Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sadness and Separation

I recently accompanied a friend to the Denton County Courthouse.  When we entered the courtroom, a trial was taking place.  The judge called for a 15 minute recess, warning the defense lawyer that he might want to make sure his client understood her fifth amendment rights before taking the stand.  During the recess, four divorces were finalized.  Four women, each with an attorney to make sure all was done legally, saw the end of something that had been entered with hopes of romance, togetherness, joyful companionship, and shared goals and dreams.  Somewhere along the line, those dreams shattered.  The fractures in the relationships were no longer repairable.  There is no such thing as an effective relational glue when one or both parties continues to violate vows made at the time of marriage.

Divorce--the very word brings sadness.  Something that was once united by mutual commitment divides into two usually warring parts.  The ramifications of divorce rarely stop in the judge's courtroom, especially if there are children.

For a long time, the church has stigmatized divorce.  This stigmatization springs from passages in the Bible that seem to forbid it absolutely. Goodness knows, no one wants divorce.  But even God found divorce necessary at one point. In Jeremiah 3:6-11, a disturbingly graphic portion of the Bible speaks of the faithlessness of the nation of Israel, and God's choice to divorce the nation, to separate from such a place.  As sad as divorce is, there periodically comes a time when the relationship itself is more evil than the sorrow of divorce.

This week the news headlines spoke of a young mother who had phoned the police, insisting that her baby daughter had been abducted.  It turns out that her boyfriend, father of the child now growing in her womb, probably killed the young girl and disposed of her body in Lake Lewisville.  The mother says she was terrified of him and went along with the scheme because she didn't want to be hurt.  Such a statement makes it clear:  sometimes relationships have crossed over the line into evil, and must end. 

When relationships are maintained with violence or threats of violence--and keep in mind that violence takes many forms, only a few of which are physical--then evil becomes the relational glue.  I speak out of my own hard experience here.  I remember only too well a phone call I received when the news of my divorce many years ago became public.  This person, whom I had trusted as a spiritual leader, called me "an evil and unrepentant woman."  The violence had been hidden too well.  Since I was the one who finally said, "no more," and initiated the proceedings, I was the one who, in the eyes of the church, was technically at fault. 

The evil one--very much stigmatized.  As I write, the memories of much horror comes sweeping over me again.  To stay would have made me a good church woman.  A dead one, more than likely, but a good one nonetheless.  To leave, to choose life over death, to believe that God could still love me with this mark upon me, took an enormous amount of courage. 

We all carry scars of living in this challenging world upon us.  We are not called to live unscarred or untouched lives.  We are called to work out our salvation in the midst of our trials, and to find in our scars the hope of redemption, the promise of life both now and everlasting.  To all who have endured the most searing and devastating of broken relationships, the divorce, I remind you:  you are still beloved children of God.  Do not let anyone tell you something different.  When you find life on the other side of death, you have simply followed Jesus through the crucifixion into the resurrection.  Thanks be to God.


Angie Hammond said...

As I read this post, I found myself asking if it was written just for me? As of tomorrow, June 17 th, it will be 5 years to the day that my divorce was final. Christy, what prompted you to write this column this week? I ask only because it is just what I needed to remember and to hear once again from you. I'm fine, but still hate to fill in the area that says divorced on all the paperwork. It's like a label that says "damaged goods" and it means that I'm somehow different and that isn't good.

Of course I know different today, but back 5 years ago I really didn't know different. I was trapped in a relationship that was in fact killing me and then I met you.

It was your courage and your story that helped me to see that there was life after a divorce (also called death) and that all I had to do was choose life. June 17th was the date that my new life began in the eyes of the court. But my new life began when my eyes and heart were opened by God through you on that May evening in your office. So tomorrow as I remember the past, instead of mourning what should have been, I will celebrate what I've become over the last five years. And I will once again thank God for sending you to me so that I'd know that I was loved by Him even though I was broken and soon to be divorced.

One other comment because we normally think of women being the victims of abuse, but let's not forget the men who are the victims of abusive relationships. You addressed all who have gone through divorces in the last part of your post, but I wanted to remind everyone that men can and do suffer violence at the hands of women as well.
They too especially need to know that God's love is there for them even in divorce.

Thank you Christy for having the courage and taking the time to remind us all that we are all beloved children of God even in divorce.

I am here today because of you and your willingness to share your story and God's love with me.

Thanks be to God.
And God Bless You for your courage and your love.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for several months and have enjoyed reading of your congregation, travels, family, etc. Having been a Methodist since birth I was thinking of coming to a Sunday morning service this summer. This blog disturbs me on several levels. I wonder how the good people of your congregation feel about having outsiders read this and think ill of them as a whole? You have issues with a few and those few should have received a private email or letter or an invitation to hear your side of things. Rather than stand up to those who you feel have hurt your feelings you chose to throw your entire congregation under the bus. Before this blog I had the idea you were a strong woman with the skills and strength and faith to lead a church in growth of both the facilities, programs and members. I believe you are still a strong woman with the skills and strength to lead this congregation but first you owe your members an apology for airing "dirty linen" in a public forum. Until that happens healing will take awhile.

Angie Hammond said...

Hey anonymous,
Did you perhaps mean this post to go with the Tired of being a Pastor post?
I will assume that post is what you are referring to when you talk about airing dirty linen.

I read your comment about being disturbed by the blog on several levels and felt that it needed a return comment.

You claim that Christy threw her whole congregation under the bus, instead of standing up to those she felt had hurt her feelings. You said she should have sent them a private email or an invitation to hear her side of things. You also said she should apologize to her members for airing what "you" called dirty linen in a public forum. And went on to say that until she apologized that healing would take awhile.

Well I'm an outsider, not a member of Krum UMC, but I didn't feel like I was reading any dirty linen in the post. I never saw any names mentioned and I certainly didn't get the feeling that the church was not friendly or that they in some way were out to get the pastor. I saw a pastor say that she was tired and that she was on the receiving end of rumors of unhappiness with her leadership etc. I repeat, she was never told in person but only told second or third hand about unhappiness and things that had been said. So I ask you: How can you stand up to rumors? You can't without accusing people with out personal knowledge of what is being said. To make an accusation is something that Christy would not do. She would never go to some one based on something she was told by another.

If you've been reading her posts for some time now, you should know this about her. I speak from experience and I know that she would never do this. She would also welcome any dialog with anyone who had concerns or questions. She has always had an open door to hear any voice. Again, you'd know this if you read her blog regularly or if you've ever tried to talk to her about something.

Since you didn't sign your name, you lead me to ask the question are you one of the unhappy ones? The way you speak it sounds as if you could be. Especially when you say that an apology is owed to the congregation and until that happens healing will take awhile.

If you truly are an outsider, then it sounds to me as if you've judged the whole lot of them before you've given them a chance. Seems too that you've condemned the pastor based on her willingness to bare her very soul in a public forum.

On the other hand, if you are truly upset by her blog, then I encourage you to send her a private email and discuss your reasons with her personally. Or call her if you really care to still pursue a Sunday morning with a delightful congregation. Don't pass judgment on them based on how you feel about her blog. At least give them a chance and hey, why not give Christy a real chance too and send her that private email?

I wonder if you've been reading for several months now, why haven't you visited before now? Sounds as if you will not be visiting? Again I ask you, why let one blog stop you?

As for passing judgment on Christy for not talking to people directly, I say that you've done the very same thing you've spoken against her for in your comment.

You've said things about Christy that you are unhappy about, but you've not told her directly at least I have no knowledge of this. And you certainly kept your name out of your post so she doesn't know from it who you might be nor do any of us who also read her blog.

Finally, I encourage you one more time to take your concerns to Christy directly and don't just post them anonymously here.

For true healing to occur, all must be willing to meet face to face.

Christy Thomas said...

Yes, hiding behind anonymity when posting a critique seems less helpful to me than good critiques can be. I read the post, felt the sting, noted the lack of attribution, and decided against responding to it. The anonymous person has the clear advantage in that kind of conversation--nothing is known about him or her and he/she can be held accountable to nothing. When I post, and offer my name and email and other information, I know I leave myself open to a lot of possible responses. Some I will like; some I won't.

I posted it because I needed to blow off some steam and work my way through a very difficult spot. I was at a point of deep despair. Now, this to me doesn't mean that I'm not strong. I means that I must come to grips with my great weaknesses in order to function more fully from my strength. The problem with printed words is that inflection can't be noted, and clarification can be difficult to find when there is no give and take, and when we can't ask, "Here's what I heard or read. Is this what you meant?"

And again, it is one of the challenges of being a pastor. All I say and do can and often is held up to great light and found wanting. Others, who do not speak in public or post their thoughts that way, do not have to be exposed to such a light. In general, I think such exposure is a good thing. It pushes me to greater levels of personal holiness and more reflective self-examination. It is only by working on my own soul that I gain the authority to invite others to examine theirs as well.