Archives For spirituality

Loss of Lament

June 25, 2014 — 2 Comments

 

Image credit: philippe leroyer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image credit: philippe leroyer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On a hot summer night in 2012, I tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep. I was angry and frustrated. The year before I’d been fired from a large church for “not being a good fit.” After blaming the church leaders failed to satiate my anger, I turned to blaming God. If God was omnipotent and loving, why didn’t God prevent this from happening to me and my family? I’d committed no great sin; there was no moral or ethical failure that led to my dismissal. Yet, within just a few weeks of being let go, my family and I moved out of our house and headed to a duplex on the other side of the country.

As we settled in to our new place, we became quick friends with the couple renting out the other half of the duplex. He was a mechanical engineer from Switzerland and she was a nurse from New Jersey, both in their mid-forties. They’d moved to Oregon from Nashville only a week before us. As we got to know them, we danced around the topics of faith and religion. They knew I worked at a seminary in the area. I  learned that he was an atheist and she was a lapsed Catholic. Both were angry at God and religion.

See, she’d been battling breast cancer for a long time. A few years prior, it had gone into remission (again). Then, in 2010, she lost her house in the Nashville floods. All the church could offer her for why bad things kept happening to her was an paltry, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” She decided that God was a jerk and that she’d done nothing to deserve the tragedies that seemed to follow her around. She left church and never returned. The reason they left Nashville and moved across the country was to try and make a fresh start, to leave behind cancer and chemo and flooded houses and Christianese.

Less than a year after the move, she learned that her cancer was back. She had to quit her job at the hospital and become a patient in it. She underwent round after round of treatment, losing large amounts of hair and weight. That restless summer night in 2012, I’d just had a conversation with her husband who confided in me that things were looking bad.

As I tried to go to sleep that night, I was angry. I was still being angry with God for what had happened to me and my family, and now I  was angry that God allowed our neighbor’s cancer to return. These friends already shouldered more sorrow than was their fair share. So I tossed and turned, anger welling up inside me and, for the first time in over a year, I prayed. It went something like this:

“Who do you think you are, God? You call yourself ‘Love’? There isn’t anything loving about this. What we’re dealing with here isn’t fair. It’s not right. But I don’t want you to do anything for me. You want to do something? Heal HER. Destroy her cancer. Give her hope. Or maybe it would be better if you just left us all alone.”

I waited for the lightning to strike.

It didn’t.

And I felt a little better.

*******

We have lost the art of lament and it is killing our faith.

Western, affluent, success-oriented Christianity is so focused on blessing and praise that it doesn’t know what to do with tragedy or pain. In a weak attempt to offer consolation and hope, we sputter out platitudes about what God’s motivations must be (“God needed another angel in heaven”), what the grieving person should do (“just trust God’s plan”), or what we’ll do on their behalf (“I’ll pray for you”). At our core, though, we have no idea what to do with anger and tragedy and grief, so we do or say whatever we can to put some distance between us and it. In doing so, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to lament.  Continue Reading…

Confession has gotten a bad rap. In our strengths-driven, success-oriented, put-on-a-good-face, USAmerican culture, we don’t like to deal with our shortcomings, our failings, our sins. We deny, we equivocate, we rationalize, anything we can think of to avoid having to deal with the ways we’ve failed to love God, to love others, and love ourselves. We sweep those things far under the rug, out of sight, out of mind, where they fester and gnaw at our insides.

In confession, we are asked to confront head on all those things that we suppress so well. We are afraid that confession will somehow make us into Hester Prynne, that we will have to don our own scarlet letter. But that’s not at all what happens.

Confession doesn’t brand us with our sins, it releases us from them. Confession exposes the dark things in our lives to the Light. There can be no darkness where there is light. Confession destroys our sin. It heals us.

This is an exclusive piece I wrote for The Antioch Session. Read the rest and join the conversation there.

Fog lifting from a field on a December morning in Oregon. © R. Anderson Campbell, 2011.

Fog lifting from a field on a December morning in Oregon. © R. Anderson Campbell, 2011.

I’m done with “spiritual formation.”

I’m over it and you should be, too. Let me explain.

In much of the evangelicalism, “spiritual formation” is only an veiled way of referring to disciplines or practices intended to be undertaken by an individual for the sake of the individual. This compartmentalization of faith, this dualism, must stopContinue Reading…

"I'm not botherin' you, am I?"

“I’m not botherin’ you, am I?”

When you think of “spirituality,” what comes to mind? Prayer? Yoga poses? Light and peace and health? For much of my youth, “spirituality” was something that only Buddhists or New Age hippies pursued. As a good, Southern Baptist evangelical, I didn’t have “spirituality,” I had my “walk with Jesus.” 

Mostly, this consisted of a daily “quiet time” with God, in which I read a passage out of the Bible, wrote down my thoughts in a journal, and prayed. The undercurrent was one of fear, though. I viewed God as a Divine Curmudgeon, the Great Mr. Wilson in the sky. My attempts at daily discipline were to try and placate him, to show him how serious and studious I was about wanting a relationship with him. And to apologize. Every time I prayed, I brought with me a long list of sins for which I needed forgiveness. I begged God daily to allow the blood of Jesus to cover over my latest transgressions. Theologically, I understood that God would forgive me, but I sure didn’t think he was very happy about it. I figured he was fairly put out by having to hear from me every day about how I’d screwed up since the last time I’d prayed. I felt guilty about exercising the Jesus-Loophole; God had to forgive me because I am a Christian. It’s like he was under contractual obligation.
Continue Reading…