Thursday, September 27, 2007

Feist - 1 2 3 4 ... just joy.

okay, let's try again. click on the box and enjoy.

i no longer work for organized religion.

i was emailing back and forth with dave madden, a journeyer with balls and courage and beauty and a ridiculous amount of musical talent. love him. he and i were emailing back and forth about churches, and we were wondering what fucks churches up.
this is part of our conversation:

Dave to me:

I grew up Lutheran, and I've never developed an anger towards those people. My home church was awesome. Just a bunch of kind Germans drinking strong coffee. But then again, it was about the size that Journey is now. A lot of this is probably a size issue. Get a few thousand people together, be it church or town or college, and it's bound to have some problems.
I still drink strong coffee. And Martin Luther was a badass ninja/pirate.

Me to Dave:

Yep. I believe a LOT of it is how big the church/town/college/company is. The bigger? The more people with more hopes and more fears and more shit and more shadows and less accountability and more room to hide out.
There’s also the affliction that American churches have – and the bad part is, they don’t even know they're sick with it – which is, Americanism. It’s not different than when Jesus was around, except that it’s more high-octane now, especially in the age of information/ communication/ consumption. Americans see the corporate model, with hierarchies and structures and presidents and commodification and consumerism and committees and constitutions and votes and ownership and membership, as perfectly legitimate and normative. They don’t see that everything about it is not Jesus. That doesn’t mean it’s evil – it’s just not Jesus. Then, on top of that, there's the drive for excellence in performance and presentation and programs, which is extremely consumeristic, is sick and not Jesus. It makes the church members stockholders of a successful company and consumers of a successful product.
Add to that the dilemma that many, many, many pastors are egomaniacs with lots and lots of insecurities and hero complexes and shadows they're not facing. And the expectation that they be CEOs and spirtual leaders and financial wizards and pastoral counselors and perfect. All at the same time. Lovely.
Add to that the Christian sickness of emotional denial.
Add to that the pressures of everyone’s expectations on the outside being projected from their repressed emotions, and their being fooled by thinking that the church exists to Make Them Happy - ?
And what happens is a clusterfuck.
Which is where worked – organized religion in America – for 12 years.
I no longer work in organized religion.
... There is a God.

and, yes, Martin Luther was indeed a badass ninja/pirate.

- Rick

ps i was talking with a friend yesterday who said, When you got fired, and when you nearly burned out over and over working for churches, did you ever want to just say Screw it, i'm leaving organized religion; i'm not working for a church ever again?
i said, I did leave organized religion. i'm a journeyer. and i don't work for journey. journey and i work for god together.
she smiled.

pps this is not to say that organized religion doesn't do many beautiful things. it does. but it's not the right match for me, and my understanding of what jesus is about.
there are many, many pastors and church members who are not egomaniacs, who are not in shadow, who are not sick, who do not see their churches as existing to Make Them Happy.
but they're not who runs the system. i care deeply about christians and christianity. i care enough to say, Something's not as it could be.
hell, i love myself enough to say that to myself about my shadows too. when i can take it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

the little lies vs the big lie

scott is a man i'm friends with. he is truly wild. wild-hearted, wild-minded. he's loud, funny, quiet, serious, reflective, impulsive. he will do anything. well, no, that's not true. my thought is that he'll do anything that the Spirit and his soul tell him to. he has coyote energy. he has prophet energy. he has servant energy. he's one of the Warriors in austin. he serves in the franciscan order. he is deeply committed to his faith - and many many many ways to live it out.

i was on the phone with scott on my way to ACL fest weekend before last. we were talking about this and that. we got onto the topic of serving god, and how people will sometimes turn on each other, act out of illness or shadow. and how beautiful it is when someone breaks through and sees. and how it sucks when someone stays stuck, and transmits their poison.

scott said, "the devil doesn't care about the little shit. the devil doesn't care if you cheat a little on your taxes, or drive a few miles over the speed limit, or cuss. that's all kid stuff. if that's what keeps us busy, the devil doesn't mind that. that helps him.

"the devil doesn't care so much about the little lies as about the big lie. if the big lie's getting out there and fooling people, the devil's happy. his work is done.

"the big lie," scott said, "is that This Is All There Is."


holy shit.

if i believe that this world, this life, the way i'm feeling at this moment, is all there is? then i'll cheat or steal, or be nice, or behave, or whatever works for me, in order to minimize pain and maximize pleasure.

if i believe that this world, this life, the way i'm feeling at this moment, is all there is? then other human beings only matter insofar as they make me feel good. and there is no god - so why put all that energy into trying to connect to something that's not there? that leaves me more energy to make this moment, this life, this existence, all i want it to be.

if i believe that this world, this life, the way i'm feeling at this moment, is all there is? then if the way things go for me, and my circumstances, and how i feel about that, determines everything. and if things go badly? there's no larger meaning. there's nothing to look for to make my life make sense, or even have coherence.

if i believe that this world, this life, the way i'm feeling at this moment, is all there is? then what's the fucking point, except to survive as long as possible?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

the definition of the postmodern world. ... okay, it's just a thought.

okay, this is just a thought.

the overall postmodern, 21st century, emerging, new media, new christianity worldview [okay, yes, i know, there's nothing that can be true on such an overarching level; this is just a thought question] is

not

either/or

but

both/and.


or, to use the language of new-christian futurist cassidy dale

not

win/lose

but

challenge/response.



discuss.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Lala disease ...

this post cracked me up. i've included the comments too.

we christians - and i say that looooooooosely - have been sold something that's not true. things will all be alright if we are just faithful and pray and do right. eek.

jesus never promised that.
he promised the opposite.
this blogger says that there must be something deeper. i'd add that it's even something better.

Feist - 1234 - just enjoy.

when you click on this, it won't play it on my blog page - cut and paste and it'll take you to the youtube site. it's worth it. it's just a way to be delighted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3vIv1EwO5A

Sunday, September 23, 2007

pain and this calling to us

journey imperfect faith community began in fire and storm. i was fired from a high-profile job at a famous megachurch. it was a really low moment in the life of christianity. god was not pleased. it rained and thundered and stormed, literally. it was of course one of the greatest things ever to happen to me in my career in ministry. but that's the god we listen to and the jesus we follow: meaningful sacrifice always brings resurrection. but the crucifixions are always ugly and bloody and a mirror for everyone involved.
a bunch of people had been opening themselves spiritually and emotionally to what was happening in my ministry, in their own lives, in what they wanted for themselves. other people were looking for an alternative to the kind of religion that was empty for them, or didn't speak their language. other people weren't churchy at all - they were just spiritually open and hungry. that group of people got together in the midst of this storm and felt god calling to them. they became committed to something: a community of people gathered around a simple principle:
  • what if a group of people helped each other go out and love the world.
  • what if a group of people gathered every week to remember that their lives had meaning.
  • what if a group of people shared their resources and gave to the poor - not only in money, but in making sandwiches and loving their neighbors and giving out clothes and hope.
  • what if a group of people helped raise each other's kids.
  • what if a group of people cared about each other more than about having a "successful" church organization/institution.
and so that's what journey has become. we started three years ago.
along the way some people left. they were looking for something else. other people came, attracted to what they were experiencing and invited into.
there's been more and more to learn. we had to learn about trusting god in many scary ways - about money, about having a fluid structure, about not having a building and then having a building, about continuing to give our money and resources away. and we have learned. and we continue to learn.
we have not arrived. there is no arriving - there's only the path.
that's good.
the energy in the fire and the storm didn't go away; the energy was transformed, and became spirit and power.

we've been in the warehouse god gave us as our tent for about nine months. we've been growing in numbers and in depth. we've learned a huge amount about what is important to us in following jesus and learning to love.

and i started wondering, a few months ago, So ... now what?
"okay, god, we're in the warehouse," i said. "we're reaching out to more and more people. we're loving each other, loving our neighbors, giving our resources away, giving the warehouse away. we're reaching out. we're learning to help more and more people in need - people in poverty, people in slavery. is there something else?
what is it, god?" i asked. god said, "just keep doing what i tell all of you."
i keep saying, "what's next?" god says, "just keep doing what i tell all of you."
i have wondered, "is there something you want us to be about that we're not yet?" and god has said, "just keep doing what i tell all of you."
i realized something. it's not something different, it's just something even more beautiful, scarier, bigger, more earth-changing.

there is a world in pain. pain. pain. human beings are in pain.
some of them have plenty of money; some of them have none.
some of them have plenty of loved ones; some of them have none.
some of them are journeyers; some of them are not.
some of them are in austin; some of them are not.
some of them are sick; some of them are well.
some of them see that they are in pain; some of them don't see their own pain.
some of them are sober; some of them are not.
some of them are ready to be healed; some of them are not.

all of them are the beloved of god.
human beings will always be in pain. that's part of the human experience. it teaches us. it grows us. there is healing and power in what we do with our pain.
but that's the point: what will we do with our pain and the pain of the world around us? we are being healed; how can we heal? jesus was a healer. journey is not a club; it's a mission, an outreach, a tool. it exists to heal. to transform pain with god's love, god's power, god's courage.
we journeyers have been in the process of learning to be wounded healers. we have been practicing. we have been learning. we have been gathering our tools - recovery, women's work, men's work, small groups, youth and children's ministry, a spacious place, spiritgift, missions and outreach, warrior work, therapy, and on and on and on.

we are ready.
i'm almost afraid to say that. it will not be easy; it's not easy already.
but we love, love, love god. we love, love, love each other. we are even learning to love, love, love ourselves as god loves us, and to give that love to others.

i feel it, deep down. i want to give this healing love to everyone we can, in ways we can't imagine.
i'm scared. i'm joyful.
it's not something different.
it's exactly what god is doing, has been doing forever, will do forever until all creation is reborn.
it's exactly what we've been learning.
we are part of that work of god.

oh - and - if you're not a journeyer, what are you doing about the world that is in pain?
let's do it together.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

acl fest and geezers

sorry i've been out of it. i hurt my back. went to the back dr. he told me i need an mri. forget it. we just finished paying off our after-insurance-covered-it fee from my mri 2 years ago. ugh.
so i got some pain meds and headed out to the Austin City Limits Festival in beautiful Zilker Park here in Austin. here's a picture of my beautiful wife and a great friend of hers from high school - and of both of ours from college - and the pretty woman he's seeing who happened to come to ACL fest as well.

ACL fest is insane. first of all, it was freakin' hot as hell. actually, i didn't mind so much. i'm a texan. and a south texan at that. but still. it was hot. and there were 80,000 people there. all in shorts and sweating like pigs and laughing and having fun.
and so i took pain meds. i don't think i was stoned, but it was lovely. a tip: don't drink too much beer when it's that hot. i didn't, but i saw a bunch of people who had. and there was a fire during the pete yorn set. it melted some port-o-potties. crazy. the fire dept put it out. pete yorn kept on playing. so that was awesome.
saturday was a long, hot day. it's fun to people-watch at ACL fest. hippies, kids, crazy people, people having fun. dancing around. laughing. smoking weed. drinking. listening to music and happy and chilling. as it were.
music festivals are for the young. i didn't know much about the indie bands playing, and the new music, and the cool hip young bands. i'm a geezer. but it was still fun. and we saw friends there and that was cool too. but at a music festival there aren't assigned seats. people walk over each other. politely, but still. and one band is starting and another band starts and then another band all the way across the park starts or stops. it's chaos. it was fun, and crazy, and i loved it, and by sunday after journeytime i was wiped out. eek.
i'm a geezer. but i've got a hippie heart.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

dung not wasted


so i'm watching Jeff Corwin who rocks. he's on Animal Planet. he knows EVERYTHING about animals, plus he's hilarious and very cool. and there's a dung beetle on a beach in spain. and jeff observes how this dung beetle uses the scat from a horse or some other animal, and rolls it, and puts it in a tunnel in the sand, and then lays its eggs in the dung. the larvae feed on the nutrients in the dungball. and meanwhile little tiny bugs are riding on the belly of the beetle.

jeff says, "in nature, nothing is wasted."

so what is it about us human beings that we want to get rid of things within us? and i'm not even talking about the obscenely irresponsible tonnage of waste and trash that human beings in developed (...) countries generate and then just dump.

i mean, our experiences. our feelings. our fears. our regrets. our shadows. we call them sin, or mistakes, or crap, or whatever. dung. something to ignore or deny or run from.

what i'm learning is that everything belongs, as richard rohr says. god is in everything. everything is sacred. everything is a gift.

when i open myself to god being present in what i'm afraid of, or what i've got a lot of energy around, or what i don't want to look at in myself and the world around me, i realize that i can always be learning, always be choosing, always be finding. that god is infinite and yet present, and that my soul is not just about choosing good or bad. it's about learning and growing. and that is freedom and power.
and besides, the dung beetle is a strong little creature. so are we.

Monday, September 10, 2007

by the way ...




in case anybody had any question -
this image is just wrong. it's evil. that's why i included it in the badass listening jesus post.

it's about what happens when people make jesus their tribal military bully hero. all the wrong energy. jesus refused to have power over all the kingdoms of the world. refused. period.

this one's wrong too. eeeeek.



and then there's this one:




the badass jesus with calluses

wandering servant's response to badass jesus rocks out. read it.

badass listening jesus



i don't know for sure where the image/model of jesus as a nice wuss came from or why it caught on in western culture. i was reading an interview with the franciscan priest, teacher, writer, and activist richard rohr. THAT man is anything but a wuss. he's a badass for jesus. i talked about rohr's insights into masculine spirituality in an earlier blog entry. he says thta the church's spirituality has been around feminine energy. since that's the case, of course jesus would represent feminine energy. long nicely washed and combed hair. gentle features. quiet. receptive. sensitive. like the jesus in these movies. the cross becomes about this poor sweet man. his mother's suffering becomes a major focus.

but jesus was also the tribal god, the hero of the patriarchy, the kingdom, the army, the campaign, the judge, the jury, the boss, the lord. so how does that work? how does the suffering nice man become the tribal god mighty in battle and on Our Side? if we're the empire taking over the world for god (which jesus said not to do), then isn't god on our side? and if we're going to war, isn't god a warrior?

i think some things had split from each other. as rohr says, the two weren't integrated.

so there was the feminine energy expressed in spirituality:
prayer, listening, being good and nice, thinking, caring.

and then there was the masculine energy:
serving on a committee ("i will win that vote!" "let's build something [building, organization, numbers, programs, structures] bigger!") or using god as a weapon to strike down one's enemies. studying, acquiring, teaching, "equipping." spiritual warfare. going to conventions and practicing democracy and robert's rules of order. wearing suits and/or robes. (john gray says in men are from mars, women are from venus that men love wearing uniforms, like cowboy and soldier and superhero and policeman outfits).

in the 60s, something happened. the counterculture movements brought an awareness that many americans just weren't living on the outside - perfect, well-behaved, happy - the way they really were on the inside - angry, stuck, alcoholic, shame-based. and the counterculture's leaders blamed the mass hypnotic trance (rohr's word for it) for enslaving the mainstream culture. we're not all ozzie and harriet, they said, nor do we wish to be. they said that racism and prejudice of all kinds, as well as the desire to rule the world by war, are sick and need to be reformed. enter a more integrated masculine energy, paired with feminine energy, the two twined together. meditation, peace, flowers, activism, confrontation. a significant paradigm shift. our culture continues to respond to that shift.

and so, as culture changed, the church changed (slowly), and the american model of the jesus changed. for a lot of people jesus is still the nice jesus in the paintings and stained glass. but for many people now, jesus has become much more active. someone who fought against the powers that be. a revolutionary. a hippie. a teacher. an exorcist. confrontational. countercultural.

some of that may be due to the men's movement that started in the 1980s as well. and then comes john eldredge and wild at heart and the rise of corporate male weekend warrior christianity, and it spins the other way. and then there's the model of the christian right - we're right and y'all are wrong and we'll make sure you know it.

i'm for the integrated model. how to follow jesus? this jesus?

one, listen.
two, act.

that's it. listen first. be taught. receive. slow down, stop, shut up. unlearn. break open.
then, act. love. heal. confront the systems that enslave people. forgive. reconcile. make peace. be poor. be rich. be awake. step out.

receive, then respond. and then receive again.
shut up, then speak up. and then shut up again.

the two poles aren't opposed; they become connected. like a healthy human being. both masculine and feminine energy. both action and contemplation. both "come and see" and "i send you out" - things that jesus told his followers.

so, which comes first? they aren't separate. they're the same thing. following jesus involves not just both extremes, but everything in every situation that enacts what jesus called "the kingdom of god" - the life in which god is at work in all things. this requires listening. and acting.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

journey and not for sale

not for sale. no one should be for sale. there are more people in forced labor and captivity - mostly for prostitution but also for manual labor of all kinds and armed conflict - than there have ever been. there are more people enslaved right now than there were during the entire 400 years of the trans-atlantic slave trade between africa and america.
who cares, right? i know. they're all brown people, or foreigners, or whatever. it seems far away. but it's not.
and on top of that, when i find out this information, i sort of freak out. that's 27 million people. i have no idea how to respond to that number. i have no idea how to get someone out of slavery.
at journey it's our mission to do what jesus said was the most important commandment. to love god. to learn to love ourselves as god loves us. and then to love others - those in our families, those in our workplaces, those in our neighborhoods, those in our cities, and those all around the world - as god loves us.
it's a hell of a lot of work. it's a pain in the ass. and it's worth doing.
there are enough christians. there are fewer followers of jesus and what jesus told us was important.
this is important. journey makes a difference for many people by learning how to love god, love ourselves, and love the world.
there are lots of kinds of enslavement. we're in for the fight. we're already fighting.

"i have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny over the minds of men [and women]." - thomas jefferson.
"i do believe, i really do believe in the New Jerusalem, i really do believe that we can all become better than we are. i know we can. but the price is enormous and people are not yet willing to pay it." - james baldwin, 20th century african-american writer and activist

Thursday, September 6, 2007

oh yeah? well tear down your own idols, tall hairy man!

okay, i will.
disclaimer: lots of people can see clearly enough to know the difference between what's a healthy tool or form, and what is being focused on with too much importance and not enough self-awareness. lots of methodists know that the communion liturgy they use , or the Book of Discipline, or the connection structure of the denomination, is not the point. or whatever denomination and their stuff - jews and the torah, baptists and immersion, episcopalians and liturgy, catholics and mass, eucharist, confession, etc.

although, now that i say that, maybe there are lots who don't.
i can't count how many people from all sorts of faith traditions have asked me whether those things are essential or not. forms of baptism or communion. particular ways to read the bible. moral codes. one man just said, "am i going to go to hell because maybe i don't practice christianity the way my parents did?" and he meant it.
i said, good god, hell no, absolutely not, let go, be free, fuck that.

but how to know? my wise wife has said, take everything you believe, and boil it down to the rock bottom, absolute essentials. the things that you know are true about god. the things you cling to and know are deep down worth holding on to. and then say to god, I am willing to give even this to you, because it is still not who and what you are.

that's getting rid of anything that is not The Thing Itself.

leonard sweet is a man who teaches church leaders about the need for the christian church to change and evolve because the culture has. i heard him say at a speech to some traditional christians, "i know you love gospel music and hymns. your children and grandchildren don't; they find gospel and hymns as off-putting as you find rock music. if you insist that their music not be part of christianity, then you are willing to send your children and grandchildren to hell. are you willing to do that?" that's what i'm talking about.

and so, what might be some journey assumptions as to what is holy but not The Thing Itself?
we're not like other churches. it's what we're all about.
we love being together. it's what we're all about.
we go help the poor. it's what we're all about.
our pastors are cool and funny and laid back. it's what we're all about.

all of those are not The Thing Itself.
maybe it's a mistake to say that ANYTHING is The Thing Itself.
The Thing Itself is the unknowable, ineffable mystery, and our best response to it might just be awe and humilty and fluidity and openness and joy and fear, and that's about it. everything else is just shit human beings make up. and if it's an effective tool that helps us - in journey's case - love god, love ourselves as god loves us, and love others in the same way - then that's a good thing. but none of it is The Thing Itself.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

tear down the idols - if you've got the balls

At the Methodist church where I began my ministry as a pastor, there’s a heated discussion going on about not having the American flag in the sanctuary. I'm sending this pastor a lot of love and prayer. Not support necessarily, but prayer. He needs it. He wrote a 2-page article in the church newsletter explaining to these nice whitebread suburban conservative East Texas Methodists why it’s the right thing to do. Here’s the weird part: he’s right. Theologically, the idea of having no idols or graven images is clear. Huge, actually – the idea of God’s people never bowing to any earthly nation – scripture seems pretty clear about not having any other allegiances than to God. The prophets struggle with the people of Israel to get them to quit worshiping Baal and Astarte; the early Christians proclaimed “Jesus is Lord” as a direct refutation of the Roman greeting “Caesar is Lord.” So, yeah, theologically, the American flag doesn’t belong in the sanctuary of God.



And here’s why I don’t think he went nearly far enough. If you're going to make huge shifts like that based on a theological principle, then don’t pick and choose. Go all the way. Commit. (This is me calling the last bet put on the table. I’m figuring that last bet is a bluff, or at least ill-advised. So, I’ll call.)

If you're going to take all the idols out of the sanctuary of the church, then get with it. In fact, purge the church itself. Not the campus, but the whole thing. Step up, balls out. Get rid of:

  • American success-obsession. Praise the kind of people Jesus hung out with: scum who know they love God. Desperate people. Hungry people. Train wrecks. Put them in positions of leadership. Get rid of the bankers and lawyers and businessmen who run the committees. They're part of American groupthink. That’s its own false idol.
  • Fancy buildings that cost millions of dollars. Let anybody use the campus for free.
  • Sacred cows. The church parlor, the carpet, the pews, the Advent and Lent and Easter banners. The Christmas pageant. The pastor having the largest office and the ultimate say. Rearrange which Sunday School class has what room – just for fun, to take away anyone’s attachment to anything that feels like it’s mine.
  • The staff. Just get together and hang out and follow Jesus together. If someone wants to work for the church, that’s fine and helpful. But it’s not a requirement that a group of people following Jesus have a staff, or pastor, or organist.
  • Reverence for the denomination. UMC pastors aren’t members of the congregation; they're members of the Annual Conference, appointed by the Bishop. The ultimate rule is the UMC Book of Discipline. Fuck that. Jesus didn't invent that; people did. It’s not God.
  • Worship of heroes of the faith. John Wesley was just another dude. So was Luther, so’re all the Popes, so was Mother Teresa. Just a person. No big.
  • Reverence for worship forms. Let anybody take communion. Let anybody lead communion. Don’t get caught up in liturgy. It’s just words. Change worship up all over the place. It’s just a way to connect to God. Pastors: take off the robes. Church folks: take off your ties. God isn’t impressed.

There are these kinds of idols in every denomination and church system. Bible churches – what’s the idol? The Bible. Baptist churches – what’s the idol? Baptism and salvation. Catholic churches – what’s the idol? Eucharist. Episcopal churches - what's the idol? Liturgy. What’s an idol and what’s not? Anything I think is as important as God is an idol. “As important as God” means, This is the right way to experience God and really no other understanding but ours is the right one. I can hear Jesus now: "Didn't I say to get rid of all that shit?"

Oh, and, here’s why this is a bad idea on a completely practical level. Don’t take the American flag away from East Texans. That’s like pissing on their mother’s grave. They also don’t like questioning America or President Bush. There’s no “Keep East Texas Weird” bumper stickers.

So, I don’t know how that pastor will live through this one. It may be the hill he has chosen to die on. One seminary professor told us, “You’ll have only so many opportunities to be crucified in ministry, so choose them wisely.” The pastor's two-page letter may work in convincing his parishioners that it’s the right thing to do, or it may not. If this were important to him and he wanted to be involved in meaningful community, he might’ve done better just to sit around and talk to people and listen to people and pray with anybody who wanted to be part of a discernment process. There's no hurry. Sometimes it takes a long time for us to get our own shit out of the way. There's nothing that has to be decided in a hurry - unless someone's starving, or naked, or sick, or in prison. But then, if the hundreds of millions of Christians really were about only following Jesus, then those problems wouldn't exist.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

and god created them male and female, in god's image

this blog entry is a good way into the discussion about male spirituality. it's not about being macho. it's not about proving what a tough man you are. it's also not about being more feminine and sweet and introspective. it's about integrating masculine (yang, action) and feminine (yin, reflection) and being empowered and clear. richard rohr says that the church has been masculine in structure - hierarchy, patriarchy, build and have things and success - and feminine in spirituality - reflective, responsive, receptive. the problem, rohr says, is that the two haven't been integrated; they've been separated. so we've felt crazy. men have brought corporate thinking into running churches, and have been turned off to the inner work of the soul; men haven't much language to understand or articulate their own feelings and needs; women are way ahead of men in their inner work - and so there's been this big disconnect.
when i go further within, and it leads me outward, that's integration and power.
when i listen in order to act, and act out of listening, that's integration and clarity.
when i only listen, or only act, i'm disconnected.

Monday, September 3, 2007

what gift can i give?

i was on staff at a lovely mainline denominational (united methodist) church before moving to austin. whitebread, nice, well-behaved people. like being together. want things to be good, but not too crazy - don't cause trouble. this is east texas, after all, a conservative part of the world. these are salt of the earth people. not as emotional as baptists. not as highfalutin' as episcopalians. greatest want? to be encouraged to live a good life. they want to live a good life. they're trying.
i have no idea how i stayed on staff there as long as i did, except that i honestly loved those people, and they knew it. i worked really hard to make things as good as i could with what i understood about myself at the time.
it was very often hellish.
part of that was because i was moving from Hero to Warrior King. hero energy is boy energy - let me prove to everyone, and mostly myself, that i have worth - i'll work really hard and everyone will like me. i'll win. i'll be strong and smart and tired, so you'll all (that is, I'll) see that i have value.
a good friend at that church said to me one day, "you're caught in hero mode. the problem with being a hero is, The hero never gets to have any fun. he or she is always so busy proving him/herself. at some point the hero burns out and becomes bitter." boy, no shit. it happened. i konked out. but i couldn't let anybody know - that'd mean i wasn't heroic.
i'm luckier than most men; i have always done a lot of introspection, writing in journals, thinking. i've always tried to figure out what the hell is going on with me and with where i'm at. so, at least i was AWARE that i was angry and sad and lost and pissed off. i didn't know what to do about it just yet, but at least i was aware.
but there was also the issue of the world i lived in, and my choices in it.
i have spoken with many friends on church staffs over the years and the thing that pastors struggle with in denominational churches, as well as megachurches, is that the members of these congregations relate to each other at church functions at an external level. i can't imagine someone walking into an education committee meeting and saying, "i'm really struggling with pornography" or asking that worship stop so that he or she can ask, "where's the AA group meet on sundays?" or say, "I'm really lonely right now. i'm hurting. is there someone here i could just sit with at lunch today? or can y'all just pray for me? and with me?"
nor can i imagine the pastor saying any of those things. that sonofabitch might as well just stand up and say "i screw goats."
it's an external environment. its focus is external. some denominations are external in that they emphasize that god connects to us through ritual, mass, eucharist, baptism, whatever. some denominations are external in that they emphasize that we connect to god through performance, being good, working hard, saving souls, not sinning, whatever. either way, the internal is hidden. it's personal. it's between you and god.
which means that if you're in trouble, you're fucked - unless you have found some friends you can dig under the surface with. i had some of those, and i was very very lucky. nonprofit prophet was among them, the one who's lasted the most and who is a truth-teller about himself and to others. so he's a pain in the ass, which is very good.
nobody, however, who's in power in such a system likes a nonprofit prophet. a prophet who doesn't work for the system is a troublemaker. a question-asker. the one who says, Is anybody noticing anything? the emperor is freakin' naked!
i had a prophet in my head saying, Are you noticing anything? people are very well-behaved, and nice, but if anyone is different, or weird, or too honest, or too emotional, or too real, everybody gets scared. so, whatever you do, don't be any of those things. hold it all in. be nice. be cooperative. make sure everyone is happy. especially happy with you. or they won't like you anymore and you'll be out.
with all human beings in interaction with each other, there are often conflicts. that's normal. i don't even mean, that's okay, we have to put up with that - i mean, it's what happens. it's good. it's appropriate. not everyone agrees. not everyone sees things the same way.
usually that means that we're not dealing with our own shit. our own fears. and we're projecting them on others. we're bringing our opinions - which are really just a way to say, I'm right, and I want my way.
if someone's in opinion mode, she/he has not moved into contribution mode. contribution mode says, I am bringing this. let's all listen to each other and to god and see what's best for what god is doing.
contribution mode is about listening. opinion mode is about telling.
god works through those who are willing to listen and obey, act, step out in faith.
jesus made it pretty clear that groupthink and majority opinion are almost always wrong. god is counterintuitive, makes no sense, is weird. the kin-dom of god is a place where things are backwards.
churches full of people who are trying to be good are run on opinions, majority rule, and cultural models of what makes sense in the corporate world and in terms of common sense.
this means that these churches very often are not being led by god. they are led by people. good people, but people nevertheless. they pray to god for help, but it's help from, let's say, a benevolent uncle. uncle god. nice god. god who supports us and is on our side.
i noticed over and over, and many of my church stafff friends all over the world have said, that in that kind of setting, in which people can't say, My day sucks! my marriage is in trouble! my mother is an alcoholic and i'm in pain! i'm a fucking mess! i don't know if i believe in god anymore! and i'm pissed off at everbody and i want to kill something - all that energy will come out. it has to. but it's not nice. so it comes out sideways. it comes out in people trying to win a vote about something. or it comes out at the meeting after the meeting - in the parking lot, on the phone, in emails. it comes out with covert operations. it comes out in poeple justifying that their opinions are the best ones.
it manifests itself in cowardly leadership. in tyrant leadership. in nice leadership which is masking anger or fear or shame or guilt.
i saw it over and over. i contributed to it. i didn't know what else to do. and it was modeled for me.

but i also met a man named E. J. Davis, a retired pastor, who had checked out of the rat-race/climb-the-church ladder game. he had refused to obey the united methodist bishop, and had called the bishop a "pipsqueak." i asked him, How on earth could you have done that? E. J.'s answer? "i was gonna call him a son of a bitch, but i at least wanted to work somewhere." E. J. had after that never gotten a "big" church. he had been assigned to medium-sized churches for the rest of his career. he is one of my heroes.
when i first went on staff, i asked E. J. what his advice was. "do what it is that god calls you to do, and if someone don't like it, let 'em go straight to hell." he added, "there were some bastards who deserved to go to hell, and i preached too good and got em out of it. i've regretted it ever since."
E. J. modeled integrity for me.
now i pray that i can model integrity for others.
i no longer try to be nice - i don't believe in it. i try every day to be honest. i really love being with journeyers - seriously, love it - but i have moved from Hero mode to Warrior King mode. the king gives his gift, he does not own it. he serves. and he does not need to be in power; he uses his power from within himself to serve others. he knows he is connected to his Source. for me, that's the love of god. and when i'm out of it, feeling disconnected and lost, i tell people i trust. i just say, I'm a mess today. i want to kill something. i am afraid.
journeyers do that a lot.
very little comes out sideways. we try to let it out in front of each other.
we are trying to let what god does in us be what guides us. that's not external; it's shared, from within us.

i am not throwing rocks at the umc or any other church model like that. i'm saying that it doesn't work for me anymore. and i'm saying that sideways energy is always toxic.
and if you are part of that kind of organization, church, family, office, i encourage you to walk in and say exactly what you are feeling, or at least some part of it. do not expect anyone to fix it for you. deal with it. it's your business, no one else's. it's your shit. it's not about anybody else but you. it's your mirror. so, it's a gift. a gift to you. and if you share it without any attachment to anyone else fixing it for you, you can have freedom.
no one will fix it for you, but perhaps they will have permission to be real too. you can be real - and then it won't come out of you sideways. if they can't give themselves permission; if this is so deeply counterintuitive that it makes no sense whatsoever, then at least you've planted a seed. and you're dealing with your stuff. your life. your wants. your hopes.
stop being nice. fuck that. be real. first, be real with yourself. throw your opinions out. if you find yourself wanting to undermine, gossip, backbite, throw rocks, stop. what is this about? what in you is this about?
instead, ask yourself, what gift can i give? if it means being truthful, be truthful. start with yourself. then give your gift with humility, but give it. don't be afraid. what's gonna happen, are they gonna crucify you? you'll be in good company.