10 Recovery

by Dr. Steven G. Minor
Church Politics Administrator

How long does recovery take?

Such a precarious questions, even though it is uppermost in everyone’s collective mind right now.  But even the opening question carries the inevitability of this doubt.

First, what constitutes a “forced exit?”

What is unbearable for one minister may be business as usual for another.

Does Bubba Jones expressing dissatisfaction with your sermon on Jesus feeding the 4000 equal a full year of continual assault by a well banded lynch mob of Sociopaths?  Does the criticism of “soft on Baptists” measure up to accusations of sexual promiscuity or financial embezzlement?

Qualifying a “forced exit” is such an elusive business.  The numbers will never tell the whole story.  Despite our western obsession with measured statistics, they will never grasp the magnitude of this crisis.  Matters of the church can never be fully measured by attendance and financial giving.  Such materialistic standards depreciate the full importance of the church when it seeks to be an embodiment of the living Christ.  The illusion of “numbers” are particularly true in cases of Pastoral trauma.  We need better instruments to gage the full estimate of harm, emotional damage and recovery.

How long will recovery require?

— 4.75 years – under healthy situations with strong resilience
“We discovered through our study that the average length of the recovery period, from the onset of the trauma or conflict to the final stages of recovery, was approximately 4.75 years. It took a great deal of persistence on the part of the leadership to allow the congregation to take whatever time it needed to recover.”
(Congregations, Alban Institute, Summer 2006)

— Full generation – until the experience of the harm is forgotten

So report many mediators observing churches through high and extended conflict.

Although the next generation may recall some details of the matter, even further removed are they from the originating cause, the effects may still be in process but are steadily subsiding.  Given generational differences to their predecessors, the children may well cross their own side to re-connect with the other.  Once they step over those supposed boundaries they may discover people with very similar wonders as their own/  A sense of “time to move on” may very well be in everyone’s heart of hearts.

However we may define recovery and what levels are finally acceptable to the remnant of the church remaining will be answered by the individual congregation itself.  The variants are far too broad and they each carry a different charge for each church and each situation.  The “magical” moment when everything will finally be perfect is sadly just an illusion.  You will need to hold your breath on arriving to heaven itself for that experience.  While we are still in this world, we have to determine and finally accept what the whole can live with and how they can effectively cope.  That level of acceptance is merely an entry way to what the majority can live with to be functional.  Churches are living organisms and as such their attitudes and dispositions are always changing, never staying the same (although the Sunday morning procedures may turn into dull repetition under the guise of tradition).  Statistics formed by an outside agency are always temporary gages of their estate at a frozen moment of time.  The  life of the church is already changing by the time the numbers are crunched and published.

As such, set your sights upon realistic goals; not too idealistic although with enough positive faith there is room to grow into some of those goals; error on the side of your future potential whenever possible.

Assessment of Recovery Potential

Every church has its own identity and unique nature.  Even denominations with firm standards of practice will not be able to restrain a particular church from being itself and living out its sense of Christ’s calling.  Much work was tossed about by the Church Politics consortium, but despite our wish to create an instrument that might predict recovery time and steps … sadly we had to give up.  We concluded that such a precise instrument is not possible.  What is true in one church is barely effective in another.  And the subjective issues in the conflict are diverse especially in their irrational emotional charges which will ever defy any measurement of intensity.   Too much diversity of a church’s nature and diversity may skewer whatever might be proposed.  Such a measuring instrument would be fraught with too many idealist hopes and contrived wishes for success.

If churches contained merely products or regimented soldiers there might be a chance.  But since churches are humanly oriented institutions they will progress in the most unexpected ways.  In fact, they should be encouraged and praised for restoring fellowship in their own time and pace, arriving at goals at various unexpected stages.  Encourage all progress and never discourage ideas until they have run an unfruitful course.  And for the transcendent nature of Christ’s presence the spiritual; influence will surprise us in spite of our best humanly made plans.

However, a church needs to ask these sort of questions to surmise a general direction forward, as well as  a fairly agreed destination, regardless how fuzzy the details may be.

How intense was the conflict?

Was the hostility ever unbearable?

Did physical brawling ever break out?

Were hands ever clasped into fists ready to wreak harm?

How long did the total conflict last?

How long was it brewing before its full breakout?

What were those initial conflict differences?

Were they personal or doctrinal?

How intense was the Power and Control obsessions?

Who left?

Who was unfortunately driven away?

Who of the instigators finally departed (or did they)?

Are there any still sitting on the fence of doubt and suspicion?

Would you describe the final result an actual church “split”?

Or a minority that caused trouble, failed and departed?

Note splits are not necessarily that bad.  Paul and Barnabas had a parting of the ways and for whatever reason, Luke did not cover it up (Acts 15:36-40).  He even described it as “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company” (verse 39).  A good loving Baptist friend likes to proudly declare that the Baptist church has 247 splinter groups and are dearly proud of each and every one.  In time, given spiritually discerning leaders, splits can bring themselves around to healing and cooperation, with the sanction of time, light hearts and short memories.

Beware bitterness.  This must be priority #1 among the remnant leaders watching over the healing needs of their church.  Such unresolved anger can undue your best efforts at healing and achieving a fresh identity.  It may at first appear counter-productive. But never allow such negative feelings to submerge.  A skilled mediator knows to get those feelings out in the open, even to agitate suspected emotions just below the surface.  Get them out while those that may intervene and help are present.  Allowing them to emerge in dark corners will usher nothing but poison to your spiritual needs.

Permit the negative feelings to express themselves, even encourage the raw feelings.  Assert rules of no judgment or surprise when they do appear.  If necessary train those involved to preface their anger with such a phrase as “Not sure if this is good or bad, but if you will allow me to get this out so we can all look at it . . .”  As long as emotional ownership is allowed to separate itself from such raw expressions you can find positive progress.  It may be messy and painful, but is that any real difference from what these past months have been?  The big difference is that now everyone hopes and expects to actually accomplish something by these exercises.

The second rule of expressing the repressed feelings is for the leaders, listeners or confidence group to say “thank you for getting that out.  It must have been painful to relive it and as a matter of fact I can feel some of that same anger myself.”  Be honest and wholly real.  It may be the first time in your life you and others have even truly communicated on such a deep level, but with courage and respect you will find the cathartic release to be full of relief and healing.  The sooner such anger is expressed the sooner healing can take place and the greater your higher hopes of becoming a renewed and vibrant fellowship.  Pretense always weakens the authenticity of a church, but vulnerable confessions will awaken a healing few churches have discovered.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”          (James 5:16)

How well did the people hold together?

Did they keep their lines drawn and refused to budge from truth?

What wavering moments may have caused concern?

Where were the most emotionally charged lines drawn and held?

What values and priorities were being expressed?

Was the church’s mission and purpose compromised at any particular points?

People who faced a great and daunting task together will gain a trust of the deepest bonding.  They will always be more than acquaintances, for they have stood their ground for each other.  Like war heroes who have survived great tests of faith and courage, their bond will be sure for a long while.  This is the sort of unity that builds the deepest strength in a church.  They have sacrificed of themselves and others have sacrificed for them, such a sincere forging of unity could be no stronger.  Recognize this great blessed result of the long fight, endurance and shared victory.

You will become a functional church again.  A little faith along these lines will take you a long ways in this hope.  The testing of faith and unity will yield new and better ties of fellowship.  Lead and model the people in personal prayer for each other.  If laying on of hands has not been a part of your church tradition, it may be time to revisit some of those old patterns and prepare to implement better steps toward congregational wholeness. Touch will deepen the ties that bind.

Preaching, as well as regular conversation needs to ceaselessly focus on your new vision.  Keep reminding the people which way is forward and do not hesitate to say it again and again.  It’s such an unfortunate reality, but so very true, “Vision leaks.”  You may fill it to the brim, but it will leak out and fade unless you fill it back up every Sunday.  Pester the lazy hearts and keep it all positive and excited about how it feels to be a real church again (or maybe for the first time).  Say it aloud often and encourage others to repeat the message wherever they may go.  Call out into the open any words with a negative emotional slap and nurture healthy conversation that heals the fellowship, not erode your fragile unity.  A community hearing such words of affirmation will take notice.  Rumors of “that church at conflict” needs to find a better report of “that church that found its way through the storms with courage to right itself once more.”  That news might work its way to your benefit.  This church just might have purged itself of the repulsive religiosity people resent.  Perhaps they are worth another look for they may be on the verge of becoming something not just new and improved, but a real reflection of heavenly values which everyone instinctually seeks.

 

Recovery for the Church

The trauma will either destroy them or awaken what may have been long too dormant, an apostasy of denying grace.  The blessing may be closer than anyone realizes.  The brutality of the conflict may have awakened the chance to become Christ’s presence in the world.

”What does not destroy us, makes us stronger”
Frederick Nietzsche

What exactly is the goal?

Before we can venture far into this consideration we need to consider what the objective might be.  Getting better, feeling alright about who we are right now and especially feeling some form of confidence about our future are readily available goals, but how will we know when we have arrived at these points?  What is the point of actual recovery, when we are better and able to be a church?

The answers are so elusive, but let us say right up front that if you survived and are meeting together with a renewed civility and resolve to get back on top of this, then congratulations, because some of the victory has already been gained.  You are already onto the positive winning ground.  Every church is in process of improving or sadly descending into subtle mediocrity.  You were always waffling in spiritual commitments, wavering to better heights and then falling back into comfort zones of excuses.  Recovery will never be a single day event.  It’s always a matter of subtle steps toward stability and hopefully more than what you were.  How much more functional are you than last Sunday, last month, last year?  Churches are living organisms and eventually they will fail every “grid” of rigid categories defining where they are in vitality.  The goal is to accept this process and reject the static push for numerical definitions.  Just be the church the best you can at this phase and be sincere about your healing process.  The sincerity is what will save you for your present and prepare your future.  What you shall finally become is God’s business.  Keep the faith, lighten up and enjoy the adventure.  You must be faithful to being the presence of Christ this coming Sunday.  After that, prepare for the next Sunday and continue to proceed step by step.  Canned formulas of recovery simply will not work.

“Every church is different
and every Pastor is different
and every church conflict is bewilderingly different.”
Lucas Morgan

To add more to the conundrum of this quest, should the church ever set its goal of healing and recovery to reach the point where they were before the conflict exploded and tore their fellowship apart?  Our consortium is strongly united that this is an awful goal and would fail your greatest opportunity.  Why return to where you were before all this happened?  That’s when you were exposed to the vulnerability of conflict.  That quest enables you to become much more than what you were before.  Why squander such an opportunity.  You have come this far, why would you fail to proceed to the richer destinations now?

Merely returning to where you were assures mediocrity.  Some will fantasize of comfort restored, but this goal cuts short your grander opportunity, and it will fail in the illusion it really is.  Merely going backward to point one is failure.  You are too vulnerable to the meddling of trouble-makers who “sorta-maybe” left.  They will too emboldened to continue meddling if they find similar things at work which are familiar to them which they assume they can do better.  Be new and different; distance yourself from that harmful interference.  Do not make it easy for their temptation to find a conspicuous inroad back to power.

This is the church’s chance for becoming a strong fellowship, which is actually the real safety and comfort members long for.  The trouble makers still lurk about seeking opportunity for vindication and even revenge, be strong enough to resist any further prowls of harm.  Your strength is what will repel any further issues.  Establish it.  Leadership needs to step forward and direct to that something better.  The new fellowship must grant this permission and cooperate to move toward the reality of this new vision.  It’s where you need to be.

If the trouble makers have truly left, and if courage has really emerged among the people, then the church may enjoy a blissful state of relief.  Having been under so much tension people have gotten used to walking on egg shells for fear of setting off a situation.  But now they can come to church in peace, not fearing the next “Fight.”  Although it will take some time before all the fears have subsided. Conflict, real or imagined, is still lurking in the halls of their memories.  But church is returning to normal, as a safe haven for peace, healing and experiencing the transcendent presence of our Lord.  These goals will slowly return, but in varying degrees for the people, depending on their woundedness and apprehensions.  Like a vehicle free of its cumbersome and troublesome luggage, the people will experience freedom.  This church can finally move forward, but even more with the resistance and intimidation gone they can catapult past their fears and find additional energy since “defense” no longer requires all their energy.  All that spiritual flow can redirect itself forward.  It should be smooth and joyful sailing for a while.

Perhaps revisiting, or rewriting (or finally writing) the church’s mission statement would be a healthy exercise in redefining your new identity.  The success of that endeavor will assure greater strength by clarifying the new identity.

The members are charged with positive energy if their faith has kept them in the good fight.  Surviving conflict will awaken fresh energy.  They have stuck this out, enduring the absurdities of prideful antagonists who were intent on harm and chaos.  But they lost and these faithful have won the contest of faith.  Like Elijah victorious over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18), they can renew their experience of faith.  They have experienced standing shoulder to shoulder with others sharing their faith and that unity is deeply forged by spiritual ties.  They have tasted the richness of holding the line for a noble cause and the spoils of such victory is before them, but not as material gain – something deeper has awakened.  If they survived this far, then they are ready for heavenly encounters of their quest to become a church again.  Why work so hard in this quest only to settle for camping in Moab, when the promise Land is before them.

This opportunity may never come again.  The endurance of faith raises the exciting reality of God with us, and the excitement of being a real church, not just a sorority/fraternity, but something much more and deeply satisfying.  No church would willingly submit itself to such risk of conflict, leaving behind their comfort zones to refine itself to great adventure, but now that that this remnant has endured the quest is realized.  The dross of contrariness and power mongering is gone, purged from the fellowship.  The people stand ready for a new vision, free to become more than they ever were before.

Leaders may scoff at such talk.  Indeed they are exhausted and need recovery, recuperation and deep healing for their battered soul.  Ironically, applying a little more energy toward positive goals beyond just surviving is exactly what they need to achieve their desired healing.  Becoming a transforming fellowship will bring renewed strength.  The joy of heavenly [spiritual] victory may enliven the required healing.  They need not go somewhere else for relief, the relief they seek has just arrived for them.

The energy they assume to be exhausted is quite untrue.  Removing the resistance they have fought for months – years?? – will in itself provide opportunities of positive progress.  During the drain of conflict, any notion they proposed for the church was immediately countered by snobbish and even hostile opposition.  But now, a good idea will be received with a hearty and appreciative “Amen! Let’s give it a try!”  The people need and crave a fresh direction.  The energy exerted now will repay you with joy because now, your heart for ministry has a chance to not only surface, but even thrive.  And that sort of reception supports itself with renewable hope.  Propose and preach the new vision often.  Your best opportunity for ministry has arrived.  Live your calling.

Emerson Be Yourself

 

Recovery for the Pastor

Psalm 20:7, “Some Trust in Chariots”

It’s time for a new way to do ministry and life.  It’s your chance to reinvent yourself, possibly your first chance to become fully human and consequently fully alive.

Wounds reaching into the soul require the most peculiar forms of healing.  This is area ruled by God’s spirit.  Conventional methods will not suffice; neither will a mere effort to return to things as they once were.  If enough of your soul has been wounded it will enable as much of yourself to arise into a greater heavenly consciousness.  The failure of worldly hope is not a bad thing.  In time, it may become the greatest blessing you have ever experienced in this bland worldly experience.  It may be the first time you have become fully human.   

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just
  staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” 
                 Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The façade is broken.  In time you will see this as a most blessed event.  A new and perhaps for the first time a new part of your self has been discovered, opening a new unexplored depth that will no longer allow you to return to the same old order of business that allowed so much harm to your soul.  Shallowness in yourself and in others will be all too obvious from here on.  It will be unbearable in yourself, be careful for it will also be difficult to tolerate it in others.

“Once an icon is broken, it cannot be restored to what it once was.”
attributed to Paul Tillich

It’s a hard introspection, but you need to do it.  How much of your old way of doing ministry was actually no more than living out the projected image of meeting up to the expectations of others?  How much of your time failed to respect your own soul?  What sort of shallow habits had you allowed to permeate your life?  It’s time to cast that all to Gehenna where it belongs, along with the plastic smile and the happy canned responses to all situations.  Those memories will eventually become sickening recollections.  Given a bit more personal growth of an authentic self and you will be aghast that you actually did that.

There’s no going back to such a sorry excuse for existence.  Through all the pain you are free from that holographic life.  Congratulations and good riddance and … welcome to the club of liberated ministers of “Church Politics.org.”  You are by no means alone.  You are hurt and bleeding spiritual essence from your soul, but a great decision is before you.  What is your next step?  Will you curse God and die?  Will you curse God and go sell insurance?  Will you find courage to proceed further steps in your new life?  It was unjustly costly to you, but you have freed your soul.  Carl Jung reserves this moment to a mere 10% of humanity and probably less to find full individuation.  Please don’t curse God and go away.  You are exactly the type of person God wants and needs to lead a real revival of a heavenly breakthrough.  Ministry will no longer be the same and it must not be the same.  A system of measuring ministry by attendance and giving was never meant to have been the standard.  Seek forgiveness of such shallow reasoning and pledge “never again.”  It’s time for the prophet to emerge and make the impact that matters to heaven itself.  The worldly may not get it, but so be it.  Serve in the real light that you have “theoretically” been preaching all these years.  Let the sleeper awake and be the person of courage that God can use for his purposes.

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam: “I hold at your neck the gom jabbar. This one kills only animals.”
Paul Atreides: “Are you suggesting the Duke’s son is an animal?”
Gaius: “Let us say I suggest you may be human.”
— Frank Herbert, “Dune” (1965)

 

How long will personal recovery require?

That’s a loaded question with many possibilities.  But it’s not fair.  Your recovery will not fit in anyone’s grid, but your own.  Besides, just exactly what standard would you suppose to achieve?  Will you ever reach a point free of the pain and dulled to the memories of your betrayals and scape-goating?  We doubt it.  That is a pain likely to abide for a long while, even after you are fully functional and ready to engage in ministry, or even life itself.  You will likely never be completely free nor anesthetized to that pain.  It will be traveling with you for a while, but do not fear it for it has lessons of life for you if you have the courage to allow them.   It’s an unwanted companion, but take courage to see this through.  Only the diligent will reach the destination of genuine release from the pain.

When King David committed grievance sins against himself and against God, as well as the nation (adultery, murder and cover up far beyond the atrocities of Watergate), yet God restored him when he repented and demonstrated an authentic broken heart.  His journey back was not easy.  Indeed it bore horror barely conceived by the death of his first born child.   The return was so costly.  Does the pain of such a journey connect something in your own soul?  And after the return was done he still faced challenges.

Psalm 51 is such a powerful testimony of this journey back to God.  Read it and see there are no glorious odes to rose gardens.  It is fraught with pain.  In such a telling moment, David confesses his sorrow that “my sin ever before me.”  Come on God, can’t you see his suffering?  Isn’t that enough?  Why can’t you cut him some slack with selective amnesia?  Give him a break.  But God would answer that sin needs to stay there right where it is in his memory, for that is his teacher.  Let him never suppose that anything more than grace sustains him.  The memory and all too real recollections of his decisions will teach and temper him from this day forward.  He failed.  He sinned, but more important he was also forgiven.  That great forgiveness will keep him human and yielded to God.

Perhaps a similar story will be yours, at least for a while.  The memories will invade your sleep and cause your courage to stumble, but two great things are happening in this process.  First, the betrayals has inflicted you like toxic poison.  Our Lord is such a majestic physician of our soul to know that our only means of healing is to face that pain and purge it from us instead of repressing and pretending with hollow diplomatic grace {gag}.  Our Lord loves us too much to allow such toxins to remain to pollute and damage our soul.  Like sucking out the poison of a rattlesnake bite, so are the effects of those sleepless night spent in your easy chair instead of your bed.

Second, learn the lessons.  When people ask you later how you have done after it is all done you will respond faster than you realize, “I’m not as naive as I once was.”  Indeed, you are so much wiser now.  Don’t be too surprised, and keep your humility, to realize that “rah-rah” philosophy of ministry was so juvenile and “summer camp” like.  Only a soul on the other side could realize how true that is.

What you once thought was so right on the mark will now be viewed with apprehension, an embarrassing sophomoric lapse of sanity.  From this side, many things will be seen for their shallow qualities.  Not only can you not return to such shallow living, that shallowness will hold no desire for the enlightened mind.  You will not want to go back.

——

“The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections.  Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In her renewed connection with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological facilities that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic operations of trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy.”

– Judith Herman
“Trauma and Recovery”

“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”                                     — Isaiah 57:15

“Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”
Isaiah 66:2

 

I Walked a Mile

by Barry McGuire, To the Bride

I walked a mile with pleasure
She chattered all the way
Left me none the wiser
With all she had to say
I walked a mile with sorrow
Never a word said she
But oh the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me


 

If you choose to stay

It’s an honest and right consideration.  That deep hurt will compel you to run away, pouting for the satisfaction of your inner child.  Take your ball and go home in full indignant regalia.  But who are pleasing now?  What about God and what about the people who have stood with you?  They invested and risked much on your behalf.  Have you considered them in this decision?  Whatever you decide, just make sure it is the right move; something you can live with years from now.  Leaving may satisfy that petty, carnal side, but what of the people who have trusted you and stood with you?  They may have risked community standing siding with you.  It’s not just about your wounded feelings; they need consideration.

How much energy do you have left?  That is such a key question.  How can you evaluate your energy?  You will need help.  Following the advice of Angelo Dundee in Muhammad Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman may be dearly foolish, “Come on champ, dip into the well one more time” … before you go out and get pummeled by that beast for one more round.  Martyrs have stirred the hearts of many over the years, but seriously it is not necessary to die on every hill.  Really, there are other places for you to serve our Lord and make an impact.  But is it here?  That is your big question and only you can answer that.

What’s left?  Do you have anything more to give to these people?  Ask it honestly and it will be a daunting struggle. Expect a few more sleepless nights.  But here is probably the key to your consternation, perhaps it is not really about you as much as for the remnant that remains.  If the hostile trouble makers are gone then ministry will be OK here, even refreshing because you now know the difference.  Plus you have put in the effort.  These people now know that you are here for the distance.  You have paid the price with tears and sacrifice of your very soul.  This may be the dream ministry God has for you.  Leaving may satisfy that pouty part of you, but make sure you are not overlooking a marvelous opportunity.

The signs of leaving or staying will be felt in the emotional strains of simple acts.  How much energy is stolen from you merely arriving to the office in the morning?  Does simply turning on the office light cause renewed injury to your soul?  Looking out over the congregation on Sunday morning, is this scene bearable to you?  From a materialistic counsel, just stand there and do it!  But there may be a pain too overwhelming for you.  The wounds imbedded in you just might be too deep.  What if one of them might return some Sunday morning?  And what of a future event like a funeral which may grant them an easy excusable return?  How will you face the trouble-makers months or even years from now? Will you have the energy then to stand your ground to them?

“The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched [Elijah] and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’”            (1 Kings 19:7)

And consider this, not just simply to stand your ground, but to present yourself as a gracious host of good will.  The people are watching – on both sides.  If you receive them with an honorable, yet cautious graciousness your esteem will soar in their eyes.  But any hesitation will betray you.   They will show a loud coldness when you extend your hand in greeting.  Do not let your congregation see any hesitation on your part.  Believe it, they will notice and that two second encounter will take hold like Moses engraving the Law on stone tablets.   To honor your people and shame the antagonists — that will be your mission.   Can you do it?

On the one hand we encourage you to stay this out, at least long enough to know for sure and not to risk regrets years later, but reality must prevail.  Having stated that, know that if you stay you will do ministry with two strikes on you for a while.

Accusations have been unfurled at you — both what you finally heard and others that were kept aside.  People have those thoughts in mind and they will be tough to forget.  They will certainly forgive easy enough, especially when they realize the hostile source.  None-the-less, those things were set in motion and they are out in the open.  Should you stumble upon such a spiritual land mine the consequences will be more evident and devastating.  Some innocent soul will be beset with loose thoughts about “similarities” of behavior.  Maybe old Joe was right after all.  It’s their temptation of thinking.  Rational or irrational, true or false, the thought will still pop up in the collective mind of the group.  And be assured they are watching, whether they want to or not.  The doubts will linger for a long time.  Your steps must be calculated and careful.  Can you live with that?

How are the remaining resources?  If the discontented antagonists are truly gone it may ease the spirit of the fellowship, but did needed funding also walk out the door.  Staying may require a budget adjustment and your salary and other benefits may have been seriously compromised.  On the one hand, maybe not as much as you may assume.  Trouble makers normally talk up quite a show, but their actual financial contributions may not make the difference they had boasted.  Typically, mean spirited people do not carry much generosity.  A candid conversation with the treasurer may well dissipate much of that fear.  Rev. Phillip Travers was pleasantly surprised to find out that although several boastful families had left his church after threats and blundering efforts of division that the church budget actually “increased” after their departure.  It seems that others within the church considered it a gracious blessing to have peace in their church that they felt a welcome desire to support a church that promised to be a real church again.  The belief of the people rose to cover the meager loss and even compensated a greater effect.  It’s a fact people will respond with a greater enthusiasm in their giving, knowing it truly matters now and that it is needed.  Their giving makes a difference.  But will it compensate enough?

But it may not be wise to always assume financial benefit to member exits.  You must assess the number leaving and the potential for real recovery and the emergence of real faith in the church’s future.  A placing of the fleece may be in order (Judges 6:36-40) to see where you stand in this new order of church life.  The church is truly to be a heavenly outpost, but the business side must be given its due.

Perhaps a self-imposed Sabbatical rest is in order?  It could pose a financial challenge, but it may be the necessary steps you need right now to recover and become a significant presence in God’s kingdom.  Look upon it as an investment in yourself.  Taking a disconnected break to Arabia (Galatians 1:17-18) might make the difference of a lifetime.  God may gain a great servant.  Your spouse may gain a great husband/wife.  Your children gain the parent they deserve but who was MIA these past months/years.  And especially, you may gain your own self that always belonged to you, but for too long has been denied to you.  Whatever the cost, it may prove the best investment you ever made.  If you convince a banker of all this to gain a loan, please let us know how you did it there are likely many others that would like to know!

Nietzsche Truth Illusions

 

“The world tells us to seek success, power and money;
God tells us to seek humility, service and love.”
Pope Francis

 

Falling and Rising

“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again,
but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.
Proverbs 24:16

Solomon raises a few questions with this wisdom.  The first is that righteous people may fall up to seven times.  In our harsh, modern world, one stumble and those exposed to the watchful eyes of critical antagonists and they are done.  Even baseball is more lenient with three strikes before you are out.  But in the business of righteous servants a different standard prevails.

The emphasis ought not to be upon the falling, but in the rising.  Only a truly called servant could find the gumption and courage to rise again after mistakes have been made.  Granted, financial or sexual exploitation is probably more than Solomon has in mind.  Stumbling and falling, apart from social taboos are normal patterns of the righteous life.  The opportunity of ministry holds no guarantees of success.  Indeed, so many of those successful ventures happened in favorable conditions beyond personal   ability.  Standing in the right place at the right time is usually the real story beneath the boasts of genius.

Whatever these stumblings may be, Solomon does not say.  It’s not the point.  Rising again after mistakes is the remarkable factor.  Even to run this course seven times!  Perhaps that is what makes the righteous just that strong.  They fall and feel the pain in their knees and in their pride if anyone was watching.  Some would curse the event and refuse their own fault, finding fault in the sidewalk or the road.  “If they took better care of this path these things would not happen,” they say.  But a finer sort of soul accepts their mistake and realizes, “I must take better awareness of my stride and pay attention to my steps.

What makes the better experience is the learning from the stumbles, not their rationalizing away fault.  Upon each failure, the alert person takes note of what went wrong and takes caution with further steps.  In the process they become smarter: finding better ways of living where they would be recognized as more righteous.

Ministers who have been under assault and have survived to tell the story are indeed the better class of minister.  They have broken through the human pretenses and hold a truer sense of expectations.  For them, naiveté will not so easily snare their intentions.  They know mistakes and they know solutions and they are impassioned for the meaningful fairways of life.  Worldly standards just won’t do any more.  They seek an authentic life not bound by shallow fads and popular progress.  They do not need to prove themselves. They are their own person apart from seeking approval.

 

Forgiving Religious People

For the most part our world is safe and beautiful, meant to be enjoyed as God’s gift to us.  Repeatedly God declares this world “good” through the creating process (Genesis 1-2).  But something went terribly wrong by just the third chapter of the book.  Sin and rebellion entered the world, not part of God’s intentions, and danger came with the assertion of human will to make our own decisions.  Thus Power & Control has become the issue of our human dark side.  Some tag this as the theological dogma of “original sin,” while others prefer to ignore the whole problem, defiantly believing humans are still the standard of well-being.  But we must admit that we mortals lost something crucial in that fallen experience and we are quite fallible, prone to mistakes and even over-reaching our desires to greed.  G. K. Chesterton was aghast that anyone would resist this point that,

“Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin – a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved..”

— G. K. Chesterton in “Orthodoxy”

“The doctrine of Original Sin ought not to be discarded,
for it is the easiest doctrine of all to defend.”
attributed to G. K. Chesterton

 

Simply stated, what this all means is that we humans are not nearly as smart as we like to think we are.  Sometimes we shine with such admirable brilliance, but even these great moments have often been through cumbersome trials of refinement.  Truth is, we are fallible and make mistakes.  In fact we have a slant toward selfish interests, which makes us prone to social mistakes, to overstep the rights, needs and hopes of others.  We have natural prejudices to people not like us which must be addressed and adjusted to social reality.  Our insecurities and fears lead us to odd behavior at times that even we, ourselves are surprised to see in our actions.

Does this cheapen our sense of humanness and deny the any hope from God?  On the contrary, that’s why we have a Savior.  This fallibility is what makes sense of the Incarnation.  If we did not need help God would not have bothered.  But our frail and vulnerable estate needs help, influence toward better life.

 

Jesus realized their ignorance

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
— Luke 23:34

His deep intuitive perceptions enabled a penetrating search into humanity for the shallowness as well as great acts of courage people might possess and express.  He saw in the fumbling Peter the fisherman the capacity to eventually become a significant leader in the church he would establish.  And he also knew our dark side,

“But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.
He did not need any testimony about mankind,
for he knew what was in each person.”
— John 2:24-25

 

Jesus got along well with tax-collectors (those perceived as traitors to Rome), prostitutes and a host of sinful types.  The religious people are the only ones he could never get along with; the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees.  Those who refused to acknowledge their fallible humanness and carry on the charade of humanistic perfection.

 

Shallow Thinking

People seldom behave in well thought out ways.  Ask any marketing expert, or even sales rep marketing novice, and they affirm he truth of people making decisions made on rather shallow terms.  People purchase a 30 year mortgage on a house simply because the breakfast nook was “cozy.”  And when they work within a “herd mentality” that rational factor drops even lower.  Carl Jung describes it quite boldly,

“The majority of normal people (quite apart from the 10 per cent or so who are inferior) are ridiculously unconscious and naïve and are open to any passing suggestion. So far as lack of adaptation is a disease, one can call a whole nation diseased. But this is normal mass psychology; it is a herd phenomenon, like panic. The more people live together in heaps, the stupider and more suggestible the individual becomes.
— C. G. Jung
The Nature of the Symbolic Life
“The Symbolic Life,” p. 605

 

The principle of Hanlon’s Razor will unravel more truth of this matter, cutting beyond your personal pull for resentment,
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Church conflicts are generally driven by merely 4-5 people, but their obsession for control will strike fear and intimidation into the bystanders sucking them into an enraged Bandwagon they normally would not have climbed onto.  But if they forsook that call they risked social banishment themselves.  True, it’s a cowardly acts and well-adjusted people know better, but … forgive the cynical tone in this … how many well-adjusted acts of civility did you witness through your ordeal?

Conflict brings out the worst in people and when it escalates it gets even worse at every phase of the descent into sub-human behavior.  People behave poorly, despite how they may rationalize their actions.  Religious people will cover their hostility with expressions like crusade and righteous purging for God.  It’s brutal and makes a mockery of Christ’s call to peace, forgiveness and redemption.  Objective watchers see it for what it is, a “lynch mob” searching for an acceptable scape-goat for their bitter disharmony.

Typically the rage never fits the perceived crime.  Lynch mobs never do seek an eye-for-an-eye justice.  The mob frenzy drives them to more irrational goals of expunging a life time of bitter hate.  Offenses from decades ago, covering a life time of personal hurt, are being released.  That’s why Jesus could look upon his own tormenters and cry out, “Father, forgive them for their ignorance, for all their enraged bitterness and contaminated souls.  Their ability to reason has been compromised and although they behave like wild beasts in a feeding frenzy, they are still beloved human beings.”

When they seek destruction of the minister, it’s not so much this person they probably never took the time to even know who they are.  What personal interests he/she had, despite their devotion to God’s call has little to do with this.  The rage has been building long before this Pastor even arrived.  You were only the tip of that iceberg, the visible part of a much deeper, convoluted hostility.

Preserving their perceived righteousness is the underlying fuel over reacting in such mob frenzy.  And this leads to the most unnecessary pain of Pastors victimized.  Such an insecure Board must demonize the Pastor.  How can they explain to the congregation they destroyed a nice guy/woman for poor reasons, such as preserving their own pride and selfish security?  The case must be dynamic with plenty of melodrama.  Statements like, “you just did not know the real Pastor ____,” and “there’s things best left unsaid about his/her behavior.”  It’s all rubbish, half-truths and outright lies, but such is the plight of a Board with devious goals.  They have check-mated themselves into all this.  They seek to make others believe their fantasies and sadly, in order to live with themselves and sleep at night, they come to believe the lies as well.  But as Asaph assures us, “they walk on slippery places” (Psalm 73:18).

The pain of rejection is terrible, but pseudo-righteous expulsion is unbearable.  Judith Herman, “Trauma and Recovery,” writes about the double taboo in victimization, that one is wounded, but then socially rejected because others are clueless in how to help vicious assault.  But when trying to save their righteousness, religious people will inflict the further harm of driving opponents even deeper into the Abyss of shame and destruction.

Ignorance will drive people to reject and banish out of sight those who bear such uncomfortable scars of a community’s devious act of hellish scorn.  Those emotional scars may also bear a reminder of their failure to defend their minister against vicious assault.  They want to hide away that guilt.  Reminders of their cowardice will always haunt a coward.

 

Revenge is God’s business

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
Romans 12:19

Note the reason to resist, it’s the domain of God’s affairs.  The exacting justice of vindication is totally in his hands.  It belongs to him.  If God wants to plague their skin with boils and leprosy, then so be it.  But if he wants to give them the lottery then so be that as well.  When you give it over to God it is no longer of any reckoning to you.  What seems like a blessing of wealth may have the hidden pitfalls only God realizes.  But even if there are no direct repercussions, it does not matter to you.  It’s none of your business. You must hand it completely over with no strings attached.

If you would move on to live your own life, let go of that you cannot change anyway.  They were wrong to hurt you.  They were ignorant, cowardly and stupid.  But like a hapless, innocent victim of a car wreck the only real thing you can do now is to move on, rising above those petty blame efforts.  You are seeking for some sort of rational explanation, any moment of sense to their shallow steps.  But you must eventually face up to the truth that there may not be any valid reasons for their decisions except for cowardice and ignorance.  Rational behavior most likely played no part in this affair.

The one who bestows grace and blessings is also the one who bestows curses and revenge.  As you welcome the former so you must now allow the latter bestowals of our Lord.  Ours is not to reason why, but to accept and obey.  If God wants and claims this part of our humanly interactions then we have no other faithful course but to step aside, or risk stepping into sacred activity only God deserves to understand.

 

Forgiving God

Does God ever offend anyone so that he needs to seek our forgiveness?  Yet, stepping into this quest is necessary to clarify how we feel; how our efforts to trust and serve were met with tragedy and disappointment.  In our heart of hearts, we know we cannot hold God in fault, as though he slipped up somehow to let us down.  Nonetheless, those inner disappointments churn very real emotions and still need tending, brought out into the open for reflection and honest soul searching.  Do you feel that God let you down?  How you can honestly answer that question will determine your recovered ministry and spiritual re-formation.

Know that such a quest may be an ongoing and lengthy process, never done until you eventually fall to your knees and confess the end of the struggle.  Such honesty will enable full introspection and the chance for a profound depth of faith.  God is big enough to take it.  Be honest from the beginning and sincerely pray that you must pursue this as an injured child who needs father “Abba” to shelter the quest and not take too personal the wounded lashing of repressed anger and deep pain of the soul.

The prophet Jeremiah found himself in the same disappointment with God, even to be literally cast into a deep well reserving him for possible execution the next day.  Hear the words of his heart, mocking the call of God upon his life.  Feel the anger of betrayed trust,

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
Jeremiah 20:7-8

In such a rigid religious system as ancient Israel, Jeremiah is running a dire risk of blasphemy.  With antagonists looking for any accusations the risk is even more profound, yet he persists.  His explosive resentment has reached its limit.  Siting at the bottom of a well waiting for possible execution in the morning is beyond enough.  He has faithfully obeyed God’s call and preaching the unwanted sermons of sin and repentance and look what it has gotten him, a muddy, moldy cistern.  His inner torment cannot be held back, overwhelming for these cries of mockery toward God.  Even his word for “deceiving’ bears an offensive sense for seduction, as though Jeremiah felt God had a harlot like strategy in his disappointment.  There is nothing polite in his mocking accusations.  Courteous reverence does not cut it.  He feels wronged in the highest degree and he must get it out of his system.

And he is not afraid to state his case,

  • Betrayed by friends
  • Enemies lurking, waiting for a chance to attack
  • Regretting life
  • Suicidal thoughts (??)
  • Cursing his own birth
  • Cursing any who dared to celebrate his birth

Can one drop any lower than this?  He has hit bottom, literally in this well, but worse, he has hit bottom in mind, soul, spirit and life, and then bounces at bottom a few more times.  It’s a dark night in this pit, but worse it si a dark night in his very soul.

He is ready to bail out on God and put an end to this radical yet perhaps ridiculous preaching.  God has failed him, what obligation does he have any longer to God?  He’s at the last knot of life’s rope.  Like a dejected Pastor ready to face the church board and hand in their resignation, so Jeremiah is ready to trash this whole venture as some sort of bad dream, a nightmare from which he may yet awake and escape.

But other thoughts enter his bitter yet reasoned considerations.  Perhaps God’s spirit has come to rescue him, for he takes on broader perspective.  Where is he to go after climbing out of the pit?  What life would accept him now?

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
— Psalm 139:7-12

Upon further soul-searching, after he has vented his rage and bitterness and with a clean mind he can see where he stands with God.  Truth prevails in the temporal despair of the night.

But if I say, “I will not mention his word     or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire,     a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in;     indeed, I cannot.
  Jeremiah 20:9

To be true to life, to be true to God and to be true with himself – his prophetic calling is his lot in life and he must embrace it.  As though it were not even his choice in the matter, he must do this else he will never find peace.  Life at the bottom of a pit is exactly what his soul would face to reject all this now.  With Paul, he can admit, “woe to me if I do not preach”  (1 Corinthians 9:16).

“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson
“An Inland Voyage”

Two great answers have arrived for Jeremiah and hopefully for you if you have come this far in seeking recovery from your victimization.  The first is that you are a new person now.  You have tested your calling and you realize new perspectives of faith hidden from your awareness before.  Now you have courage to look thought doubts and prevail over the challenges.

“But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
their dishonor will never be forgotten.”
                                Jeremiah 20:11

The second insight is to know it is not God’s fault.  He is not the one who threw you into this pit of despair.  He is the easiest to blame since he will probably be the last one expected through the door to defend himself.  But it was not his fault.  If Jeremiah wondered where God was that night, he need only look to the side, not the brim of the well.  God shared his pain and rejection.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin”  (Hebrews 4:15).

“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).

Consider yourself of good company, for many of God’s most elite servants have experienced rejection, abuse and rejection – far worse than we have.  Yet they found their way through and faithfully stood their ground for heaven instead of for worldly fame.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:10

 

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”                                          2 Timothy 4:7-8

“Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them.”                      Hebrews 11:36-38

 

Jobs Time

“Living well is the best revenge”
~~ George Herbert (British poet, 1593-1633)

 

“That’s the best revenge of all: happiness. Nothing drives people crazier than seeing someone have a good life.”                                  ~ Chuck Palahniuk

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”                            ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

 

If I Ever Lose My Faith in You

Sting released this song in 1993, reflecting a struggling hope in life.  Although he would not characterize himself as a Christian singer or song-writers, still this song bears important reflections of recovery, to find our way through the many frivolous pursuits before us, and discover the essentials that really matter.

In his own words he explains,

“Sting: Well quite deliberately in that the song is … about the things I’ve lost faith in. It’s quite easy to be, um, precise about the things you’ve lost, at least I’ve lost, faith in. Politics. Media. Uh…science. Technology. Things that, y’know, everybody feels this at the moment. And yet I, along with most other people, have a great deal of hope and y’know, a feeling of things can, things will and can get better. But so what do we place our faith in? What do we still have faith in? And I can’t define that as easily as I can define what I don’t believe in anymore. Uh, and yet it still exists. So I haven’t defined it. I’ve just said, “If I ever lose my faith in you.” And you, or you (laughs), could be, uh, my producer (laughs again). It could, it could be, uh, faith in, in God. It could be a faith in myself or a faith in, um, romantic love. It could be all of those things, but I don’t define it. I think it’s important not to define it, because it’s, once you define something it’s, it evaporates.”
https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100908145218AAC7sVN

However we cut through his explanation, the song does bear a glimmer of hope for people struggling with faith.  Phillip Travers shares personal experiences of the meaning of this song holding him on course to recover from his trauma of victimization.  Every morning he listened to this song on his way to his new job.  A job that he always knew was temporary, but since bills continued to arrive he had to find income.  The various lines clarified that his pain and anger was over betrayal and the many pseudo-righteous lies.  But as the song states, though he may lose faith in many things, losing his God would be the ultimate loss.  “Some say I was a lost man in a lost world” — Amen and Amen!  But still he was not lost to God.  The meaning of life hinged at that very point for him.  All else may fail, but that one strand of truth held him in this world to prevail over the injustice.

 

“If I Ever Lose My Faith in You”

Sting

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress
You could say I lost my belief in the holy church
You could say I lost my sense of direction
You could say all of this and worse but
If I ever lose my faith in you
There’d be nothing left for me to do
Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world
You could say I lost my faith in the people on TV
You could say I’d lost my belief in our politicians
They all seemed like game show hosts to me
If I ever lose my faith in you
There’d be nothing left for me to do
I could be lost inside their lies without a trace
But every time I close my eyes I see your face
I never saw no miracle of science
That didn’t go from a blessing to a curse
I never saw no military solution
That didn’t always end up as something worse
but Let me say this first
If I ever lose my faith in you
There’d be nothing left for me to do

(Label: A&M, February 1993)

 

Hope Again, Hope Different

So what will you become now?

How do you define recovery?  If it is no more than to return to where you were before the conflict emerged you have missed a rare opportunity.  Returning to a state in which you were so vulnerable to conflict is the worst of failures.  A great opportunity lies before you, to build the actual embodiment of Christ and to become a living segment of that heavenly breaking into our materialistic world.

If consultants and mediators are still around, it’s past time to send them home.  When your children go to college do you really plan to accompany them through every stage of this experience?  You will feel that urge, but to truly love and bless your children, it’s time to cut those cords and let them become their own persons.  So now you must establish your own identity. This quest may never come again, go for all it’s worth.  Establishing your new identity in God’s kingdom, it’s worth the effort.   In the end it is the noblest act you can ever seek to be discontent with the worldly and strive for the transcendence of something more.

If you can’t go to church and for at least a moment be given transcendence, if you can’t go to church and pass briefly from this life in to the next, then I can’t see why anyone would go. Just a brief moment of transcendence causes you to come out of church a changed person.                                            — Garrison Keillor

 

A Realistic Hope

Why do or learn anything? The answer is simply that it is far better — both more fulfilling and constructive — to have some glim­mer of understanding of what we are about than to flounder around in total darkness. We can neither comprehend nor con­trol it all, but as J. R. R. Tolkien explains through the wise sagely wizard, Gandalf:

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

(Ballantine Books), 1965, p. 190.