Okay, I really am otherwise done with my endless end-of-year lists. And given my relatively erratic blogging, I’m not sure if I really get to do a top ten list of blog entries. Last year we transitioned the blog from the Renovatus site to here. From either site, there really was one entry that was shared more than any other. It was from my series of letters, and this was in many ways my most transparent entry. I’m still feeling it as much in the new year as I did last year, so I thought I would post it one more time. I really can’t think of any better way to start a new year than with repentance.
To the ravaged bride (somewhere in America),
I could pretend that I don’t love you anymore. I could yell and scream and break things. I could walk out dramatically like you and I are on a movie set, and say something pious as I slam the door. I could manufacture looks of disgust, or better yet I could turn my eyes away. But you know me too well, don’t you? You know that even when I’m petty or enraged, even when I lash out at you with self-righteousness indignation (is there any other kind?)—you always have my heart. Even when you are in tatters, your gown ripped and your make-up smeared, a clownish parody of what you once were—you are still beautiful.
So I write you less as a scorned lover, and more as a heartsick old fool, wearing my displaced affections like medals. And I want to talk to you with the detached wisdom of a professor or the elegant rhythm of a poet, but I always end up stammering when I’m close to you. Why bother to go through the machinations of fury and distance when you see through me every time? You see me wearing my rage and my confidence like a silly fake mustache, a failed disguise for my broken heart.
So I’m writing you today, honest to God trying to avoid bravado and forced swagger, knowing that I am in you and you are in me. I want to write you off, I want to cut you down to size. I want to tell you that you cannot be the bride Christ came to save, to tell you that you missed Him already and that He’s moved on to a more authentic love. But I know that you are still the bride, and I know He hasn’t moved on from you. So I’m stuck here, chained to the radiator, loving you under part compulsion and part real tenderness.
You’re still seductively pretty. But for the life of me I can’t figure out what’s happened to you, to your charm and courage and grace under pressure. There’s a mad and hopelessly wonderful jungle around your house, full of danger and opportunity. Why are you trying to burn it down? You used to know that when the people around you were at their angriest and everybody was looking for someone to stone—you would just go walking through them with no weapon but your own fragrant perfume. You didn’t just charm, you disarmed—you could walk through a room and make it go silent save for the clang of swords dropping to the ground. You brought tenderness into the war zone and wine to the party. What happened to you to make you start acting like them—screaming and demanding and posturing?
You still look the same from a distance, but up close I know something is bad wrong.. Something is different this time around. I don’t know who you are. Whenever I’m at denominational meetings, and we are trying to find somebody to blame for our sinking ship…I don’t just see the individuals. I see you in all of your collective horror. I’ve seen your outrage at political rallies, festivities that talk about “values“ without words like “kingdom” or “cross.” I heard your protests when “they” started infringing on our territory (Muslims and Mexicans and lions and tigers and bears), and you felt like you needed to stand up to them instead of laying down your life for them. I noticed when your rhetoric went from “good news” to yet another kind of paranoid propaganda.
Let’s not be coy here, honey. We’ve lived together for too long, and we know each others secrets and habits and fears. We share ideas and we share clothes, we drink from the same cup, for Christ’s sake. But didn’t you think anybody would notice that your knuckles started getting bloodier than your palms? That the blood on your hands was theirs and not yours?
It’s not that I don’t think you’ve still got answers to give. It’s not that the world outside needs you any less. But right now the chemo seems more toxic than the cancer, baby. We came here to this place to lay down our lives, but the corpses in the back yard are more from our swords than from our crosses.
Do you think me naïve? You think I don’t know there is an enemy to fight? On the contrary, lover, I’ve seen the monsters under the bed. I know that there is a force of evil in the world that is greater than the sum of its parts. I know we’ve got dragons to slay. It’s just that they don’t scare me.
It’s too late in the night to speak falsely now, so I’ll risk more honesty than can be afforded on an average Sunday: I know the world is a volatile, dangerous place. There is a part of me, cold and scientific, that expects the world to blow itself up. It’s not prophecy, baby, it’s pure arithmetic. We are endlessly creative in finding new ways to conquer and destroy. The more people learn to manipulate chemicals and machines, the worse our chances get.
But if I’m honest, that doesn’t really scare me either. If more war breaks out tomorrow and the rockets red glare becomes nuclear and dirty bombs are bursting in air, and half the creation is maimed—I still believe that the creative power of divine love would rise from the ashes. God already died. Terrorism is not nearly so frightening as blood and water gushing from the side of the creator, and even that terror of terrors was swept up in resurrection life. I am not afraid of the horrible things human beings might do to me or do to one another.
But I am afraid of you—still the most powerful thing in the universe, still the world’s great hope. You are still the Church, honey. Nobody has the power to create or destroy quite like you. Sometimes we have seen the world around us exploding, and when we do we groan with the creation for the restoration that is to come. But what if you go up in flames? What if the salt loses its saltiness? What if you take the oil from your own lamp, once chaste and patient virgin, and throw it on someone else’s face—and strike the match? The apostle said that the weapons of your warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God. But you’ve been firing them in the dense fog, you don’t who or what you are aiming at. You’ve been flailing punches instead of turning the other cheek.
God help us, you’ve been beating your plowshares into swords.
You know I’m no cynic—I’ve loved you too long for that. This is love animated by grief. I still believe in you despite all of your vices. You can still dazzle me. You can still dazzle the world, bride of God. But things are feeling as insane in here as they are out there, honey. And I don’t know what else to do except to remind you of the time you were lovely.