Lipstick on a Pig

When things don’t make sense to us, most times we should assume that we are not stupid.  (There are exceptions; but let’s start with this thought - when you think something is “off”, pay attention.)  A common example of putting lipstick on a pig for me is when a couple in the middle of working through infidelity come to talk to me about God’s view on divorce.  We know a couple things about divorce from the scriptures: (1.) God isn’t a fan and (2.) God made provision for it in the Law.

 

 

It doesn’t sound like a problem for a pastor, right?  One spouse and usually both, are deeply worried about violating the covenant they made before God when they wed.  We can check off option 1 above - God isn’t a fan of divorce. Inspired by God’s way of seeing, I try to live in agreement with God.  I grieve over divorce too. I empathize with their grief.

 

But I’ve learned to ask follow up questions. Without fail the person most vehemently championing for the “God hates divorce” position breaks eye contact and all of a sudden finds my office-grade, coffee stained carpet fascinating when I ask him/her to rate their passion level for God’s command that reads:  Do not commit adultery.

 

See my point?  Something is off in this discussion; someone is not ready to talk truth.

 

A cynical person might suggest that the adulterer in this situation might be using the scriptures as a way to manipulate his/her spouse to stay in the marriage.  At a minimum, surely the adultery is worthy of discussion if we are concerned about God’s way of seeing.

 

Instead of using scripture as a supporting document for our own preferences, I would suggest that we realize that even on thorny issues like divorce - where we know God loves us so much he hopes we never have to go through that suffering AND he made legal provision for it - we keep our eyes on the bigger picture.

 

Don’t put lipstick on a pig.  

 

How might you be putting lipstick on a pig?  Any incongruencies in what you believe versus how you are living?  Anything that you are trying NOT to notice?

 

But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth.  But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.

~ Romans 1, The Message

 

Banishment

Over the hours that this team sweated large and small stuff related to the recovery ministry woes they faced, they had to face a hard truth:  relationships are conditional.  Yes, yes, love is unconditional.  But healthy relationships have conditions.  This doesn’t sit well with our desires to be merciful and gracious.  Mainly I think because we have failed to fully develop our own deep and wide understanding of the concepts of grace and mercy.  But also because let’s face it - love is yummy.  Limits are sometimes challenging to accept. One afternoon we looked at two passages of scripture that dealt with banishment: 2 Samuel 14:14 and Deuteronomy 30:4.  We also hopped over to Jeremiah 29 and considered what God asked the Israelites to do while living as slaves in Babylon.  (Lest we forget, they were experiencing a GIANT timeout/banishment as a result of their own stubborn resistance to God.)  Here’s what we noticed:

 

  1.  No wonder Paul was ragging on the Corinthians!  They were proud of the "restoration" but missing the point of what restoration truly is.  Yes, God is ALWAYS finding ways for banished people to find their way back home.  Banishment isn’t intended to be punishment so much as it is a tool for restoration.  True restoration could not happen for the Corinthians without a "time out" to show the community that they were valuable enough to protect.  
  2. Banishment is sometimes necessary.  In this church's situation, they had to at least determine (see how they are progressing through the stages of change?!?) if it was the tool they needed to use in their particular situation.
  3. Even in the midst of suffering, God’s people are given a way to move through the suffering.  They accomplish this by keeping a rigorous eye on thriving.  Thriving is described in Jeremiah 29 as suffering AND continuing the work of building community.  Sometimes building community means protecting community.  

 

Part of our contemplation as a working team involved calming down and remembering our core values; next, we made a conscious choice to live by them.  This required us to practice making amends.  The guy who muttered the “too much estrogen” comment had to make amends not only to the female he poked, but he had to deal with the larger issue of gender bias.  The team then had to identify how their core values would change the way they were processing.  This took FOREVER!  They worked for several meetings just on how to have crucial conversations without decreasing safety in the room.  They had to learn about active listening.  Look, it’s possible to get really old and never acquire these skills.  But this team was willing and ready to learn.  This posture of humility helped them when the time came to analyze the failure of the staff person that caused all this mess to begin with.  Having had their own shortcomings exposed at times during this process, they were a gentler, kinder crew when they got back to tackling the original issue at hand. Are there skills that you lack that you need to go acquire before you can expect to see the fruits of your transformational labors?

It begins with a mess

A couple days ago I mentioned a friend who had trouble staying faithful to her husband; she just COULDN’T stop the cheating, in spite of a variety of factors that should have at a minimum scared her straight.  On a more profound level, it seemed to both of us that this high-risk behavior wasn’t “her”.  I’m not sure who the “her” is that serial infidelity would be a fit for, but this seemed like a strange secret compulsion for a woman committed to faithful living.  It didn’t fit her own professed core values and that made the situation a puzzler.  To no one’s surprise but her own, she eventually got caught and as her life collapsed around her she began to have a different perspective on her relationship with God.  Without a place to run or hide, exposed with her life laid bare for all to see, she was trying to make sense of the situation.  However, her instincts about how to go about repairing the damage of her life were not great.  This is true for many of us.  Here is one (limited) way to think about spiritual work:

 

1.      The walk begins.  The first step is to give attention and energy to figuring out what it means to be faithful.  It’s in this stage where we might explore the concept of sin.  For example, my friend having grown up in the 70’s where sexual promiscuity was not only a thing but a cool lifestyle choice, exploring how her sexuality might be informed by her faith would make a lot of sense.  Just as true, we might explore how our faith informs our driving habits as well – just to be clear – it’s a whole life re-evaluation.  We are looking for where our behavior is “off” and out-of-sync. (What steps correlate to this if you are a 12-stepper?)

2.     The journey continues.  This is when we continue to deepen our knowledge and love of God as we understand him.  At this stage our belief has moved us beyond the tutorial into the wide open spaciousness of curiosity and open-heartedness with regular check-ups regarding our behavior – just to make sure we aren’t kidding ourselves. (Steps call this____?)

3.     The journey bears fruit.  Finally, as we do the appropriate actions associated with the first two stages of faithful exploration, it becomes a by-product of the work that we are spiritually awakened and we desire to love and serve others.  In theory.  (This step is:      )

 

As often happens, my friend saw little need for reviewing the first two steps and wanted to jump on the bandwagon of stage three.  She was eager to use her experience to help others who were also struggling with the compulsions she herself was oh so familiar with.  The problem, at least as I saw it, was that she was putting the cart before the horse.  At this point, all she had to share was her “story” with a little s.  Now that the cat was out of the bag, she spent her days endlessly repeating the sordid details of her affairs.  This wasn’t carrying the message of hope so much as it was endlessly taking people around to the back of her metaphorical home and showing them the dirty laundry she hung up on the line without bothering to wash the clothes first.  Making a mess is so very normal, we all do it in various ways, but if we want to change we have to be willing to not move too quickly away from the stench.  We have work to do before things start smelling sweeter.