Tag Archives: relationships

Postscript to ‘the reality of pastoral gossip’ — a personal experience

After my sarcastic post a couple of days ago, I want to share a personal experience to demonstrate just how reckless some Christian pastors can be.

Some Christian pastors.

I started college at Western Carolina University, where I spent two years, Fall 1987 through Spring 1989.

(My first year, I was in Reynolds dorm, which had the advantage of being an older dorm with larger rooms, and the disadvantage of being pretty much at the high point of campus, and at a far edge.)

At the beginning of my freshman year, I attended a church and got involved with its college group.

I met a guy I’ll call A.J. Somehow we became buds, which was somewhat odd: I was a white freshman and he was a black upperclassman. (I try to remind myself that some churches can level social hierarchies and open racial barriers.)

Eventually, A.J. started to open up to me, and he had some real hurt and confusion.

He had shared some personal, private difficulties with the pastor of the church.

The conversation was supposed to have been in confidence, but the pastor told some other people on the church staff.

I realize I don’t know exactly what his difficulties were. I realize sometimes a private confession is scary enough to warrant alerting others. Ultimately I just don’t know, but I tend to doubt A.J.’s difficulties warranted sharing. Maybe they did.

Either way, the violation of trust did significant damage to A.J.

He started dropping by my room in the late afternoons and evenings. He would ask me, again and again, “Why? Why did he tell others?” Why, why, why.

A.J. was astounded, hurt, confused.

I was only 18 years old. With a September birthday, I had begun my freshman year as a 17-year-old. I knew less than nothing.

I tried to help A.J., lobbing weak suggestions at his grieved face, nothing I said finding purchase. He was going in circles, we were going in circles, stuck on the question of why the pastor had violated his trust.

My church back home was loosely affiliated with the church near campus. So at times, I even tried to play the pastor’s advocate. But A.J. would reason back at me — to him, there seemed no justification for the pastor to divulge the details of his conversation.

So many conversations. Then, A.J. disappeared for a while.

I welcomed the break. I couldn’t help him. All he did was talk and talk and share his misery. The relationship was becoming a burden to me. I didn’t want him to show up.

Right before he disappeared, I remember passing him in a dorm common area. He was shut down, turned inward, mumbling to himself, yet walking with purpose. It was strange, but he kept walking, and I didn’t want to get into another marathon conversation.

I later found out why he disappeared for a while. He had been in the hospital. He had tried to kill himself.

The night I had seen him mumbling to himself, he had taken a bunch of pills. Later that evening, he had placed his thick leather belt around his neck and tried to hang himself from the bunk bed in his dorm room.

I can’t say with any certainty that the pastor’s gossip, that his violation of confidence, was the direct cause of A.J.’s suicide attempt. He was already struggling. But the pastor’s gossip made it worse.

All this and the recent Ron Wheeler letter regarding Pastor Mark Driscoll makes me wonder what a good pastor really is.

Does a good pastor say the right doctrinal things?

Driscoll has been saying the right doctrinal things for his Reformed circles.

A.J.’s pastor was saying the right things for his church circles.

Does a good pastor have the right leadership skills?

Driscoll has had very good leadership skills for corporate America. He could get a legit NY Times bestseller by writing about gaining and keeping power.

A.J.’s pastor was dominant enough in his church circles to maintain a leadership position and a mantle of authority.

Yet what once grew later fell apart.

I thought, in the Christian faith, what genuinely grows never falls apart.
 
Ministeries falling apart, individuals falling apart
 

Where truth exists — Daniel Taylor on abstractions versus relationships

“One must not be naive, however, about the nature of truth. Except at its lowest levels, it does not come as hermetically sealed packets of information or hard nuggets of gold which are the same no matter where they are found. Truth, as we know it at least, exists in a concrete setting in place and time in the midst of human relationships, which greatly effects its nature and function. The abstract statements that we often call ‘Truth’ have their place, but it is as these conceptions take shape in the quotidian world of personal experience that we see them for what they really are. And what we find is that we have the power to release truth or to destroy it depending on the way in which we use it.” — Daniel Taylor, in The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment

Mostly pathetic: Texting each other when both are home

On the other hand, when one is downstairs, and the other upstairs in bed, I can see the advantages.

Furthermore, “25% of cell owners in serious relationships say the phone distracts their spouse or partner when they are alone together,” the report says.

Read the report here.

Why get married?

To designate the one person you’ll never listen to.

How beauty and relationships point toward the truth, especially in parish life

G.K. Chesterton explained the value of beauty and relationships — and much more of life — in his book Orthodoxy:

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason than an intelligent agnostic disbelieves Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration, it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. In fact the secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books than from one book, one battle, one landscape and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion. (emphasis added)

Chesterton’s view seems to fit with something Czeslaw Milosz said in my last post: “stronger than thought is an image.”

Philosopher Linda Zagzebski also seemed to think, like Chesterton, that one’s surroundings — and one’s engagement with parish life — can become influential and even spiritually significant in someone’s life:

The natural order of religious belief is not usually to form propositional beliefs first and only later to engage in the faith life of a community. If we disengaged ourselves from the practice of faith in order to “find out” if it is justified, there is very little chance that we will ever find out. (from her chapter in the book Philosophers Who Believe):

After quoting the above passage by Chesterton, Zagzebski continued:

As I see it, a person who knows how to put together the evidence of a book, a battle, a landscape and a friend has learned something that it is too easy to forget in our intellectually fragmented world. Yes, even philosophers are moved by landscapes and friends. (I’m not so sure about battles.) It takes insight, though, to see these things as evidence.

An awareness of truly good things can hint that there is a good, true, and beautiful Creator. After all:

Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, RSV)

And:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phillipians 4:8, RSV).

Chesterton and Zagzebski (and maybe Milosz) seem to think that those true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and praiseworthy things have evangelistic value.

Are college students changing their minds about casual sex?

Author Donna Freitas recently wrote this shocking article in the Wall Street Journal; here’s an excerpt:

After conducting a national college survey of over 2,500 students, I found that among those who reported “hooking up” — a range of sexually intimate acts, from kissing to intercourse, that occur outside a committed relationship — at Catholic and nonreligious private and public colleges and universities, 41% are profoundly upset about their behavior. The 22% of respondents who chose to describe a hook-up experience (the question was optional) used words like “dirty,” “used,” “regretful,” “empty,” “miserable,” “disgusted,” “ashamed,” “duped” and “abused” in their answers. An additional 23% expressed ambivalence about hooking up, and the remaining 36% were more or less “fine” with it. And 45% of students at Catholic and 36% at nonreligious private and public schools say that their peers are too casual about sex. Not a single person at these schools said that their peers valued saving sex for marriage, and only 7% said that they felt that their friends wanted to reserve sex for committed, loving relationships.

When last semester I taught Wendy Shalit’s “A Return to Modesty,” in a class at Boston University called “Spirituality & Sexuality in American Youth Culture,” I assumed that my mostly left-leaning students would reject her arguments about the terrible effects that the hook-up culture has on young women and the positive effects of traditional religion and morality on young women’s well-being. Instead, my students ate up her critique and were fascinated by her descriptions of modesty as a virtue, especially within the context of faith. One student said that she felt empowered to stop tolerating vulgar remarks about sex made by peers in her presence.

The class was equally attracted to some evangelical dating manuals, like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Joshua Harris and “Real Sex” by Lauren Winner, that I asked them to read. They seemed shocked that somewhere in America there are entire communities of people their age who really do “save themselves” until marriage, who engage in old-fashioned dating with flowers and dinner and maybe a kiss goodnight. They reacted as if these authors describe a wonderful fantasy land. “It would be easier just to have sex with someone than ask them out on a real date,” one student said, half-seriously.

Interestingly, most of the study respondents do identify with religious traditions that have rules about sexuality. But, with the exception of evangelicals, American college students see almost no connection between their religious beliefs and their sexual behavior. This radical separation of religion and sex tells us important things not only about the power of the college hookup culture but also about the weakness of religious traditions in the face of it.

Donna Freitas is the author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses, new this month from Oxford University Press.

Related issues were briefly addressed in the LiturgicalCredo.com interview with Peter Augustine Lawler.

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You just love me for my good books! (Do books make a romance?)

Marco Roth, an editor at the magazine n+1, said: “I think sometimes it’s better if books are just books. It’s part of the romantic tragedy of our age that our partners must be seen as compatible on every level.” Besides, he added, “sometimes people can end up liking the same things for vastly different reasons, and they build up these whole private fantasy lives around the meaning of these supposedly shared books, only to discover, too late, that the other person had a different fantasy completely.” After all, a couple may love “The Portrait of a Lady,” but if one half identifies with Gilbert Osmond and the other with Isabel Archer, they may have radically different ideas about the relationship.

-A wise and happy ending note to this otherwise depressing essay in the New York Times Sunday Book Review

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