Thursday, February 25, 2010

One More Rant about Being a Phony - Peeling Back the Over-lays

When I speak of overlays, I can quickly come up with two examples. With each one, Holden would call the participants (including myself) phonies. Solomon would say that it is all smoke and mirrors and chasing after the wind.

I will use myself as the first example. I know that I already talked about this in a previous posting, but it was about my invitation to come to Haiti and help with earthquake relief. I work with a disaster relief organization and I got the call within hours of the quake. I eventually gave up my slot on the initial team to a friend, Eric, who had better skills (he has worked 20 years in trauma medicine and he had just been in Haiti a few months ago). I really thought he was a better team member than me. I had an invitation to join a second team, but I turned that one down too because it was the same week I was going to Minneapolis to see my new (and first) grandson for the very first time.

But, pulling away the over lays and speaking very candidly, it was very tempting to go on the first team. The old Evangelical Mike would have. He would have convinced himself that was what God wanted him to do. But, if I really care for the Haiti people, and only 12 people could be on the team, then Eric would be in a much better position to save a life than I would. If it had been an Arabic speaking country, then I would have gone due to my language and cultural knowledge.

But the reason that going to Haiti was so tempting, and the old Mike would have gone, is for the glory. Even in the very best of situations, being a missionary, or doing relief work is motivated in a large part by the glory. I’ve struggled with jealously too as Eric was interviewed on a national radio program and is a cover story on one of our national medical journals. I wanted to be that hero. I wanted the photos to be of me holding the sick baby.

The old Mike would have gone and then done a speaking tour of local churches. I would show my slides and talk of miracles. How God spared the life of one baby or one man (with a thin veil over the point that it was really me who had save that person). I would look over look the fact (if I really believed that God did this . . . which I don’t) that 250,000 men women and children died horrible deaths. If it came up, I would figure out somehow to blame the victims like Pat Robertson (to get God off the hook). Yeah. . . I know Holden, a pure phony.

Solomon would say that all great works of charity are chasing after the wind. That people do it for glory and when the bands stop playing, they are alone again with their miserable selves. Did you read Mother Teresa’s letters of doubt that were found after her death? Now I want to make it clear that the reason I didn’t go to Haiti wasn’t because I didn’t have the right motives. None of us have ever done a single out of pure motives. Maybe 10% is for altruistic reasons. But it doesn’t matter what the motives are . . . good can come out of bad.

Then, my next example is about church (with a small c). I recently heard two different pastors say that the solution to particular problems (one pastor was talking about the dysfunctional family and I think the other one was talking about being happy) was being very involved with a local church. But I want to remove the overlay of their motives. I’m not saying this as a cruel, cynical church hater. I've gone to church faithfully my entire life. I’m not speaking from the same mind set as Gene Edwards, whose books I used to read and sermons I use to listen to. He was a great house church proponent. I, in my searching, visited one of his house churches in Denver. He hated the organized church. But it didn’t take me long to realize that he was a self promoting, narcissistic man with his own agenda and his house churches were quickly becoming cults. But he said he would love to see every organized church in America burned to the ground. I’m not saying anything like that. All I am saying is that we are all phonies, because of the Fall. We all do things for impure motives. We don’t need to stop doing them. We can’t stop living (which I think is what Holden wanted to do . . . you know, “Throw my dead body in the river” thinking). No, I’m saying us keep going to church. Let’s keep doing humanitarian work but us do it honestly.

Back to the two pastors points about “getting involved in the church.” Maybe a little motive-deconstruction is due.

Denise accuses me of passing judgement on other peoples’s motives and that I should not do that because there is no way for me to know. I agree in part. Yet, I as a fellow-fallen-human, do have some credibility for passing judgement. The reason is that I think we are all made of the same stuff and I often am deconstructing my own motives.

So for the pastors who tell people that the answer to their problems is to be move involved in the local church is the same motive (in a large part) as the owner of a Walmart telling people in the community that the answer to their economic problems is to shop at Walmart, or the president of a particular University tells people that the answer to their life-goal, or education problems is to come to their college. The reason? If everyone left the local church, that pastor would no longer have a career or a reputation. A successful church also reflects very personally on the pastor’s own self-esteem. Now every single pastor wraps this call to come to church in obscure scriptures trying to turn it into a new command, “Thou shalt get in involved with the local church programs or God will be really disappointed in you.” I think they call that spiritual manipulation.

If you really boil it down, I think that the motive why most people go to church is for penitence. We go to; a.) please our co-church goers (making them think we are decent people), b.) to make ourselves think that we are more pleasing God. A secondary motive is to socialize with our friends and to be part of a social network in the same spirit as someone belonging to the Kiwanis or Rotary clubs. These are not evil motives. But they are honest motives. Wouldn’t it be great to go to church because the community there encourages us and we support each other there? I know that does happen, rarely, in some churches. It would be fine to go and to learn more about scripture, but not in the context of a “service” that suppose to please God as an act of penitence. And who came up with the idea that if you are not “learning” something new every Sunday that you are not in touch with God. When you first become a Christian, there is lots to learn. But when you’ve been a Christian for decades, I think it is crazy to expect to hear a lecture Sunday after Sunday and you suppose to take home something new each time.

I missed church completely last Sunday, which the once or twice I will do so this year. I had planned on going to the Presbyterian Church’s early service. However, Denise has a cold and coughed a good part of the night, keeping me awake. Then she got up at 6 AM to go to work. I finally fell asleep after she left for work and I did not wake up until 9:30 when Ramsey was yelling at me, “Aren’t you going to church?”

So I did the real Sabbath thing of resting. I sat in the hot tub and read. Then I went out for coffee. It was a wonderful restful day and far more Biblical than how I spend most Sundays. However, despite my deep views about church etc., I felt very guilty being home. “Going to church” has been embedded into my brain from my Bible-belt youth.

I know this is getting long but I have not posted in a while. There is one more example where I would like to peel back the overylays and deconstruct some motives when it comes to church.

When I was involved with the Navigators as an under graduate there was a gradual moving away from the local church (for a while). The reason was, we realized that we were doing a lot more learning and encouraging each other in our Navigator group than what was happening at the local church.

A few Navigator staff people in our area started to discourage people from getting involved with the local church because the local church seem to only be a distraction (asking people to give to pave the parking lot, come several nights a week to sing in the choir and etc.).

But then one day a team came out from Nav headquarters and met with the regional staff. The order from headquarters is for all staff to get very involved with the local church (becoming elders, deacons and etc.). I could share with you pages of spiritual “reasons” given by those staff. But (and I remember this conversation well) the true, honest reason whispered to me . . . it was money. The headquarters were fearful that if they alienated local churches (and there were some pastors writing negative things about the Navigators at the time because they were pulling back from the local church) that a lot, and hell of a lot, of money would dry up. The Navs figured that a huge proportion of their donor income came from churches (either directly or from members). The Navs then, in response, created a department just for connecting with the local church. They gave spiritual reasons for those connections “God has always worked through the local church and we want to be part of what God is doing.” But the real reason was $$$$$$.

If you don’t know me, you will think I’m being harsh at the Navigators. I am not . . . at least not selectively. I, like Holden or maybe Solomon, am saying that this type of fake motives is the norm for all of us and no Christian or Christian group is exempt. This is how we function in life, including our Christian endeavors. I’m not saying that those who have imperfect motives are the bad guys and I’m a good guy. Good heavens no! I’m saying we are all bad guys (due to the Fall) but we are all completely forgiven. I’m also not saying, like Holden, that it is all worthless and that everyone is a sonofabitch. No. I’m just saying that we should attempt to live more honestly. Let’s go to church Sunday morning but us be honest about why we are going. Let’s go to earthquake areas but don’t pretend that it is all spiritual.

I had a good friend who died last year. His son, who is about 19, has left the church. His mom said that her son said that he left the church because he just “wanted to know the truth and he was tired of being lied to.” She rolled her eyes when she told me. But I have deep respect for him. I know exactly what he is saying. He has seen beneath the overlays. He knows that much of what we do is pretend. The real God loves truth. That’s why I believe that we keep on pretending that people will continue leaving and getting hurt.


E. A. Harvey said...

I'm struggling with this concept in my own life-- to not be a phony, to be honest about my motives, to let my actions and words match up with my heart (ugly as it may be). Last week our sermon was on lying and how, if we are to be people of integrity, we have to be the same inside and out--whole and truthful. What we think on the inside and what we do on the outside need to match up. Then the pastor used the example of those who say they support their church body but then criticize the leadership of the church out in the parking lot. It kind of felt like your examples-- was the goal really to encourage people to have integrity or was the goal to guilt the people who have been bringing up valid, constructive criticism? As you mention, we can't know the true motives, but it certainly felt like the latter-- a convenient way to shut people up, removing any differing opinions.

My conclusion from that sermon was that if I was to have integrity and be honest inside and out, I either needed to stop being critical or stop going to that church. And that's the dilemma my husband and I have been having for some time. We are honest and say that we continue to go that church for the friendships and the socializing with people who are important to us, and that continues to be enough motivation to go.

Thanks for your post. Funny how other people in the world seem to be thinking the same things I'm thinking at the same time I'm thinking them. (Side note-- my hubby leaves for Haiti tomorrow with a medical team. Uncanny.)

PRS & ALS said...

Love what you had to say. I've been pondering this very issue for several years. It has made me think about why I do things, like work at a local food bank or attend church. It has made me want to stop doing those things until my motives are "pure". But, realizing that my motives will never be truly "pure" I just try to keep doing what I feel most genuinely connects with who I am on the inside, which is hard to determine much of the time. Or sometimes I go to a particular church to be with my husband who likes going there.

One area that has always bothered me is that of "friendship evalngelism". I am going to be your friend so I can convert you to Christianity. That always seemed so phony to me. I try to just be friends with people, although my evangelical upbringing still haunts my mind and I hope that I can be instrumental in seeing a person come to know Christ. I was surprised and saddened by my internal response though when a person I felt I should connect with turned out to be a Christian already and so "it didn't count" and I wouldn't get a notch on my belt. How sad is that.

Also, a word about church attendance solving the dysfunctional family problem: I came from a family where we attended church every time the doors were open. My parents held many offices in the local church and on the denomination's district. And at home there was sexual abuse going on. Hm! That didn't work, did it?

Thank you for your thoughts on this topic.

MJ said...

E.A., I agree. And again, the only reason is that I know that others can use words to manipulate people . . . is because I know that I have and do the same.

In the two years that I served as an elder, I only saw anyone question the pastor once, over something very trivial. The pastor reacted in rage and accused all of us of not supporting the pastor the way "God wanted us to." I'm sorry but we are all made of the same stuff.

I do understand how frustrating it is to be a pastor, especially when you have critics no matter what you do. I know that I could never be a pastor because my skin is too thin.

MJ said...

Interesting PRS. I too remember being pounded into our heads years ago that if you don't do something with pure motives, God would not reward (or actually punish). I can remember a gal on campus returning her entire 2 week pay check to her boss (after working like a dog in res truant) because she had not been working with the right motives.

I hear you too about the evangelism target. I think I've been witnessed to twice (as a Christian) and both times it was so phony and corny that it gave me the willies. I hope that I've never done that but I sure I have.

The same applies to fund raising. I had to raise support as a missionary. We were taught to view every person (Christian or not) as a potential donor. So I was much more friendly to people when I needed their money. I've also had distant Christian friends suddenly take an interest in me . . . only to find out later that they were eventually asking me for financial support. I just they could have said right up front, "Hey, I would like to go on a hike with you because I'm going on a missions trip and need you to give me some money" than them saying, "want to hang out or go on a hike," then to surprise me by asking for support.

Anonymous said...

It has made me want to stop doing those things until my motives are "pure". -- ALS

Take it from a perfectionist with minor nuisance OCD: Your Motives Will Never Be Pure (TM) Enough. That way lies Madness.

One area that has always bothered me is that of "friendship evalngelism". I am going to be your friend so I can convert you to Christianity. That always seemed so phony to me. -- ALS

Question, everybody. How does that differ from "I am going to make friends with you and be your friend and butter you up so you'll let me into your pants"?

In my college years (or soon after -- don't remember exactly), I remember the Christian group (Campus Crusade?) I was involved with when a Billy Graham Crusade came to town. Group leaders announced it "as a Witnessing opportunity to invite your Unsaved friends to the Crusade."

I ticked off in my mind all my friends who did NOT darken the doors of a church -- or even a "Christian Fellowship (TM)". Mostly artists, D&Ders, and other fannish types. No dice -- they'd already been Witnessed (TM) to a LOT and had developed airtight defenses. (I often wanted to invite my DM to their "Witnessing Practices" as a mark who was REALLY resistant, instead of the End-of-the-Jack-Chick-tract practice targets they really used.)

Most everyone else around me had an entirely different problem -- "Oh No! Now I'll have to make some friends among the Heathen so I can invite them to the Billy Graham Crusade and Get Them Saved!" The Q&A session that followed was almost entirely along those lines.

I told them flat-out that if they did do that, and if their mark/friend ever found out you'd made friends with them under false pretenses, he'd be justified in gunning for you. I wasn't popular.

Headless Unicorn Guy