Monday, 24 August 2015

The Fantasy of Church Culture

In my last post, I mentioned watching the efforts of my ex-fellow elder to pretend he was unaware of my presence. I also mentioned how funny I found them. (I also admitted that I used to find this sort of behaviour deeply painful and hurtful.) So when a friend commented on my Facebook page that it gave her hope that she might also get to that same point of freedom from the pain, it made me stop and think about my response to his performance, and how I have got to this place myself.

One of the biggest factors at play has got to be the 'awakening' process I've journeyed through. I call it that because when I think about it, I am reminded of the lyrics of the Keith Green song:
Like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed
Until your love broke through
I've been lost in a fantasy, that blinded me
Until your love broke through
That's how it feels sometimes - that I've lived so much of my life in a dream-like state known as 'church culture', and finally the real love of God has opened my eyes to how much rubbish has been substituted for the simplicity of following Jesus. Christian culture too often blinds us to the unadorned call to love God and love others.

Waking up was a process. It didn't happen overnight. At first, I grieved the loss of all that is seen as important in church culture - things like a 'position' in the church and an officially recognised 'ministry'. I had fallen for the lie that I needed these things to be effective for God and it felt like I'd had these things stolen from me. I wanted to love and care for others, but I wasn't allowed to.

Sometimes, waking up is a process...

To make matters worse, those who had ripped me apart emotionally in this way were being held up to me as shining examples of how I should be. They were right (& righteous!). They had forgiven. They had 'moved on'. I should be like them.

But I kept hoping for an apology from those who'd abused me. Wanting justice for the wrong that had been done to me. Seeking validation of my claims against others.

I wanted something from these people, but they wouldn't even look at me!

So when they judged me and shunned me - when they treated me like I wasn't there and looked straight through me - it just re-opened all the wounds they'd inflicted on me and rubbed salt into them.

And then I started to wake up. To open my eyes. To see that these people were victims of their own fantasy. They'd built up a world that didn't exist. Where everyone was happy and loving and forgiving and perfect. Where all you had to do was say the magic words and everything was all ok. They couldn't afford to have the fantasy exposed, so anyone who saw things differently was a threat to the illusion, and they had to be dealt with! (What a pity burning at the stake was no longer an option!)

It seemed to me that they had locked themselves in a cage and thrown away the key... and were now desperately trying to convince everyone (including themselves) that they were the ones who were free. And it occurred to me that if these people couldn't even face me to acknowledge my presence, let alone actually meet with me and deal with our issues, it wasn't me who had the problem.

As I watched the contortions and the pretence, it became obvious which of us had really "forgiven and moved on".

And it was when I realised I no longer wanted - or needed - anything from these people.

It was then that I realised that I'd woken up from the dream-world of church culture. I didn't need official platforms or the approval of 'church leaders' to love and minster to others. I was free to love God and love others... wherever and whenever. It stopped being a performance and became simply the way I lived. I realised that I was happy... and I was free.

And I pray that my friend finds that place of freedom, too!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Why Can't Churches Deal With Disagreement?

Yesterday I sat in the school car park being entertained by the behaviour of the man who had desperately wanted to be 'king' at my ex-church. He had to walk right past my car to get to his own, and I'm afraid I couldn't help laughing quietly at his determined attempts to appear unconscious of my existence. (On the upside, at least I find it amusing these days rather than deeply painful like I used to.)

For a moment, I contemplated winding down the window and asking him if he's ready to deal with things between us, but then I realised he'd probably just give his 'deer in the headlights' impression and walk away. I've pretty much given up hoping he'll ever meet with me to discuss (and deal with) the issues between us as I've come to believe he's not actually capable of entering that space.

Needless to say, I found it extremely interesting to read an article this morning which talks about the need to make difficult conversations a part of everyday 'church' life.

Churches, Covenants & Hard Conversations.

The author, John Pattison, talks about the wedding of friends which he recently attended. He shares:
"When they got married, my two friends made a covenant with each other, before God and their community. That covenant doesn’t exempt them from difficult conversations — it sanctifies those conversations. The covenant relationship binds them together, even during the inevitable hard times. Their covenant keeps them mutually accountable to the health of the relationship. And it makes it safe to disagree, even profoundly disagree…because they know the other person isn’t going anywhere."
He then suggests that this same approach is what we should be aiming for when it comes to relationship in the church family - that "having hard conversations needs to be part of the day-in-day-out life of a Christian community."

This is obviously a man who understands the importance of engaging together, even when it's uncomfortable. And he comprehends the necessity of the church being a safe place for that to happen. I felt like standing up and applauding!

Because sadly, my experience in various churches has generally been typified by the "my way or the highway" approach. It's certainly what happened in my ex-church where I was 'advised' to submit or resign. What they were saying in effect was, "You either shut up, or you leave. There's no place in this church for anything other than compliance with our will." And as this seems to be a fairly common reality, I can only lament that John Pattison's view of things seems neither widely shared nor highly regarded in the institutional church.

But it also leaves us with the question of why churches can't seem to deal with disagreement? Why do they too often mistake uniformity for unity? And why do so many seem to worship this supposed "unity" at the cost of relationship?

I am not suggesting I have the answer to that dilemma, but I do wonder how much it has to do with the fact that the IC system perpetuates the mindset that "some animals christians are more equal than others"... and that it's the 'more equal' ones get to set the agenda. Thoughts?

(Just for the record, when the author uses the word, "covenant", I am reading a heart attitude, not a legal document.)