Friday, 23 September 2016

Betraying Jesus

The Huffington Post

When I was a young woman I fell in love with a man who didn't know how to love anyone but himself. (The number of 'relationships' he's chewed through before, since... and even while we were married, bears out this reality.)

But I was young and trusting. I believed his lies. I married him.

And inevitably it ended in tears. Mine.

It was a long time ago, and I have long since found healing. The reason I mention it is because this morning I read yet another story of heartbreak and abuse in the church. The actions of the church sounded sickeningly familiar, and I wanted to shout out, "Church! Just stop hurting people!"

It seems that no matter what the specifics of the story are, the behaviours and attitudes are always the same. But as I thought about it, I realised how sharply that contrasted with my experience of dealing with aftermath of my abusive marriage.

Back then, the people at my church supported me wonderfully. They walked lovingly and patiently with me through the desolation and death of my dreams. They affirmed my feelings of pain and loss, and grieved with me. They believed me.

The love and compassion I received was life-saving (maybe even literally...)

During that time, I lamented the breaking of my trust, and nobody thought it was inappropriate that I felt betrayed. I protested my husband's abuse of me, and nobody told me to "just forgive and move on." I cried out in my pain, and nobody expected me to be pretend I wasn't hurting. I gave words to the betrayal I'd endured, and nobody tried to silence me. I told my story, and nobody shook their head and said, "There are always two sides..."

And yet, when someone stands up and says, "The church has hurt me" these things are what they can expect, and it's usually what they'll get.

The one who speaks up about the problem becomes the problem. Their cries of pain are ignored and their grievances dismissed. Submission is demanded of the one hurting, while the perpetrator is simply exonerated. The church rallies to the defence of its own reputation, at the cost of the victim's. People are shamed and silenced and shunned.

It's. Really. Not. Ok. Church, if this is the best we can do, then we're selling a lie. We're peddling power and religion, not the gospel of Jesus.

In fact, I'll say it... I believe we're betraying Jesus.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Do Leader-Driven Churches Create Passive-Agressive Christians?

In my adventures online I have noticed how poorly many christians cope when asked to dialogue with others. In my experience, many simply make their comment and seem to expect it to be accepted without response. If a reply is given, things often go one of two ways:

Either the original commenter retreats into the shadows, refusing to engage further, or to answer any questions regarding their stated position;

Or else they come out fighting at the mere hint of a differing view. Attacks are launched and accusations of not being a "real" christian abound.

Sometimes, you even get both. The attack followed by an untidy retreat to the beat of, "La la la, I can't hear you." (Maybe that's really "aggressive-passive", but I don't think that's a 'thing'...)

But it does seem that some people just expect their words to be taken as gospel and treated as sacrosanct. Of course, this happens in 'real-life' interactions too.

I suspect a lot of it might be the sheer arrogance that we humans tend to develop when we are convinced we are right. But is there more to it than that? Is it possible that the authoritarian, leader-driven churches of today, where people are expected to submit to and obey the leaders at all costs, actually create followers who cannot progress beyond a fight or flight instinct? Are some christians simply following the example that has been set for them by the leaders of their church?

The method espoused by many churches is that after a the band finishes singing, the 'leader' gets up, dispenses their truth from the pulpit, and then walks away. Here endeth the lesson!

There's no engagement after that. Questioning or challenging the assertions made is totally inconceivable, as the people are taught to trust their leaders more than they trust themselves. So naturally the 'sheep' learn to submit and let the words of the expert lull them to sleep. To do otherwise is to invite trouble (with a capital T!).

In this way, people are trained and conditioned to passively accept the 'truth' they are being sold, and to aggressively defend that truth against any hint of challenge. How could my infallible leader be wrong!? Church-goers are not taught to ask good questions, not encouraged to explore issues for themselves, and so all they can do is simply regurgitate their leader's 'answer' at the correct time, for the appropriate topic.

If it works for their leader, why shouldn't it work for them?

Of course, it gets difficult when not everyone dances to that leader's tune. And the poor unsuspecting follower, having faithfully deposited "the truth" for all to see, is blindsided by a challenge to that 'truth' because they have no resource to deal with any other opinion but their leader's. With no inner conviction beyond, "My leader says so!" they have no capacity to engage meaningfully with any understanding but the one they've been 'given'.

And so they can only attack and/or withdraw. Passivity and aggression. Fight or flight. No dialogue can be entered into for fear of pulling the whole deck of cards down around them.

Well, that's my theory, anyway. Thoughts?

Friday, 16 September 2016

Salt & Light - What Did Jesus Mean?

In Matthew 5, Jesus declared that his followers were like salt and light in the world. But what does that really mean? What does it look like to others? 


Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth."

Salt is an essential element in our life. If we don't have enough salt in our body, we can begin to experience muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. And unless some action is taken, shock, coma and death could ensue.

Conversely, too much salt in the body is equally damaging. It can lead to dehydration, organ failure and eventually death.

In culinary terms, salt is used to enhance the flavour of food. It draws out and amplifies the distinct taste of each food to which it is added. 

But adding excessive amounts of salt means that the unique flavour of that food is smothered, and the salt is all we can taste. 

Salt is necessary to our very existence, but it can also kill us. Salt enhances the taste of food, adding to the enjoyment of the flavour, but too much will mask that flavour, destroying it's distinctiveness.

As christians, are we enhancing the lives of others, or are we smothering them with our 'salt' until they lose their unique flavour?


Jesus said, "You are the light of the world."

A lamp set in a window. A light left on outside your door. The pictures those words conjure up for me are welcoming, guiding, hospitable. I think of a traveller on the road, cheered by the promise of safety and respite. I think of a friend visiting my house in the dark, and being guided to my door by the light.

But light can also be used to threaten and intimidate. How many old movies have you seen where a bright light has been used as an instrument of torture and interrogation. Can you picture the scene where the villain sits in a darkened room, shining the light into the hero's eyes, intent on forcing information from them. Or what about the scene where light is used to inflict sleep deprivation so that the victim becomes so delirious they are susceptible to brainwashing and control.

Depending on its use, light can be a welcoming guide, or an instrument of power and domination.

Is our light warm and invitational - offering sanctuary and rest? Or are we using it to control the behaviour of others?

I've seen a lot of unloving behaviour justified in the name of "being salt and light to the world". As those elements can both be used in ways that inflict harm, maybe it was true. But maybe that's not quite what Jesus meant...