Friday, 28 November 2014

Of Tolerance and Trolls

So... since my last post, I've been involved in another online discussion...

and I've come to the conclusion that some people are just not interested in genuine engagement with others. They participate for the sole purpose of being provocative.

Now that can be irritating, but when they are convinced that they speak for 'GOD', and will brook no argument, it can actually be dangerous for anyone who's experienced spiritual abuse.

There was one troll in particular who was behaving like a self-righteous ass - baiting, labelling, and refusing to engage with people who were genuinely trying to share their thoughts and ideas. He presented his opinions as facts, took an "I'm right, and you're a loser" stance, and threw provocative one-liners around like confetti.

I called him on it, told him I didn't feed trolls or take their bait, and left it at that.

Which was fine until one woman joined the thread and started singing his praises, saying that he'd brought her "great comfort and joy" for "standing firm on the Bible..."

She added, "Not once have you insulted any of the people in this comment's (sic) section that I have seen, even while the fake "Christians" will spew all sorts of hateful things at you."

Reading this, I could only assume this woman had not actually read his comments, so I showed her examples of the not just insulting, but also rude and dismissive remarks this chap had made.

Apart from calling people "Pitiful", and accusing others of using "histrionic hyperbole" or having a "myopic perspective" or a "judgmental attitude" or being "toxic" or playing a "blame game" or 'having no integrity' or speaking bullshit, he'd also played the religious shaming card, accusing people of 'walking away from God', 'denying God', living "proudly sinful" and surrendering to their "sinful desires". (There's plenty more, but you probably get the picture).

Imagine my surprise then to hear that she was already aware of them! I was utterly gobsmacked that this abuse was what she was applauding! How on earth did this represent "pursuing GOD'S heart and not your own"!?

But no argument I put forward would be heard. In her mind, this woman had pronounced "Truth". No correspondence would be entered into. End of story.

She also encouraged another commenter to "Continue to speak the Truth harshly, as Jesus and Paul did." (What even!!!)

Again, there was nothing I could say that could even register on, let alone penetrate, her shield of self-righteousness. She was right, I was wrong, she had GOD and "Truth" on her side, and that was all there was to the matter.

After that, it felt like this guy went out of his way to be as noxious as he could be, to as many people as possible.

At first I just ignored it. He neither impressed me nor scared me. And I was also concerned I'd let myself argue too hard against the woman who'd been egging him on.

But then I started to wonder whether some of the people he was bullying might actually be genuinely traumatised by his behaviour.

The article under discussion had been exploring why people are walking away from the institutional church and I thought it was entirely possible that there were people reading and commenting who had, themselves, walked away because of experiencing abuse within the church. And it distressed me to think that someone might have been so relieved to discover that they were not alone that they had plucked up the courage to share, only to be met with what would feel like more abuse.

I tried to put myself in their shoes, and I thought about my own situation - of feeling so alone and abandoned when no-one would stand up for me and confront the bullying. Whether they like it or not, by doing nothing they enabled the abuse.

But then I told myself that had been in 'real life', and this was 'only' online.

And then I remembered being in an online conversation regarding spiritual abuse. One guy was really having a go at me and trying to invalidate me, when another chap stepped in and told him to back off. He didn't know me, but he'd seen the bullying behaviour and he stuck up for me. I was so grateful to receive his support!

And that made me think about how Jesus stood up for broken and vulnerable people against the religious bullies leaders of his day. He had no issue in calling out their self-righteous attitude and abusive behaviour. (Have you read Matthew 23 recently?)

And I came to the conclusion that, on-line or in the 'real' world, it is one thing to recommend we engage in a civilised "agree to disagree" discussion and quite another to sit back and allow a religious thug to bully and wound others.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Seeing the Elephant

The first time I read The Lord of The Rings I must have been about 12 years old. I adored it! Absolutely fell in love with it!

Since then, I've kept coming back to re-read it every few years. And each time I do something new leaps out at me and captures my imagination. Each time I approach this well-loved piece of literature, I find something new to delight my soul.

It's not that the story has changed, but that I have. I've changed. I've grown. And my experience of life has increased with the passing years.

The things which spoke most deeply to me as a young teenager were different from the things that moved me as a newly-wed. What caught my attention when I was a first-time mum was different from what engaged me after my husband walked out. My most recent excursion into its wonder, happily married and with 3 fantastic sons, was different again.

Over the years I came to realise an important truth: what we get out of a book depends greatly upon what we have to bring to it.

But this truth has far greater implications than our enjoyment of a good (or even great!) book. It stays true in all aspects of our life. What we take away from an experience depends greatly on what we have brought to it.

This reality came to mind recently when I was involved in an online 'discussion' over a particular post. As is often the case, there'd been a fair few comments posted of the "I'm right, you're wrong" variety.

I was getting a bit riled by one chap in particular, so I stopped to get some perspective and re-assess my motives for engaging.

And it occurred to me that we were all behaving like the blind men with the elephant. Each of us was reading the author's work according to our own particular bias and understanding. We had each approached the article bearing our own life experience - holding tightly to the things that were important to us.

We'd all read the same words... and yet what we read differed greatly depending on what we'd brought to them. We were feeling different parts of the elephant and declaring our own piece to be the only correct view.

It's probably a good thing to keep in mind. We all have the tendency to think that our own experience or understanding is universal. Many times it's simply out of ignorance - I don't know what I don't know.

But when we fail to stop and consider the possibility that someone else just might be seeing something we can't, we not only invalidate the other person's reality, but we rob ourselves of the opportunity to enlarge our own awareness.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

What is That "Sorry" Worth?

Since my own devastating 'church' experience, I've been reading and learning all I can about abuse. What it looks like. How it manifests. Why both abuser and abused seem to act out their parts as if reading from some ineluctable script, regardless of the finer details of the situation.

There are the classic moves like blaming, gas lighting and shunning.

There is the haunting pain of shame, self-doubt and isolation.

And there is, to mis-quote Maxwell Smart, the old 'say sorry and then insist your victim gets over it' trick.

I've been watching this trick being played throughout the fall of the Driscoll Empire: "He's said he's sorry, what more do you want from him!?"

And because people like Warren Throckmorton keep pressing for answers, they are accused of being judgemental, bloodthirsty and self-righteous. And that's just the polite words...

What some people refuse to understand is that people who have survived abuse (or at least understand its foulness) will move heaven and earth to make sure no-one else becomes a victim. If you've experienced that depth of pain and betrayal, you won't sit idly by and watch an abuser just walk away. Free to keep on devastating the lives of the innocent or unwary.

It's not a case of "wanting to bring them down" or "being out for revenge". It's knowing that an unrepentant abuser will strike again. Think about it for a moment - if they don't believe they've done anything wrong, why would they change their behaviour!?

That is why it is wise to seek proof of 'repentance' before trusting again. To ask that actions line up with the words.

Reparation. Redress. Restitution. Recompense. Restoration.

These are the things that can lead to reconciliation. Things that prove the sincerity of your words. Things that show how serious you are about what you have said.

But be warned! If you stand your ground in wanting to see the evidence, there's a real danger that you'll be further vilified. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about!

Of course, the upside to that is you'll know exactly how much that "sorry" was worth!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Attitude Matters

The other day, I had a conversation at work that got me thinking.

A colleague had arrived barely a minute late and she was apologising for it. Her co-worker responded graciously and it sparked a conversation, during which this young woman shared that her dad viewed turning up to work early to be absolutely imperative. She said he'd been known to sack tradies working for him if they turned up late.

That night I came back to the conversation and started mulling it over. It occurred to me that anyone can arrive early to work, but still have lousy attitude all day. Likewise, it is possible for one who is normally conscientious at their work to be late in arriving.

So an action, in and of itself, is of limited benefit in conveying the heart attitude of the person involved.

This is the problem with legalism. It demands an outward conformity to a set of rules but cannot move the heart of those involved. So it reduces the us to the performance of approved actions but leaves our attitude untouched. As long as we are seen to be acting a certain way, our motivation for doing so is rarely questioned.

The danger in this is we can be left with a facade which has nothing behind it - no substance.

As long as we look good, it is presumed we are good.

iz quotes

And this got me wondering how much this plays into the realities we have been seeing in the institutional church. There have been many leaders in recent times whose behaviour has been revealed as abusive or corrupt and yet they seem incapable of admitting it - of really owning their own crap. (And Mark Driscoll is just the latest, christian-celebrity example of this.)

It also appears that those watching on, applauding the outward appearance, don't want to see the emptiness behind the facade. As long as the leader looks good, mouths the correct words, they don't seem to care that there may be nothing of substance behind the looks, no meaningful reality to those words. As longs as it looks good!

I wonder how much of this imperative to maintain the facade is built on the presumption that looking good equates to being good?

Conversely, how many leaders have done real good (and won genuine respect) by admitting their faults and addressing their sin?

You see, a good appearance can be deceptive - it's what's in the heart that is important.

Attitude matters.