Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited --An Epilogue

So, I went by the big, stone cathedral. I admired the architectural beauty of the building, the deep hums of the pipe organ. I listened careful to the words.  I wanted to make sure that I wasn't hearing the empty words of the pantheist dressed up in Christian robes.  In this cathedral, I heard the simple words of scriptures and nothing else.  I felt it was a safe place to enjoy God without being caught in the webs of a purpose, which usually meant the pastor's personal search for meaning.  I still hungered for God, intensely.  I felt that this would be a good home.

Pastor Fisher's emails kept coming. "We need to meet. I am giving you this opportunity to be discipled by me.  You can't pass this chance up to be the man God wants you to be."

I knew that he had not heard a word I had said, how I had been discipled for a decade by the best. That didn't make me the man God wanted me to be, but a brainwashed puppet . . . which became a disillusioned puppet.

"Thanks pastor for the offer.  I've been doing some soul searching and I think I am finally where I need to be and I will pass on the offer."

He responded, "That really grieves me . . .  and the Lord. There is nothing that God wants more than for me to disciple you."

"Pastor Fisher, no disrespect, but for the first time in my life I think I am hearing God's words clearly, and He is telling me something very differently. So, I don't think the voice you heard is from God."

He replied, "I am your pastor. God has put me over you in his kingdom. God works through His church and He speaks to his people through his pastors and teachers.  I discern that there is something dark in that voice you are hearing."

I decided to drop the argument . . . but I couldn't drop the opportunity to explain my departure.  "You see Pastor Fisher, while I'm deeply grateful for this past year at your church and the help that you have given me, I feel led by God to go to the big, stone Cathedral."


"For what?"

"I'm your pastor and I say meet me."

"You sound angry?"


"I don't like that tone of voice. I've made my decision and I will go to the stone cathedral."

A week later I came home from the Charles Schwab office and noticed two cars in my mom's driveway.  I came in the door and there sat pastor Fisher and two church elders.  Mom was in the kitchen whistling and baking cookies.

"Uh . . . hello."

Pastor Fisher spoke, "We called your mother and voiced our deep concern about you. She invited us here for cookies."

I sat in my dad's old chair, loosened my tie.  I wanted to walk out and run away.  "Pastor, I have nothing to talk about and I don't think you are here for just cookies."

Pastor Fisher looked at the elders and back at me, "This is a matter of serious concern.  Once you have had these fine men lay hands on you and welcome you into membership, you can't, out of the flesh, just walk away. What God has done, man can no undo."

I sat and imagined I was laying in the grass somewhere, looking up at the clouds, waiting for this to pass.

"So, we are not releasing you from this church, but we do have a discipline for you. God has spoken loudly to us that you have dined with the devil.  Anyone who would want to leave the fellowship of God's people and then turn away and want to go to the big, stone cathedral . . . well, it is a clear sign that Satan is at work."


"Excuse me!  Your pastor has the floor!  We will allow you to continue with us be we have serious concerns about your soul.  I have a list of 27 sins I've observed in your life. I will read them and then we will discuss repentance. Sin 1 You did not come to our work day when we painted the parsonage. That is a sign you are lazy. Sin 2 You have not been giving 10% of your money to the church. Sin 3  - -- ---- -- - --- --- - --------  --------- --- - ------ ---------- ---------- ---- -- ------- ---- -- -- - ------- -- - ------ - - - --- - ----- ------ - -    "

I was feeling a deep pain in my soul when I felt the arm of Sophia around my shoulder.  "He's scared.  His church is declining and the district leaders are on his case about that.  He feels that he has no value when his church is not growing.  He is very angry at you for threatening his feeling of value.  He will find rest someday.  But don't let this discourage you.  God is always welcoming when you seek him with a pure heart."


trevor said...

Finally got round to reading this series. Interesting approach.

To what extent are these stories caricatures? Every time I read your articles about abusive church leadership, I'm amazed that it could get so bad. I guess that while I've seen plenty of examples of dysfunctional leadership I've never personally witnessed the extremes you talk about.

I wonder if some environments or cultures are more vulnerable to this kind of toxic situation developing? I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on the types of environments that are conducive to spiritual abuse, as well as the types of people that are vulnerable to engaging in it.

jmj said...

This is a collection of stories from various sources . . . some fictionalized, some pure fiction. The college ministry guy being walk in on by a trainee in bed with a woman was almost verbatim . . . The Linda story was about 98% true (not about the church) and was a friend of mine, who was a Christian, but whose Olympic wife ran off right after the games.

The Epilogue was the only one taken from my personal life experience and I had to fictionalize it a bit, to tone down the story to make it more believable.

I think spiritual abuse is around us, just like spousal abuse. The majority of the victims are caught up in it so much that they don't recognize it. I don't know if that answers your question.

I've seen people in "authority" roles manipulating those beneath them as a common experience. It is part of human nature to control and use other people. We have to have the honesty to recognize it in ourselves and to avoid it at all cost. People have tremendous value.

trevor said...

Maybe it's time for a series on healthy alternatives to the sort of environments that allow this type of abuse to flourish?

For example, it seems from your writing that unquestioning obedience to authority is a risk factor. Another common trait you talk about is the 'compartmentalization' of different parts of our lives, for example the guy who preaches about commitment and discipline and yet is having an affair.

What are the alternatives? What are healthy ways to structure our lives, or our companies, or our churches, so that this type of behaviour is less likely?

Anonymous said...

I think a big step (and this is why I think this issue is so connected with the "Dualism Vs Monism" issue, is first acknowledge that we are human, with human emotions and faults. That psychology is real. That we are fallen. Thus, we should not trust others (blindly) nor ourselves (emotional honesty). This isn't a defeatist view but one of honest reality.

When we see the spiritual realm as far more important than the physical (which God also made) then the spiritual trumps the rational or the spiritual trumps the obvious.

I remember us "disciples" scrubbing and cleaning our parachurch group's staff house, his car, mowing his yard, etc., being told that this is what Jesus wanted us to do. At the same time our rationality (and Sophia in this case) were screaming that Jesus didn't behave this way. Jesus was the one washing the feet of His disciples. But when someone convinces you that God told them such and such, it is good to doubt them.

The monist guy but from a different computer.

Anonymous said...

Back when I was hanging around Charismatics/Pentecostals, the question they'd always ask was "What Gift of the Spirit do you want?"

The usual answer was a variation of "Tongues, Tongues, Tongues, Tongues, or Tongues."

I always answered "Wisdom" ("Sophia" in Greek), since Wisdom is the command control over all the others, telling you when to use them and (more important) when NOT to.

Headless Unicorn Guy