A New Christian Apology
Christians have spent a lot of time doing apologetics- defined as intellectually defending the faith. Important? Sure. But how much time have we spent apologizing? I think you and I can agree: not enough. I was deeply convicted of this as I worked alongside some of the most passionate, creative, committed and selfless people; bartenders...and servers, hosts cooks, chefs, managers...And guess what? Many of them had been rejected by the Church for some pretty petty reasons. But what I found in these men and women were mentors; people who passionately pursued their purposes to provide food, drink, and hospitality with integrity and conviction. These words are a humble response to the work that you do and the love that you give. This apology is also for my fellow brothers and sisters who have found themselves in Christian community shaped, not by transformative grace, but legalistic standards that offer only shame and isolation.
Both of my eyes are closed. Blinded by my pride. Self-righteous, self- reliant, centered on my self. Self as savior and friend, judge and jury. Only I myself am never acquitted, quite opposite really: trapped in a labyrinth of ceaseless justification, circling justly just to survive.
Help me escape. My anxiety is an eternal force stronger than my will, my hope, stronger than my faith. My faith. Faith in…my ability to believe in something. Faith in the amount of good I can do. The way that I can live up to the standards that are set for me. Strange how these standards don’t quite feel like grace. Or Freedom. Or love, hope, joy, peace.
Hmm. The Gospel. Good news! Let’s proclaim it to everyone! The Good News that…that…we can be better. That we can be more moral, better at self-control, sin-control. You shouldn’t drink too much, probably shouldn’t smoke anything…definitely don’t have sex. Or lie, cheat or steal. We might gossip a little but only to help people be better. We may not always listen and love, serve and sacrifice, but only because we need to tell people how wrong they are. Because that’s the Gospel- you can be so much better, better like we are. Look at me. I’m so great. I was really bad and now I’m better. Life is like a dream, everything is fine. Smile. Keep smiling or they might wonder if you’re not quite as in control of your life as you put off. What if they see that I’m still broken? That I still feel lonely, kind of like I am falling short left and right, and I need to find a way to reach the finish line before I can rest. Before I can enjoy life, live. Live as a whole human, holy and set apart, set apart and special. Well not too special, just especially good at following the rules, making sure all of my T’s are dotted and my i's are crossed. Wait, that’s not right. Sometimes its too much to keep straight...
I’m sorry. I’ll keep apologizing so you know that I should be better. That gives you hope, right? The hope that you can work really hard and be better is what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it? That's the the secret of the universe that you’ve been searching for; that if I just give you the rules you can follow them and be satisfied, secure, full of life. Those rules and standards supply the light and life you need to continue on? Right?
Wrong. Are you ready? Here it is: I struggle with pride. Pride that puts others down, judges, that doesn’t show kindness or grace. It is the counterpart to my insecurities. They tell me I’m not enough, my pride assures me I am, and up and down on the teeter I totter, always zooming right past the grace and freedom that are waiting for me in the middle. I have the hardest time staying satisfied, I envy other’s talents, situations and accomplishments. But who I envy most is the version of myself that lives in my head, the perfected, airbrushed Teena 2.0 that boasts of being blemish-free in both character and skin. Wanna know what else? I have an insatiable desire to know that I am liked, approved of, and somehow special enough to make a difference in your life. I know this because as I’m writing these words, I'm wondering how you will look at me differently for confessing these things to you while simultaneously hoping that my words impact you in some way. I have the hardest time examining my motives because I fool myself so easily…
And this is only the short list. Each day brings an increased awareness of the depth of my brokenness, a new reason to remember my undeniable need for grace. Grace: the beautiful freedom from this sin that so easily entangles my heart and discolors the glorious image that I bear. Freedom to walk as a new creation in Christ, made holy, wholly Teena. Just as it was meant to be.
This apology is from me- your friend, your bartender, your sister- to you. But I hope these words can in some way be a surrogate apology for that Christian(s) in your past or present who have hurt you and, for probably a multitude of reasons, aren’t willing or able to extend these words to you:
I’m sorry. Sorry for the times that I didn’t recognize and celebrate your gifts and uniqueness but judged you according to an arbitrary, rigid mold in my mind. I tried to put those burdens on you- to look, talk, and behave in a certain way, and I made you feel inferior when you didn’t. I pretended I was living up to those standards, but I wasn’t. I’m sorry for the times you just wanted someone to listen but I cut you off, because I had something so insightful to say. I’m sorry for the trite and empty sayings that I offered you in your time of real need, when you were vulnerable and weak. I wish I would have had the strength to just be present, without conditions, to share in your hidden pain. I’m sorry that I didn’t have it.
I sincerely want to apologize for all of the times that I was afraid to admit my faults, my fears, my failures. You needed to know that I was broken too but instead I contorted myself so that you could only see my good side, posed and poised. Perfect. Authenticity is something I didn’t offer you. I said that the only prerequisite for being a Christian was admitting brokenness and need and trusting that it was found in Jesus. I said that…but I didn’t believe it then. I pronounced a faith that brought true life, fullness of love and joy, and flourishing for all in the most vibrant way...but I didn’t know the Way. Maybe the way to pray and speak the language, to follow the rules and keep quiet when I didn’t. I knew the way to the Way. But I didn’t know Him. Personally, intimately, hourly. I’m sorry for not understanding grace in a real way, allowing His love to be my source of rest and freedom. Freedom to be wholly me, uniquely and powerfully, lacking only fear and insecurity.
One last thing I want to apologize for: compulsively apologizing for the wrong things. I often say I'm sorry in an attempt to self-monitor. It is yet another way that I want to show you that I'm making myself better. I am no longer sorry when you see my sin, my bad side, but only when I try to hide it, and in doing so hide the Face of love. The face of grace that shines brightly in my failings and falling short.
You- unique and flawed, beautiful and scarred, made on purpose with incredible worth and value- Me. You, different than me. Different in facets unnumbered and yet resembling my reflection as I begin to see your essential longings, the ones that set us apart among the vastness of creation. You have opened my eyes, awakened my mind and spoken to my heart. Thank You.