Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My own sins...

I'm reading more about Julian of Norwich. My professor wrote a paper that describes Julian's radical vision of how humanity reveals the love of God. Her Christology affirms the idea that the divine is expressed in our sensuality (not sexuality, but the fullness of our senses and affective selves). She goes into detail about the passion of Christ not as payment, not as kenotic emptying, but as Christ's fully entering into human experience through suffering and embodying nearness to us as well as love. His passion, then, is the most visible expression of his humanity.

That affective aspect of Christ's "being with us" is expressed in tenderness. Tenderness is a word my professor repeatedly uses throughout her paper. I keep coming back to it.

Today I was not tender. I hit a low. Sometimes when I'm pressed all the way to the wall, after I feel I've gone out of my way to extend myself (or as my professor might put it - after I've lived in a self-stretching mode on behalf of others), I snap back as a rubber band when there is misinterpretation, maltreatment or rumors that are just not true. It takes a long time for me to get to the "snap back" place. In fact, in this instance, it's taken years.

Yet this morning, I snapped. Tenderness gone. Turning the other cheek, beyond me. The need to be direct and clear without sweetness overcame my usual desire to see all sides, to give the benefit of the doubt. I lost the thread of kindness.

It occurred to me as I reread what I wrote this morning that people who are under long periods of duress (particularly racial or gender based discrimination) must snap-back periodically too. They must get to their limits and we on the other side, the side that doesn't feel the duress, call them back to gentler attitudes or criticize them for stridency, missing the point - they've been pushed to the brink.

I'm sure I've been the pusher in a few of my relationships of late and I'm trying to imagine what I might have done/could do differently. I'm trying to see their "snap-backs" as the result of their own pain and duress. Harder to do when I'm blinded by my own.

I got a taste of the "snap-back" feeling this morning - the "fed-up feeling" that motivates an abandonment of goodwill and charitable spirits. I don't like myself that way. I'm still trying to piece together how to get to the other side, where when wronged you really do turn the other cheek and can go on. I'm trying to balance that against futility, healthy boundaries and holding people accountable.

Right now I admit I don't know what the right mix is. I do know that today, I added another layer of hurt. I don't like that. I don't like to cause pain. This morning, I didn't like to receive it.

I think a theology of psychology is needed -- how do we live our theology in the midst of a pyschologically driven culture? What is a health boundary if we are using Jesus's admonitions to guide us into other-centered living? What does it look like to be gentle, tender, loving when also balancing unhealthy group dynamics and relationships?

Today I don't know...

13 comments:

R. Michael said...

It seems to me that the disparity between what we are and what we would like to be is sometimes close and sometimes very, very far. Living in the tension (a phrase from Bono that I particularly liked) reminds me of that gap and helps me to remember that even though I like to think that I have returned from my waywardness like the repentant prodigal I am always faced with becoming the older brother in the blink of an eye.

R. Michael (and fellow sinner)

Rick said...

As eloquent as you are with this post in conveying some of the angst and umph going on, all you needed was the last line: "Today I don't know..."

MaryD said...

a note to remind you that you are loved and respected... and we are all sinners and in need of forgiveness, seventy times seven...

Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I won't offer you any unsolicited advise since I suspect your questions are rhetorical in nature...but...just wanted to tell you that I appreciate your candor and your willingness to address the "dark" side of our emotions and behavior...and...best wishes in your own exploration of the pain you feel and may have inflicted on others...Over the years I have done a fair amount of thinking about such matters myself and believe I have benefited from a little self reflection and soul searching...Knowing you, as I think I do, I suspect you'll discover some answers to your questions....

Colleen said...

This line in particular resonates with me: "I'm still trying to piece together how to get to the other side, where when wronged you really do turn the other cheek and can go on. I'm trying to balance that against futility, healthy boundaries and holding people accountable."

I'm realizing, in regard to something significant that happened to me when I was growing up, that there really is such a thing as too compliantly "turning the other cheek". I've felt rather self-congratulatory to be fair-minded, to forgive, to let it go...Aha! But therein lies the rub. By not establishing healthy boundaries (or rather, not having them established for me, since I was young), by not witnessing accountability, I didn't let it go.

So can we "get to the other side" and simply turn the other cheek? Should we? Certainly. But it's not an either/or. Forgiving and forgetting aren't one and the same...

Donna said...

Just wanted you to know I'm thinking about you.

Carol said...

love you. :)

carrie said...

For me it's gotten to be about looking at my own responsibility. I can't change anyone else, but I can change myself. When I've been hurt, sometimes I've been hurt by thoughtlessness or "collateral damage." But too many times there is something of my own sin there coming back to bite me.

I'm often not tender, Julie. Like you, I want to be but sometimes I just react. I too often have a need to be direct and clear, but maybe that's about trying to change someone else, even if it's only their perspective.

I don't know the answers. It's healthy to set boundaries. But I also feel like there's no such thing as truly "healthy group dynamics." All group dynamics include the flawed individuals who, like ourselves, will one day act out of kindness and another day react out of protectiveness. Learning to live a Christ-like, other-centered life means days that we get it right, and days we get it wrong. It means lots of grace, mercy, and forgiveness, for others and for ourselves.

Ampersand said...

I've been thinking about this ever since you posted.

I wonder if that "snap-back" happens when we've waited too long or gone too far in setting healthy boundaries for ourselves.

Not offering this as *the answer* by any means, just something to think about.

And, I wonder if setting our boundaries more tightly is actually a means to extending grace more easily and more often.

carrie said...

I've been thinking all day about what it means to "set boundaries." How does one even do that? It seems to me we can't know up front in life where our "boundaries" need to be. You learn where you need to be by exploring the world around you. Setting up a perimeter in advance seems to mean not risking anything to begin with. It means being self-protective. That's exactly what I'm trying to step away from. I'm not saying we stay in hurtful relationships, or that we don't say "enough" when it truly is enough. But I am postulating that in order to learn your boundaries, you have to risk misunderstanding and being misunderstood, giving too much or too little, and sticking it out as long as possible. In order to get those moments where we get it right, where kindess prevails and our hearts are focused on others, we have to risk doing it all wrong, or worse, being misinterpreted.

I guess I'm saying there's no way to get it "right." Life is messy.

Keren said...

Hope you're doing ok, Julie.

julieunplugged said...

Carrie, I really liked your second set of comments - about risk and not knowing until we try. I'm thinking about them and wanted you to know.

papyrus said...

I think your imagery of the rubber band snapping is really insightful. It helped me to consider that when I see anger, it may be coming from places of tension that I wasn't even aware of. That's a thought I try to keep in mind, but very often fail with in the heat of the moment. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate them.