what he really needs is a new job. But that’s not the point of this post. I’m going to summarize by quoting from Brother Maynard, because it gets me where I want to go most quickly and it gives the links most succinctly and then I can get on with my point without boring you, my dear reader, to tears:

Brant Hansen opines on the recovery of Gary Smalley, noting how Gary went from all-good to was-bad-but-now-all-good without any real mention of what came between … the “bad” part. The IMonk takes note and adds on about the cult of Christian celebrity, somewhat tongue-in-cheek at points: “If you believe the entire Christian celebrity culture is a dangerous and polluted waste of mind, heart and money, you must just want to be difficult.” Put me down for just wanting to be difficult.

Just tuned in? At issue is the way in which the Christian culture makes celebrities of people, and the way that they ignore stories of people who struggle, waiting for them to “get better” and come back with a great recovery story. Everyone loves a good recovery story … but nobody wants to hear about sin before it’s become a thing of the past.

Quick primer:

I struggled.


I’m struggling.

not good.

Basically, sin isn’t an acceptable subject unless you’ve gotten over it. We want to hear about current victories over past sin, not current struggles with present sin. If you’re still sinning, go away and come back when you’ve gotten over it and have your life back together.

That’s from Bro. M’s “Come Back When You Have An “After” Story, Okay?” At some point that is a must read as well as the comment thread (in which you will see me confess to using colorful language … but shhhh … it’s a secret 😉 )

I’ve been mulling this over. This idea of forgiveness and grace and mercy and judgement. Confession and sin. How does it all work together? How do we mete it out here in the corporal world? Which is vastly different from how God metes it all out and can the two be the same? Are we humans indeed at all capable of being forgiving on that level? What kind of vulnerability does it require on the part of the confessee and the confessor?

I’m wondering about the issues that we consider “sin” … what are they? Most often they are the things that hurt one another. There are the various lists in the Bible … the big 10, and the issues laid out by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Interestingly, Jesus focuses on ideas and words, and I harken back to that childhood nursery rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” This called out to dull the effect of name-calling and bullying in the schoolyard. We all grow up and begin to understand that words can hurt … they cut deeper than any knife and the pain can last a lifetime. I think this is what Jesus is speaking to in his instructions to the adulterer and murder in the Sermon on the Mount … just thinking about a woman in lust is leaving your wife and simply thinking about a person less than you is committing murder. Think deeply about those two concepts for a moment. Stop right here and do that. If you keep reading, I’ll walk you through it. If you are so certain that another person is alien enough to be called a fool, then they are “other” enough to be killed and you may as well have committed the act itself. Once you have degraded another person to the level of fool in your mind, you have become capable of killing them. That is the logic of Jesus. Now think about how we hear the likes of Hitler, Stalin and other military leaders speak of the “enemy” … the logic of Jesus makes eminent sense.

So, why do we have such a problem with the in-between times? Why don’t we want to walk with the hurting? We all love a great freedom story, but we don’t like the underground railroad. We don’t want to walk the thousand miles with the slaves to freedom, we just want to get there … as if beamed up by Scotty on the USS Enterprise. No mis-steps in between, no muddy swamps, no hard cold forest floors slept in, no musty moldy hay ricks, no cramped attic spaces, no fear, no sweat, no losing our way because the night sky is lost in clouds, no getting caught by slave catchers … nope none of that for us … just nice and clean, “Beam me up Scotty, I’m done with that sin now, … God gave me a miracle.”

I have a theory about that … beam me up is easy. It’s immediate gratification. Our culture is famous for that. We get to eat dessert first. Our family visits to Vermont every summer from Virginia. Every summer I wish for a transporter room. But I think I wouldn’t appreciate camp nearly as much without the ten hour drive to get there … as painful as it is. Beyond the immediate gratification though lies another deeper issue. And that is that if we acknowledge to another that they struggle with an issue, we must acknowledge to ourselves that we struggle. Then we must acknowledge to others that we struggle. We must let down the facade that all is not right in our perfect world.

To step a bit further down this spiral staircase we must then acknowledge that we cannot understand another’s pain. Nor can we comprehend the grace and mercy they have extended to us. Allow me to explain. In any relationship there comes a time when the two (or more) parties come to harm. Whether it is through malice or obtuseness it matters not. There may or may not be apologies or confessions and extensions of grace and forgiveness. Over time the hurt builds on both sides. In a Jesus-following relationship there may be accusations made that include something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about the mote in my eye, worry about the log in yours.” Oh. Well. Both (or more) parties begin to feel quite put upon. Someone might say, “Can’t you extend any grace?” And it is in this instance we can see that both (or more) parties have extended quite a bit of grace and forgiveness, but none can see the totality of it. They can see the grace and mercy they have each extended, but not what has been given to them. Nor can can any of the parties understand the pain that they have all inflicted on one another, they can only comprehend their own pain.

That long dark walk on the underground railroad from slavery to freedom must be done in community. There are stops on the way. There are conductors who point out the safe havens for rest and the places which must be avoided because the hounds had been loosed. There are rare instances when Scotty (God) might beam us up, but I think S/He means for us to walk the road together, learning to live in the messy existence when it’s the journey that counts. That we learn, slowly and surely who to trust on our walk to freedom. Who can be the conductors and who are the slave catchers. Who is watching for that everpresent North Star calling out to us for freedom.

3 Responses  
  • Paul writes:
    August 7th, 20076:40 amat

    I wonder sometimes that the reason we like a good come back story is that it gives us hope, it allows us to think that there might be something good in our own pain, confusion, strugles etc… I’ve also come to believe that most people are rooting for us when we are struggling but are often clumsy human about how we do it – we’re not trained professionals, counsellors etc so we mean well when we talk about god working it for good, for prayer and more prayer, for cutting off blood ties and all the rest – we are naturally atuned to finding solutions, offering formula and making practical suggestions of who to listen too/read/go to etc…

    Too actually do as you suggest Sonja and walk the long journey together, where sometimes we’ll be the ones who hurt and sometimes the ones who have caused the hurt, sometimes the strong and often the weak is a very hard thing. Often in my case because i want people to love and support me in the way i want and most people are trying to love and support me in the way they want to be loved and supported and so we go round busily trying to help and end up just treading on each others toes and adding to our limps…

    It takes a lot of time, commitment, communication to try and work these things out – and most of us find it very hard to do that in marriage, let alone in church.

    Which is one of the better reasons i can think of going and being part of a church – being flawed together and learning to think the best of others is such a work of the Holy Spirit in us, always pushing towards reconciliation – the work of those tetonic spiritual forces, is the very thing that changes and transforms me in my struggles and enables me to start to help a little – not yet as a completey fixed person (altho that is the eternal hope) but as a fellow wounded healer

  • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
    August 7th, 20077:34 amat

    Paul … yeah! and that’s a church I might one day want to be a part of. I just haven’t found it yet … too many of the churches I’ve seen want shiney happy faces and “Beam me up Scotty” … they don’t want to walk the hard road together. Because it undoubtedly IS a hard road and it’s dark and cold out there.

  • Erin writes:
    August 7th, 200712:32 pmat

    Thing is, we DO confess our sin – just the little run-of-the-mill ones and not the real ones.

    “I yelled at my kids yesterday” vs. “I drank all day because my husband yelled at me.” Or something like that.

    I never, never, never in the church ever confessed any “real” sin because “what would people think?”

    Exactly what you’re talking about. It’s ok to have little sin, but big sin better have already been overcome before you get to church or you’re in big trouble. Like what Brant Hansen said – have a good recovery story and we’ll love to hear it.

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