The ‘Stay Away, Come Close’ Paradox and How it Looks Something Like Letting Love In.

I was in the front seat of my friend’s car earlier today, wrapped up in one of those conversations where you don’t realize that you’ve been sitting there, in the dark, car in park, for an hour, together contemplating all of the idiosyncrasies of life. We mused about our relationships and the “come close, stay faraway” phenomenon that some people find themselves regrettably emulating at some point in their lives. Maybe you know that I’m talking about. That dynamic where you’re close with someone, and long to be even closer. So you let them in. And it’s beautiful. But there’s a part of you that’s scared, so scared, so you send “step back” signals.
I think there’s this component of our humanness that desperately craves closeness, intimacy, to be known, loved, and accepted, and for everything to be alright— even amazing, like waving your hands in the air, screaming, hair blown back by velocity on amusement park rides— that crashes into the part of ourselves that fights pain, fights changes, fights hurt and loss and namely, wants to protect ourselves from everything and anything scary, unknown, and potentially pain-inducing.
Have you ever witnessed that “come close, stay faraway” factor?

Bruce Springsteen ponders it in “Secret Garden.”

She’ll lead you down a path
There’ll be tenderness in the air
She’ll let you come just far enough
So you know she’s really there
She’ll look at you and smile
And her eyes will say
She’s got a secret garden
Where everything you want
Where everything you need
Will always stay
A million miles away.

Similarly, Goo Goo Dolls begs for the soul of another to open the door of their heart with love in “Let Love In:”
You’re the only one I ever believed in
The answer that could never be found
The moment you decided to let love in
Now I’m banging on the door of an angel
The end of fear is where we begin
The moment we decided to let love in.

U2 seemed to have similar sentiments in their 1993 hit “Stay (Faraway, So Close).” Bono created the song for the movie “Faraway, So Close,” sharing that “the film was about angels who want to be human and who want to be on Earth. But to do so they have to become mortal. That was a great image to play with – the impossibility of wanting something like this, and then the cost of having it.”1 I mirror that with the “stay close, don’t get too close” theme of love costing something: crossing into the unknown and in doing so, facing your own vulnerability. And that’s a scary thing.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

I think we’re all a little bit scared of letting one another in. Into all those little cracks and crevices of our soul that are properly seated in the classroom, hands clasped, praying not be called upon. Don’t get me wrong, boundaries have merit. We can’t let everything, or everyone, into our souls. Some influences aren’t the ones we need to grow. Some things in this world will defile and break down our souls. Like a peephole on a door, it’s healthy to choose your influences and who you will surround yourself with.
I just wonder about the times in which we pushed something or someone out when we should have brought them in.
I wonder how many times we missed out on love- any love- agape, romantic, friendship- because we were too scared of having our heart opened, exposed, fully letting in the light of another.
I wonder how many conversations we’ve accumulated in which we settled for safe by responding to “how are you?” with trite replies of “good” when every part of us knows we’re not good. So we quickly progress to stale topics, like the weather, all the while depriving our souls of deepness and wonder and intimacy.
I wonder how many of us will reach some ripe old age with questions about our families left unanswered because we were too afraid to ask about the skeletons in our closets or the dirty laundry or the elephants in the room or the mess that feels too knotty until, in our bravest moments, we gather the courage to unknot the tangles to realize that when we put the pieces back together again, it can be even more beautiful than when we first started.

So our souls fight to trust Him/Her and we take a chance here, go for a risk there, holding God’s hand, perhaps, I wonder, content with splashing around in the baby pool because even with swimmies, we’re too scared to try the big pool and so we’re splashing and getting our toes wet, all the while hearing the joyful, playful shouts of friends or strangers dunking each other in the big pool, diving and doing handstands and checking out the ocean… and while every thing in our soul shouts, “you’re big enough,” “you’re brave enough,” “go play,” “go try,” “there’s room out there for you too,” we resist it and lament in our kiddie pools, smiling when the jets pour in just a little more water for our ankles to become wet.

What are we so afraid of? Of getting hurt? Of getting let down? Sometimes, for me at least, yes. But what makes me think my feeble “stop sign” hand is what will protect me from the precarious position of human life and emotion? I’m beginning, more and more, to think that every time I hold out my hand to guard, to protect, to control the outcome or not get hurt or not experience pain or change, or actively contribute to my growth moving from the known into the unknown, I have to start to wonder if I’m doing more harm than good. Do we want to look back on life and realize that all of our guarded moments never actually protected us at all? Can we accept that living with your heart on your sleeve may get you hurt, but it’s the only way to truly live, to truly feel, to truly heal, to truly “be real” with another human being?

I know we’ve tasted the opposite, too. You know that soul-to-soul connection with that friend, with that lover, with that mentor? Where it’s you and them and the two of you realize there’s so much more going on here than we can fathom. And that by opening ourselves up to the truth, our questions, the things we’ve been wondering, we are greeted not in word or whisper but by a taste of the soul,  as if our hearts are whispering to each other, “See, isn’t this beautiful?”

I had one of those connections the other day with my dad. We were biking and I was talking to him about stuff from childhood, asking questions I never thought to ask, and learning things I never knew about our family. This is the beautiful connection that happens when we cross over and enter into each other’s stories, but not the finished part, rather the unexpurgated story that’s raw and real and human.

I don’t know what all this letting love in and being vulnerable stuff looks like, and I’m tempted to cast this whole thing off as being overly emotional as I once again stay up too late, writing this, pondering life and spirituality and the rings upon rings of circled skin that compose my fingerprint. But I think we’re onto something. Onto something with the whole letting-love-in-thing… starting with letting God’s love in and as that takes a hold of our heart over and over again, like the daily tide washing over the shore, we’ll discover the beauty and the holy ground that’s only possible when we, too, recognize that
the only way to see again
                            is to let love in.

Have you ever found yourself in the “Stay Away, Come Close” phenomenon? What was that experience like? How do these experiences intertwine spiritually, emotionally, in our relationships, in our friendships?

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stay_(Faraway,_So_Close!)

20 Proverbial Gems Guiding My Twenties ((That Look a lot like Freedom and Open Spaces))

20. On learning to do crazy things with life:
       Love Life. Be Brave. Play Hard. (Found this etched on a necklace in Kohl’s once)

19. On learning to give myself permission to experience freedom:
                    There is life here in the wide open spaces.
          When you stop waiting for permission from anyone but God,
       You’d be surprised how many of us there are  here, waiting for you.”
     -Sarah Bessey, In Which There Are More of Us Than You Might Think

18. On questioning what I’ve been taught:
“Life in the tank made me think of how we are raised at home and in school. It made me think of being told that certain jobs are not acceptable and that certain jobs are out of reach, of being schooled to live a certain way, of being trained to think that only practical things are possible, of being warned over and over that life outside the tank of our values is risky and dangerous…
It makes me wonder now, in middle age, if being spontaneous and kind and curious are all parts of our natural ability to swim.
Each time I hesitate to do the unplanned or unexpected, or hesitate to reach and help another, or hesitate to inquire into something I know nothing about; each time I ignore the impulse to run in the rain or call you up just to say I love you—I wonder, am I turning on myself, swimming safely in the middle of the tub? -Mark Nepo, Life in the Tank
(I was at a yoga class in January and our yoga instructor read this to us at the end of class while in corpse pose. I started crying warm tears, right there, on my yoga mat in the middle of a gym in Baltimore City and looked up at the ceiling. I realized that I was currently living my life in a fish tank. I was rarely present each day, but in that moment, I was. And the present hurt and required some healing and changes to make. I was the only one keeping myself there, stuck. I had long dreamed of a life “outside the tank” but what I really wanted, I was too scared to seek, and knew that others wouldn’t approve of me and would disagree with my choices. That scared me. But tasting those tears, I knew, from a stillness deep inside that I was going to commit to doing those very things because indecision, people pleasing, and fear have robbed my life for far too long. I made a commitment to reclaim life-not existence or going through the motions- and get brave, one shaky new beginning at a time.)

17. On learning how to use my voice instead of quake in fear:
Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head,
       dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice,
dulling your mind, satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.
       Stand up, shake the dust from your feet if you need to,
and look outside, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?
        There are a lot of us here, waiting for you, in the open air.”
        -Sarah Bessey, In Which You Are Loved and You Are Free

16. On trying something different:
“Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed. And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be. I don’t want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you
that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian,
to go another way…”
 -Anna Quindlen

15.  On Christian Unity:
“We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements,
but at the foot of the cross,
where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.” -Bishop Mark Hanson

14. On how to live with my heart on my sleeve in reckless abandon:
To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.
 If you want to make sure of keeping it intact,
you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements;
lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken;
it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” -C.S. Lewis

13. On learning to love:
“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God.
I will stop expecting your love, demanding you love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love.

I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again.
God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you.
And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

12. On travel and exploration:
“And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?
It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.
I want to repeat one word for you:
Leave.
Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be.
And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back.
It is you who will have changed.
” -Donald Miller, “Through Painted Deserts”

11. On remembering that my faith journey is actually supposed to enjoyable:
“I was not experiencing the joy or contentment Scripture promises us in Christ.
I was unhappy, frustrated, overworked, and harried.
God had brought me into the Christian life with the offer,
My yoke is easy and my burden is light‘ (Matt. 11:30),
an invitation to a free and abundant life.
 -Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

10. On accepting change:
“Change is not a function of life’s cruelty, but instead, a function of God’s graciousness.
If you dig in and fight the changes, they will smash you to bits. They’ll hold you under, drag you across the rough sand, scare, and confuse you. But if you can find it within yourself, just for a moment, in the wildest of seasons, to trust in the goodness of God, who made it all, who holds it altogether, you will find yourself drawn along to an entirely new place and there is truly nothing sweeter. Unclean your fists. Unlock your knees and also the door to your heart. Take a deep breath and begin to let God do his work in you.” -Shauna Niequest, Learning How to Swim

9. On letting go of people pleasing:
“A good woman knows she cannot be all things to all people, and she may,
in fact, displease those who think she should just be nice.

She is not strident or petty or demanding,
but she does live according to conviction.
She knows the Jesus she follows was a revolutionary
who never tried to keep everyone happy,”
-Lynne Hybels, “Nice Girls Don’t Change the World”

8. On freedom from narrow Biblical teachings:
“They believe that they believe the right things and so they’re ‘saved,’ but it hasn’t delivered the full life that it was supposed to, and so they’re bitter. Deep down, they believe God has let them down. Which is often something they can’t share with those around them, because they are the leaders who are supposed to have it all together. And so they quietly suffer, thinking this is the good news. It is the gospel of the goats, and it is lethal.
God is not a slave driver. The good news is better than that.”
-Rob Bell, Love Wins

7. On letting go and holding on:
“True wisdom is knowing when to hold on and when to let go.” (I’m sure someone more well-known has said this, but it’s something that keeps mulling over in my mind. Life is a series of holding on and letting go. And sometimes we hold on for longer than is safe, than is wise. And sometimes we let go too soon, when all we really needed to do was to hang on a little tighter and fight a little harder.)

6. On learning that love and freedom cannot exist without each other:
Love gives freedom. (A theme of “Love Wins”: That’s how love works. It can’t be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.)

5.On creating a more equitable and just Christianity for both genders:
“It’s time for Christians to do what they say they believe when it comes to giving voice to those who have been silenced, and to empower the marginalized, even if that subjugated group makes up more than half of the world’s population. ” -Christian Piatt, On Rachel Held Evans and Why ‘Vagina Gate’ Matters

4. On taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone:
“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt... The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.
But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning
and its incredible beauty.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

3. On making new friends (particularly ones who encourage freedom):
        “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you.
                 You have to go to them sometimes.” -Winnie the Pooh

2. On being able to stop holding my breath in conversations about the Bible:
        “The Bible is meant to be a conversation starter, not a conversation ender,”
                              -Rachel Held Evans, “Asking Better Questions”

1. On recognizing that this is my year to experience full freedom and doing so
may cause others to disapprove of me
:
      Piss a few people off and sing freedom to the rest.” –Sarah Bessey, “Fearless”

My love/hate relationship with the Bible.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Bible this year.
There.
I said it.

Oh, I know what I’m supposed to say about the Bible- it’s divinely inspired, living and breathing, sharper than any double –edged sword. I know what I’m supposed to do-  read it daily, memorize it, “eat it” (Jeremiah 15:16), “hide it in my heart” (Psalm 119:1).

But I’m trying to be real here.
And in my current season of life, that’s not quite where I am.

This year, these feelings have been precipitated by a writing piece I’ve been working on as well as the inspiration and wisdom I’ve read from several authors/bloggers I respect. Rachel Held Evans posts about Biblical Womanhood and points out that this can mean anything from making a woman marry her rapist, to calling your husband master, if you take the Bible at its literal word. She was making a point that we need to ask better questions about why we interpret things the way we do and to be wise with the way we throw around “Biblical” in front of words. Because we all “pick and choose” which scripture to follow. For example, I choose not to follow the scripture verse that says to kill a woman if she isn’t a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:21). All of this reading and processing got me thinking. I’ve been working on a writing piece in which I’m trying to find 101 verses that Evangelicals no longer follow and 101, in contrast, that if followed, would literally change the world. I’ve had lots of stops and starts along the way. I’ve been working on it since April. It’s now October.

Why do I keep stopping and starting?

I stop often because I lament and am frustrated about the way women were treated in the Old Testament and how certain verses in the Old Testament and New Testament are used to promote gender roles, in particular, that women should be submissive and men should be leaders. I mourn the wars, the violence, God smashing babies heads on rocks. I feel unsettled when I read narrow verses about eternity and can’t fathom God banishing my Jewish friends or my Muslim sisters in the Middle East who lived their lives in Earthly Hells of forced prostitution, genital mutilation, and honor killings. They dealt with this their whole Earthly life, and now, supposedly, they will have a relentless life in Hell in their life after death too?

Sometimes I feel a sense of shame for feeling the way I do. Especially because I “know” what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and saying about the Bible.

But simply put, I can’t fake it anymore.

It’s leaking out.
I bring my Bible to less and less places these days.
I open it less and less these days.

But I am learning more about God, the ways that He/She speaks, more about people and imago dei than ever before. I am learning that the story didn’t end with Revelation. I believe, along with the UCC and other churches, that God is, indeed, still speaking and that he isn’t limited to the sole medium of the Bible.

By looking for him in ways other than this book, I am washed over with refreshment by all of the ways I discover him all around me. In the beauty of the trees. In a song. In the resilience of women and girls who have been trafficked but refuse to see themselves or others as victims, rather as victors. By not reading this book as much as I “should,” I am more acute to these other ways he speaks (kind of like how dogs don’t have good vision, but make up for this with an excellent sense of smell). I guess what I’m saying is I see him everywhere. And it’s not in the more traditional places that I’ve been so affixed to.

He’s everywhere. All day. I see his love win out over evil time and time again. I know that’s supported by a verse in the Bible. Though I’m not reading it right now and quoting it, I am most certainly experiencing it and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God’s hand is in this, making beauty out of brokenness.

There’s some dark stuff in the Bible. Genocides, infanticides, killing animals (God’s creation) to assuage God into forgiveness of sin, commanding women to remove themselves from everyday society simply because they had their period and that this uncontrollable bodily act is somehow so revolting that women should be embarrassed to be seen when it, by no choice of their own, arrives biologically…

There’s beautiful stuff too. You know. Faith, hope, love. Forgiveness, grace, life over death. I can’t read 1 Corinithians 13 without feeling a deep connection to something holy and beautiful. I can’t read the Sermon on the Mount without feeling as though Jesus was truly remarkable, encouraging all of us to live a life very subversive to cultural, societal, even, at times, religious mores.

But for right now, I’m taking a little break from this book. You can tell me that I’m straying in my faith. You can tell me that I shouldn’t be doing this. You can tell me I’m wrong. You can tell me I’m missing out. You can call me a disrespectful sinner. You can tell me that God doesn’t like the way I’m talking about His word. Go ahead.

As for me, I’ll be sitting here, real, raw and exposed, being transformed into something, someone, I hope, that has experienced God on a visceral level, reminded that some of our “Heroes of Faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 did not even own Bibles. And to let you in on a little secret, I do, in fact, still turn to it from time to time. Just not as often as I have in the past. And to let you in on another little secret, I really do love this book. Not in the pollyanna ways I once used to, but from a part of me that’s been willing to ask questions, talk to God openly and honestly about what’s going on here, and take a chance that even though I may not be reading it, I am, in fact, experiencing it. And sometimes in life we don’t need to read anymore; sometimes we need to get our hands dirty, our toes squiggling through wet grass, because life is meant to jump off the page, have actions to correlate with words, and to be LIVED. Because the story is still being written. Somewhere along the way, I feel as though I’m living the words I have read or heard quoted time and time again. And sometimes I wonder if I’m literally standing on a page in the Bible. But then I realize that I’m experiencing it, in real time, and somewhere in between this reading and experiencing, it all amalgamates, and I don’t know if I’m reading or living or both. All I know is it’s beautiful, it’s holy, it’s reckless, swelling with this life abandoned, messy with watercolor streaks painted far outside the lines. I’m not worried about my behavior (or misbehavior if that’s how you see it) in this season. I’m ok with experiencing God in ways predominately outside the Bible in this current season. Because He’s got me. He’s got you. Letting each one of us experience Him in the ways we connect with him the most. I’ll keep coming back to this book; you can count on that. You can travel the world over, but there is some place in the world that can resonate as home. I guess what I’m saying is I’ve left my “safe home” of Bible reading “quiet times” (Christianese for Bible devotionals) and I’m running around the field, to first base, and second base, and even third, and I will always end at home. I might strike out on my way. But I always start fresh at bat from “home.” I’ve found my home in Christ, and this home is lit with the light from the Bible. And it’s also lit with solar panels and candlelight; it’s energized by some stories of the poor, some preaching, some time spent in solitude out in Creation, sunlight on my face…

It’s beautiful.

So beautiful that the more I think about it, I wouldn’t describe my Bible relationship as “love/hate.”

I’d say it’s “love/freedom,” and it’s an insatiable love that cannot be contained to any page or binding.

If you see me somewhere along the way on my journey to “home,” I’d appreciate your encouragement, not your judgments. I hope we can ask each other hard questions. I hope we can recognize that there is so much going on here than we will ever realize and that’s why it’s called FAITH. I hope you accept me when I say that I see a lot of grey in the Bible, with a few “black and whites.” But maybe you won’t. And that’s ok. I’ll see you at home plate, where we will celebrate the big, big God we worship as this big, big team as brothers and sisters. There might even be ice cream.  

Thoughts on the Bible. ((That read more like questions))

The most persistent question I find myself thinking about lately is, “what are you going to do about this book? [The Bible]” This timeless, mystifying, violent, inspiring, anger-inducing, pulse-escalating, explicit, imbuing, peaceful, clashing, countercultural, unexplainable book? The finite capacity of my intelligence cannot perspicaciously explain it. I cannot comprehend the fact that I arrived on this planet on a day that I have no memory of, where this book would be given to me five or six different times in various translations, where I would have to deal with questions, lots of them. What emphasis will this hold in my life? Will I join in heated arguments over this book’s etymology, hermeneutics, syntax, and translation? Will I tell someone that,”no, this is what [Paul] really meant,” or will I patiently listen to a fellow human being trying to do their best in figuring out how to apply 2,000 year old teachings to this present moment in society? Will I walk, simply and peacefully in the words of Jesus? Will I accept that there is violence, genocide, infanticide, and graphic murder in here committed by a God who is described as, “love?” Will I join in on this life-long conversation between God and myself or will I keep this book shut? Will I pretend there are no difficult-to-swallow passages? Will I blindly accept that this book is “true and inerrant” like I have heard proclaimed so frequently? Will I allow myself to be pulled into a deeper story, lulled by the love of a Creator, my creator? Will I choose not to fight against the propensity my heart has towards a God I can’t explain, a spirit that daily sustains and comforts me? Never have I read anything like it. Never has one book generated so much discussion, animosity, and unity for as many years as this one. Who really wrote it? Sometimes I wish I could be around one of the first circles to hear the teachings of this book; before printers and book presses, gathered around the fire with my family, friends, and teachers, inspired by the faith that’s sustained the people before me, and the people before them, until you’re staring at the start of it all, the first moment of creation. “I’ll tell you how the sun rose one ribbon at a time…”

I will wrestle with you on this one, Lord… some days it may look like a junior varsity wrestler preparing for the first match of the season, and other days, it will look like two kids laughing and splashing in a pool, on top of each other’s shoulders, blithely playing Chicken Fight, or whatever it was called. And some days, the wrestling will stop all together, as we will roll down hills, lay near river banks, and climb trees together, singing about Amazing Grace and Flying Away.

I’m thankful you’re patient with me, Lord, as I try to figure out my best response to this book. May my life be different because of it. May my life be challenged because of it. May my soul be satisfied with rich mystery and wonder, and shun the trite and quick ‘answers’ commonly associated with this precarious position of being a person of faith. And lastly, may I come to know you, may I be moved by you, may I be loved as your child, until we meet together face to face, laughing about the old days…

I love you.