Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Back Through The Looking Glass . . . Once Again

This will be of those difficult post, like I use to do. The feelings are as real as any feelings can be, but the words to describe them are allusive.

Us, post-evangelicals, are a lonely bunch.  We fit (speaking for myself) better in non-Christian groups than within evangelical ones . . . but to a point. We also find an impasse with the non-Christians eventually.

I've struggled on how to place my hand. I found comfort within a mainline church but out in the periphery.  There is constant calling for those needing warm bodies for all the programs for me to become more involved. But to do so would eventually mean a nasty conflict of cultures.  I choose my involvement carefully, mostly where the exchange of ideas would be limited, such as manual labor or work projects.

My wife and I made the decision to become part of a small group.  We knew we needed a platform on which to nurture relationships better.  It was a real "small" group with only five of us at max. Then one of the other individuals dropped out leaving it as two couples.  We enjoyed the group very much.  Of course we didn't see eye-to-eye with everything as no two people do. The other couple were thinkers and had been around LAbri. The major disagreement (which was almost never an issue) is that the other man considered himself an intellectual-charismatic.  So, when I hear the word "charismatic" I get a cold chill up my spine as I've been there, done that and it was ugly in my experience.  But, he never made an issue of it or even spoke in tongues during our group time.

Then our group was combined with a much larger group of about 15 people.  Suddenly, like boarding a time machine, I'm plucked back to my early evangelical days.

Here is where wording is difficult.  I hate this new group.  I do like the people and I think they are fine people, but when they are put together, like putting nuclear fuel rods together, an energy is created that is ugly (in my humble opinion).  I mean, standing in the kitchen eating cake and talking one on one is great. Like I said, they are fine people . .  probably much better people that I am. But when they enter the living room and take up their Bibles something dramatic happens and they warp into someone totally different.

I will try to describe what I feel but I know I will get it wrong.  In the Bible study a couple of verses are read then people start to share about that verse.  I sense I'm at a puppet show where the characters on stage are not real but the real operators are behind the curtain.  First of all, the speaker shares a short speech and then another shares a short speech. Several of the group are big talkers. But the 'speeches" are so stereotypical evangelical that I know exactly the words the person is going to say before their mouths open.  It appears to me that each person (working the puppet) is trying to give the illusion that God is great but what they are really want to communicate is that they, the person behind the curtain, is great.  Each one seems to be desperate to unveil their great spiritual attributes. I also sense a desperate effort to conform to evangelical mores of speech, which of course is trying to say that God is great. No one can argue with that so that seals the deal on the comment.  This is exactly why a ISIL fighter screams "God is Great" when he fires a mortar into a school.  Who can argue with him about his moral actions. Of course we can but not his peers because he punctuates his actions with the undeniable statement.

So here is an example.  A verse is read that says that there should be no immoral deeds among you and then there is a pause.

The first person tells a story about how people around them at work were cursing and using God's name in vain and how that grieved them so much because they (the speaker) have such heart for God. But then, over time, that person (who was "swearing") saw how the (speaker) was reacting to difficulties, by praying and not cursing God so they eventually stopped swearing.  They even invited that swearer to church.

Then the next person adds another long story along the same lines that communicates that they were a saint and the nasty non-Christians around them were bad people. But they always smile and then say at the end, "God is great isn't he?"  Which of course the whole group smiles and gives them positive reinforcement that what they just said was wonderful. Then there is the constant suggestion of supernatural miracles around them . . . puny stuff . . . not real miracles, as if we need miracles.

I, at that time, feel like my head is about to cave in from lack of content.

Again, these are good people but are only following the norms of evangelical "Bible study."

I finally spoke up when I kept hearing that we Christians have our act together because, unlike the evil non-Christians, we study the Bible, which purifies us.  I said that this concept of "godliness" is a myth because we, in my old days, studied the Bible non-stop and thought we were the most godly people on the planet . . . but then did awful things to one another, hateful things.  My comment was met with stares.  I forgot to end it with a big smile and say, "God is great isn't he?"

So, I don't know what we are going to do.  If there was a silver lining to this, it was on the way home in the car.  My wife, who previously wouldn't have seen a problem with such a "discussion" commented that the discussion made her feel physically ill and totally unsatisfying. I think I've rubbed off on her over these years.

But I'm not sure where this leaves us. Do we sit week after week tolerating the "God did this miracle and that miracle and I'm such a good Christian" talk just so we can have friends?  Is the trade off worth it?  My thoughts are trying to create a new small group.  I just don't know how many people I could find in the Church (a very good church in comparison) that has not drank from the Kool Aid bowl.  I just don't know. Being a Christian who is no longer an evangelical is a lonely place without an address.


Trevor Morgan said...

Wish I knew what to suggest. Your small group sounds a little like the Stepford Wives.

Part of the problem is that most people are very, very good at picking up social cues and acting in a way appropriate to the given group. But that can be very challenging for those who can't/won't conform. My excuse is that I have Aspergers, so I find it very difficult to pick up on the unspoken conventions of a particular group. But this can be a strength as well: it means I can see patterns and contradictions that others might miss. So it makes me a good software developer, even if it makes me a poor conversationalist.

I hope you find your answers. Personally I appreciate reading your thoughts and insights, even if those around you don't understand them.

Hope T. said...

What about friendships with people who are not Christians or who are different types of Christians (eg. Catholic or Orthodox)? It seems like you would be much freer to be yourself and have a free exchange of ideas if you were not constrained by the old, tired standards of speech and behavior.

abmo said...

I think, if possible, form a new small group which is not bible study orientated. One who has discipleship as way of life.

The idea is to share lives and to love as Jesus loved, not talk excessively about everything christian.

I would also hate your current group. I cannot stand the one-sided reporting of all things wonderful and happy. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we cannot talk about Jesus in the darkness and struggle. It is after all about Him and not so much about us.

Perhaps its just me.

Perhaps you can give Wayne Jacobson a call or e-mail him and ask if he knows any small fellowships in your area? Perhaps he can find out.

Or you can emigrate. Come to South Africa. We always need docters. You can be our next door neighbour and we can share life and have lots of discussions, especially over a bottle of good red wine :-)


j. Michael Jones said...

Trevor, I get what you are saying. It is like watching a bad movie and you want to scream "Isn't anyone else getting what's going on here?" Speaking of movies, it also reminds me of a scene from the movie Revolutionary Road where the crazy son from the mental institution is the only one who sees what is going on around him (in a pretend perfect world of the 1950s) and shouts to them something like, "All of you are the real nuts!"

j. Michael Jones said...

Hope, I'm sure there are such people around. But I live on an island . . . literary. I know of one Orthodox person on our island. There are Catholics but I don't know them very well. Going to the Catholic church is not an option. Switching from a very evangelical church to the mainline church I go to now was very traumatic to our marriage (my wife stayed at the old church for three years). We are in a land that is sharply divided between the pantheistic new-agers and the evangelicals with not much daylight in between. I still think my best bet is with the church community I'm in now (it is a very large church) but finding the right niche. We have a lot of retired professor-types in our church.

j. Michael Jones said...

Abmo, I think you are right. I do have a small group that meets at our house to watch movies and to discuss them. It is from my same church but is a totally different experience. I think when you put a Bible in someone's hand in a big meeting, they transform into something that no one can really be.

Johan said...

I'm now at the anglican church for more than a year, even did confirmation, and it is great: the sacraments, good hymns, and sermons with some good thoughts in them (and some literary allusions even). But I'm not going to attend a small group at the church. For the reasons you stated. I fear I will be too much of an outlier, a doubter, a thinker, to find a home there as myself, with my issues (due to growing up in a spiritually abusive church and too much friction with evangelical or fundamentalist expressions of faith). Yes, it is a lonely walk. But for me, i have found one or two friends on the same journey, and have regular talks with them on faith, doubt and love. And my wife is on the same journey and a great sparring partner.
I hope you will find those people who can speak to you and with you where you are, and do not lose too much energy on those who suck you dry or do not understand you. Something to do with pearls and swines ... I think you need your energy (spiritual, mental and otherwise) enough in your busy daily life, and if this group is another energy drain, I would not continue if I were you...


Virginia said...

I totally understand the challenges that you face. I am LGBT and love God very much but do not attend any church for some reasons you have said. But 3 years ago a friend and I started a small group heart circle for "prayer", meditation and Honest sharing. This has been quite successful in that we now have 15 people who are really honest about our challenges, as well as the reliance on God to be with us.
Thank you for your very real post.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Sounds like Groupthink gone seriously sour. (There's a rule-of-thumb that when a group reaches 80% commonality in beliefs/thoughts/attitudes, they close ranks and purge the remaining 20%. Beware thou of the mutant.)

At least your wife seems to be coming around; I remember when you switched churches and she was so emotionally invested in the old one she kept embodying all that you were running from.

I'd keep going with them one-on-one; it's only when they reach critical mass that the Groupthink sets in. (I wonder if that's because they are afraid the others will attack them for not being Really Christian, so they duckspeak a front.)

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

We are in a land that is sharply divided between the pantheistic new-agers and the evangelicals with not much daylight in between.

Each trying to be more extreme than the other to establish their tribal identity as Not The Other.

Until they and their belief systems become funhouse-mirror opposites like Ayn Rand and Josef Stalin. Identical beneath the surface.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

I do have a small group that meets at our house to watch movies and to discuss them. It is from my same church but is a totally different experience. I think when you put a Bible in someone's hand in a big meeting, they transform into something that no one can really be.

At which point, the other-directed Public Persona takes over and they start playing an expected role. In this example, the Uber Spiritual Christian.

Possibly it's because what's expected of them. Or it's because of fear -- chickens pecking the defective to death in the barnyard if the defective is "different".

P.S. See you're back to posting. Job stress/crazy pace slack off a bit?