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.


PB said...

Hi Rick -

You hit a home run with this...the people I admire most today are those who are honest and deal with stuff, because for a long while, I couldn't because I wanted to be a hero in my organization too.

I got tired of doing so, and the adjustment has been rather...weird...but will be good in the long run.

revrin rick said...

yep pb. it will be a weird adjustment every freakin' time. but it gets easier.
i like being a warrior king much more than being a hero. i'm getting this terminology, btw, from a book called king warrior magician lover - the king isn't the lord of all; the king is simply someone who accepts responsibility for whatever he's taken on - family, relationships, job, nation, church, whatever - and serves with clarity and humility.
that is much much better.
it's a bitch, but it's better.

it will be good in the long run. i promise.

Chiron' said...

Fantastic Blog Rick, I aspire to have the presence of mind you show in your posts. Thanks for sharing this side of yourself with us.


revrin rick said...

thanks chiron! i'm just letting everybody in on the ramblings ...

bob c said...

a few random thoughts:

is it church that inhibit internal or people (like me & you) who assemble & create norms ?

the internal/external thingee is helpful, but sometimes it can be a false dichtomy - we try to maintain the wall, but water (and other stuff) breaks thru

one thing I so admire about the recent Mother Teresa meme is how it models a way of holding feelings & will concurrently, rather than an either or

a part of creedal or liturgical traditions that groks for me is how we can let others hold hope or faith when we do not feel it WE believe, we do this to remember

mt all-time fav definition of church: a place we can collapse on God & one another
--- with God as the Trinity, it models the reality that Christianity can rarely be experienced individually

revrin rick said...

for me, the whole internal/ external issue is just me. i mean, yeah, there are systems that are by nature more externally driven than others. maybe that's why in some ways people need down time - when we can just reconnect to the within, because so much of our lives feel directed by the systems we're part of, systems that direct us, tell us what to do or feel or think. and some organizations, worlds, systems, discourage people from bringing that inner voice, their feelings, whatever is inside them. but ultimately it's up to each of us to decide (over and over and over) what we'll do about that. i'm just glad to be out of systems that discourage me from bringing all that i am. yep, water breaks through. it's inevitable. all the more reason to be like jesus and sometimes just get the hell away from everybody and their expectations and agendas for us.
yes, mother teresa did it - even when the feelings are a wreck, or feel like it - just keep doing the thing you're called to do. but her calling is even more deeply what is within her; her head couldn't feel it, but her soul still knew. so it's just about going even deeper within.
i love having others around me who'll help me - who'll hold the space for me, help me remember. whatever the liturgy and tradition in that is. maybe it's standing up and saying a creed or statement; maybe it's having a friend who continues to ask, "What's up?" or "How are you?" or "Remember that you are beloved." like parents do for us ideally - "Do you know how proud i am of you?" no matter whether we've fucked up or not.
"a place where we can collapse on god and one another" ... yeah. definitely.
and that's my point - if i'm in a church structure or system that allows me to crash, collapse, be honest, i am more likely to do so, and not hold it in, and get sick.

nonprofitprophet said...

Thanks for the words brother. I am glad you addressed this concept in your blog. Why people choose to pretend all the damn time is beyond me. I know you have to "operate" within certain systems or circles within established "norms", but does that mean you have to appear like everything is just fine? Heck no. I mean, its okay to say I work for the system but don't totally agree with it, and do not contribute to it's dysfunction. It usually isn't well received however. No one likes reality checks - especially when it conflicts with perception. thanks again - I'll hold the pain in the ass banner up as long as possible. ~npp

revrin rick said...

we choose to pretend because we're just doing the best we can with what we've got, what we've learned, what works, what we know. if we knew better, we'd do something different.
the people who want reality checks are the people who are ready for a change. that's why the "people listened to jesus' teaching with delight" and the religious leaders and powerful people didn't. the gospel is good news and bad news. it's good news for the people ready for some good news, and bad news for people who already feel fine.
raise the banner. cause trouble. be a pain in the ass. if it's from god, then it'll stick where it needs to.
prophet on, wayne!
prophet on, garth!
prophet on, nonprofit prophet!