Friday, March 6, 2009

Why It's Hard to Talk to an Evnagelical - Part II - The Chink in the Armor Syndrome

I did a little research into the word "chink" to make sure that this was the metaphor that I really wanted to use here. Unfortunately I discovered that is has some what of racial roots. It was a term, or slang name, that originated by Europeans for Asian races (taken from the same root word as "China") and it stood for their eye. The Europeans saw Asian eyes as a slit rather than rounded as theirs.

But moving beyond any racial overtures, the term also started to mean a narrow slit between anything, especially between the joints on a suit of armor. These joints, such as the arm pit, were the vulnerable points of armor. The suits had to be flexible so the joints were required. However, each army trained heavily in techniques for exploiting these “chinks” for the kill.

I decided to stick with this metaphor because as I read on, I saw that the same word came to mean the gaps between bricks in a wall (the mortar joints.) In my previous post I spoke of how basic conversations between believers are the mortar joints that make up the walls that, in turn, make up the entire Church. So these conversations ARE very important. You can not hate conversations with other believers AND love Christ’s Church.


To start with, we are all insecure . . . especially men. Just watch a single man in a bar with a beautiful young woman and you will see this play out the best.

I see this insecurity as part of the Fall of Adam. I differ now in my thinking, than when I was an Evangelical. I don't think that once we are a Christian we don't improve that much. The insecurities persist but we take on more “socially accepted” (in the Christian society) ways of dealing with it. When I was an Evangelical, I believed that as soon as you became a Christian and when you started to grow, most of the bad ways of thinking went away and most of the way I thought was pure and right.

When we have conversations with others, to compensate for our deep insecurities, we like to portray ourselves better than we are (Evangelicals have to use a little humble trickery to pull this off without looking proud . . . like "GOD did such and such through little ole me"). At the same time, we try to put others down. The reason, speaking psychologically here, is to use them for leverage.

The chink-in-the-armor syndrome is where we as Christians, have our radars on, looking for the chink in the armor of the bother (mostly) or sister when we are in conversation with them. That radar can take on several forms. It can be theological radar, looking for some deviation of nice, clean pure doctrine. I think our subconscious actually wants the other person to have an error, so we can call them on it and feel better about ourselves. Inside our heads we think, “Wow. I caught him. I am God’s gift to the world, or at least God’s ambassador . . . rooting out error in others.)

I think the best way to illustrate this situation is to share a real life experience. I will admit that this one was somewhat of the extreme, but true and I will try very hard not to embellish the story. Within the story, look for the examples I was talking about.

Jack and Me

Physical Setting:
I was flying from Rochester, MN to the west coast for a Mayo Clinic business trip. I boarded a small commuter prop plane in Rochester bound for the twin cites. I sat down besides a 35 (about) year old man I will call “Jack.” I just happened to have a Bible on my lap because I had taken it out of my carry on to read on the plane.

Personal Setting: This was one of the most difficult times in our lives. I won’t go into all the details, however, on the financial front things were tough.

We had built a home in Michigan a few years earlier when I had taken a job there. Soon, after arriving in Michigan I discovered that the job was in a group practicing Medicaid fraud and I had to get out. The house contractor (a Lutheran pastor in his day job) made huge blunders on the house, and then went bankrupt. We were left with a ½ built home . . . that put us in deep in debt to complete it and fix the problems. Then we put the house on the market and I took the job at Mayo Clinic. At the time of the story, the house in Michigan had not sold for after 6 years (finally sold about the 9th year on the market).

Since we were paying two mortgages, we almost were in financial ruin. My wife and I had spent hundreds of hours in prayer over the situation. We had our churches and friends praying for us. I was working two jobs and was almost to the point of physical exhaustion. Although we had 5 children at home at the time, my wife had to make a very hard decision to go back to work.

Jack: (Smiling and looking at my book on my lap), “Is that a Bible?”

Me: “Yes it is.”

Jack: (Reaching out to shake my hand firmly) “Well, you must be a Christian . . . I’m too!”

Me: (smiling softly) “That’s nice.”

Actually I’m the president of the Firemen for Christ for the sate of Minnesota. I’ve been a fireman for about 15 years. I got involved with Christian ministry about 10 years ago when I went to a Promise Keeper’s convention. It changed my life. I eventually became one of the leaders of Promise Keepers for the entire Midwest. I was behind bringing the Promise Keepers convention to the Twin Cities a couple of years ago.

Then I decided to start the Firemen for Christ organization. It has been a really blessing. God has used my life in ways I never imagined. I’ve discipled many men. I have four men in local communities, each with their own Firemen for Christ group. So my ministry is really multiplying. God is really good to me!

We have four wonderful kids that my wife and I are home schooling. That is the only way that education should be done. I would never allow my kids to go to a humanistic public school where they teach evolution and that gay lifestyle is okay.

Do you have any kids?

Me: “Yes . . . we have five.”

Jack: “That’s wonderful. Where do they go to school?”

Me: (I’m starting to see the writing on the wall) “Well, they are in the public school in Spring Valley.”

Jack: (with a very disappointed look on his face) “Really?”

Me: (being the coward that I am) “Oh, we use to home school our kids. However, we had to put them back in public school this year for financial reasons.”

Jack: “Well, I’ve learned that when you put God first in your life, he will provide all your financial needs. My wife quit her job when she found out her boss was living with his girlfriend. We just trusted God. She has stayed home teaching the kids since and God is faithful to take care of us. It was like a miracle, as soon as she quit, I got a raise.”

Me: “That’s nice.”

Jack: “Maybe you were just trying to live outside your means. I mean, God provides, but you have to live inside your means.”

Me: (Feeling angry at this point). “Listen, it has bee a very hard few years. Right now we own two homes and we are paying about $3,000 a month in mortgage costs. There is nothing we can do about it. We bought our present home for $115,000, is that living outside our means?”

Jack: “I don’t think you need a vacation home if it forces you to compromise your children’s’ faith by sending them to public school.”

Me: (showing a little anger now) “I didn’t say anything about a vacation home! We use to live in Michigan and our house there will not sell and it has been on the market for six years. We built it for $170,000 and we are trying to sell it for $125,000 now and it just won’t sell!”

Jack: “Oh, I just turn those things over to the Lord and he takes care of it. Have you done that? I mean, I can tell you are stressed out about it. I mean, since I trusted Jesus as my savior I have never known such peace. I use to have a temper too.”

Me: “Yes Jack, I have turned it over to the Lord. I’m been on my knees every night with my wife for six years praying for that house. I walk in the park every evening for a hour praying for that house. For a while I fasted one day a week to pray for that house to sell.”

Jack: “Well, I’ll pray for you. I’m a man of faith and amazing things happen when I pray. One of my disciples was really sick and even the doctors at Mayo couldn’t help him. But then they called me. I prayed for him one night and he was better the next day. A real miracle and I give God all the credit.”

Me: (being sarcastic, but Jack not realizing it) “Good idea Jack. Pray for my house to sell. That would be wonderful . . . praise the Lord.”


Onward, Forward, Toward… said...

Interesting observations. In many churches, the members have such low self-esteem in the name of humility that the only way they know how to raise their self-esteem is to lower someone else's self-esteem.

In reference to insecurity, that was also practiced because insecurity was easily seen as not believing in 'eternal security' or 'once-saved-always saved' and also kept a person constantly on the 'alert' to 'quickly repent' for every sin as fast as they could in fear of missing the rapture.

Renee said...

What a frustrating story! It was a good example of the point you were trying to make. I've had this happen to me in the past, and it left me feeling bummed out and a little discouraged to share with some of my believing friends.

Anonymous said...

I just have to say...your blog is SO good. So good. I found it accidentally (can't even remember how),

I so relate, in so many, oh, say, about a million different ways. And this post... Oh. How many of these exact conversations have I had? They are so head-bangingly frustrating. (Worse part is, up until about three years ago, I was the evangelical pastor's wife that no one outside the evang-ghetto could have a conversation with).

Thanks. Keep it up. You are fantastic.


MJ said...

Yeah Renee, I guess we all have those stories. I hope that your generation is more gracious than mine was.

MJ said...

Thanks adventuresinmercy. I'm glad that it is something you can relate to. Sometimes I feel like the Will Smith character sitting on the edge of the dock in NYC in the movie "I am Legend" shouting, into radio transmitter "Broadcasting on all frequencies . . . is anyone out there???"

I think the most difficult position in the world would be being a Pastor, or Pastor's family in an Evangelical church. The pressure on everyone, especially the poor kids. would be overwhelming. We were missionaries and ran into the "You must be perfect according to our standard of perfection" only when we were in the states. Even that almost made me go nuts. But I was still an evangelical then and I thought I was called to please every Christian (and not make the "weaker brother stumble." What a yoke.

Anonymous said...

I think the most difficult position in the world would be being a Pastor, or Pastor's family in an Evangelical church. The pressure on everyone, especially the poor kids. would be overwhelming. -- JMJ

It is. My writing partner is a burned-out country pastor. If it wasn't for his writing and out-of-pastoral lifelines like me, you would have probably heard about him on the news. (My Little Ponies and space-opera Goth Ferrets can be a lifesaver under the proper circumstances.)

So far, his three sons seem to be doing OK, but I've heard horror stories about Preachers' Kids (including one who single-handedly killed one YahooGroup I used to be on). A lot of PK's crack under the strain, and they crack in one of two ways: Either they rebel into atheism/paganism/hedonism in a "Take Your God and Shove It!" reaction, or they succumb entirely and become More Holy/Rigid/Legalistic Than Thou. The one who killed that YahooGroup took the second route and became the resident Fred Phelps (except it was Evolution instead of Homosexuality that triggered the psychotic breaks).

-- Headless Unicorn Guy
(Frequent Commenter Ken for the Onward/Forward/Toward guy)