Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I Ain't Lyin'

Doug is a crossing guard in my neighborhood. Doug is pretty old. I'm not sure how old, but one only has to look at his cloudy, misty eyes to know. He is thin and a bit hunched over. When he speaks he curls his lower lip in as though he is missing his teeth or trying to hold them in. But Doug is as full of spunk as ever an old man was. He loves to tell stories, and not so long ago he was telling me how his father would braid the switch just before he put it to him -- a young, no doubt impish, Doug being the "put-ee." He said his father would tell him, "This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you." Doug, his cloudy eyes narrowing, says, "I always wanted to tell him: You a lie!" But of course, he wouldn't dare.

The truth is, punishment when done in love, usually does hurt the person giving more than the one receiving. Steven, my oldest, has always had my heart. He was four before Christine came along, and we were inseparable. Christine is and always will be my Midge, my Teenie-Weenie. Blue eyes and blond ringlets -- a spitfire in disguise. Steven was about as low-maintenance as it got, until he hit his teens. Then it was a constant cycle of problems and punishment, disappearance and delimitation. Christine, on the other hand, was petulance in a Pamper. "Don't touch," was something I said only as a precursor to smacking her hands; she never listened, and it never failed. Even now, as I think about the steps I had to take over the years to protect my children from harming themselves or harming others, I get a knot in my stomach. It did indeed, hurt me.

The word discipline comes directly from the Latin disciplina, meaning "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge." Punish (Lat., "punire") means "correct, chastise; take vengeance for; inflict a penalty on, cause pain for some offense." Assuming I was punishing my children with the intent of correcting a bad or dangerous behavior, and not as "payback," it becomes discipline: the giving of instruction, teaching. And when it comes to teaching a fixated three-year old not to touch the ice skating bears, a power point presentation or saccharine-sweet "mommy" voice isn't gonna cut it.

Discipline works on adults, too -- usually without the punitive part. Our lives are riddled with discipline when you think about it. "Keep Off the Grass." "No Food Or Drink Beyond This Point." Dress codes at work. Traffic signals. All in place to teach, to give instruction regarding the boundaries.

So why have churches gotten away from disciplining the ranks? We preach that the Bible is "God's love letter to His people," and yet, He includes ten pretty noteworthy rules. Jesus even takes them up a notch in the New Testament. Do our church leaders not love us as much as our Heavenly Father does? Or are they not really leaders, but people-pleasers: afraid to tell people what they might not want to hear? Or are they afraid people might disagree and leave the church, taking their donations with them? That makes The Shepherd's sheep nothing more than dollar bills to them.

If I'm going to join your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, I'm going to want the leadership of your chapter to show me how things are done throughout the organization. Even though we are simply a local branch, I'm not going to expect you to tell me that AA as a whole, forbids the serving of alcohol at its meetings, but your local chapter does things a little differently. Then we're not really Alcoholics Anonymous, are we? And I'd certainly expect you to take corrective action if I appeared with a fifth of Southern every week. Kick me out if necessary. Isn't local leadership merely a representation of organizational leadership? If you don't care enough to abide by the laws, or hold me to them, why are we here?

I don't want my sin to become a habit, a way of life (or of death) before someone brings it to my attention. I don't want to walk around offending people, living contrary to the Word of God, or spreading heresies because I've gone astray and "my brothers and sisters" are too comfortable turning a blind eye, to confront me. How is that love? I thank God we have found a church family that loves us enough to call us out when we are off the mark. I know they will take whatever action they believe necessary to keep up from hurting ourselves. And I know it will hurt them more than it hurts us.

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