The Changing Face

It’s weird to be old enough to see perceptions change. Some things are judged more harshly than they used to be, and other things that used to be totally unacceptable are now permissible. I believe some of these changes have been for the better, and I also believe some of them were spawned straight from the pits of hell. I’ll leave it to your collective imaginations to guess what I might be referring to.

We live in a paradoxical society these days when it comes to infidelity in marriage. We’re constantly assaulted with music, movies, and television programs that glamorize affairs, but if someone is ever discovered to actually be cheating on his or her spouse in real life they take a public drubbing. So, basically, all in the same breath, marriage is a bond easily broken but is also sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with.

I’m old enough to remember the great Christian music scandals of the 1990s, specifically the cases of Michael English and Sandi Patty.michael-english-two It may seem strange to many reading this, but these were two of the biggest names in Christian music back then, and their affairs (not with each other, mind you) and subsequent divorces were absolutely shocking at the time. English’s affair even involved some returned awards and a pregnancy (which, sadly, ended in a miscarriage). It was the first real Christian music scandal I can remember clearly.

Fast forward to 2014, where you can view a repentant Steve Fee on YouTube discussing how “my entire life exploded … and I’m the one who lit the fuse.” I knew Fee had been off the radar for a while, but I didn’t really know why. The reason dates back to 2010, when he confessed to having an affair. I had no idea, and I work at a Christian radio station. Granted, Fee probably isn’t a superstar on the level that English and Patty were back in the ’90s, but I don’t remember hearing about this at all. Plus, while the video is well done, Fee doesn’t actually mention what his “secret sin” was.

webbPerhaps even more surprising to me, though, was learning Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken had divorced. I was a huge fan of Webb’s early work with Caedmon’s Call, but as his interest in electronic music grew and his politics became more liberal I listened to less and less of his music. Still, he and McCracken formed a sort of power couple for the independent music scene, with Webb starting the NoiseTrade website and McCracken proving to be a viable artist on her own. According to legal documents, Webb had an affair, and McCracken filed for divorce … in April. Again, I didn’t know a thing about this until recently.

Things are just different now. English’s music was universally pulled from Christian radio following the revelation of his affair, but I’m not aware of any of Fee’s music getting the hook (Webb’s latest efforts generally don’t get played on the radio anyway, making his situation rather unique.). Patty and English had to gradually work their way back into Christian music circles, while Fee has a nice new video and label backing for his new single, “Grace.” The public scars don’t seem to run as deep as they used to.

All of this causes me to pose a question: Are we becoming a more forgiving society or are we just becoming numb? I mentioned earlier that I’m old enough now to have seen perceptions change; I’m also old enough to have seen several people near and dear to me divorce. I was sad to see them separate from their spouses, but I didn’t hate them or want them to lose their jobs. Still, when the person in question is in a public role like Fee or Webb, should they still be in positions of influence, particularly if they are in the Christian arena?

A friend of mine today described his lack of grace in the following way: “I just want to judge people and send them straight to hell.” He’s trying to do better, but at the same time he knows that there are certain advantages to following a hard line. Situations generally don’t get out of hand with this kind of attitude. There’s not much room for mercy either, though. King David was an adulterer and a man after God’s own heart. He suffered severe consequences for his actions and possibly even deserved to die under Old Testament law … but he didn’t.

I’m not even sure if I have a point to be made with any of this, except to say the difference with which divorce is treated in Christian Shawn_Press_Image_33circles has evolved and should certainly be continually examined. As far as its effects are concerned, let me conclude by quoting Christian artist Shawn McDonald, who divorced his wife in 2010:

“It’s incredibly humiliating. I feel like I’ve failed, like I’ve let a lot of people down. I hate what happened. This definitely wasn’t something that I ever thought would be part of my story, but now it is my story, and I have to deal with it.”

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Broken And Beautiful

10352841_732535573459134_721578935202840472_nGuys like to fix things. This is a proven fact of nature. I’m not even necessarily talking about mechanical things either. Guys like to turn flailing businesses around, set broken bones, mow neglected lawns, tune out-of-tune instruments, point out editorial mistakes in the local newspaper, tighten loose door hinges, change their own oil, and on and on and on and on…

Another thing guys like to do is protect stuff. I’ve never shot a living thing in my life, but if some rabid animal shows up in my yard and is threatening my family, I wouldn’t hesitate to put it down. It’s not just physical protection, though; it’s defense. Guys keep tacklers away from the quarterback, scream when they block shots, throw themselves on grenades, take the rap for things they didn’t even do, try to keep the other team out of their end zone, fight for women they don’t even know, and on and on and on…

Although I wouldn’t rate myself very high on the manliness scale, I wonder if all this isn’t why I’ve become so interested in the field of psychology. After depression counseling, I felt as if someone had repaired a part of my brain that wasn’t working correctly and given me the tools to perform maintenance as needed. Then I started thinking about all the other people I knew who could benefit from something similar, and I thought, “Yeah, I want to be a part of that.” Plus, if I could head off issues before they sprouted, I would also be defending people from future danger.

Check and check!

What has been surprising, though, is how beautiful people who don’t have it all together are becoming to me. I’ll admit, I’ve spent most of my life as a judgmental hypocrite, which I believe everyone in the Bible Belt is required to become for at least a portion of their lives. “Those people need to straighten up! They need to get it together!” And then I realized those people were me. I didn’t have it all together either, and I still don’t. As singer/songwriter Derek Webb once sang, “There are things you would not believe that travel into my mind.” There wasn’t a them anymore; suddenly, it was us.

The main problem with broken people, however, is that it’s very difficult to convince them they’re beautiful. Take a beautiful youngquote-about-maybe-youre-not-perfect-but-that-doesnt-mean-youre-not-beautiful woman, for example, the kind a guy would do stupid things for. Maybe she had trouble with her family. Maybe she has marks on her face left by acne. Maybe she has a scar from some harrowing surgery she thinks will make her ugly if anyone sees it. She doesn’t want to hear about being beautiful, even when someone tells her she is. It’s heartbreaking when she won’t accept a compliment.

Broken people also don’t want to be called broken. They build up tough shells, and even though everything about them screams “I need a friend,” they do their best to keep everyone at arm’s length. They want to set the rules and the boundaries, and they don’t want protection or defense from anyone. At least, that’s what they’ll tell you. They work hard to project independence and toughness, even though they can be hurt very easily by the insensitive among us. They can be fiercely loyal, but also ready to bolt at the first sign of danger.

I used to think I had to fix broken people to make them beautiful. I used to try to protect them and act all self-sacrificing by turning myself into some type of martyr on their behalf. In actuality, I probably just made them feel worse. I don’t need to repair anyone; I need to love them, the same way God loves me even though I falter terribly every day. I hope psychology can be a vehicle for me to do that more effectively by teaching me more about how the mind works, but all that knowledge is useless without the heart. If I can’t say to someone, “I’m here. I’m not running. We’re in this for the long haul, no matter what.”, then I’m defeated before I even start.

I’m a guy, and I like to fix things. I’m a guy, and I like to offer protection. Sometimes, though, I don’t need to do either one. I just need to be there, not trying to offer up any judgments or complicating the matter. There’s a beauty in that brokenness that I can’t explain. It’s gracious and it’s grand, even when I blunder in and step all over it. I’m happy to be a part of it, and I don’t want to lose it. We shouldn’t want to lose it, since you probably saw beauty in me when I didn’t see it either.

I’m here. I’m not running. We’ll make it.