Scripture proclaims that humans are not meant to be alone. We need one another to find wholeness. We need institutions like the church to nurture our spiritual adventures. Yet, life is messy, and relationships and institutions, like the church, are messy, too. The response, “it’s complicated” relates to virtually all of our lives and relationships. Sometimes the messiness and complication of life lead to abusive relationships, in which wounded people wound others by word and deed. While we are created in original wholeness, brokenness and sin touch every aspect of our lives, bringing pain where joy should be the primary reality. Sometimes even the church, intended to be God’s instrument of healing and wholeness, becomes an instrument of relational abuse when victims are blamed and persons are counseled to stay in abusive relationships or forgive others prematurely. The church can be an agent of spiritual abuse by shaming, creating unnecessary guilt, and using scripture as a tool of violence rather than an agent of healing.
Shauna Hyde invites us to seek relationships of grace, in which our wounds are healed and we can give and receive healthy love. As the imperfect children of imperfect parents, living in the midst of imperfect institutions, this task is often quite difficult. Yet, Jesus came that we might have life in all its abundance, and that means relationships of abundant affection and reciprocity. Such relationships emerge when couples and communities make a commitment to empathy and equality, and promote maximal freedom, creativity, and affirmation in their approach to relationships. Very much like our discoveries and then healing of ethnic privilege, this process involves paying attention to our behavior, noticing the impact of the past on the present, positively and negatively and our willingness to attend to our emotional and spiritual lives, recognizing our limitations, and challenging our own and others’ behaviors. Because of the power of the past, such transformation is as much a gift of grace as the result of our individual or corporate effort.
As we move toward the Lenten season, we would do well to ask God to “create in us a clean heart and renew in us a right spirit.” (Psalm 51:10) We no longer need to be conformed to unhealthy behaviors and institutional abusiveness, we can be transformed by opening to divine renewal. (Romans 12:2) With God’s grace, we can let go of the past, affirm our value as God’s children, and insist that our own and others’ dignity be respected in every relationship.
by Bruce G. Epperly, author of over 45 books and a number of Energion Publications’ titles, including Angels, Mysteries, and Miracles, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God and Process Spirituality: Practicing Holy Adventure He is also the author of various Energion scripture studies including, Experiencing God in Suffering and Jonah: When God Changes as well as Angels, Mysteries and Miracles: A Progressive Vision.