Gospel Transparency

BY DOMINICK SANTORE

Sometimes I think transparency is the bastard child of Christianity. Everyone is willing to talk about transparency (and its cousin, accountability), but when it walks into the room and stays awhile, most people pretend it doesn’t exist. I remember the first time I heard about it. I was at men’s meeting and the topic was, umm, oh yeah, …transparency. It was a riveting and movingsermon which I can’t actually seem to remember, but at the end of it, there we were, standing in a prayer circle, waiting for that one brave soul to “drop it like its hot.” At the time, I was struggling with some serious sins (something I absolutely don’t struggle with now whatsoever). I remember thinking to myself, “if just one person gives some “big reveal”, then I will too. And then… BOOM! There it was! This guy stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park! In an amazing and remarkable display of vulnerability uncharacteristic of most men that breathe, he confessed how much he struggled with… back pain? Now, I’m about 12 years older since then, so I get the back pain thing, I really do. But it really did leave a lot to be desired in the area of transparency and without exaggeration I can say that was as deep as we got that night. Fully concerned for myself, my horrible sin and the judgmental eyes that I thought would come, I tucked my little old sin right in the back pocket of my Levi’s and that’s where it stayed. Until a few years later…

At a new church with some of the same crew, I decided I couldn’t live a lie anymore. I was a men’s ministry leader &  co-leader/laborer of a food pantry and I needed to get it out. I kept hearing about the freedom it would bring. The freedom from hiding it and being free once and for all from the sinful inclinations of my mind. TRANSPARENCY WAS THE KEY! So, I put it out there! Did I control the way I came out with it? I sure did. I picked elders and friends and a couple of others collectively for a variety of reasons. I was trying to get help and at the same time let others know its ok to be transparent. I don’t know if it was the right way to do it. It’s never easy to admit to something that you know will hurt your wife and family. It’s something that can profoundly change your whole life. Well, with cat well out of the bag, I voluntarily stepped down from everything. I began doing one-on-one bible study with an elder who I have to say is an absolutely great guy, but seemed as uncomfortable dealing with this issue as I still was.  After the study was done, I started to back away. I felt like I was in even more bondage and more guilty than ever before. To be honest, other than the occasional, “hey, how you doing?” Wink, wink!, from the men I told, It was as if I had never spoken a word.

Three cheers for transparency! 

Transparency, at least to me, is so much more than baring your sins to others. Sometimes its letting the most raw emotions come to the surface, whether you’re seen by others or not. I experienced that as well. I was given some bad news by church leaders. It was heart wrenching to me and brought up emotions that I didn’t even know existed. I bawled loudly. It felt guttural and raw. I was hugged, told that we’d get together and talk, but that never happened. Later, I found out my outward display of emotion made people feel weird. That made me feel even more alienated. I didn’t handle it well. I just kept spiraling down. I’m still not sure I’ve ever fully recovered.

I have to say that even though this feels like an attack on people, church, etc.., it’s not. If anything, it’s a picture of a sinner (me), not always knowing how to deal with the truthfulness of my condition (still a sinner).  The hurts and pains that seemingly occurred during these times were already there. Certainly these moments of transparency can be helpful, but I think many times they can also amplify the problems that already exist. This is mostly due to a desire to have a concrete answer as to how to fix it and the other party’s desire to tell me EXACTLY how to fix it. I got lots of advice on what to do and how to act. When I (admittedly) became a problem, and I did BECOME a problem (That’s all me, I own that), I got treated like a problem. The only thing you really do with a problem is get rid of it. Well, again I definitely helped that happen.  At the end of it all, this is much more an indictment on me then anyone else.

I didn’t learn until later that there really was only one thing I needed.

The Gospel. The sweet aroma of the forgiveness of Christ. The Grace that says you’re a mess and you’re still loved. In fact, I came for people EXACTLY like you! We were so caught up, I was so caught up, trying to find solutions because I wasn’t supposed to sin like that anymore. I’m a saint now. How could I continue to do something so outrageous? People prayed for me and I think truly loved and cared for me, but if they gave me the Gospel during that time, it was drowning in a tumultuous sea of ideas and steps and internet filters crashing all around it, drowning out its effectiveness. Keeping busy, darting your eyes, praying, reading, standing on your head, this is how you overcome. I did say, men’s ministry leader, food pantry coordinator/worker, didn’t I? Let’s add, annual church play participant, usher, chair/table stacker. There is a reason that some of the very worse sins, like pornography and others, are problems for pastors as well the regular congregant. Church does busy well. We LOVE to get in up to our necks in busy.  The waters of transparency are a bit more shallow. But among the “do more” sermons, you’ll be lucky to get a leaky drip from the faucet of forgiveness, which is sad, because if anything should be preached like a raging waterfall, its that!  

I think there are also ways to be truly transparent without a word uttered. I believe this is one of those moments. We had this one guy many of us came to know from the neighborhood where the church was located. He was a scary looking, older biker dude. He had tattoos across his face, was a heavy drinker and on occasion displayed a bad temper. Make no mistake, if you didn’t know him, you might just take the long way around if you saw him. We would share the gospel with him, sometimes when he was sober and sometimes when he was drunk. Eventually, he would pop into church on a semi-regular occasion, sit way in the back, and usually stay just long enough to hear the worship. Many times when you glanced at him, you’d find him weeping. Sometimes before he left, he’d make his way to the front of the sanctuary to leave a few dollars at the front. It was an odd thing to witness. In hindsight, he seemed to have a good idea of what a broken sinful mess he was. I think he also knew, by leaving a few dollars (maybe all that he had), how expensive that price, that had been paid in full by Christ for his sin, really was. I think this man showed more transparency in his actions than most of us do on our worst day.

Christ came for these kind of sinners. The kind of sinners that sometimes beat their chests outside the doors of a church and cry, “have mercy on me!” That kind of transparency goes beyond the specifics of which kind of sin was engaged in, when it occurred, and how often. It says that there is a part of me that is still utterly wretched. It stands back to back with its saintly counterpart. Recent events in my own life have showed me that I have the capacity for murder, even it’s just in the deepest parts of my heart. Those circumstances have a way of drawing the worst and deepest buried sins out of you.

That’s why at the end of any transparency, even a very flawed or failed attempt at transparency, forgiveness must be found! Not, “7 steps to be sin free”. I’ve “bounced” my eyes from sinful glances enough times to know it’s a stopgap action at best. Forgiveness is the lifeblood of the Christian. We need to hear it as often as possible. We need to hear that Christ has been crucified and there is no condemnation as a result. We all want to be like Jesus. We talk about it all the time! The best way to do that? Forgive! Forgive daily! Forgive hilariously! Forgive unconditionally. Forgive because we’ve been forgiven of SO MUCH MORE! 

We DON’T love God with ALL our heart, soul, mind and strength, or our neighbors as ourselves. Thankfully, God forgives us for it regularly. Jesus is our advocate, perpetually whispering thatforgiveness in the ear of the Father. 

For this I am thankful!

A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?

Twitter: @adefeatedvictor