Let’s Face It

Mark 8:31-38

Let’s face it.

How do we learn to face things?

What does that look like?

I was pondering that question this week
while I was reading the book Second Chances by Cat Hoke.
In the book, Cat talks about visiting a prison one day,
and seeing the entrepreneur talent of the prisoners.
She vividly recalled how one man said to her as she left: Please come back.

Please come back.

So she did and she quit her job on Wall Street
and eventually started a non-profit called Defy,
which partners with CEOs
and empowers inmates to become entrepreneurs
of their own legal business ventures.
The inmates enrolled in Defy are called Entrepreneurs-in-training or EITs.
These EITs learn not only about financial investment
but also about empathy, forgiveness and how to grieve.

Cat shares a story about an entrepreneur-in-training, named Carter,
who learns to face things.
Carter participates in a class exercise,
where your peers evaluate you,
as a person who is a giver or taker.
In the exercise, they had gone around, looking each other in the eye,
and saying the person’s name and how they experienced their comrade.
A giving person makes you feel happy, grateful, known.
A taking person makes you feel betrayed, used, angry.
Thirty-six out of forty guys had experienced Carter as a taking person.

They sit in a semi-circle,
arranged from the person who takes the most,
to the person who gives the most.

“Do you understand that you chose this seat?”
Cat says to Carter.

“I didn’t pick this seat,” he replies, “It was rigged.”

Cat continues, “Can you think of anything you have said or done,
that would have led your brothers to perceive you as a taker?”

“Nope,” Carter responds.

“Do you have a parole date?” Cat asks.

“Nope. I saw the parole board last month and they turned me down. AGAIN.”

Cat replies: “If there were any parallels between this exercise and the way your brothers perceive you and the way the parole board perceives you, and you could gain awareness of the energy you’re giving off and then have a chance to fix it, would you want to know?”

In other words, if there was a way you could be set free, 
            would you want to know?

“I guess,” Carter replies.

The guys give feedback.

“Why did it take you guys so long to tell me?” Carter asks,
“Maybe I could have made parole if I knew I was coming off as a jerk.”

Have you taken the class on forgiveness? Cat asks.

Before Cat can say another word, Carter goes around the room tapping some guys on the knee.  He says, “If I tapped you on the knee, I know what I took from you and I will apologize later.  For those I didn’t tap, I would like to know what I took so I can apologize to you too.”

A year later, Carter made parole and he was free.

If there was a way you could be set free,

            would you want to know?

I struggled with the Scripture passage this week because it is a hard text.
The texts where Jesus tells us to “love one another”
or teaches to care for one another,
I could talk about those passages all day.
Moments when Jesus talks about suffering, crosses and losing our lives,
I hesitate a little bit more.
I can understand why Peter rebuked Jesus when Jesus talked about suffering and death.
Not only did Peter love Jesus and not want Jesus to die,
I imagine there was also a part of Peter
that would prefer that Jesus did not talk about hard things.

That’s not the kind of teacher Jesus is though.
Jesus loves us, but also Jesus is also going to tell it like it is,
because Jesus wants us to be released from what imprisons us.
Jesus wants Peter to be set free and me to be set free
and you to be set free and all of us to be set free.

Jesus knows that just because we don’t talk about things,
it doesn’t mean they are not true.

The Hebrew word sata, related to satan, means to turn away, to decline.

To all the forces that seek to turn us away from the path to healing, truth and life,
Jesus says: get thee behind me.

Jesus speaks openly.

If I hadn’t preached on this passage, it would still be here in the Gospels,
but I would be the one who has closed my heart to Jesus’ wisdom,
Jesus’ invitation to liberation.

When Jesus tells us to “take up your cross and follow me”,
I wonder if what Jesus is telling us,
is to take up our situation, whatever it might be,
and chose how we will respond.

No one can tell us what our cross is:
perhaps it’s leaving a toxic situation and facing the uncertainty of the future,
perhaps it’s coming to a more healthy understanding of our limitations
and what we can and cannot do,
perhaps it’s making a phone call,
perhaps it’s speaking out about the opioid crisis or the injustices faced by our kindred,
perhaps it’s telling our friend in a kind way that he’s a taker,
perhaps its facing the truth that maybe we’ve been a jerk,
perhaps its stepping out to live our deepest passion and risking failure.

Let’s face it. Together.

As I pondered this call from Jesus,
I found myself thinking of a story from Abby Wambach.
Abby is a famous soccer player and gold medalist who grew up in Rochester, NY.
As she was growing up,
Abby discovered that she was a lesbian
and was hesitant to tell her family
and struggled to feel okay about how she was.
Abby also knew she was a great soccer play and that people really loved her for it.

As she struggled with her own sense of self-worth,
she poured herself into soccer,
and when she wasn’t in a training season –
she poured herself into
drinking, pills, intense relationships and food binges.

A friend says to her: At what point are you responsible, Abby?

At what point are we responsible?

Abby is an amazing soccer player,
and yet when she retired from the sport,
she found herself still unhappy,
still food binging, drinking and in a floundering relationship.

Then one new year,
she decided to rent house, and practice being alone and sober,
she invited friends over for a while, and they ate healthy food.

She begins to release those things that she has clung so tightly to in attempt to find life:
giant muffins, drunk days and night,
her desperate attempts to win her partner’s affection.
She releases them and takes up what is before her:
the truth that she was a fantastic soccer player,
and that sometimes life can be hard and lonely,
and that she is lesbian and has family who loves her,
that she is a person who knows what it is to feel pain,
that she has known what it is to wrestle with addiction and fear,
underneath it all, she discovers she is loveable and real and human.
She is a child of God. Loosening her grip, Abby discovers life.[i]

There is a quote that says,

“Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”[ii]

Kristen Bell, the wife of writer Rob Bell,
says, “I am so tired of being good … and now all I want is to be free.”

Maybe Jesus says hard things to us,
because Jesus’ deepest desire is to make us free.

Jesus says:
“If any want to become my followers …
let them … take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

My friends, what hard thing is Jesus saying to you today,
so that you can be free?

Amen.

[i] These stories come from Abby Wambach’s memoir Forward.

[ii] This quote is from John Steinbeck.

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