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.