Monthly Archives: August 2011

Emotionally Healthy Church – Ill Health

Armstrong is a friend and leader in the Church  He serves whenever there is a need.  The only problem is that he is temperamental, unpredictable and moody.  We tiptoe around him.  I pray and hope for the best.

  • Larry is forty years old, single, and unemployed again.  He has a resume four pages long.  He rarely stays at a job or in a relationship with the opposite sex for more than a few months.  We pray for him, encourage him to affirm his identity in Christ, and ask God to open new doors for him.  I pray and hope for the best.
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    Today I no longer pray and hope for the best.  Each of the above scenarios required a level of discipleship that went beyond a skin-deep, superficial quick fix.  They each later submitted to a scalpel by taking a serious, prayerful look at the deeper issues I will outline in this book.  First, however, I as a leader had to undergo a revolution in the way I understood and approached discipleship.

     

    Imbalanced Spirituality

    The sad truth is that too little difference exists, in terms of emotional and relational maturity, between God’s people inside the church and those outside who claim no relationship to Jesus Christ.  Even more alarming, when you go beyond the praise and worship of our large meetings and conventions and into the homes and small-group meetings of God’s people  you often find a valley littered with broken and failed relationships.

     

    Do any of the following people remind you of someone in your church?

     

    1. The board member who never says “I was wrong” or “Sorry”
    2. The children’s church leader who constantly criticises others.
    3. The high-control small-group leader who cannot tolerate different points of view.
    4. The middle-aged father of two toddlers who is secretly addicted to pornography.
    5. The thirty-five year old husband busily serving in the church, unaware of his wife’s loneliness at home.
    6. The worship leader who interprets any suggestion as a personal attack and personal rejection.
    7. The Sunday School teacher struggling with feeling of bitterness and resentment towards the pastor but afraid to say anything.
    8. The exemplary “servant” who tirelessly volunteers in four different ministries but rarely takes any personal time to take care of himself or herself.
    9. Two intercessors who use prayer meetings to escape from the painful reality of their marriage
    10. The people in your small group who are never transparent about their struggles or difficulties.

    Fry on Sin

    I agree with almost all of this.  The word I object to is “cheap”, and I’m not too keen on “cuddle”-

     

    Problems with the physical self, you may have noticed by now, are central to my life story.  The reckless feeding of my physical appetites on the one hand and the miserable dislike and fear of my physical appearance on the other have all been overseen by a pathological personal theology that has for most of my life robbed me of any true ease.  I do not wish to sound self-pitying or to privilege myself with unique sensitivity or susceptibility to distress in these matters, but there is almost no moment in the day when I do not feel myself to be intensely guilty of numberless trespasses.  Drinking too much coffee, not concentrating sufficiently hard, not answering emails quickly enough.  Not being in touch with people I have promised to be in touch with.  Going to the gym too infrequently. Eating too much.  Drinking too much.  Declining invitations to speak at charity dinners.  Being slow in reading and commentating on entirely unsolicited scripts.  These are almost meaningless offences; they are pathetic little particles of plankton in the deep ocean of sin to be sure, but my feelings are as craven, cringing and confessional as the most self-abasing Calvinists in their most prostrate and abject furies of repentance.  I do not believe there is a god or a judgement day or redeeming saviour, but I go through all the shame, trembling and self-castigation of the most pious and hysterical ascetic without the cheap promise of forgiveness and divine cuddle in recompense. (page 222-223)

    Fry – The Commandments

    In the story of the Ten Commandments I was always on the side of asron.  I liked his golden calf.  Biblical colour plates for children showed it garlanded with flowers, revelling idolaters dancing happily around it, clashing cymbals and embracing each other with wild abandoned joy.  The music and the hugs were clinching proof (especially the cymbals) in the minds of the Victorian illustrators that Aaron’s followers were debauched, degenerate, decadent and doomed to eternal damnation.  With the party in full swing, Moses returns with those fatuous tablets tucked under his arm, dashes them petulantly to the ground, melts the golden calf and grinds it to powder, which he mixes into a drink that he forces all the Israelites to swallow.  Next, being such a holy man of God, he slays 3,000 men before hauling his vengeful arse back up Mount Sinai to get a second batch of commandments.  I think we can celebrate the fat that we now live in a culture, flawed or not, that instantly sees that, while Aaron may be a weak voluptuary, his brother is a dangerous fanatic.  The gilt bull beats the guilty bullshit any way you choose to look at it.  We humans are naturally disposed to worship gods and heroes, to build our pantheons and valhallas.  I would rather see that impulse directed into the adoration of daft singers, thicko footballers and air-headed screen actors than into the veneration of dogmatic zealots, fanatical preachers, militant politicians and rabid cultural commentators. (page 284-285)

    You Can Change – Part 1 – Adoption

     

     

    On adoption (page 37)

    It was Sophie’s first day with her adoptive parents.  She stalked nervously round her new home, fearing one of the beatings she was used to getting if something go broken.  The toys in her room went untouched; she couldn’t quite believe they were hers.  At dinner she secretly stuffed food into her pocket:  you never knew where your next meal would come from when you were on the streets. That night she felt so alone in her big room.  She would have cried if she hadn’t long since learnt to suppress her emotions.

     

    Now listen to her new mother one year on: “She crawled into bed with me last night, because she was having a bad dream.  She curled up next to me, put her head on my chest, told me that she loved me, smiled, and went to sleep.  I nearly cried with contentment.” (page 37)

    Adam’s Return – Part 10 – Liminality

    Liminal space is a concept refined by Victor Turner in his classic study on initiation and ritual.  The Latin word limen means “threshold”.  Liminality is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where people can begin to think and act in genuinely new ways.  It is when are betwixt and between, have left one room but not yet entered the next room, any hiatus between stages of life, stages of faith, jobs, loves or relationships.  It is that graced time when we are not certain or in control. (page 135)

     

    Many spiritual giants try to live their entire lives in permanent liminality…It can take the form of monks, nuns, hermits, Amish withdrawal, and dropouts of various persuasions, but softer forms too, like people who do not watch TV, people who live under the level of taxable income, people who make prayer a major part of their day, people who deliberately place themselves in risky situations, which is to displace yourself. (page 136)

     

    Remember, it is the things that we cannot do anything about, the fateful things, and the thins we cannot do anything with, th useless things, that invariably do something with us.  These are the only times when we are not at the steering wheel and someone else can teach us and lead us. (page 137)

     

    One of the most effective ways to avoid liminal space is to be quick, efficient, successful, and goal-oriented.  Or to be super-religious on the Right or super-correct on the Left.  In either place you will only reconfirm all your crutches, addictions, and false securities.  (page 139)

     

    The most common substitute for liminal space is “liminoid” space.  It superficially looks like liminal space, but it isn’t.  Nothing new happens here, only a confirmation of the old.

     

    The liminoid is a movement into trance and unconsciousness so nothing real will be revealed and the shadow has no possibility of showing itself.  Victor Turner calls this ceremony, as opposed to true ritual.  True ritual, like true drama, always creates a catharsis, or emotional cleansing.  It reveals instead of disguises.  We love ceremony, the liminoid, because it asks so little of us except to show up, yet it allows us to think we have done something significant.  Religion comes to require only attendance, serving as a mere spectator sport.  We fear true ritual, at least I do, because it demands psychic and personal participation, and maybe even a change of mind or heart.  Basically, the liminoid allows us to remain our trance.  (page 141)

     

    Initiation is a deep yes to otherness, instead of any superficial self-assertion or self-denial.  This is why both Jesus and Buddha mistrusted acts of mortification, dietary laws, or any religion of heroics.  They are usually liminoid, experiences passing for liminal.  (page 141)

     

    As the Jewish tradition brilliantly intuited: if at least one-seventh of life is not consciousness, presence, and naked human being, the other six days will be caught up as human doings that have little depth, meaning, or final effect.  If at least one-seventh of life s somehow Sabbath and sabbatical, the rest will take care of itself.  Without daily, weekly, and yearly choices for liminal space, our whole lives eventually become liminoid and we up just doing time.  (page 142)

    Adam’s Return – Part 9 – Initiations

    (page 124)

    Now we need enlightend and transformed magicians, lovers of life and beauty, and strong nonviolent warrior to produce truly big-picture men – or kings.

     

    (page 126)

    Buy if you wish to know how things come about, desire not understanding: ask for grace not instruction, the groaning of prayer not diligent reading, the Spouse not the teacher, God not man, darkness not clarity, not light but the fire.  St. Bonaventure.

     

    (page 126)

    The uninitiated man stops with the accumulation of facts and information; he does not discipline it (warrior), taste it (lover) or integrate it with the big picture (king).

     

    (page 128)

    “Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment instead” – Viktor Frankl

     

    Ever after all this time, the sun never say to the earth, “You owe me.”  Look what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky. – Hafiz, Master and poet

     

    Ours is the only religion in the world that dares to believe that God becomes flesh.  The only religion that chews on the flesh of God has a very sensuous, sexual symbol for the transformation of the lover; we call it the Eucharist.  Christianity says that God is Love but does not appear to really enjoy the lover.  Despite all the Bach Masses, Baroque churches, incense, vestments and luxuriant art, we still made our religion into a moralistic matter instead of a mystical joy.  Our operative God image was much more a banker, a judge, a timekeeper, or an accountant, but seldom a real lover – in any sense that the normal man understands.  Like Michal, the daughter of Saul, we despise David for dancing half-naked in Church (1 Samuel 6:16), we look away from Shakers, Pentecostals and holy rollers.  Religion should be a proper and dignified thing, we think.  The hot sins for Baptist and Catholics are always associated with the body.  This is no religion of incarnation. (page 130)

     

    The most loving men I have met, the generous to society and to life, are usually men who also have a lusty sense of life, beauty, pleasure and sex – but they have very realistic expectations of them.  (page 131)

     

    Adam’s Return – Part 8 – Naming the Negative

     

    We must live our lives in a painful cauldron of transformation, inside a mixed blessing, not in any enforced utopia.  We are a mass of contradictions longing to be reconciled.  We must live with the wound and learn from the wound, until it becomes our sacred wound.  I remember the shock of being in a Spanish art museum and seeing a full-sized painting of a wounded body of Jesus ascending into heaven.  I finally got it!  Heaven is not for angels at all, but for the wounded ones. (page 119)

     

    When you can be honest about the negative side of things, you can then reveal the good side – the good is then credible, powerful, and even more attractive and proceeds from freedom.  That’s why almost all drama has to have heroes and villains, so they can play off one another and also create one another. This is brilliantly presented in Stephen Schwartz’s script and musical The Wicked. (page 119)

     

    Denying or hating the negative never makes it go away.  You can never resolved a problem by merely condemning it, personally or institutionally.  That is not transformation but domination, and we typically confuse the two.  You cannot contain evil by shaming it, but only by revealing it for what it is and then seeing the good as better.  Salvation is sin forgiven much more than sin avoided.  Couples begin to love only after their first fight and reconciliation. (page 119)

     

    Don’t confuse the negative with the hostile; they are not the same.  The negative is contained inside the truly positive; the hostile needs to be hostile and oppositional.  Hostile people are never helpful, critics necessary.  Americans in particular tend to be trapped inside a happy-happy script and cannot easily integrate the negative.  We want happy endings and we would prefer the whole thing to be nice.  It ends up nice but not true. (page 120-121)


     

     

    Show me where condemnation of anything has worked in the long haul, especially with men.  In fact, we could make the case that it only increases the attraction and addiction. (page 121)

     

    Paul says the same in an amazingly contemporary understanding of the perverse nature of the human person.  He says that commands become temptations for human beings, and much of their attraction comes precisely from there being a law against them (Romans 7:7-8).  He does not say to throw out the law, nor do I, but the most the law can do is try to name our sins; it is powerless to give spiritual strength.  It gives information, not transformation.  When my dark secret can be truthfully name in the sacred space of confession, it is no longer so dark or so attractive. (page 121)

    Adam’s Return – Part 7 – Male & Female Love

     

     

    The elders, who had earned certain privileges did not need to justify them to the young, whereas the young needed something to work toward and achieve.  This serves the growing boy very well.  It is a meritocracy, which the young man inherently respects, even though he fights it all the way.  This is precisely the meaning of the law in the Bible, although most people make it the final goal. (page 85)

     

    Cheap grace is not grace at all.  I think this is why Jesus is presented as cursing the barren fig tree (Matthew 21:19).  Even God, expects a return, a pass through account, as it were.  If not, it means the gift was not received at all.  Authentic salvation, like love, has an effective quality to it.  It works through you.  (page 86)

     

    Initiation insisted on physical and concrete performance and behavious.  It is not a verbal exercise or a support group, where the ego can always say whatever itneeds to say to get what it wants.  This, in my opinion is the Achilles heel of the present psychological, conversational model of enlightenment.  In seminaries or any idealistic system, it create a large number of submarines, who go underground until after ordination, licensing or promotion.  Ask anyone who does job interviews about the reliability of what people say during an interview or write on their resumes.  We now look for a clear behavioural skill set that has been proven over time. (page 86)

    Adam’s Return – Part 6 – Hierarchy

     

     

    Ken Wilber makes a brilliant disctinction between “actualisation hierarchies” and “domination hierarchies”.  Actualisation hierarchies are parents in relationship to children, bodies in relationship to cells, hosts in relationship to parasites.  The smaller needs the larger for its existence.  Nothing in the universe survives without a protective hierarchy (page 74)

     

    Without actualisation hierarchies you have heaps not wholes, strands but never a web… Hierarchy and wholeness in other words are two words for the same thing – quoting Ken Wilber on page 74

     

    [Jesus] never rejected or abdicated leadership; he simply grounded it in servanthood and community rather than in domination (John 13:12-15; Luke 22:24-27). What genius.  Jesus is never out of date and always up to date. (page 75)

     

    I never thought I would promote the importance of hierarchies and nobility, but the alternative that I have seen is a disaster (“dis-astra” = disconnected to the orientation of the stars) (page 76)

     

    If a man has not been authored from above, he will give his authority to the crowd, as Pilate did.  (page 81)

     

    People who have let life initiate them tend to be tend to creative individuals, grounded and solid.  You can feel it when you are in their presence.  You feel safe and you feel energised.  They do not take your energy; they give you energy.  You know they have an excess of life, and maybe some for you, so you seek them out, as the crowds did with Jesus and still do with wise men and women. (page 81)

     

    In looking for a spiritual leader:

    Being chosen and being useable are not the same as sanctity – that is absolutely clear in the Bible.  It just makes it easier for us when they do coincide.  In fact, I usually find that most great people still carry one or another significant personality flaw.  It is fairly predictable.  St. Paul himself, clearly flawed, humbly recognised his “thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to buffet me. “ (2 Corinthians 12:7) which he says was necessary to keep him from “getting too proud.”  In most wise people I know, their very authority and wisdom come from the struggle itself.  A neurotic genius is to be expected.  (page 82)

     

    The mature person loves with both the motherly and the fatherly conscience, in spite of the fact that they seem to contradict one another.  In the failure of this development lies the basic cause for neurosis. Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (quoted on page 83)

     

    In later years, men largely recall and remember their tough teachers and their demanding coaches, those who pushed them to their best and their limits.  In some way, a male knows that his other teachers did not take him seriously – page 83.

    Adam’s Return – Part 5 – Your LIfe Is Not About You

     

     

    On Paul- this one-man show turned a Jewish sect into a worldwide religion.  He allowed his small life to be used by the greater life, and that is finally all that matters.  Your life is not about you.  It is about God and about allowing your life to “be done unto you”, which is Mary’s prayer at the beginning and Jesus’s prayer at the end.  Which probably makes it the only prayer worth saying:

     

    That is what the saints know and we don’t

    That is why we don’t really understand the saints.

    That is why masters cannot teach many people.

    This is why there are not many masters.

    Most people think their lives are about them.

    And they aren’t. (page 66)