I wrote a post last night about this. It was late. I wrote some things that had deep roots in anger and a churning stomach. My hands trembled as I typed. But those words brought death to me, a deep sense of hopelessness and despair, and I suspect they would have brought the same to anyone who read them.
So I deleted the post.
Then I received a message from a friend. “There’s so much hate,” he said. “So much confusion.” Would I write something? Would I put words to the deep hurt so many of us are feeling? At first I thought, no. I can’t. I can’t dig this stuff up, this rotten stuff inside of me, this stuff that needs more time to break down and decay before it turns to useful soil.
I woke up late this morning after a long night debriefing with close friends. We wept and wondered why, how. These things don’t happen to your friends, your church. Of course not. They happen to other people in other cities with other problems.
Then, after I slept in, we celebrated my daughter. She turned nine this morning, and we sang Happy Birthday to her while walking down the steps to her room, served her breakfast in bed (chocolate chip pancakes and hot chocolate and one extravagant gift). I remembered how she came screaming into the world, bloody and wet. I remembered how I had cried when she emerged because she was a she, a girl to the boy my wife had delivered 18 months earlier.
“It’s a girl!”
Then I brought in the Christmas tree and cut off the lower branches and it smelled so good. So clean. A fresh start. But there was still this sick feeling in my stomach over everything that had happened, everything we had learned. I wondered if throwing up would help, but I haven’t yet. There’s a sadness, too, a weight. The heaviness of disappointment and death – not a physical death, but the passing of innocence and the loss of futures and this outward spreading ripple of anger and sadness.
Should I hate this young man, my friend, arrested yesterday for sexually assaulting a teenage boy? Should I hate him, now waiting in a jail cell, on the way to being officially labeled a pedophile?
I certainly hate what he did. I hate the atomic bomb of sexual assault, how it flattens and chars and melts. I hate a world where people take advantage of other people’s trust. These things I hate.
But do I hate him? I don’t think so. I don’t know.
* * * * *
But I still ache. My insides literally churn with desire for a new world. For a world where families don’t receive this kind of news. For a world where young boys are given the space and freedom to grow and develop and mature in a healthy way. For trust.
That’s close to the foundation of it, I think. I yearn for trust. To trust and be trusted. But this world falls so short. And because the church is in the world, it falls short, too. The church, made up of imperfect people, hurting people, cannot protect everyone. Even the most innocent. Even the most vulnerable.
I hate this about the church, so much so that I want to grind my teeth and scream. I also hate this about me and my friends and my pastors, because we are the church, and sometimes no matter how many background checks you do, no matter how many references you check, you cannot protect everyone. I hate that we cannot protect everyone. Someone will always manage to take advantage of our deep yearning to trust. To be trusted.
I hate this about us, our powerlessness. Our failures. Our impotence.
* * * * *
What now? Where do we go from here? What do we do?
What do I want to do? I want to give up on church. I want to give up on trusting people. I want to keep my kids home this Sunday and hide in solitude, cutting down trees and chopping firewood in the backyard and thinking about nothing. I want to watch a movie with my kids and ride four-wheeler with them and pretend none of this ever happened. Pretend my friend did not do this.
But on Sunday I will go to church, and I will hug my friends. I will cry with them over the pain that has so recently descended. I happen to be on the schedule to work in the children’s class, so I will accept the looks of skepticism and distrust the parents send my way, and I will understand them. I will not be offended in the least. I will nod and shake the hands of parents who can no longer leave their kids with other people. I will hug them, too, because I know how they feel. I don’t blame them, not at all.
I will plead with God that peace rains down on the family who has entered the nightmare, and I will pray that they will find their way as best they can. I pray that they still know, deep down, that they are good parents. Because they are.
I will pray for my friend, too, though I do not know how.
* * * * *
I started reading Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning a few days ago, before I heard about all of this. “Before” – that word has a certain echo to it, a certain emptiness. Anyway, there was a passage that I highlighted, a verse that Manning quoted that resonated with me on that particular day.
Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Sinners, like my friend, now looking to spend year after changeless year behind bars. Sinners, like those of us who did not possess the wisdom or the guile or the power to stop this from happening.
Sinners, like me.
Jesus, please return.