Saturday, 28 February 2015

Spock on Abuse

Spock obviously understood how abusers operate:

And how abuse is enabled:

Not sure I really need to say anything more... except that his wisdom lives on!


Friday, 27 February 2015

Christian Celebrity Culture

I came across this Facebook post from Kris Vallotton last week. As of today, it has received over 1,500 responses. And as far as I can see scrolling down the first few hundred, they are all messages of thanks and applause.

But I have spent the last week struggling with it - feeling like I must inhabit an alternate universe. Because when I read this post, I didn't feel like applauding.

I was distressed!

Before I explain, let me clarify why I am sharing my response. This is not a personal attack on one man. And I do get the idea that he's encouraging people to work hard for what they want. I have no issue with that at all!

It's just that I was really disquieted by the first part of his post. It sounded way too much like the toxic celebrity culture that has done so much lasting damage within the 'church'.
My congregation consisted of about 11 people; 8 of which had Alzheimer's. When I would a yell a powerful point, (I used to preach with drama), several of them would pee the floor and the nurse would wheel them out.
This made me cringe. These were people. Real people! And yet this sentence de-humanises them. Turns them into a bit of a joke. They appear only as a backdrop to Mr Vallotton's preaching!

Which raises questions in my mind - questions I would ask Kris Vallotton if I could: Did your yelling bless those people? Did you think about the poor staff who had to clean up after them? Did it occur to you to change your approach to accommodate the particular needs of those to whom you were preaching?

Or were they just a means to an end - an opportunity for you to prove your faithfulness so that you could move on to the 'real deal'?
Bill Johnson taught me that if I prepared as if I was teaching 1000s, someday God would entrust 1000s to me.
It disturbs me that we so often reduce God to a slot-machine, and loving service to a formula. If I do X, then God must bless and multiply what I do.

Then we play the numbers game and equate 'success' with the size of our 'ministry'.

'Our' ministry becomes the focus - not simply loving and serving others. 
So I spent hours every week, reading, studying, and preparing my messages. As I prepared, I would envision myself in stadiums filled with hungry people, all listening to me preaching. 
It seems like the focus was all on the preaching. But was there any thought during those hours of hard work for the actual recipients of this preparation? What were their needs? How could they be blessed? Were they even in the equation at all?

It sounds like Mr Vallotton was so busy envisioning stadiums of hungry people, that he couldn't see the "least of these" that God had placed right in front of him.

I may be misinterpreting the man, but I've seen this attitude way too often to be anything but disturbed by even the suggestion of it.

It's the fantasy of having thousands of people all looking at me. Listening to me. Being fed by me. And as we have seen, that attitude of celebrity culture in our churches is toxic.

I hesitate to point out the obvious, but Mark Driscoll is a startling example of where that thinking leads: "Look at all the people I'm reaching! What's a few people being trampled underfoot (or run over by the bus!) when I'm doing so much good for the kingdom?"

The trouble is that most of the time the kingdom that is being built is not God's!
Many times I would preach at the hospital with my eyes closed...I was preaching to a different reality.
Again, I do not want to make assumptions about Mr Vallotton's motivation here, but this sounds too much like the celebrity attitude. "This lowly group is not my real destiny - they're just a stepping stone. I was born to preach before thousands!"

And yet, as I've said, these were real people Mr Vallotton closed his eyes to. People who apparently weren't a good enough 'reality' for him.

I have tried to make it clear that this is not a personal attack on Kris Vallotton here. What I am attacking is the toxic attitude that has so permeated our 'christian culture', that we applaud it without thinking.

In fact, we don't even recognise it because 'ministry' has become the goal - not people. 'Success' is measured by how many people we 'reach', not by how well we love.

The unwritten promise is that if we work hard enough, God will reward us with fame and fortune... or at least a 'real' ministry.

Too many western christians have bought into the celebrity fantasy and have forgotten that Jesus came to serve. And to die!
"Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage." (Mark 10:42-45)
Now, if Kris Vallotton had written about how he'd knelt down Sunday after Sunday and cleaned up the urine-soaked floor, that would have really been something!

But we want to avoid the part where Jesus calls us to serve the "least of these", and we become so obsessed with trying to be 'somebody' that we fail to grasp the fact that in Jesus we already are somebody?

This world really does not need even one more celebrity - but it sure as hell could use some servants!!!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

How Do We Tell Who The Real Victim Is?

In recent times, I've been following developments in the story of Julie McMahon vs Tony Jones, which first surfaced last year in the comments section of this blog post.

Since that time, emotions have run high. People have taken sides and tried to shut down opposing voices. Names have been called and accusations thrown around. 

In other words it's been messy and, at times, ugly. That's what situations of abuse are like.

And like 99.9% of all abuse cases, the same arguments and defences are being trotted out.

Many people are saying, "There are always two sides to a story", meaning if one person acted badly it was probably because the other had too.

While that sounds reasonable and rational, it doesn't take into account that, in cases of bullying and abuse, the victim is often driven to such desperation that they do lash out, or fight back. It ignores the fact that the abuser has provoked that behaviour, and that it would not otherwise have occurred.

Along with this goes, "They gave as good as they got." It pretends to ignore the fact that when you are attacked, the 'fight or flight' instinct kicks in. Some people fight because they've been attacked. And then they are crucified for doing so!

Or you hear, "Neither person is perfect", implying moral equivalence (i.e. whatever one person did, the other person's actions were equally bad - no matter what those actions actually were). So... to follow this reasoning, slapping someone across the face in anger and frustration is morally equivalent to beating someone to a pulp and hospitalising them. Because both are acts of imperfect people!!!

In the midst of all this, there has been on-going questioning of who abused whom.

"He did this, therefore he's clearly abusive."

"No! She said that, so he's the one being victimised."

We weren't privy to all those conversations, we didn't witness the actions of those involved. So what are we to believe!?

Here's a tip: When one of the parties walks away with their position and power intact, they are most likely NOT the victim of abuse!

Abuse involves a real or perceived imbalance of power, rank, status, authority, control. Its tools are things like intimidation, gas lighting, whispering campaigns, mobbing and victim blaming. Most of these tools can only be wielded by the person holding the greater power.

So when you see a situation where one person in the conflict holds all the power cards in his or her hand, and at the end of the conflict they are still holding them, its highly unlikely that they have been the one damaged by abuse!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

When Minding Your Own Business Harms Others

Another story of abuse, silencing and injustice is being uncovered across the blogosphere at the moment. 

It's a story that's been lived out, but mostly unwritten, for a number of years now. Then, a few months ago, the one who'd been silenced was given a 'voice'. 

And things started to hit the fan...

and bloggers started blogging...

and people with reputations to lose finally started to engage.

I've read a number of posts and opinions on this specific situation, and the same attitudes are being displayed this time as they were last time.

And the time before that.

And the time before that.

Good, well-intentioned, christian men and women are lamenting the fact that people are actually discussing the problem! "We don't know all the facts." "We should all just mind our own business."

A few years ago I might have said something similar. But not any more. Because I've learned that there is one very compelling reason not to stay silent.

Silence actually enables an abuser!

When we don't speak out, when we won't ask tough questions, when we decide to 'mind our own business', we effectively hand an abuser a free pass.

There is an ever-growing list of 'authority' figures in the church who bully and abuse those 'under' them. 

There are countless stories of damage inflicted by 'celebrity christians' who abuse their power and position to silence those who have neither.

Some of these situations have been on-going for years (some for decades!). And they have been covered up for just as long.

And that abuse and cover-up has been empowered by the silence of those who decided to 'mind their own business'.

The victims were left lying on the side of the road, bloodied and battered, while good men and women chose to mind their own business.

Now, finally, some of these situations are being addressed simply because enough 'nobodies' have spoken out and kept speaking out until they got a response.

It is all too apparent that sometimes the only way to 'motivate' those in power to actually investigate and address situations of abuse is to have a critical mass of people asking questions and raising the issues. 

And all it takes for the evil of spiritual abuse to thrive in our churches is for good men and women to mind their own business!