Category Archives: spirituality

The Pastor and Priest Fallacy; or, Why Ministries Must Earn Credibility and Trust

I like this guy’s doctrinal beliefs; therefore, he is trustworthy.

Imagine all American Christians understanding why that is a silly way of thinking.

Christian Publishing would collapse, and some ministers would have to do real work for the first time in their lives.

It’s like there’s an assumption running through some preachers’ ministries: “I believe the Bible, and the Bible affirms what I say, so get involved in my ministries, be accountable to my ministries, and give my money to my ministries.”

Because: Jesus.

It’s the magic word that gives narcissists and sociopaths instant power over vulnerable spiritual seekers.

Always, always wait until a supposed leader has earned trust and respect. He must earn it. She must earn it. Do not give any credibility or authority to a person until you’ve seen that person deserve it.

You will lose absolutely nothing by waiting to make a decision to commit yourself to a ministry. God’s got all the time there ever will be.

And He can make more.

I’m not asking for impossible tests for pastors, priests, or other ministers. Clergy can be observably human and humble. They can avoid controlling behaviors and controlling rhetoric. Just be aware. Keep your eyes and ears open. Commit yourself incrementally.

Most importantly, don’t believe a ministry’s hype. Pay attention to its substance — or, more likely, it’s lack of substance.

The story of America is a story of religious entrepreneurship. While I radically support religious liberty and freedom of speech, I know religious entrepreneurship has institutionalized as many dangerous ideas as nonsensical ideas or good ideas.

Read Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. It’s well-worth your time, and you’ll discover some similarities and parallels between some of the Latter Day Saints described in the book and many of America’s unaffiliated, entrepreneurial Protestants.

Look, the megachurches could last well into the future, or they could fizzle, but either way, I don’t need yet another preacher yapping at me from a spectacular stage, especially when I can suffer through the same guy’s sermon on YouTube.

The megachurch sales-and-marketing approach is completely obvious these days. I was in the same relatively small room with the senior pastor of a large church when he said he’s good at convincing people to come to church but not good at maintaining those relationships once they’re coming to church.

It really struck me as a bait-and-switch. You seem like a nice guy! I’ll try out your church! Then, later, I can never seem to have a conversation with that nice guy. Maybe I’ll find a smaller church or just watch Chuck Todd each Sunday morning. 

How bait-and-switch evangelism is a spiritual or even a human way to be, I have no idea.

But it’s also typical. I would generalize that mode like this:

Build the organization. Individuals are simply pawns in building my organization. People are second. I’ll say God is first — my God being my organization. I’ll say I serve the people by building my organization.

With any luck, in time, I’ll build the organization so big, I won’t have to spend any time with any real people. I’ll have secretaries and schedules and an office buried so deep inside an office suite, the mongrel hordes will never find me — and then I’ll escape to my home in a gated community.

You, entrepreneurial preacher, are probably a fraud. You’ll preach about the Holy Spirit without evidence of a single Fruit of the Spirit. You know, those Fruits of the Spirit, the alleged outcome of your alleged faith.

This isn’t important to you, because you’ll push the right emotional buttons next Sunday and keep the climb to fame and fortune alive.

You spiritual and moral fraud.

I wish there was some way other than just academic degrees and resumés and well-marketed books to affirm a person’s reliability and character. Pastor Mark Driscoll is just one example of a widespread problem.

(Driscoll, by the way, once boasted that he could walk from his office to the stage without having to see anyone—an explicit, specific example similar to my above generalized example).

Driscoll is not the only one.

Genuinely. Seriously.

If I really thought the Driscoll-Mars Hill Church disaster was an aberration, I would not have written so many blog posts about it.

I wanted people to learn a methodology from that situation, a way of seeing.

I wanted people to learn a kind of awareness.

I have no real platform to make that happen. I just wanted it to happen, wanted it badly to happen.

I want people to gain a healthy distrust. Don’t trust me, either. Be skeptical. Research and reasoning can prove me a prophet or a clown or something else. This is about you.

Let’s say I’m proven a clown. Throw a party about it. Take a few hours to tell Colin jokes.

Then, afterward, ask yourself how you are going to avoid being used.

Ask yourself how you are going to avoid being used by someone who is demanding your attention, your submission, your time, and your money because he talks about Jesus and your kids like the youth group. This is just a blog post. You can close it at any time. The social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of churches are a bit more tricky. Do you have the confidence and willpower to walk away from your church membership at any time? You need to develop that.

Jesus won’t magically develop it for you.

You’re too weak to navigate unaffiliated, entrepreneurial religion in America.

Most humans are, which is why the predators grow fat.

You don’t necessarily need to burn personal bridges, but you need to have a strong enough sense of who you are and what is right to walk away from a nonsense organization — or an unhealthy organization.

I’m not only focusing on professional clergy. The reality is the Pastor and Priest Fallacy can analyze any politician or community leader. I may really like what someone else says, but that doesn’t mean that person is trustworthy or credible.

People need to learn this, need to “get” it.

Astonishingly ignorant and manipulative people are running American Christianity and American politics.

Flip the Ritual switch

Rod Dreher recently published some thoughts on ritual that reminded me of a passage from Jaroslav Pelikan, a passage I’ve used on this blog before: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

With Pelikan’s words in mind, here’s what Dreher said about ritual:

Rituals can be deadening, but the absence of rituals can also be deadening. A ritual only works to order the soul and instruct the conscience if you do it even when you don’t feel like doing it. It teaches you that there is something more important than your individual desire at that given moment.

That’s from “5 old-timey rituals that should make a comeback,” which appeared in the December 2014 print edition of Real Simple magazine. Dreher’s ritual? “Dinner at six.” With the entire family.

Consider for a sec that these passages from Pelikan and Dreher could be applicable in a number of areas of life, including habit formation and learning.

With this topic at hand, I should include, like the Pelikan quotation, another repeat from a previous post, this one by C.S. Lewis:

A parallel, from a different sphere, would be turkey and plum pudding on Christmas day; no one is surprised at the menu, but every one realizes it is not ordinary fare. Another parallel would be the language of a liturgy. Regular church-goers are not surprised by the service — indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart. Epic diction, Christmas fare, and the liturgy, are all examples of ritual — that is, of something set deliberately apart from daily usage, but wholly familiar within its own sphere…. Those who dislike ritual in general — ritual in any and every department of life — may be asked most earnestly to reconsider the question. It is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.

The neurobiology of religion: from ‘The friendly atheists next door’ – CNN.com

From The friendly atheists next door – CNN.com:

“Todd Stiefel told me about a lecture on the neurobiology of religion that he’d heard at an American Atheists convention several years ago. It was delivered by Dr. Andy Thomson, a psychiatrist who lives in Virginia and has studied the components of religious belief.

“Thomson has become famous among atheists for an exercise that seems to demonstrate how worship services work – why even lapsing Catholics like Harry sometimes felt that ‘Sunday morning high’ after church.

“In his experiment, Thomson asks members of the crowd to pinch themselves, hard, to gauge their pain threshold, and then to put their arms around each other and sing a few verses of ‘Amazing Grace.’

“Stiefel, who participated in the exercise, says the crowd couldn’t keep a straight face. Atheists singing ‘Amazing Grace’!?! But afterward, he said, he felt bonded to this unlikely choir, and when he pinched himself again, his pain threshold had increased.

“The experiment demonstrates the power of communal rituals, Thomson told me in an interview. Joining hands and singing together floods our brain with soothing endorphins, which boost our sense of trust and cooperation.

“It’s similar to how fans bond at the ballpark, and why after singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ and standing for ‘the wave,’ we often feel good, even if our team loses.”

via The friendly atheists next door – CNN.com.

If you need to leave baggage behind

If you need to leave baggage behind, remember what it looks like, so you don’t pick it up again.

Additional thoughts about healing and personal growth

Continuing some previous thoughts:

Forgiving someone for real damage does not necessarily heal the real damage.

Not all real damage is merely emotional.

If real damage is thought to be merely emotional when it is not merely emotional, then forgiveness will not usher in rapid healing and release.

Some real damage can be a matter of integration — concept, habit, worldview, and pattern, as well as emotions.

Imagine a teen driver accidentally bumping a middle-age cyclist off the side of the road. While the cyclist recovers, he forgives the teen driver, but the cyclist still has to heal.

More to the psychological point of this post, imagine a young man whose vulnerability is exploited by cult recruiters. The young man joins and devotes several years to working in the cult. Eventually, the young man’s eyes are opened to the true nature of the cult. He might be able to forgive the recruiters and leaders. Years of thinking and behaving within the cult’s ways and means, however, make lasting change a difficult process.

Caution flags in healing and personal growth

I’m not going to do much explaining here. I think anyone who might benefit from these will benefit from them as they stand.

♦ Forgiving a person does not make that person safe.

♦ Healing is not a process by which I realize all things are equal.

♦ The goal of healing is not to conclude that everything is equally benign.

♦ As someone else has said, “The purpose of an open mind is to close on something.” In the case of emotional boundaries, sometimes it’s more important to make a decision rather than to exhaust all possible grounds and evidence for making that decision. Goodness knows, there’s no moral relativism in saying, “That movement or person or idea or activity is bad for me.” Others in my social circle might not see things the same way, but I’m not living everyone’s life, just my own.

‘Value in Ritual and Ceremony’

Writing in his Abstract Notions blog, Utne Reader editor Christian Williams recently posted a short piece entitled, “Finding Value in Ritual and Ceremony.” Here’s an excerpt that touched on topics frequently mentioned on my blog:

I became reacquainted with ritual and ceremony this past October when my wife and I spent a week in Spain. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey outside of Barcelona. We went in the evening specifically for Vespers, which features Gregorian chant by the Benedictine monks who live there. It’d been a while since I’d spent time in a church, and watching the evening prayer service unfold reminded me of what I missed most about the faith of my youth: the familiarity and comfort of the liturgy, the feeling of singing in unison, and the opportunity for contemplation that being in a church provided. Above all, I remembered how those aspects of ritual and ceremony were essential in preparing my mind and body for the spiritual experience I was there to have. They served to establish my intent, clear my mind of distraction, and help me remain in the moment.

Read the full post here: http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/finding-the-value-in-ritual-and-ceremony.aspx#ixzz3NRN1XzCp