The good news

This Christmas season, I have been reading and thinking and reflecting on passages and stories behind the traditions and our way of life both as it pertains to Christmas celebrations but also to life generally. I am discovering more and more that Christianity today is so frequently watered down and, frankly, meaningless. The ‘good news’ of Christmas demands far more than a declaration that one will follow Christ and has implications far beyond a mere ticket to heaven.

Today a song that spoke to me deeply several years ago came to mind as I sat in church today. It is a song that made me feel heard – like somebody got not only the pain I have felt as I deal with my woundedness but also my dissatisfaction with the answers I was being given.

In order to understand this song’s significance for me personally, I need to share a part of my story.

As a preteen, I was given a subscription to Focus on the Family’s magazine for girls called Brio (a name that i love – “with flair” – how beautiful!). Anyways, inside an issue was a story of a girl who gave her mother a gift for her own birthday as a way to say thank you for giving birth and raising her. I loved that story. So I went to the dollar store and found two candles and wrote a letter to my mom. I packed them with my belongings, eager to give the small package to my mother. We were going camping for my thirteenth birthday – which just so happened to fall on friday the thirteenth. It was going to be a momentous weekend. Little did I know how much.

One of my siblings had a nightmare that night. We shared a tent together. My Dad came in to settle her. But he didn’t leave that night. Instead he used me for his own purposes. That wasn’t new. But the degree of intrusiveness was. I remember feeling afraid and confused.

I woke the next morning feeling sick and confused. But one thing was clear to me  – my mom could never find out what had happened the night before. I remember presenting my gift to my mom – but not with the innocent child like joy and anticipation. Rather, I had a forced smile that was trying so very hard to not show that I had been spoiled.

I do not remember much else about that weekend. Except that I went into the tent later that day to find the sleeping bag that I had zipped up open and ready for two people to sleep. I knew the fate I was facing. And sadly, I was right.

That was my thirteenth birthday. It was definitely a freaky friday and a nightmarish weekend. It was not the first time I was abused. But it was significant enough that I associate it with the day I became an adult and the day I was spoiled.

Violence demands an answer. if there is to be good news in Christ’s coming down as a babe in a manager in the lowly town of Bethlehem, it must provide an answer to violence. Not an answer of well meaning platitudes that “God works all things together for the good of those who love him”. That is a true statement, but the way it is frequently offered, it is no more than watered down mush.

I’m going to piece together the various stories I’ve heard as the background for the song that has been on my mind. While I’ve written the composer to find the exact details, all that I have heard is indirect and so I apologize in advance if the details are slightly wrong. I think the message holds even if I’ve missed or misrepresented certain aspects. The lyrics are at the bottom of this post and I encourage you to go to groove shark or to steve bell’s website and have a listen.

My understanding is that the composer had a foster daughter who was taken advantage of in her young years. I’ve heard Steve speak of his daughter and I’ve seen his tears as aspects of her story break his heart. I’ve met Steve a few times and know some of his relatives but I’ve never really had a conversation with him about this. But as he speaks from the pain of knowing what she has gone through, I have felt known and loved. For those who know that I love his music, this is why…. he is not afraid to tackle some of the hardest questions of life and to speak beauty into them. Anyways, I know he was quite angry to find out about what had happened to his daughter. The story I’ve been told is he had a series of three dreams.

The first dream, he was standing in front of  the perpetrator, with a gun in hand and ready to shoot. The second dream, he again was standing in front of the perpetrator, with a gun in hand and ready to shoot, though this time, Christ stood in between them. The third dream, he stood in front of the perpetrator, with a gun in hand, and Christ said, “Shoot me instead”.

I grew up with understanding that the wages of sin is death – that my sin required my death and Christ, through his work on the cross, paid my penalty. I think that is true. But I wonder if Christ did more than that.

Violence demands an answer.

I have often been accused by family members and defense lawyers that I have acted in revenge in going to the police. Let me set the record straight – there is absolutely no amount of suffering that my Dad can endure to make up for what he has done to me. My thirteenth birthday was ruined and he spoiled me. Nothing can erase that weekend from my memory. He has been sentenced to four years, which in Canada is considered quite a long sentence despite the fact that he was convicted of 8 years of abuse with the judge admitting that it most likely happened longer as I had claimed. I have been separated from my siblings for 7 1/2 years. There is one I have not met and another who was only 6 months when I left home. Four years doesn’t do it justice. But then neither would a lifetime sentence. I disagree with capital punishment for a whole host of reasons – but in this case, I’m sorry, but capital punishment is an escape, an easy way out.

If I want an answer to the violence I have endured, I cannot look to my dad. He doesn’t have enough to lose. He simply cannot pay the price for the pain he has caused me.

But Christ left His seat on a throne to become a helpless babe who had to learn to speak and crawl. From the moment he entered this world, he was involved in the messiness of humanity. He was born into a family of generations of dysfunction, most notably David who – although considered a man after God’s own heart – committed adultery and then put the poor husband at the front of the battle so that he would be killed. Christ slept in the smelly trough of a stable born to an unwed young woman – the ultimate disgrace. His life was sought and the holy family took refuge in Egypt. This morning we read of the story of when he was in the temple that his own parents did not understand him. His own people were fickle – they loved him when he was in their midst healing and feeding them, but then were quick to yell as a mob “Crucify him”. The prophet Isaiah’s words are poignant and deeply meaningful to me and point to a God who intimately knew suffering:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hid their faces; he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53: 2-5

This is not a meek and mild Jesus. This is a Jesus who gave up everything to take on my punishment for the sin that separates me from God. But more than that – this is a Christ who died to satisfy the rage of the losses I’ve sustained by age thirteen. This is a Christ who cares enough about me along with the other orphans, widows and lepers of society to avenge their cause. This is a Christ who answers the cries of the violated.

This is a Christ who chose to pay the price, on a tree, silently and still, just long enough to kill. It is a Christ who sees my pain and anger and says “I can take it, give it to me”. It is a Christ who allows himself to be wounded beyond what my mind can comprehend so that not only can I be saved, but that I can be healed by his wounds and be given peace.

This is not some watered down message.

THIS is the good news.

Somebody’s Gotta Pay – by Steve Bell

Somebody told me about it and burns me up at night

What kind of man would choose to spoil a child?

Who do we call to make it right?

Not gentle Jesus, meek and mild, that’s for sure

Because he won’t fight

 

So I don’t feel guilty about it imagining that I

Could be the reaper grim enough to make it right

Problem is, there’s no one with enough to lose to pay for this

Somebody’s gotta pay for this

Nobody gets away unless somebody dies

And it’s confirmed that there’s been pain

Enough to satisfy the rage

from the losses she’s sustained since age thirteen

Only then can the rest go free

 

I’m still obsessing about it,

Cause it doesn’t end up nice:

Another man, another choice, another child

And who’s gonna pay for all these crimes?

Some dream about avenging mine,

I suppose, but nothing will suffice

 

unless you stumble upon it,

like a dream I had one night

about a man

who chose to pay the price

on a tree, silently and still

just long enough for me to kill

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  1. December 31, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Thank you, Elizabeth. Because of my family story, I’ve listened to or read dozens of stories of sexual abuse. Still, I teared up reading your powerfully written story and am again now as I write this comment and listen to the Steve Bell song. You’ve given tremendous expression to a rage that knows no human potential for satisfaction.

    At the same time, you’ve given me a way to make sense of and accept in some sense the substitutionary atonement language in Scripture. For years I’ve neither been able to reject anything substitutionary perspectives altogether (they’re still Scripture!) or accept it (for a whole variety of reasons).

    Thank you.

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