Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A Few Things I Wish Christians Understood About "The World"

If you act like total jerk and people object, you are not "suffering for Jesus", or being "persecuted for your faith". You are simply experiencing normal, negative feedback.

Having someone disagree with you is not persecution. Persecution involves genuine human rights being violated (e.g. oppression, torture), not merely a loss of power and privilege. Disagreement simply means someone see things differently from you and is willing to say so. Please learn to know the difference.

When people outside the church respond badly to things you do or say, it might not be because "your words convict their hearts". It is just as likely because they see a disconnect between what you preach and how you live.

Politics (and by extension, your favourite political leader) will not save the world or usher in the "millennial reign". Neither will legislation based on your own understanding of "biblical" morality.

If making others comply with your moral code is more important to you than the plight of the poor and marginalised in your community, you may have misunderstood what Jesus meant when he told you to love your neighbour.

Jesus had no time for empire-building or king-making. He focussed on serving others, loving others, laying down his life for others...

It's just possible that "the world" is waiting to see "the church" look more like that.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Dysfunction Disagreement in Christian Conversations

I had another one of those conversations recently. You know, the sort where I ask a christian friend (as gently as I know how) a question about the implications of a statement they've made. And the response leaves me feeling like I've crossed some invisible line that reads, "Heretics and other outcasts stand here." My question remains unanswered...

This type of interaction seems to happen all too frequently. I question something, or I say I see it differently, or I simply raise the possibility of an alternative viewpoint, and the wagons circle in polite silence until I find myself on the outside looking in, counting the cost of wanting authentic relationship.

It makes me think. (Sorry, I'm still unrepentant over that particular "sin".) And it seems to me that the institutional church sets us up for this dysfunction. It fails us when it silences our questions. It stunts our growth and sets us up to founder in the real world.

Too many christians have been trained in an atmosphere where the leader speaks, and the sheep bleat in unquestioning acceptance. "My pastor says x, so that's the end of the discussion." And then they tend to repeat their favourite leader's statements, expecting to meet with the same response they've seen those leaders receive in the church.

Unquestioning acceptance.

The only trouble is that outside the walls of that culture bubble live people who have either woken up and shaken off their stupor, or who never fell down the rabbit-hole in the first place.

So when it happens that christians speak their 'truth' and are met with questioning (or worse still, disagreement!) they are totally unprepared for the shock, and unequipped to deal.

I'm not talking about ad hominem attacks here. I mean genuine questions asked by people who are seeking to engage in actual dialogue in the hope that maybe both parties will learn something.

But so many of us were taught that we had 'the truth' and if we just presented it in a manner that was authoritative enough, 'the world' would "see the light". 'The church' failed us like a parent who hides their child away in a darkened room to keep them 'safe'. Such a child might look normal, but they will be incapable of healthy or mature social interaction with the wider world.

Sadly, many well-meaning christians who have been taught their church's version of "the Truth" simply regurgitate it and expect people to accept it as gospel. And when they are met with anything but absolute endorsement, they don't seem to know what to do.

Some go into attack mode, angrily fighting back against an unseen enemy. Some pull the heretic card, outraged because "the bible clearly says..." Some go off on a tangent, piling up enough red herrings to stock a fishmonger's shop. And some play the conspiracy game in which said christian assumes the position of 'persecuted christian'.

Whatever their reaction, what they all fail to do is engage in rational, reasoned, grace-filled conversation. But I guess people can't do what they've never been taught or seen modelled. And for multitudes of otherwise intelligent people, the church has not only failed to provide a safe place to practice diversity of thought, it has actively discouraged it.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Do Hurt People, Hurt People?

There is an old saying, "Hurt people, hurt people."

The idea is that people who have been hurt will lash out and hurt others in their pain. Sounds reasonable... sort of...

Except for the fact that some of the kindest, gentlest people I know are those who have been hurt deeply.

And they'd rather chew off their right arm than wound another the way they have been.

Which leads me to a question: Is this just another form of victim-blaming? "It's your fault that I have to ignore your pain because you haven't dealt with it like 'good christians' should."

Is it a way to dismiss someone's very real grievances? "Oh, that person is just operating out of their hurt. We don't need to listen to them."

I would like to offer an alternative thought here - one that is certainly much closer to the reality that I've experienced.

It's actually people who pretend to themselves and others that they are not hurt, who hurt others.

It's the people who fool themselves into believing that they've got it all together who are the danger.

All of us have been broken or damaged by life in one way or another. But not all of us are willing to acknowledge that damage. Not all choose the painful road of owning our brokenness.

Worse still, many christians have been taught to believe in the "magic words" - say the right words in a prayer, and Jesus makes everything shiny! But it's not true. Some of the most godly men and women throughout history have been plagued by illness, depression, and doubts all their lives. But it was those who accepted that they were fractured who were able to transcend their reality.

Sadly, those who refuse to embrace the darkness of their own souls just compound their brokenness. They put on their masks and smother their pain.

Pain? What pain? I'm living in victory!

In the christian circles I've moved in, it is not the wounded who do the harm - it is the people who pretend they're not broken.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Call For "The Church" To Repent

Around this time last year, a policeman came knocking on my door, summoning me to a court conference two days hence. My eldest son, who was home at the time, thought it was a some sort of joke at first. But it was anything but funny! The couple who had been part of the leadership crisis at my ex-church three years previously, were now alleging that I was a violent threat to the personal safety of both themselves and their children.

Once again I offered to meet with them, suggesting we use an unbiased, professional conflict resolution service. But apparently that was not acceptable to them. And so, I was forced to defend myself against a legal action brought by fellow christians.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I fell apart. To a law-abiding, unassuming person like me (who has never had so much as a speeding ticket in my life) this had me running scared. Here I was being accused in a legal document of such threatening and intimidating behaviour that these people were allegedly so fearful for their safety, I had to be stopped - by law - from ever being anywhere near them.

As far as I was concerned, the only complaint they made against me that I even recognised was that of writing a blog in which I shared my story of abuse in the church. None of the other allegations even made sense to me, so I was fearful how I could defend against things I had not done.

After three years of being pointedly shunned by this couple who had once been close friends (or so I thought) it was too much for me to cope with and I ended up a nervous wreck, unable to even leave the house without my husband's company. You might imagine how strained life was in our household. We even had to cancel Christmas celebrations because the stress of it was simply too much for me to cope with.

During this time, I reached out to one christian leader who knew us all. He told me he loved me just as much as he loved the litigants. When I said my family and I were being put through hell, he shrugged and told me to "let the courts sort it out." His professed love proved utterly meaningless as he turned his back on our suffering.

Another leader totally ignored my question about the credibility issue at play and instead told me what a good thing it was that I had family and friends around me. But a cup of coffee with a friend was not going to pay my legal bills.

Another - I was told - was shocked by the news of what was happening. But I never heard from him and his 'shock' didn't comfort my children as they witnessed their mother have a complete breakdown.

Another offered to pray for me, while remaining 'neutral' in the conflict. But neutrality wasn't going to persuade a reluctant eyewitness to attest to my innocence.

Each one of these christian leaders saw my pain and distress and yet they gathered their robes around them and walked past on the other side of the road.

People who are happy to hold positions of power and authority in the christian community refused to leverage it to step in and provide any type of help or intervention. They didn't want to get involved.

I wish I could say this was unusual behaviour or an isolated incident. But the truth is, it's not. Talk to anyone who has ever "rocked the boat" or been labelled as a "trouble-maker", and you will hear stories of people being attacked, rejected, and abandoned by "the church".

Thankfully, I did find help and healing (mostly from non-believers!). In fact, I've never been better. So why am I sharing my story? In the faint hope that it might open the eyes of those who are turning a blind eye and pretending not to see the bleeding bodies on the side of the road. Because I am constantly hearing the stories of other brothers and sisters who have been harmed by the church. Not just a little bit hurt or upset. Devastated. Shattered. Traumatised.

And people - often good christian people - don't want to know about it. "Oh, everyone's been hurt by the church at some time," they say dismissively. "Nobody's perfect." "I don't want to take sides." "Just forgive and move on." "We're all sinners, you know." "There's always two sides to every story." "You shouldn't talk about it."

But I cannot stand by and say nothing. I will not pretend that these things aren't happening. We must talk about these realities. We desperately need to change.

I'm asking the church to acknowledge the serious damage it is doing; to see how un-Christlike this behaviour is; to understand how abhorrent this attitude can be; to listen to your own brothers and sisters and actually feel our pain. And when I say I'm asking the church, I'm not talking about some impersonal institution. I mean you. And I mean me.

And I'm calling for repentance! Not just a quick and meaningless, "I'm sorry." I'm talking about a complete change of the way we do business; the way we treat each other; the way we think and behave. Because unless we do that, we are effectively choosing to harm our brothers and sisters without conscience. Ignoring the reality and looking away is a choice. But as William Wilberforce said when exposing the evils and injustices of slavery, "You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know."

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Old Advice For a New "Problem"

For some years now, there has been a steady decline in the number of people in Western countries who regularly (some might say, religiously) attend a Sunday morning "church service". There have been polls taken and research done. There have been blogs posted and conversations had.

Those who are leaving the church have even been given their very own label: "Dones".

Theories have been produced to explain this phenomenon, and strategies formulated to effect a turnaround of the exodus.

And in the midst of this, there has been a steady cry of protest and lamentation from 'church leaders' decrying the loss, and denouncing the defectors. "Something must be done!"
It seems many of these leaders assume that the problem lies with those who are leaving the churches, and so a great deal of energy is spent trying entice these deserters into returning. When that fails, many resort to guilt and shame in an effort to control the apostates.

But what if there's actually nothing wrong with those who are leaving? What if they are, in fact, being called out of the institution by God? What if he is calling his people to leave behind the man-made religious trappings, for a life of freedom which unashamedly reveals the very Kingdom that Jesus himself declared was at hand?

There are those who are fretting and fearful about what is happening in their churches, who feel they must "do something" about it. And I can't help thinking of the story in Acts 5:12-42, where the religious leaders were getting all bent out of shape, worried that the apostles might be a threat to their position and authority. Yet there was one of amongst them - Gamaliel - who showed his wisdom and integrity by saying:

"...I advise you to stay away from these men. Leave them alone. If what they are planning is something of their own doing, it will fail. But if God is behind it, you cannot stop it anyway, unless you want to fight against God."

Friday, 23 September 2016

Betraying Jesus

The Huffington Post

When I was a young woman I fell in love with a man who didn't know how to love anyone but himself. (The number of 'relationships' he's chewed through before, since... and even while we were married, bears out this reality.)

But I was young and trusting. I believed his lies. I married him.

And inevitably it ended in tears. Mine.

It was a long time ago, and I have long since found healing. The reason I mention it is because this morning I read yet another story of heartbreak and abuse in the church. The actions of the church sounded sickeningly familiar, and I wanted to shout out, "Church! Just stop hurting people!"

It seems that no matter what the specifics of the story are, the behaviours and attitudes are always the same. But as I thought about it, I realised how sharply that contrasted with my experience of dealing with aftermath of my abusive marriage.

Back then, the people at my church supported me wonderfully. They walked lovingly and patiently with me through the desolation and death of my dreams. They affirmed my feelings of pain and loss, and grieved with me. They believed me.

The love and compassion I received was life-saving (maybe even literally...)

During that time, I lamented the breaking of my trust, and nobody thought it was inappropriate that I felt betrayed. I protested my husband's abuse of me, and nobody told me to "just forgive and move on." I cried out in my pain, and nobody expected me to be pretend I wasn't hurting. I gave words to the betrayal I'd endured, and nobody tried to silence me. I told my story, and nobody shook their head and said, "There are always two sides..."

And yet, when someone stands up and says, "The church has hurt me" these things are what they can expect, and it's usually what they'll get.

The one who speaks up about the problem becomes the problem. Their cries of pain are ignored and their grievances dismissed. Submission is demanded of the one hurting, while the perpetrator is simply exonerated. The church rallies to the defence of its own reputation, at the cost of the victim's. People are shamed and silenced and shunned.

It's. Really. Not. Ok. Church, if this is the best we can do, then we're selling a lie. We're peddling power and religion, not the gospel of Jesus.

In fact, I'll say it... I believe we're betraying Jesus.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Do Leader-Driven Churches Create Passive-Agressive Christians?

In my adventures online I have noticed how poorly many christians cope when asked to dialogue with others. In my experience, many simply make their comment and seem to expect it to be accepted without response. If a reply is given, things often go one of two ways:

Either the original commenter retreats into the shadows, refusing to engage further, or to answer any questions regarding their stated position;

Or else they come out fighting at the mere hint of a differing view. Attacks are launched and accusations of not being a "real" christian abound.

Sometimes, you even get both. The attack followed by an untidy retreat to the beat of, "La la la, I can't hear you." (Maybe that's really "aggressive-passive", but I don't think that's a 'thing'...)

But it does seem that some people just expect their words to be taken as gospel and treated as sacrosanct. Of course, this happens in 'real-life' interactions too.

I suspect a lot of it might be the sheer arrogance that we humans tend to develop when we are convinced we are right. But is there more to it than that? Is it possible that the authoritarian, leader-driven churches of today, where people are expected to submit to and obey the leaders at all costs, actually create followers who cannot progress beyond a fight or flight instinct? Are some christians simply following the example that has been set for them by the leaders of their church?

The method espoused by many churches is that after a the band finishes singing, the 'leader' gets up, dispenses their truth from the pulpit, and then walks away. Here endeth the lesson!

There's no engagement after that. Questioning or challenging the assertions made is totally inconceivable, as the people are taught to trust their leaders more than they trust themselves. So naturally the 'sheep' learn to submit and let the words of the expert lull them to sleep. To do otherwise is to invite trouble (with a capital T!).

In this way, people are trained and conditioned to passively accept the 'truth' they are being sold, and to aggressively defend that truth against any hint of challenge. How could my infallible leader be wrong!? Church-goers are not taught to ask good questions, not encouraged to explore issues for themselves, and so all they can do is simply regurgitate their leader's 'answer' at the correct time, for the appropriate topic.

If it works for their leader, why shouldn't it work for them?

Of course, it gets difficult when not everyone dances to that leader's tune. And the poor unsuspecting follower, having faithfully deposited "the truth" for all to see, is blindsided by a challenge to that 'truth' because they have no resource to deal with any other opinion but their leader's. With no inner conviction beyond, "My leader says so!" they have no capacity to engage meaningfully with any understanding but the one they've been 'given'.

And so they can only attack and/or withdraw. Passivity and aggression. Fight or flight. No dialogue can be entered into for fear of pulling the whole deck of cards down around them.

Well, that's my theory, anyway. Thoughts?

Friday, 16 September 2016

Salt & Light - What Did Jesus Mean?

In Matthew 5, Jesus declared that his followers were like salt and light in the world. But what does that really mean? What does it look like to others? 


Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth."

Salt is an essential element in our life. If we don't have enough salt in our body, we can begin to experience muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. And unless some action is taken, shock, coma and death could ensue.

Conversely, too much salt in the body is equally damaging. It can lead to dehydration, organ failure and eventually death.

In culinary terms, salt is used to enhance the flavour of food. It draws out and amplifies the distinct taste of each food to which it is added. 

But adding excessive amounts of salt means that the unique flavour of that food is smothered, and the salt is all we can taste. 

Salt is necessary to our very existence, but it can also kill us. Salt enhances the taste of food, adding to the enjoyment of the flavour, but too much will mask that flavour, destroying it's distinctiveness.

As christians, are we enhancing the lives of others, or are we smothering them with our 'salt' until they lose their unique flavour?


Jesus said, "You are the light of the world."

A lamp set in a window. A light left on outside your door. The pictures those words conjure up for me are welcoming, guiding, hospitable. I think of a traveller on the road, cheered by the promise of safety and respite. I think of a friend visiting my house in the dark, and being guided to my door by the light.

But light can also be used to threaten and intimidate. How many old movies have you seen where a bright light has been used as an instrument of torture and interrogation. Can you picture the scene where the villain sits in a darkened room, shining the light into the hero's eyes, intent on forcing information from them. Or what about the scene where light is used to inflict sleep deprivation so that the victim becomes so delirious they are susceptible to brainwashing and control.

Depending on its use, light can be a welcoming guide, or an instrument of power and domination.

Is our light warm and invitational - offering sanctuary and rest? Or are we using it to control the behaviour of others?

I've seen a lot of unloving behaviour justified in the name of "being salt and light to the world". As those elements can both be used in ways that inflict harm, maybe it was true. But maybe that's not quite what Jesus meant...

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Falling Down

I have to confess that I found myself reacting the other day to some words which had triggered me, and left me hearing repeated echoes of past abuse. I reacted. I struggled. I felt like I'd lost my footing and was flailing around trying to find my balance. "Not again," I thought, attempting to regain my equilibrium.

And as I wrestled with that reality, I was dragged down by the weight of failure. After all, I'd experienced so much healing since I lived in that old head-space. What on earth was wrong with me!?

But when I stopped the self-recrimination long enough to listen to my heart, I started to see that I'd simply fallen into an old, discarded trap - the false teaching which says that after you say the magic words everything is all better, and nothing will ever trouble you again.

But real life is not like that. We fall down. We get up. There is no magic.

So yes, I'd fallen down. And yes, I could get back up. But here's the really good news. The healing I've pursued has left me better equipped to get back up again. I don't need to pretend I haven't fallen. I don't need to stay down the hole. I'm no longer imprisoned by the toxic conditioning of my past.

I haven't 'failed'. I simply fell down.

But the experience has been useful, because it's made me stop and think. And it's helped me to realise that I no longer believe healing means:
  • that we don't get hurt any more
  • that we no longer get triggered
  • that we have all the answers
  • that we have no more struggles
  • that we are now perfect
  • that we have "arrived"
But it can mean:
  • that we can more readily acknowledge the pain and process it
  • that we can identify triggers and have strategies in place to deal with them
  • that we have made peace with the mystery
  • that we have hope in the midst of the struggle
  • that we can embrace who we are - imperfections and all
  • that we are continuing our journey 
 And it seems to me that's a much happier and healthier outcome.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Playing Nicely

Imagine a couple of young children having fun on a playdate while their parents watch on, sipping their coffee. The children are playing with the new kitchen set one of then recently received as a present. They talk about making a dinner party for their toys and set to with zeal.

Somewhere along the way, they decide that what they actually should be doing is making dinner for their siblings. They agree wholeheartedly on this - it is definitely their responsibility. But soon trouble erupts. It seems that neither can agree on who gets invited to the meal, what food should be served, or even how to set the table.

Now imagine what this looks like to their parents. At first they see their children's idea to cook a meal as cute, even though they know it's not really a task they are capable of, or responsible for. "Look," they say, "the kid's are playing grown-ups! How sweet."

They might smile indulgently and swallow their laughter. After all, we don't want to hurt their feelings.

But then things start to get heated. One child calls the other a rude name, the other responds with a punch to the arm. Soon they're at each other's throats and have to be pulled off each other by the parents.

What a horrible end to such a thoughtful idea. They only wanted to serve their siblings, after all. But, I'm pretty sure no-one in their right mind would see this as a good outcome.

And yet, isn't this a picture of us? We who call ourselves the church?

Do you think that maybe God sometimes feels like those parents. Watching his kids playing at being grown-ups god. We think it's up to us what our siblings believe; which sins are unforgivable; who "gets into heaven".

We take ourselves so seriously, but maybe it's time we realised that we're all just little children playing in God's world. None of us get's to say whose theology is "right" and whose is heretical. None of us has the right to tell others they don't belong to God. None of us are "grown-up" enough for any of that.

So let's "play nice" kids.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A Thought For Thursday

I just came across this quote from someone who I suspect is the sort of "new-age hippie" the church used to warn us about back in the 80s.

"Spiritual abuse is abuse of the spirit of another human being. We abuse the spirit... by teaching, either covertly or overtly, that that spirit, that soul, that Self, cannot be trusted and/or must be negated in the name of someone’s or some organization’s notions of reality, righteous living, or safe living."

The funny thing is, a couple of weeks ago a friend sent me the link to a blog post from a highly celebrated church leader which included the following quote:

"If we only do what those in leadership over our lives tell us to do when we agree with them, it is not called submission, but rather “doing our own thing.” We must invite leadership into our lives and learn to trust them more than we trust ourselves." [Emphasis added]

When I contrast the two, I'm left with the question, "Does the church create and promote an environment which all but guarantees abuse?"

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Leaving The 'Church Collective'

A friend and fellow geek, (yes I'm looking at you Dallas!) commented on my last post about the similarities he sees between the church and the Borg*. And that reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago, comparing the Borg's drive to assimilate other species with the church's zeal to impose "unity" on its members. Naturally enough, that got me thinking more about such things generally, and the Star Trek universe particularly.

[*For those non-geeks among us, Memory Alpha explains: "The Borg were a pseudo-species of cybernetic beings, or cyborgs, from the Delta Quadrant. No single individual truly existed within the Borg Collective (with the possible sole exception of the Borg Queen), as all Borg were linked into a hive mind. Their ultimate goal was the attainment of 'perfection' through the forcible assimilation of diverse sentient species, technologies, and knowledge. As a result, the Borg were among the most powerful and feared entities in the galaxy, without really being a true species at all."]

And that got me thinking about the character, "Seven of Nine" from Star Trek's Voyager series, a Borg drone and one of a sub-group of nine humanoids, all of whom had been captured and assimilated into the Borg collective. After being rescued by the crew of Voyager, Seven was faced with the challenge of learning to be a unique and individual being again.

Naturally enough, she struggles with the process - initially finding the loss of the hive mind confronting in the extreme. She is forced to become an independent individual, learning to live without the constant guidance and instruction of the hive mind.

In one particularly poignant episode, it is revealed that the 'Nine' borgs once crashed on a planet and were consequently cut off from the collective. Freed from that influence, the survivors discover that memories of their previous lives start to emerge. Remembering their lives before assimilation - that they were once free and independent people, with names instead of 'designations' - they decide they don't want to be 'rescued' and re-assimilated by their Borg brethren.

But, while the others of the 'Nine' were assimilated as adults, Seven was only a child when she and her parents were captured. Life as a Borg drone has been all she's really known so, not surprisingly, she acts like the little girl she once was. Seeing the others acting independently, she reacts in fear and panic, eventually forcing the others to rejoin the collective against their wills, and inflicting unthinking damage on them in that process.

Now to me, this seemed like a perfect metaphor for the experience of leaving the institutional church. Not only do those who leave have the sometimes difficult task of discovering who they are outside the 'hive mind' of the church, but they also have to contend with those who react in fear and try to force them back.

It can feel strange and lonely when you first stop operating as part of a 'church collective'. Exploring how to be yourself outside the institution can be challenging. Asking previously forbidden questions, finding new 'answers' to those you did have permission to ask, even finding that you might need to live without the old certainties, can all make for a stretching, even difficult time. You might even make a few mistakes! But that's ok. It's all part of the process of finding freedom and your new place in the world.

So when you face the inevitable naysayers who are fearful of others making an independent choice, and who try to impose their ways upon you again, you can exercise that new-found freedom and make your own decisions. You are not obligated to obey the collective, you can listen to the voice of the Spirit gently guiding you, and you can boldly go where maybe you've never gone before...

Disclaimer: I am not saying that freedom cannot be found within the institutional church. I am saying that I couldn't find it there.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Do Christians Love Like Narcissus?

Greek mythology tells the tale of Narcissus, a young man who, upon seeing his own reflection in the river, fell in love with his own beauty. So entranced was he by the sight, he could not bear to draw himself away. So eventually he died... gazing longingly at the river's image of himself.

Of course, it's only a story - a myth - but as you probably know this is where we get the term "narcissist" from. And since my last post about the church and its understanding of love, I have been wondering if the type of 'love' the church offers too much of the time is actually a pretty narcissistic love. A love that says, "I will love you for so long as you look like me." Too often, we don't love the person who is actually in front of us, we love the idea that this person can be conformed to our own image.

For example, we might hold specific ideas about 'sexual purity', so if this person behaves according to our ideals, we will love them.

Maybe we have strong opinions about submission to authority, so as long as the person falls in line with our thinking, we will love them.

Or perhaps we are convinced that all true christians should believe in a certain doctrine. So as long as others subscribe to that doctrine, we will love them.

But what happens when the people we tell ourselves we love, behave in a way that falls outside our approved list of behaviours? How do we respond when they challenge our pet theologies? Where do we turn when they stop looking like us and start looking like themselves?

I believe that this is the acid test of whether we ever truly loved them, or whether what we loved was the image of ourselves reflected in their compliance.

The sad thing is that this immature, self-serving love is the only one many people have experienced within the church. The love that you can only count on as long as you hold up your end of the bargain. The sort of love that uses the words, "I love you", but says with every action and attitude, "You're not acceptable unless you look like me."

When we say we love someone and yet insist they conform to our way of thinking and behaving, we actually only love ourselves. And 'loving' like that means we simply want to stare at our own reflections until we die of our own self obsession.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Does The Church Know What Love Really Is?

"If You are struggling with any area of [this] information it is your problem, not ours. If you feel a breakdown in trust and relationship it is your issue not ours. If you don't seem to be able to give a righteous response to what you believe was said and done then go and seek counsel. You have been ministered to, you have been included, you have been loved." [Emphasis added]
These were words sent to me by a board member of my ex-church after I had written to the board, letting them know that I was struggling with being told, amongst other things, that I should submit to the "godly authority" of the man who was bullying me. The email I received in response explained that the board had done nothing wrong, and were, in fact, at peace with God and themselves. If there was a problem, it was mine alone. I had "been loved" and so it was about time I got with the program and performed acceptably again.

The only trouble with this is that I hadn't been loved. I had been dismissed; I had been ignored; I had been silenced. I had been told, in effect, to sit down and shut up. Where I had previously been approved of for my compliance and performance, I was now being judged and rejected. It was not love. It was control.

If I behaved in the approved manner, I was praised and affirmed. But as soon as I lifted the rug and uncovered the dirt underneath, I was labelled a trouble-maker. When I resisted the demand to pretend it wasn’t there, I became the problem.

And the problem with me being viewed as the problem is that I wasn’t really the problem…

The real problem was that none of us seemed to know how to love like Jesus loved. Love was confused with control. The imperative was to control behaviour; control feelings; control the narrative itself.

As I have said many times before, my experience is far from unique. Hundreds of thousands have been, or are being controlled and abused by an institution which claims to be representing the One who is Love!

But do we know what love really is? 

We have made decisions about what it should look like to be worthy of our love. We have chosen to police people's behaviour - to reward the 'good' and punish the 'bad'. We have told people that we love them, when really we are just using positive re-inforcement to manipulate them into acting the manner we have approved. That is not love.

We who are called to love without cost, have confused love with control.

And although it will sometimes get us what we want, the trouble with using control is that we inadvertently make ourselves a slave to the response of the other person. If they won’t play the game, then we have to up the ante until they accede to our demand for compliance.

And when everything has been done to make others behave according to our rules, and they have still failed to comply, we are left with no alternative but to shun them.

They aren’t following the script, so they have to be written out of the show.

And so people who were once friends, or members of the same family, are no longer able to even talk to one other, and they find themselves miserably imprisoned by the refusal of the other to submit to their demands.

Now, you may have heard it said that if you really love someone you should set them free. Well I have discovered there is an incredible paradox in that – when we truly love someone, we actually set ourselves free!

Loving people the way Jesus did sets us free from the need to control their behaviour. In fact it sets us free from needing anything at all from them, because loving someone is simply wanting the best for them. And that is never dependent on their response. So we find ourselves at liberty to love... regardless.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely wonderful when love is reciprocated - and there’s nothing at all wrong in wanting that - it’s just that real love is not dependent on it. We can love someone regardless of their responsiveness to us. Just look at Jesus. He managed to love people who were out for his blood - literally!

So maybe it's time for the church to start following Jesus. Let's give up the control, and do away with the need to make others 'behave'. I promise you that truly loving others is an incredibly liberating thing to do!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Smile, And The World Smiles With You...

I've been wondering in recent times if some of our negative reception as 'christians' in 'the world' has less to do with what Jesus promised, and a whole lot more about creating our own self-fulfilling prophecy.

When I think how much I've heard about expecting to face persecution and hatred from those outside 'the church', I start to wonder if we find exactly what we are looking for.

I guess, what started me thinking was the fact that in embracing my brokenness, and finding healing for the wounding I suffered, I've discovered an unanticipated joy in interacting with others.

These days I live from a place of absolute assurance that God totally loves and embraces me just the way I am. And because I feel so secure and free in God's love, I have found it incredibly easy to reach out to others with that same grace. I find myself loving others with ease. Genuinely delighted in who they are. Seeing them as fellow travellers in life... not potential converts to my way of thinking.

And I've discovered that people who are treated with genuine goodwill will generally respond in kind. You might like to try it some time. Smile at someone as you pass them in the street, or thank someone for a small act of courtesy - not to manufacture any response from them, but to just reach out and say, "Hey, you are valuable!" It's amazing how often they will smile in return - how often you see some spark of joy light up when they are shown that they are seen, that they matter.

So it occurred to me to wonder if, conversely, when we interact with others expecting them to reject and 'persecute' us that's exactly how they respond.

I've seen plenty of 'christians' who seem to take some perverted kind of pleasure or reassurance from eliciting a negative response from others. I've also seen them justify all kinds of nasty behaviour based purely on that type of response. It's as if they go out of their way to be 'hated' because they can then say, "Well, Jesus said the world would hate us." It's treated like proof of their piety.

But, guess what? Sometimes people react angrily to us simply because we've acted like a jerk, not because they hate our 'holiness'.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Finding Jesus in Unlikely Places (Messing With Our Theology)

In the last few years, I have found my theology changing and growing, in large measure because I have had to face the fact that what I had been taught by the church didn't measure up to it's advertised reality.

To misappropriate a quote from the end of A Knight's Tale:

It had been weighed.
It had been measured.
And it had absolutely... been found wanting.

There are people who would now call me a heretic, and that's ok. I have no use for a religion which hurts people, and so my theology has had to change.

That is why it came as no surprise to me today when I suddenly realised that I have met the love of Jesus through one who once said to me, "I tried that religious thing and decided it wasn't for me."

The person in question is the psychologist I started seeing after the hell I went through last year. Somehow she managed to be both very professional and very compassionate. A rare mix.

Now I find it interesting that someone who disclaims any belief in God herself could be so incredibly warm and accepting of mine. I never once felt judged by her for the things I believed. In fact I felt totally accepted and acceptable to her, no matter what I shared with her.

She was inviting, meeting me exactly where I was, and making me feel ok to be there. She validated me without reserve and encouraged me to find a truer version of myself. She listened to my struggles and helped me find the path to my own healing. Very importantly, she was safe.

And in the midst of all that, she was Jesus to me.

She was the Jesus who met the sick and healed them; who met the broken and made them whole; who met the outcast and made them welcome. She helped set this captive free.

If that messes with your theology, I'm sorry. But I have discovered that God is a whole lot bigger than any one person's 'truth'. He does what he sees fit, regardless of what we believe he should do.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that he has a whole lot of fun doing it!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

My Healing Continues

In recent years, I've become accustomed to certain people pretending that I don't exist. If I won't shut up and go away or roll over and play dead, the only option left, apparently, is for them to refuse to acknowledge my existence.

There was a time when it used to upset me. Eventually, I got to a place where it mostly amused me.

But today, after another 'non-encounter' with one particular couple, I realised that it didn't really touch me any more - except for the genuine pity I felt for these people. And then I realised that this was something new for me. I felt no anger or resentment. I had no desire to even smile at the charade. I actually felt real compassion for those who had inflicted such deep wounding on me in the past.

This wasn't something I was manufacturing to prove that I was a "good christian". It wasn't because I felt guilt or shame or that I should feel this way. It was simply what was flowing naturally from my heart.

And for me, it was evidence that the heart-breaking deconstruction of my faith, and the letting go of past 'certainty' has actually been worth it. Proof that the agonising process of reconstruction which has cost me the 'approval' and relationship of many I once counted as close friends has not been in vain.

It was a beautiful confirmation to me of how deeply my healing has penetrated - testimony to the power of embracing my brokenness and admitting my need for help beyond myself.

Because this morning I simply wanted to go over to them, look them in the eyes and say, "Please, won't you give up this fear and hatred. Can't you see what it's doing to you and your children?"

My heart shed silent tears for them, and in the midst of it I think I caught just a tiny glimpse into the heart of Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem:
" who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate." (Matthew 23: 37-38)

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

"Christians Are Intolerant Bigots"

Now that I've got your attention, let me ask you how that title made you feel? Are you angry? Do you feel like hitting out at me? Do you want to blast me to hell in the comments section for saying something so outrageous? Well before you completely write me off, please listen to what I have to share...

Because for as long as I can remember, the church has targeted one group or another as being the very exemplar of the anti-christ. Hippies, musicians, new-agers, feminists, gays... the list goes on and on. Even the growing number of those leaving the institutional church are coming under fire from the gatekeepers of religious morality.

The trick is take a bunch of people who have something vaguely in common, speculate wildly on their motivations and then make outrageous generalisations about them. Pretty soon you've convinced yourself (and all those who also live in fear) that the end of the world is nigh and that you are the only true defenders of the faith!

Whatever the group, christians seem to have a knack of creating a solid conspiracy (often, out of very little at all) to defend against to their dying breath. Gays: well they're obviously all out to pervert our children. Feminists: they all want to emasculate men. New-agers: they're all hell bent of subverting every religious icon we have.

We seldom ask questions, and we almost never stop to listen to or engage with the 'other' because we're so busy 'knowing' how evil, nasty, and otherwise threatening this group is, and how detrimental to our way of life is their 'agenda'.

These are not individual people we are talking about, each created bearing the very image of God. No! They are part of an amorphous, malevolent perversion of God's word!

And any person who even comes near to associating with the feared group is automatically viewed as a minion of some vast and terrible attack on "everything we hold dear".

The problem with this is, of course, that we are doing to others exactly what we vociferously reject when it is done to us.

Just the other day, I had an online conversation with a woman who was very quick to defend herself and let me know she was not like her "American Christian friends".

Another guy was equally vocal about disassociating himself from "those type of christians".

And of course, I'll never forget the time I was berated by my boss (as my sister lay dying!) when he assumed I was making bitter generalisations about "all christians".

These are not isolated incidents, but regular occurrences. Stand in any group of christians and use the term "all christians", or talk about the "christian agenda", and you'll soon have a taste of it.

But is it appropriate to do to others what we hate being done to us? More specifically, is it loving and Christ-like to invalidate and dismiss a whole people group just because they are different - or worse, because we have judged them to be 'sinful'?

The truth is that nobody likes to be de-humanised and condemned by other human beings. Nobody appreciates being judged "guilty by association". We are individuals with our own unique ways of seeing the world and our own motivations for doing or believing the things we do. The last thing we want is to have others assume things about us based on what company we keep (or even who we choose to defend against injustice).

So here's a suggestion, let's stop judging and assuming the worst about 'the other' and actually engage with people instead. Let's follow Jesus's example and take time to sit with the 'outcasts'. Let's listen to those who see things differently. Let's stop labelling and demonising, and unmask and disarm our own fear.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Learning To Love The Other

The other day I came across an online profile piece on a professional christian lobbyist. Among the questions put to him by the interviewer, was one asking what it was that made him nervous. His reply? Speaking to people who do not agree with my values.

Now I know it wasn't intended as a serious or in-depth article, nonetheless, a man’s words will always express what has been treasured in his heart.

And this is a man who makes a living speaking and debating others in the public sphere, and who sells himself as a spokesman for christians generally.

So, although many people (who obviously do agree with his 'values') commented on how good and brave he was to still speak out in public, despite his self-confessed nervousness, I was quite horrified by his remark.

Maybe it is just me, but the thing that screamed out to me was that this was a man who was only comfortable speaking to those who agreed with him! What does that say to you?

Speaking from personal experience, this attitude too often finds expression in arrogance and a refusal to see the other person as being in any way acceptable. It sends a message, loud and clear, that you are just plain wrong!

Now try to imagine you are someone who sees things differently from this man, and you are called upon to discuss a particular issue with him (whether in public, or not). You know that he feels very uncomfortable with you, and in fact, sees you very much as 'other'. How do you think that would that make you feel?

Would you feel that you were seen as a valid and legitimate contributor to the debate? Would you believe that he was interested in how (and why) you viewed things differently? Would you imagine that he viewed you as an actual person? Or would you wonder if he saw you as just another wrong opinion that must either be overborne and silenced, or converted to his way of thinking? What impact do you think it would it have on how you approach him?

At the end of the day, you'll never find anyone who subscribes 100% to your own pet doctrines and religious foibles. So maybe it's time that christians stopped seeing anyone beyond their own inner circle as outsiders... other... wrong.

This is the way I was taught to operate by the institutional church. I lived in fear of the other. And I was always dreading the thought that I might inadvertently do something or believe something that would make me 'other'. I was taught that safety was only to be found in uniformity and groupthink, in conformity and performance.

But eventually I learned the truth that I was really only acceptable if I toed the party line and submitted to the control of its 'leaders'. When I could no longer live that way, I was cast out into the wilderness of pain and rejection. And I was labelled a dangerous 'other'.

Since then, I have been on a journey which has taught me the value of engaging with the other.  Questioning it. Challenging it. Embracing it even. But never running in fear from it!

And instead of it being something that stunted me and robbed me, I have grown and been enriched in so many ways. My faith has both deepened and broadened, even as I've become less 'certain' of so many things. My trust is no longer in a set of doctrines, but in a living, loving God. I'm no longer afraid that I'll step over some arbitrary line and be 'lost'. (I know some people who think I'm beyond the pale, but God doesn't and he never will.)

So this is an invitation to the nervous lobbyist and all his equally nervous friends. Why not give up the fear and the deathly 'certainty' and actually start listening to the 'other'. Like me, you just might learn something. We are ALL created in God's image, and we each have something worth giving and something worth receiving. Let's walk in humility with everyone, and learn how to love!

Because that is what Jesus taught us to do!

Monday, 30 May 2016

If You Can't Crucify, Why Not Shun?

The one thing about my experience of spiritual abuse that I still struggle to comprehend is the categoric refusal of some people to even acknowledge my existence, let alone sit down and discuss the issues between us.

I don't mean just my ex-friends who were so hell-bent on expunging me from their consciousness, that they resorted to legal action against me. (Luckily for me, the law works on evidence not allegations!)

No, I'm talking about my own brother who's cut off all communication with me; and my fellow elder who kept promising to meet me but then kept finding excuses not to; and the guy at my ex-church who wanted to talk to my husband about me but couldn't bring himself to talk to me.

I'm talking about the board members of my ex-church, and also my ex-boss, all of whom have chosen to ignore my requests to address the legitimate grievances I have shared with them.

I'm talking about the 'leaders' I've recently offered to meet with, to dialogue about our different perspectives, who won't even acknowledge my emails let alone have the courtesy to say, "Thanks, but no thanks".

I could understand one or two people simply lacking the courage to deal with difficult issues, but when you get one after another after another, you start to wonder what is going on. And then you start to realise it's actually a systemic failure as much as an individual one.

Now I suspect that there is a strong unacknowledged streak of patriarchal arrogance at play. I'm just a woman and they are men - God's favoured gender! How dare I not submit to their every dictate!

But I think there is more to it than that.

Then I started thinking about the way the Pharisees ran their religious show. They had all the answers. They had all the power and authority. The had all the people under their control.

And then Jesus came along, and upset their apple cart by asking unscripted questions, and failing to give the correct answers to their own pre-approved questions. He wouldn't play their games and he didn't kow-tow to their self importance. He sided with the weak and the broken and the powerless - all those the Pharisees considered unimportant, expendable. Worst of all, he declaimed their hypocrisy, denounced their self-righteousness, and decried the damage they did to God's people.

Just who did he think he was?

He was jeopardising their rightful rule because they had no come-back to the truth of his words. They were so accustomed to operating in undisputed power that they were unable to answer his challenge to their attitudes and behaviour, or to engage with his call for repentance. They objected to what he said, but they refused to address that with him. All they wanted was to silence this upstart.

They seemed to have no self-awareness and little capacity for self-reflection. They were right and he was wrong - and they were determined to silence him one way or another. If he wouldn't shut up they'd have to do something drastic.

And so... they killed him.

And it has finally occurred to me that this same attitude seems to be alive and well within the institutional church. I have experienced it and I continue to do so - as have (and do) thousands of others.

The attitude that says, "Touch not God's anointed!" The behaviour that refuses to acknowledge and address wrong, but simply shuns the victim instead.

Leaders who bully and abuse. Leaders who use their position for personal gain. Leaders who cover up child abuse in their midst. Leaders who build their own empire and like to play god. They all seem to have the same response to those who threaten to rock their boat.

Pulling off a crucifixion is a bit tricky these days. But it's easy to spread falsehoods. Simple to shun. If you can't kill off the trouble-maker, just pretend they don't exist. If you refuse to see them, and disdain to hear them, that's almost as good... isn't it?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

I Am Valid - And So Are You!

Maybe it's because it's the first anniversary of the day I learned that my sister's body was only being kept 'alive' by machines...

maybe it's because a friend has found closure with someone who denies the same to me...

maybe it's because I'm sickened by seeing almost daily proof that the children of my ex-friends have been taught that shunning and treating others like shit is good christian behaviour...

or maybe it's just because it's cold and wet and grey.

But this morning I feel tears pricking my eyes, and a weight on my soul.

The lies and abuse and deception in the 'church' just continue. The elephant is ignored, and when that doesn't work, it's painted and prettified to make people feel better about its existence.

The religious machine keeps chewing up the broken and spitting them out. The religious leaders today are as toxic as those Jesus addressed 2 000 years ago (Matthew 23) - and the people continue to support and enable them.

And yet I find, even as I sit and write these words, that a renewed strength is rising within me. I no longer hope or expect things to change, but I will not stop speaking out because that is my natural response to injustice.

I no longer let others dictate who I am, or how I should behave. I no longer bow to the pressure to pretend or conform. I have permission to be me - no matter how much others hate me for it.

I am reminded that it is legitimate to be me. Exactly the way I am.

I am valid.

And I want to remind you that you are too!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

I Found My Voice

They told me to speak up
and then silenced me

They told me to be bold
and then caged me

They told me to fly
and then clipped my wings

I was afraid
and ashamed 
and alone 

I was dying inside until I finally understood

They wanted me to speak up
and repeat their pre-approved words

They wanted me to be bold
in being their clone

They wanted me to fly
tied to their rope

And then

I found my voice
And I found my courage
And I flew away...


Monday, 9 May 2016



There is a scene in the film Spotlight where Mark Ruffalo's character discovers incontrovertible proof that the head of the Catholic church in Boston not only knew about the child sexual abuse scandal in the church, but was complicit in its cover-up. He urges immediate publication of the story, and ends up storming out of the office when his editor (played by Michael Keaton) refuses, choosing to wait until they can expose the entire, corrupt system rather than target a single man.

After some self-reflection, Ruffalo confesses to a fellow journalist that his anger and frustration at his editor was driven largely by the loss of an unacknowledged hope he's carried for years. Having been brought up in the church and subsequently walked away, Ruffalo shares that he'd always assumed that one day he'd be able to return - go back to the familiar ritual and comfort of his childhood.

But he's had to face the harsh reality that this he's swallowed the red pill and there's no going back. The institution which has symbolised for him the security of his childhood has demonstrated just how ready it is to sacrifice innocent children in its determination to retain power. He's found proof of a system which cares little about the devastation it has inflicted on the wounded and vulnerable, and, as William Wilberforce said, "[he] can never say again that [he] did not know".

I've been thinking about that scene all day (I watched the film last night). It caught my attention because I know what it's like to wake up and realise you can never 'unknow' what you've discovered. That the institution you once believed was safe and friendly is actually incredibly toxic and will lash out at you if you start to question it. That the people you thought would love and care for you no matter what, willingly turn on you when you no longer support their agenda. That too many religious leaders would rather leave you bloodied by the side of the road than get involved.

The truth, when it hits you, is both shocking and painful. And there is a price to pay for that truth.

But, just as the Boston Globe journalists discovered, when you let the truth out, and you hear the sheer relief in the voices of other victims as they learn they are not alone, you know you couldn't have done anything else.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Questioning The Religious Status Quo

My journey out of the institutional church has left me with a crazy, upside-down perspective on so much of what goes on inside that religious bubble. So when I recently heard about a 'foot-washing service' amongst religious leaders in my home town, I was not surprised that something about it made me uncomfortable. When my husband's response was even stronger than mine, I figured my instinctive recoil was worth exploring.

The ceremony itself was held in a public gathering space in the Parliament building and involved a number of leaders from different denominations performing the act of washing each other's feet. On one website it was described as "an act of reconciliation between denominations, traditions, people groups and individuals" and yet something within me felt there was a hollowness in the gesture.

I wrote to one of the people involved, and while I affirmed the idea of repentance - changing attitudes and behaviours - between leaders of different denominations, I did suggest that it seemed to be a fairly safe and 'easy' gesture to make. I also pointed out that I have never seen a similar response towards those who have suffered abuse (of all kinds) in the church environment.

However, it was not until someone on Facebook posted an excerpt from a longer article, discussing the popular notion of a culture of honour, that my thoughts and feelings on the subject crystallised. Referring to the historical context of Jesus's action it read:

"Apostle was not a title for a high status leadership position. In their day, when you said “apostle” no one would think of a manager, owner, chief executive, or someone sitting at the top of a religious pyramid hierarchy. They would think of dishwashers and busboys, or worse. In their world, the feet were considered the most defiled, unclean member of the body. In our world, we would normally associate the most uncleanness with bathroom functions and the associated organs! Not so in theirs. To wash feet was not just a “nice humble thing” to do. It was to abase one’s self to the lowest of the low, the basest of the base, the most demeaning expression of service available in their world. In the upper room we see Jesus’s apostleship (ministry) being modeled. How that gets turned into rank and privilege by creative religious minds, is quite a manoeuvre." [Emphasis added]

Suddenly, I realised what had made me so uncomfortable about the whole thing. 

That graphic (and shocking) allusion to bathroom functions stopped me in my tracks, and I was offended at the thought of enacting a culturally equivalent service. It made me realise that we have taken a private act of menial and demeaning service - which powerfully demonstrated to his disciples Jesus's call to lower themselves - and put it on a pedestal (or, in this case, a stage) as a public show of 'humility'! We've made a "nice, humble" tradition out of an act of genuine abasement by the son of God, himself.

Now, I am not suggesting that the leaders involved were not sincere or well-meaning, or that they don't genuinely want to see reconciliation between church factions. What I do want to explore is whether, despite Jesus's actions being replicated, the spirit behind that original act was somehow lost. Do we copy Jesus's actions, but by-pass the deep heart transformation it represented?

And does copying Jesus in a public setting have any impact on what happens in private? Has it changed the pervasive culture of hierarchical 'leadership' within the church? Does it give a voice to the voiceless? Are the stories of those who've been abused by the system now being taken seriously?

Or is it simply business as usual? We've done a good thing, so we can feel good about ourselves and continue to ignore anyone who sees it differently. We can perpetuate a system which damages and ignores and silences the 'nobodies'. We can continue to sacrifice our siblings on the altar of our truth, our vision, our leadership. We can insist that the only options for the sheep are to "get on board", or "get thrown under the bus".

I want to suggest that no amount of public foot-washing amongst the religious leaders is going to transform hearts or effect the change that is needed to bring about a reconciliation which unites the whole body in real love and relationship. As meaningful as it might have been to those involved, what message did it send to anyone who's been invalidated and damaged by church leaders? Is it helpful for those in power to enact repentance to one another, and yet ignore those who've been disenfranchised by the church?

Please note, these are genuine questions.

This is not an attack on any person or group in particular, or even on the use of symbolic gesture to represent a heartfelt conviction. And I am not saying I have all the answers. In fact, most days I have more questions than answers! But these questions are legitimate. My voice and my perspective are  valid. And yet, like many others who see things differently or ask difficult questions, I continue to be ignored and silenced. 

The truth is that I would love to engage, to explore, to learn & grow with others of similar as well as differing perspectives. But it seems that the christian community is closed to any voices but those which echo the leader-approved position. I'd love to meet someone in current leadership who is brave enough to see through some else's eyes, yet my experience suggests that is not likely to happen. Regardless, I will keep asking my questions...

Monday, 4 April 2016

A Challenge to Religious Leaders

Jesus once told a story that we have come to know as the parable of the "Good Samaritan". In it he describes the response of two religious leaders when they came across a man lying by the side of the road, naked and half dead, after being beaten and robbed by a bunch of thugs.

Both the priest and the Levite saw this man in pain and need and chose to ignore him. They gathered their skirts around them, crossed to the other side of the road, and walked on as if fearing they would be contaminated by the man's need.

Don't stop. Don't help. God forbid we should get involved!

These religious leaders were far too busy doing important things for God to stop and help a brother in pain. Their celebrated religious work took priority over the distress of this unimportant nobody.

And anyway, it was probably his own fault that he was in such dire straits in the first place. In all likelihood, he'd brought his misfortune on himself!

Finally, down that same road came another 'nobody'. Wrong country. Wrong religion. Not important!

And it was this man who displayed human decency. The one who stopped; who cared; who showed mercy; who acted on behalf of the one suffering; who brought comfort and healing.

He was the one who demonstrated love!

Sadly, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Because the religious leaders are still leaving people bleeding on the side of the road. They are still ignoring the pleas for help and support from those lying bleeding by the roadside. They are still too busy congratulating themselves on their important work to take a stand for what is right and just.

What's even worse, they are often the ones inflicting the wounds. And none of their fellow leaders seem to see anything wrong in that!

So it is still the nobodies - those from the wrong group, with the wrong spirituality - who are the ones patching up the wounded, bringing comfort and healing to those the religious leaders have left for dead.

And so I offer a challenge to those who see themselves as leaders of the faith: Will you "go and do likewise" as Jesus instructed - will you actually love your neighbour and not just talk about it?

Or will you continue to draw your skirts around you, keep busy with your important religious duties and refuse to meet the need?

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Liberating God

In a short post I read the other day, entitled How Much God Loves Change, this paragraph caught my eye:
And so God, creative as God is, seems to thrive on change. To change landscapes, oceans, hearts, possibilities, and alternatives. This cannot help but clash with those in power. As the prophets can attest. And so, the creative God is also the liberating God.
For me, those words beautifully articulated my journey out of the institutional church.

I was deeply grieved that despite the clear indications of God's call to change - his invitation to walk into a new reality as his people - there was resistance and ultimately rejection of that way.

Those with power asserted their 'authority'. The prophetic voices were silenced. And business-as-usual was reinstated. 'Church' settled back into what was familiar, predictable, and most importantly, controllable.

Image courtesy of

God was put back in his box and all was well with the world again...

...except that God snuck out the back way and simply kept on being creative.

And liberating!

And thank God he did! I'm so grateful he set me free!

And the good news is that for those who have ears to hear, God continues the call to something fresh and new.

He's liberating his people from performance-based religion - from man-made traditions which nullify the word of God. He's setting captives free to be unashamedly themselves when they worship; to live in love, not judgement; and to recognise that the Kingdom of God is at hand no matter where they are, who they're with, or what day it is.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Fear and Crusades

Recently, I left this comment on Jory Micah's blog post regarding Mark Driscoll's unhealthy teaching on submission:
"The whole ‘biblical submission’ teaching is absolutely toxic! Despite the fact that it is a residue of the shepherding movement (whose leaders have long since repented of their teaching) men are still peddling versions of this crap because it panders to their egos and means they get to be ‘over’ others. It damages lives and is the antithesis of Jesus’s teachings. 
In my own experience, when I complained about the abusive and bullying behaviour of my male co-leader, that behaviour was not even questioned and I was made out to be the problem. I was given the choice to submit to his “godly leadership” or resign! And just like MD, this man now runs his own church, and I fear for those ‘under’ him!"
A short time later an anonymous reader replied with this:

Bad grammar aside, this is exactly the sort of behaviour I was subjected to at my ex-church! Threats and intimidation to keep me in line - to control my behaviour!

Now I seriously question the intent behind using fear as a motivation for anything, let alone to preserve your 'salvation'. Can you imagine a god who says in effect, "Behave acceptably or I'll throw you out of the club!" It's worth based on compliance - on conforming to a set of prescribed behaviours! 

That just doesn't sound like the one who was happy to hang out with the social rejects of his day; to openly display how much he valued them. And it sure doesn't sound like the one who spoke out against the self-righteous religious leaders' and their willingness to unnecessarily burden those supposed to be in their care.

The interesting thing I've found is that since leaving the religious institution, I'm no longer driven by fear. I no longer fear making mistakes; I no longer fear getting it 'wrong'; I no longer fear failing to have the 'right' doctrine; I no longer fear not measuring up to the expectations of others.

Instead, I have found a beautiful confidence in the capacity of God. His capacity to love me, to redeem me, to be enough for me. Confidence that I am fully acceptable to him, period!

The other thing I question is the concept of "crusading for truth". It's not about loving others, it's about "crusading". It's about insisting on your truth trumping that of others. Just the use of the word 'crusade' speaks volumes to me about the mindset behind the words. It speaks of a militant and aggressive approach - an 'us' versus 'them' attitude.

Somehow, that doesn't sit well with the life of the one who chose to die rather than use power and might to prove his point.

I don't know about you, but I am completely over the use of fear and crusades to push religion. I'm ready to try the suggestion Jesus made: to simply love God and love others... 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Mark Driscoll's Dalek Theology

Two years ago I wrote a post about the similarity between some christian leaders and Doctor Who's arch-nemesis, the Daleks! (Yes, I am an unashamed geek!)

It had occurred to me that the Dalek mantra of "obey or be exterminated" was little different from the 'christian' threat of "submit or be excommunicated" Of course, for those institutions that don't subscribe to the theology of excommunication, shunning is a viable alternative which produces the same effect.

(As one who had faced such a demand to submit or resign, I have decided that I'd rather face the Daleks - at least they were always honest about their desire for domination and didn't enslave others under a pretence of 'love'.)

Anyway, it was reading a post by Jory Micah today that reminded of my own earlier offering on the subject of submission, because it appears that Mr Driscoll has been preaching on this topic of late:
"Driscoll literally had boys 18 and under stand to their feet and he made a special emphasis on submission, especially to mothers. He states that submission leads to maturity. He tells them, you are supposed to “submit, honor, and obey” your parents.
Driscoll is psychologically training these boys in submission because he knows that someday, these boys will become men and that they will “need” to teach their wives to “submit, honor, and obey” them. The terrifying thing is that Driscoll uses Jesus’ name and the Bible to brainwash young minds." 
- "Mark Driscoll Back on Stage as a Dying Star" [Emphasis added]
Now apart from the fact that the commandment supposedly being referred to is simply "honour your parents", or that the bible calls for mutual submission between adults, the type of submission that is being peddled here does not lead to maturity, but actually has exactly the opposite effect.

It teaches people to become yes-men, to keep the peace at any cost, and to abandon their own God-given instincts. It will teach you to doubt yourself, to question your own thoughts and feelings, to assume your own understanding and perspective must be wrong.

I learned the truth of this the hard way and would love to help others see this toxic teaching for what it really is.

The whole submission and spiritual covering theology came from the shepherding movement of the 1970s. Not only was it eventually discredited, but some of the original leaders publicly repented of this teaching. Despite this, it keeps being regurgitated by other religious leaders - from John Bevere with his fixation on covering and authority, to Bill Gothard's umbrella of protection dogma. The trouble is that it's both manipulative and abusive.

Of course it does make life so much easier for those in power to keep control of those 'under' them, because it keeps those people immature and dependent on the leadership - unable to think or make decisions for themselves. It promises all sorts of favour and protection for those who comply, and it threatens all sorts of dire consequences for rebellion against "god's anointed". So just relax and submit. Remember, your leaders know best!

Just ask Rapunzel...

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Forgiveness Is Not a Magic Bullet

Former church leader, Mark Driscoll, has recently been making headlines again. It appears he's taken one step closer to his comeback by announcing he'll be opening his brand new church, Trinity, in Phoenix. The strange thing is that there is apparently no mention in his publicity of his previous 'workplace', Mars Hill. (Considering that accounts for almost 2 decades of his working life, it seems a trifle... odd!)

Anyway, this announcement has caused quite a stir in certain circles and has yet again polarised opinions regarding his fitness to lead. There are many people (no doubt many of the bodies MD left under the Mars Hill bus) who are decrying the move. Many feel that Mr Driscoll has not yet dealt with the mess he made the last time he headed up a church.

And yet, there seem to be plenty of believers who are applauding the development, loudly proclaiming that all "true christians" should support him because... forgiveness!

Still from The Matrix

Now, I've been pondering and exploring this concept of forgiveness for a long time, but never more so since an ex-elder and his wife from my ex-church (who have since started their own church) applied to the courts for a protection order against me late last year. The application alleged that I represented such a severe threat to their safety, I should be excluded from any place they might possibly be present, including my own sons' school.

Although it didn't actually make it to court, my family and I were put through hell for two months by two 'christian leaders' who had previously been part of the abusive experience which drove me out of the institutional church.

For me, the story has had a far better outcome than I would have dreamed possible, and I am profoundly grateful for that! However, once again, the response of many christians has been to focus on the requirement for me to forgive.

Each time I've experienced abuse or injustice or wrong-doing at the hands of christians, the response has been the same. I must forgive. Yet nothing is ever said about confronting the wrong-doer, addressing injustice, or preventing the same thing happening to others.

It seems the onus is always on victim to forgive, not on the wrong-doer to repent and make amends. It is the victim who faces the consequences - being judged 'bitter and unforgiving'. Meanwhile the perpetrator walks away - free from accountability; free from consequences; free to offend again. Nothing is acknowledged, nothing dealt with, nothing changes. History just repeats itself, but with a vengeance.

Why is it that christians take this line? Why do we show ourselves so unwilling to address wrong-doing and abuse in our midst? Because the victim is a soft target? Because we don't want to pay the price of getting involved? Rarely is the response to abuse one of seeking justice for the victim. Rarely is there a call for accountability of the perpetrator.

It seems the 'christian' response to intimidation or abuse is to push for the victim to forgive; not for the perpetrator to be brought to account for their actions; not for justice to be done; not for protection against future abuse; not for preventing a repeat of the injustice.

That is why there are so many people deeply concerned about Mr Driscoll resuming his 'ministry'. Why would this man change his behaviour - this man who has never faced those he's harmed, never said 'sorry' to them, never made reparation to them? Why would we expect to see change from a man who chose to turn walk away and start a new church rather than clean up the mess he'd made of the old one? Why would he act any differently this time?

Supposedly the 'christian' response is to simply forgive and give the man another chance to damage lives, without giving a thought to the people who are still hurting from the last time. (They are seen as the problem, not him!) And yet Jesus called out the bullying, abusive behaviour of the religious leaders in his day, calling them poisonous snakes, monuments to death, even sons of hell!

He told them they tied up heavy burdens on people's backs, but wouldn't lift a finger to help them carry those burdens. A bit like telling the victim of abuse they must forgive their abuser, while refusing to address and remediate the abuse itself!

So when people like us keep talking about the injustice we suffered, the abuse we endured, the wrong we faced, do not assume it is because we are "bitter and unforgiving". When we speak about the flaws and failures in the church system do not assume it is because we refuse to "move on". When we shine a light on the darkness of christian culture do not assume it is because we are "wanting revenge".

It is because we don't want the bus to run over even more victims. We don't want bullies and abusers to continue in their ill-health. We can see that the emperor is naked and we can't pretend otherwise!

So please stop shutting us down. Assuming we haven't forgiven. Throwing the religious cliches in our face. We have legitimate grievances. Valid concerns. And ignoring the problems will not make them go away. "Just concentrating of the positive" does not diminish or justify the wrong that has been done. There is still a need for the hard work of reparation, remediation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction. Forgiveness is not a magic bullet!