When Church Hurts: Advice that’s helping me

Hiding behind masks

THE classic accusation levelled at churches is that they're “full of hypocrites” – meaning, presumably, people who say one thing but do another. “Hypocrite”, as I recall, relates to wearing a mask, like Greek actors used to. It was their job to deceive and to hide their real selves away.

Well, I'd agree that churches are certainly full of imperfect people. They're either people who don't know Christ or people who do and are on the journey of becoming like Him. Either way, flawed and fallible is the order of the day. Some of that fallibility results in mask-wearing and the aforementioned hypocrisy. So maybe the accusation is at least partly valid. God's idea was that as He works in and through these flawed, but surrendered people, others get to see His glory, love and power – and that they, in turn, get themselves right with Him.

As Christians we don't like to admit that sometimes this doesn't happen. That Christians let each other down. And, specifically, sometimes those in charge of our churches hurt us big time because their fallibility and mask-wearing clouds their judgement and drowns out God's truth.

We don't like it but it happens. It recently happened to me and my wife.

The details don't matter. What matters is that we ended up in a place of rejection; a place of fear, anger and uncertainty. Unfortunately we won't be the last, so I hope some of what I write here might help others on the road to recovery.

Repent

God has led us, at least for now, to a new congregation. Those in charge have given us a warm and understanding welcome – along with some simple advice. I like lists so here's the 1-2-3:

  1. Take time. It's the worst kind of cliché to say that time's a great healer, and by itself it does seem a bit of cold comfort. But as an exhortation not to be impatient and to have hope, especially where God's in the picture, it's a sound part of the strategy. We've already been on this journey for months and I expect it may be months more before I feel free(ish) of resentment and insecurity.
  2. Pray; forgive; repent. We were urged to bring it all before God and to ask Him who and what we need to forgive. That much I suppose is obvious. Slightly less obvious is that it may not be a one-off exercise, requiring repetition at intervals. Even less obvious is asking the Lord what I need to repent of and ask for forgiveness for. I am not 100% innocent, and in your hurtful situation neither are you.
  3. Don't push against a closed door. Step 2 is between me and God. The people responsible aren't involved. Forgiving them before God changes me; asking God for forgiveness changes me. It may feel like they hold the key to moving on, but if they're unavailable or unwilling that'd leave me stuck. That means I mustn't rely on a face to face reconciliation. Maybe that'll come in time (dang it, there's that time stuff again) but if I can't face talking to them, or my approaches are rebuffed, it's OK.

And that's all there is to it 🙂 Oh, and walking with Jesus day by day. And resisting the Devil. And let's not forget staying connected with His people (or at least some of His people, somewhere or other). Do all that and we'll emerge stronger, one day. God promises it.

P.S. I also recommend tea. Tea is good.

 

Grasshopper Reader: Quit just reading the titles!

Grasshopper

Beware the Grasshopper Reader!

I blame the Internet. In the days when the only time you heard the word “online” was when Scotty informed Captain Kirk that the warp drive wouldn't be back online for another twenty minutes (only to be told that he had no more than ten, to which he calmly replied that he'd see what he could do but that he canna change the laws of physics, but you knew, just knew, he'd have those crystals humming again in a little over nine minutes…erm, sorry, carried away…), my reading was mostly front to back. Books – start at page 1 (or maybe page “i” if it had those odd pre-pages before the actual pages) and read to the end. Magazines – such as Railway Modeller, Record Mirror or (its much cooler, hardcore successor) Sounds – generally front to back. Even newspapers – be it the Wigan Observer or the mostly tedious Methodist Recorder – generally got the “serial access” treatment, i.e. one page / story after another, even if I did skip over the reports from the WI and the latest scores from the village cricket team.

Scotty

Today if the bookshelf and magazine rack holds no allure we're spoilt with literally endless reading options on the Web. (Well, maybe not literally endless. Not even Google could index an infinite Web.) I currently have two favourite sources, neither of which, I'm ashamed to say, is the BBC News site, although I do drop in there occasionally. No. For me it's Twitter and, of course, WordPress.

 

There's good stuff on other people's blogs. I have a “Reader” which presents me with updates from blogs I've followed and the editors' suggestions of others worth a look. Twitter similarly offers links to stuff worth reading, or viewing, or mulling on, or just laughing at.

One is obliged, of course, to be selective. I am not wracked with guilt at the fact that I don't read everything dangled in front of my digital nose. What I have realised, however, is a very postmodern tendency for me to skim, and skim…and skim…and hardly ever click through and read what will, in all likelihood, be a relatively short piece anyway. Rather, I hear myself thinking, “That might be interesting but I'll scroll a bit more in case there's something more interesting further down.” Then I do the same thing at the next title and synopsis. And again. And again.

You'll have heard, no doubt, of the grasshopper mind – one that can't stay focused for any length of time. I, it seems, am in danger of becoming a Grasshopper Reader – always skimming, scrolling, checking out what's on offer – but missing out on most of it for fear of missing the really great article that might be just a click (or swipe of the finger) away on the next screen.

So, I confess. And I repent.

I need to change my mind and change my habit. Better to read, enjoy and interact with some of the universe of online reading than none of it. Ditch the postmodern fear of choosing in case something better comes along. Click. And read. As I hope you'll do when next you see links to my posts. After all, if we were all Gasshopper Readers nobody would ever read anything.

 

Bat Out of Hell: Why Meatloaf got his theology wrong

Bat out of hell album cover

I hadn’t heard Bat Out of Hell for several years until a recent gig by The Classic Rock Show. Jim Steinman’s famous title track from the 1977 album is over-long and frankly a bit self-indulgent, but nevertheless contains some beautiful guitar licks and some archetypal classic rock moments.

Many have questioned the dubious morality of Steinman’s lyrics, speaking here, as on other tracks, of one-night stands and the like. Indeed, this 80s Christian book convinced me to trash my vinyl copy of BOOH, along with several others. (Not sure I’d do the same now, although I do accept that some lyrics, and artists, can be a less than healthy influence.) But it’s not Mr Loaf’s moral standards I want to draw to your attention, but rather his appallingly slapdash theology.

Where, for a start, do you find any suggestion in scripture that there are bats, or come to think of it, any other flying mammals, in hell? As far as I can see, hell (and its ultimate upgrade, the lake of fire) is reserved for “the Devil and his angels”. Oh, and any unrepentant sinner who refuses to accept Jesus Christ as saviour.

Secondly, the inference is that, where there to be such visually-challenged, roof-dwelling rodents in hell, they would somehow have the option of leaving. Er, no. When you’re in, you’re in. One way. It’s an eternity thing. Nobody and nothing is an anything out of hell.

Frantic

Thirdly, and finally, my take is that the whole lyrical purpose of the image is to imply an exit at great speed. Supposing, for a moment, that the bat was given day release, on what basis has Meatloaf decided that the flight would be frantic, lightning-fast or at least fairly rapid? Where’s the empirical evidence or the theoretical analysis? For all we know the Lord may have designed the eternal lake of fire to have a massive gravitational pull, thus rendering escape barely possible, let alone feasible at high speed. See my problem?

Sorry, Jim. It just doesn’t stack up. But, hey, it’s a long time ago and I’m sure you’ll not make the same mistake again. Just don’t make the even bigger mistake of ending up there to prove it for yourself. Oh, and for the record, sinners who reach the gates of heaven won’t be crawling. They’ll be rejoicing, confident and smiling a big, big smile.