The headline of the September 3, 2007 issue of Time magazine made me hold my breath for a moment: “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa.” In this day & age, scandal among leading figures of faith is nothing new — but Mother Teresa?
Well, as it turns out, her “secret” is that she suffered a crisis of faith. I suppose in a culture where Mother Teresa is more of a cultural archetype than an actual human being, the fact that she struggled — mightily, at times — in her faith would be a shocking “secret” worthy of an expose. I would never wish a dark night of the soul upon anyone. The pain, the emptiness, the grief — these things can almost tear a person apart. But I find myself oddly reassured that Mother Teresa was a real human being, with very real questions, doubts and struggles. It gives me hope that, by the grace of God, I can become the person God intends for me to be. As Eugene Cho writes in his post about this article:
While I have joy in my convictions as a believer of God and follower of Christ, I am not afraid to call Mystery and Doubt my friends and acquaintances. They have accompanied my journey for some time…and have actually strengthened my walk with Christ.
It is almost human nature to love the idea of a person more than the physical human being in front of us. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that is a large part of why many relationships fail — we develop this idealized version of our beloved that can only lead to disappointment and failure. I love this quote from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:
Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community, even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.
Even though I’ve been serving in a first-generation immigrant church context for awhile now, I still struggle with understanding the Asian idea of saving face. At times, it feels like we are willfully misleading people in order to maintain the dream of the community, as opposed to entering the messy reality of one another’s lives. It’s safer and simpler to keep each other at arm’s length. But what costs so little yields a similarly cheap result.
I have really struggled over the last couple of weeks because of the circumstances of a family we know. The husband and wife have been contemplating divorce — difficult in any circumstance, but made even stickier in a first-generation immigrant setting. On top of that, the husband works for their church as a member of the first-generation staff. Unfortunately, their resolution seems to be sending off the husband to another country for “mission” work. This ridicules not only the sanctity of marriage, but also the calling to cross into another culture and serve in the name of Christ. The frightening thing is that I’m sure many of us could repeat almost verbatim the same story from our own church experience — it’s not love that covers over a multitude of sins, but a holy facade.
What would happen in the Asian American church if we acknowledged, and entered into, the mess of one another’s lives? We might have to fight our inner Homer Simpson shouting “Too much infor-mation!” and deal with the awkwardness of actually getting to know each other, but isn’t it worth it? The mess could become beautiful if we lived in it together. If you need a little inspiration, or a soundtrack to your messy spirituality, listen to this track, I Live In The Mess You Are, by Zookeeper (Chris Simpson of post-rock powerhouse Mineral and shoegaze wonders The Gloria Record).