The Truth of Emotions

Driving home from work last night in our newfound 6pm darkness, I was listening to my local Christian radio station. Right before I arrived home, one song ended and before the next one played, the radio announcer shared a few thoughts, all leading to this: “Our emotions lie to us.”

My compassion for what it must be like to broadcast one’s thoughts in real time, unfiltered, over the airways (something, for me, I know is a terrible idea) doesn’t change the fact that this statement is fundamentally untrue.

The truth is not that emotions lie but that each emotion can only tell us part of an important truth.

The rage a man feels when he discovers his wife has cheated honors the value he places on fidelity. His sense of betrayal—a testament to the vulnerability of trusting another with your inmost self. His desire for revenge is a (flawed) mirror of God’s love of justice, and his sadness reflects the emptiness of living in a world not originally meant for us, one that fails to deliver the glory a part of us still knows we were created for.

The profound disappointment a woman feels when she is not chosen for a promotion she really worked for honors the sacrifices she made, the instant gratifications she delayed, the hours she may not have invested in her family because she believed this alternative investment would pay off in ways that would bring them life later. Her resentment may in some cases reveal the glass ceiling that still exists and the ways in which our American ideals of hard work still fall short for so many Americans.

Emotions are story-tellers.

The problem with emotions is not in the E, it’s in the motions. It’s in the actions emotions convince us to take. When rallied, emotions can be the impetus behind changed laws, million dollar fundraising campaigns, and the miracle of a tiny human life. But, they can also motivate an unrelenting bully, a hidden manipulation, or a gruesome murder.

Emotions are ball-hogs. They don’t like to get credit for the assist. They want to do a full-court press and take their own shot. When one emotion separates itself far enough, we become vulnerable. When rage disconnects from our feelings of betrayal, vulnerability, sadness, and hurt, it is more likely to convince us it’s a good idea to have our own affair. When our resentment gets the only word, divorced from our disappointment, we might step on another woman’s hard work to ensure our next promotion, and lose empathy and fairness along the way.

Emotions are powerful.

And when the church comes into contact with powerful things, things that might cause good but could also be dangerous, its response if often to suppress, control, regulate, and bring them into submission.

Just in case.

Emotions are not liars. Emotions are truth-tellers. Indiscreet and inconvenient truth-tellers.

They tell the truth-story of our most inner world.

When we are convinced they are liars, conniving manipulators that are a powerful force to resist AND that giving into them shows our weakness, it’s a set-up for failure.

We will have them anyway.

We will act on them anyway.

At least Jesus did.

He told the story of his disappointment, sadness, disillusionment, and anger in the face of exploitation in the form of tables scattered on a temple floor.

This means our emotions are a part of our Imago Dei.

When the church convinces Christians that part of their Imago Dei cannot be trusted, it sets off a chain reaction that leads to one of the most powerful emotions of all: shame.

Pretty soon, we are hiding ourselves and the world doesn’t get to see us anymore.

And then, the Imago Dei has become invisible.

The very ones God chose to display himself to the world, drawing it into his redemption story, have decided they cannot risk the exposure.

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Sex and Water

For our anniversary this year, my husband took me on my first walk across the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. As we walked further and further away from solid ground, from the edges, from the places where I was sure what was underneath me, I got more and more afraid.

I finally got to the middle, I looked down, trembling, and I saw death.

A few weeks later, a friend posted on social media about a bridge near her home known for suicides where a young 17-year-old woman had jumped the day before. She asked us to show up and tie a ribbon to remember and to show support for those who are struggling through depression. Later that day I went to the bridge. I walked to the middle. I could barely even look down, and I was terrified.

I mean, this water, it can swallow you up, it can take away your body’s ability to move itself and drag you through a thrashing current. It can fill spaces that it’s not meant to fill so that what’s supposed to be there doesn’t have enough room. It’s powerful enough to carve mountain rock and inhale a shoreline. People lose their lives to this water.

Sexuality is like water. It can surge through you, carving out paths that weren’t there before. It can take over and send you moving through its current in a way that you do not know how to stop. It can swallow you up and become the only world you know how to see. And it can seem to fill spaces that it was never meant to fill, taking away the space of what was supposed to live there instead.

Sexuality is powerful.

It was created by a powerful God.

We have this thing as humans when we come into contact with power. We get afraid.

When fear shows up, it usually brings some friends along, friends that can ease the nervous energy of fear and give us the illusion it’s less likely to ruin us.

Friends like rules, control, regulation, and rigidity.

The friends help tame the powerful thing, and bring it into submission.

And then we feel safe.

On the bridge, my husband asked me, “But can you appreciate the beauty of it?”

The thing about fear is that it narrows our vision. It covers over and cancels out some reality in exchange for other reality.

It trades beautiful for terrifying.

The other thing about fear is that it wears costumes. It usually looks like something else on the outside.

When we are feeling vulnerable in our relationships, we don’t usually say, “I’m afraid to open up to you, to show you me, because I am fearful of whether or not you will prove safe.” Instead, we say, “You’re an asshole.”

Our attacks, accusations, and manipulations are often times actually fear.

Sometimes, so are our compliments, favors, and sacrifices.

Because fear doesn’t always have to look scary.

When we talk about purity in the church, it can look like holiness, like devotion, like innocence, obedience, and protection. And sometimes it is.

It’s not that we cannot value purity, it’s that we also need to get honest.

We need to name, that as a church, we have looked over the bridge into the swirling sea of sexuality, and we have gotten afraid. Afraid of its power, and what we’ve seen it do.

So, while our messages about sex in certain cases may have been accurate, even accuracy laced in fear comes out sideways.  

So, why do we talk about sex the way we sometimes do in the church, like it’s something that should be carefully regulated and controlled in black and white ways lest it ruin us entirely? Well, for lots of reasons.

Let’s start with this.

We are afraid of its power.

Our knowledge that it is supposed to be beautiful cannot outweigh our sense that it is also dangerous.

Until we can own that, we cannot have an honest conversation about what a powerful God intended when He created this powerful act through which, incidentally, life can come.

Welcome

Welcome to a new community.

My intention is for this to be a place where we can explore why we believe what we do about God.

There are many authors writing brilliantly about what we believe and the impact those beliefs should have upon the kind of people we become in the world. My desire is not to simply add one more voice to the already existing conversation. I hope instead to provide space where we can explore the undercurrent that moves the flow of our faith, the unseen forces that control its speed and direction. I want to ask questions about not only how we develop theologies, beliefs,  and worldviews but also why?

What, psychologically, is our primary motivation for having and holding our most sacred thoughts about God?

I’m not so much interested in, nor am I the most qualified to speak to, how exegetically or hermeneuticallwe arrive at certain tenants. While I know our beliefs are our best interpretations of concrete information, like cultural context, exegesis of the Greek and Hebrew language, corroborating historical documents, and more, there is actually a lot more going on than we realize. Other forces affect our interpretations–things like unconscious fears, shame, insecurities, power, privilege, pride, oppression—and which side(s) of it we’ve experienced, our families of origin, birth order, quest for anxiety reduction, natural temperament, social standing, socioeconomic status, and most of all, our human propensity away from uncertainty and ambiguity and toward perceived clarity.

These are our blind spots. I have them, and we have them—individually, corporately, institutionally.

They are like the area between the sheet rock and walls, gaps we vaguely know exist but haven’t explored, defined, or made use of. But they are taking up real space inside us, guiding us toward, and away, and around, and changing the way we see and interact with God, each other, and ultimately ourselves. They are shaping how we portray our faith to those who don’t share it, and even our ability to see ourselves first and foremost as the Beloved.

Sometimes we find ourselves unexpectedly in these deeper tunnels of ourselves. Sometimes we push on a bookcase inside and hear something twist, and discover that behind it is a whole other room, new space, that has always been in us but we have never known what lived there. And when we aren’t able to see our secret passageways alone, sometimes we have others who can come in and look behind a few dusty picture frames or under a few loose boards for a lock or latch, just the right question or prompt, that can illuminate a new internal room.

And slowly, we develop capacity.

We become bigger.

And we see a bigger God.

That’s the point of this journey, isn’t it? That God gets bigger?

I have no idea what musty rooms I’ll explore in myself along the way, or what we’ll be able to discover together. That will depend on who shows up and what tools they bring along. I hope you’ll join us.