The Return of Anxiety

I’m home alone this morning. I love being alone. No one talks to me. Being a Myers Briggs iNtuitive, my inner world is really important to me. My wife has taken the kids to church. She’s started going again and the kids love it. I think one of the reasons she’s going is because she’s back on antidepressants so she can manage ok. This time she says she’s going to take them daily until she’s better (my fingers are crossed).

I have struggled for a few months with anxiety. I recently did my 09-10 tax and had a blowout. I was threatening to whack the kids and yelling at them. I was in such a state I was reaching for the beer to try and calm down. I’m not sure how long the anxiety has been simmering, but I didn’t become aware of it until June when I organised a mindfulness seminar. After the two day training I felt really anxious. At times I was sucking deep breaths and the knot was back in the stomach. I wondered how a mindfulness seminar could make me anxious, but I realised after a bit that it had just increased my awareness of what was happening inside me.

There was a little bit of denial that was going on too. I wanted to believe that I was better and was fooling myself into ignoring what was happening in my body.

The”why” took me a lot longer to figure out. Work was fine. My home duties were going smoothly. Parenting was all good. I’m still not going to church so there’s some cognitive dissonance still rattling around down there but I don’t think that’s causing any anxiety. Then I realized what it was.

I was getting to a point of hyper-vigilance with my wife. She was erupting on a regular basis and becoming really tense. Seemingly out of the blue she would crack the shits and start riding the kids. While this would make me tense and increase the heartbeat I wouldn’t get involved lest the wrath be turned on me. I figured the kids could absorb it. There were times that I’d chipped in a thought and received a full dose. I even recorded one of them on my iPhone and it’s frightening. So her anxiety, was causing my anxiety. I was walking on egg-shells afraid of her anger and what she could say. It’s not very tough, but if I’m honest, this is what was happening on an emotional level (the brains more primal limbic system) – not a cognitive one.

It’s really odd how she couldn’t see it though. Even a few weeks ago she was insisting that I wasn’t well and that I needed to go back on medication and get treatment. She felt that I was the problem. But somewhere along the line she’s been able to get some space and get in touch with what’s happening inside her and realise that she’s not well. She has used antidepressants before but pops them like Panadol. The problem with this is that it calms her down, but it’s only after an episode of lashing out and spinning out of control which isn’t much good for us. She’s never followed the psych’s recommendation of being on them for a solid period of time while engaging in talking therapy to unpack what’s going on.

But this time she says she’ll do it. So far, so good. And my anxiety has almost all but disappeared. I’m not vigilant or wary of her anymore – which is a good thing in a marriage! I feel in the main part happy again and calm. Now I only feel anxiety in “normal” stressful situations (meeting a tax deadline, running late for an appointment – that sort of thing). I’m still hyper sensitive to stress where I react to the stress and stress about stress, but I’m working on that. As I say, the only way to make a marriage work is if each one owns their own shit.

Antidepressants; to pop or not?

Recently I was invited to speak to a few groups who train people in suicide prevention using a one day course. It’s a brilliant course, one that I completed last year and thoroughly recommend. I generally share my story of depression and having strong suicidal tendencies which led me to research deadly methods to end my life. In the course of conversation afterward the topic of anti-depressants arose and the fact that those under treatment are notorious for not taking their medication. For those of you who’ve cared for someone on medication I’m sure you’ve all asked the question “did you take your meds today?”

Asking that question is a bit like my uncle who as a boy climbed up onto the roof and as his father was passing underneath dropped a brick on him and asked “did that hurt?” It’s going to attract the same kind of response my grandfather had. He hauled the mischievous boy down, gave him a hiding and said “did that hurt?” Be prepared to don a flack jacket and helmet prior to asking the question.

So we got onto talking about why people go off them all the time and in the main it’s basically all about the downsides:

Firstly there’s the stigma. One bloke describe them as “old lady pills” – and even old ladies don’t want to take old lady pills, let alone the rest of us. For someone with depression whose self esteem is scraping rock bottom, the blow of having to take meds is yet another bitter pill to swallow (no pun intended). It took me months to fill the script I had while I struggled to accept that I needed them.

Second I had no feelings on antidepressants. I didn’t feel angry, frustrated, and irritable which was great – but nor did I feel any joy, hope, or happiness either. Interestingly I didn’t even feel fear when I should have (riding a mates Yamaha 450 dirt bike through the scrub at full tilt should have triggered some red lights in my head but it didn’t). I just felt totally calm. It was millpond still inside, but in an uncanny way.

Finally my performance in the sack took a big nose dive – one thing I like to think I was pretty good at (what guy doesn’t?). Now I sucked at that as well. My libido went on holidays and didn’t leave a forwarding address. This is the biggie and this is the one that was raised by the suicide prevention group leader. Everyone she knew who was medicated went off them frequently because they didn’t like having a non-existent sex life. I found that by going off them for 48 hours things worked again, but the crankiness returned pretty quickly and I was back on them again. Still, having my libido back even if it was just visiting was a good thing.

So do I recommend taking antidepressants? It depends. For severe depression it’s highly recommended. That in conjunction with therapy is a proven effective treatment. The meds are like floaties. They’re not the solution, but they do support you while you learn to swim. For moderate depression – maybe. But studies show that talking therapies (in particular CBT or Mindfulness Based CBT which I prefer) work at the same rate of effectiveness. For mild depression meds aren’t recommended. There’s a whole host of things that can help there from exercise to eating well, sleep, recreation etc. that will do wonders. For more on what works for depression, check out beyondblue’s comprehensive publication (clicking this link will download the pdf)

For us, medication was critical. Within 48 hours of starting, my wife said I was totally different and that she could talk to me again and have a normal conversation. Profound peace and calm returned to me and all the aggression and irritability totally dissipated. I was much better to be around. It was the pressure relief valve I needed to give me the breathing space to deal with the issues that had caused me to become so ill.

For you? That’s something that only you can and should work out for yourself.

Wanna write a Christian bestseller?

#106 The Side HugMy cousin is a real thinker. He graduated an engineer, then became a patent attorney and never married, so not only can he think, he’s got the time and energy to do it. He’s basically a self-taught theologian. I really applaud thinkers. They get a bad trot in Christendom – written off as all talk, no action. But I think generating ideas is action and can certainly be a catalyst for action.

Anyway, cuz really has a message about the Father heart of God – which he says is the apostolic message that’s getting drowned out across modern western Christendom by speakers and authors talking about principles for the successful christian life – e.g. seven steps to a powerful prayer life, three easy stages to holiness, five ways to a horny God-honoring marriage. He wants us to come back to the Father heart of God but to do it, he needs to do some pretty solid and heavy exposition of Ephesians 1-3 and Romans 6-8 and everything else in the bible.

When I asked him who his audience is, he says the man on the street – average Joe Believer. But when he tells me what it’s going to take to support his position it sounds like the only people who would be able to digest this high-fibre, zero fat, low carb, extreme protein power bar of thought will be  scholars. I explained to him that there are a couple of issues with the rest of the audience.

Firstly, there is the dumbed-down audience that love reading the latest from TD Jakes and John Bevere on a certain topic usually outlining how to master a certain aspect of the Christian life (western christian mindset). Today’s Christians are saved by grace and then bust their boilers and give themselves nose bleeds working out their salvation by mastery i.e. applying “proven” principles to get results to be a successful, God-honoring believer (never mind that following Christ and the idea of “mystery” has fallen by the wayside). We might be saved by faith, but we definitely live by trying to figure it all out in individually wrapped bite-sized portions.

The dumbed-down audience want to read “safe” authors who are recommended by their pastor or someone else “safe”. Author’s must be able to demonstrate their personal success (i.e. mastery) by leading a large church, loving a happy family (all smiles), speaking at big conferences, owning two large houses, traveling to over 40 countries, writing best seller books translated into 93 languages, having 80,000 twitter followers, with a ministry on TV broadcast to the said 40 countries and soon into outer space (don’t laugh about the outer space, I personally know a pastor who is trying to broadcast their worship and music into outer space).

Cuz, I said sagely, we all know you write to this audience to make money – a necessary evil, but then you pour this money into your “vision” so the ends justify the means.

The other audience he could try is the non-churched Christians, post moderns and emergents. The issue with these guys is that they don’t want to look at the bible as a text to be sliced and diced and analysed. The bible isn’t seen as a constitution or wiki on the Christian life. It’s seen as a true, earthy, primal story made up of many stories about many people, the central character being Christ. The overarching story is about God and people. So if the bible is a narrative, your writing might want to be…. a narrative! And it better be released for Kindle as well.

I explain that modernism takes a technical, analytical, systematic view of the bible producing works like “systematic theology” but emergents don’t want to analyse, they want to synthesise. They don’t want technical, they want organic. They don’t want more information, they want relationship. They don’t necessarily want more knowledge of good and evil, they want life, community, worship and they want this in a social justice, eco-friendly, sustainable and all-inclusive package…. don’t even think of using the word “exposition”.

If you write to these guys, you might want to invest in some pop culture (Erwin McManus has his own clothing line and Rob Bell should definitely have his own line of spectacle frames) or maybe you could practice writing stories. Christian fiction is the new non-fiction! Just look at the success of The Shack. After all, everyone loves a good story don’t they?

Parenting with Mental Illness – The Downside

In my last post on parenting with mental illness where it dawned on me that when in recovery, we do have certain advantages in parenting, there is also a dark downside for children. You see I’ve come to also realise over the last few months that I’m experiencing more anxiety that I thought I was and that I was either misinterpreting it, or refusing to acknowledge it because of my determination to get better. A two-day mindfulness seminar put paid to my suppression though. Slowing down enough to actually observe what was going on inside me (thoughts, feelings and sensations) revealed the anxiety simmering away in there.

How does this affect parenting? Hugely.

I’ve noticed (in another lightbulb moment) that much of the time I’m parenting out of anxiety. Anxiety is informing my decisions and how I behave toward the children. If they’re getting a little rambunctious  in the rear seat, I remind them of the rule about no rowdiness in the car, but sometimes even just a little laughter, giggling and squirming can actually really irritate me. This means I repeat the instruction, by which stage they’re too excited to calm down and they continue  – muffled giggles now. At this point I’m beyond irritable, I’m angry. I smacked them all after a trip recently with a chinese fan one of them had. Another trip, I made them stand outside the car to “cool off” even though it was raining. I nearly wound down the window on a highway and threw a telly tubby out after it was swung by the small one into the big one’s face (accidentally of course). Imagine what I’m like if there’s an argument in the back seat!!!

In actual fact to be honest, none of their behavior was bad. They weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just being kids. When they’ve grown up and left home, I’m sure going to miss that giggling. I know that if I’m doing better, I probably wouldn’t even react – in fact I’d probably giggle with them. Seeing three squirmy kids eyeballing each other and making one another laugh really is a funny sight and would make a great memory. Unless you’re experiencing anxiety.

Parenting out of depression and anxiety means we’re not parenting out of values. We’re just trying to control our children in such a way as to manage our symptoms. It’s unfair to kids to somehow make them responsible. I really regret doing this, and now that I’ve realised it, I’m trying to pay attention to it, but it’s really hard to separate out my motives sometimes.

I’ve noticed with my wife that the kids do certain things to trigger her anxiety, but it’s more around fear. She will try and control them so she doesn’t feel afraid for their safety. This is really stifling and the kids and I hate it the nagging. “Stop doing that!”, “Come away from there”, “Move away from the edge”, “Get down from that tree, “Don’t touch that”, “Stay closer to me”. She doesn’t even like them walking the 100m from the bus stop to home without being supervised because they have to cross two streets. The fear and anxiety is just too much for her.

Having said all this, I guess the question in my mind is “will this harm my children?” Hopefully not. But it’s certainly not what I want for them or for us. I want to live a life and parent out of my values not my illness. I want what’s best for my kids, not what’s least harmful.

Parenting with a mental illness

I’ve been invited to work with a national group called Children of Parents with Mental Illness to develop a new website for dads who have a mental illness. I’ve attended a panel interstate and am contributing to a wiki which will then be morphed into the website. Next month, they’re flying down to film my story for the website.

In the course of disgorging what I’ve learned about parenting with mental illness it struck me (eventually) that parents with mental illness who are in recovery can actually make better parents! It was one of those light bulb moments for me because I realised that I’d been teaching my kids emotional and coping skills that were never taught to me.

One thing that mental illness has taught me is an emotional vocabulary. Before my mental illness, I was an emotional neanderthal. Most men are. If you ask Average Man how he’s feeling, you’ll get grunts to the effect of “not bad”, “fine”, “stoked”, “dunno”, and “alright I s’pose”. None of which are really feelings, and none are very nuanced. In fact he may not even know how he’s feeling. (Yes girls, it’s shocking!) That’s what it was like for me.

I’m still learning to be able to know and describe my feelings, but I’m on the way. Mindfulness is helping me observe my emotions impartially and notice where they are in my body and their intensity. Yes I know it’s all a bit girly by normal standards, but normal standards aren’t helpful. What I’ve found is that to be in touch with one’s emotions is to be fully human.

So these are the things I’m teaching my kids. To notice their emotions and to be able to describe them honestly and without judgement. To accept them, and yet to not feel compelled to do anything about them. Emotions are the like the car on the road outside our house. They come, and they go. We don’t jump out of our chair and race to the door and feel like we have to do something about them (unless you’re a dog). We can acknowledge emotions, experience them, and be kind to ourselves about what we’re experiencing but we don’t have to be ruled by them or carried away by them.

It’s a great way to approach difficult emotions such as pain, suffering, grief, anger, frustration, hatred, rage, jealousy, and rejection to name a few. These are really uncomfortable and hard to process for all of us, so giving kids tools to do it sets them up for life.

Everyone Loves Raymond but Producer Hates Business

Phil Rosenthal is the creator, writer and producer of the hit show based on the down-to-earth Ray Romano. The show is epic in its popularity, so much so, that Phil was asked to export it to Russia, using local actors to recreate the series. In the painful process that ensued he discovered that Russians like their comedy over the top and in locking horns with the powers that be, he maintained that the secret to “Everyone Loves Raymond” was that it was a “down to earth – kitchen sink” type of comedy. In this article, he says

”There’s lovely people wherever you go – and then there’s executives. They seem to be the same no matter where you go. I love every aspect of the business except the business. The money part of it, I don’t enjoy. I love writing, acting, directing, producing. I just don’t like the business part of it.”

His words jumped off the touchscreen at me in bed this morning. He could have been me three years ago! My “executives” were super spiritual flaky fundamentalist mafiosa seizing on every word that was out of place that I uttered from the pulpit. One of them criticised me for using the word “fantastic” because the root of the word was fantasy, and there was no fantasy in Christianity. You get the idea.

Over time, I distanced myself from the flakes. I put minders in the way and barriers everywhere to stop them getting through. I opened no mail – my PA did all that. Anything unsigned hit the bin without me knowing. Emails went to her before proceeding to me. Lower level pastors would “vet” people who wanted to see me in an effort to stop the crazies from getting into my head.

But the business, I couldn’t stop.

The business of running church was overwhelming. Managing staff, job descriptions, preparing and running meetings, budget review meetings, board meetings, finance meetings, restructuring, weekly offerings, monthly averages, loan repayments, cost cutting, property valuations, blowouts, and wondering how to make ends meet were simply all consuming. These were the things I lay in bed agonising over.

Just as Rosenthal loved the writing, creating and producing , I actually loved leading – the visionary, creative part. I love to dream. I love to galvanise people toward a cause that is greater than their singular life. I love to build and work in teams. I love thinking outside the box. I love to motivate and encourage. I love to communicate and inspire. I love to experiment and try new things. I love being a catalyst.

But the business killed me. It got me in the end. As interesting as making a sitcom in Russia would be, Rosenthal is not eager to repeat it, claiming ”Poland has called and I’m not going!” Similarly, I can safely say, I’ll never lead in the church again as it currently operates. It’s an insatiable beast that eats pastors alive.

My thoughts on Hillsong

I was asked late last year by a former attender of the church I led what I thought of Hillsong. I’ll try and keep it short! I have friends that are on staff at Hillsong, I’ve met Brian personally and I’ve attended three or four Hillsong conferences so you can decide if I’m biased or just better able to make some comments!

Hillsong is THE flagship Australian church in terms of profile and impact. It’s broken all the mindsets about church size and dynamics. It’s really reinvented the landscape of Christianity in Australia and shown us what’s possible. I’m fairly certain Shout to the Lord is probably THE most popular christian worship song in the world – which, coming from Australia says something. There aren’t many churches in our country that you can attend that won’t be singing one or two Hillsong choruses (even if they don’t like Hillsong – ah the irony of it).

Hillsong really pushed the envelope in making Christianity contemporary – i.e. music, language, services, buildings, programs etc. that speak to ordinary people. It’s been a wake-up call to churches that are a victim of stodgy, boring traditionalism. Much of the resentment toward Hillsong comes from churches who hate to see their “success”. Hillsong is one of the very few Australian churches that are actually growing with a good proportion of new commitments.

I have loved Hillsong conference. It’s really exciting and can be life changing. I’d certainly recommend everyone goes at least once!

Every church has its downside though. Hillsong is huge and that has it’s own disadvantages. It runs very much like a corporate machine. The stress on staff is massive. They have huge vision so the budgets are enormous which always attracts attention from outside. It’s a fairly controlled environment – they do that by establishing a “Hillsong” culture (again this is a corporate/business idea) so there are certain ways to talk, certain language, dress and behavior that’s subliminally peer reinforced, which suits some people I guess, but can be a bit restricting for others. I for one, would never work there under any circumstance. Staff are required to attend a minimum of three weekend services and I simply wouldn’t ever want to do that.

As far as any “scandals” go, there aren’t really any (sadly for the media) – well, no more than any other church with flawed people in it. As with any organisation, there are always people who do stupid things but aren’t necessarily the fault or responsibility of the organisation itself. Brian Houston had to deal with his dads moral failing before he passed away. No fault of Hillsongs’ there. They did get some grant money for certain projects and had to return it because a third party organisation they partnered with folded. Now it looks like Gloria Jeans might be facing insolvency, but the only connection with Hillsong is that they share a board member (very common in big business to share board members with other companies). Mercy ministries folded last year and the directors have been ordered to pay every consumer that was in the program, but again, Mercy is a US organisation that Hillsong partnered with. They got burned there, but it wasn’t necessarily their responsibility.

One prominent homosexual has been trying to paint Hillsong as homophobic, but I don’t think he’s gained too much traction in mainstream church circles, perhaps only in the gay community and the media. He obviously had a pretty bad experience, but homophobia is not actually the position of Hillsong. Never has been, and never will be. No doubt there will be homophobic believers there (church attenders are fairly representative of the population), and believers who embrace homosexuals, just like any other church.

I think Hillsong spends around $1.5m on meeting practical needs in their area (my figures are probably rusty, but that’s the order of things), so it would be nice if the media also covered the good things they’re doing.

The issues that make the media are usually about money. You need to know that no church prints money, and no church is “for-profit”. That means money in = money out. They spend whatever they get on growing the church and meeting needs. It’s not accumulating anywhere. Sure Brian and Bobby, and Darlene etc. are quite wealthy compared to the average Australian but that’s from royalties from songs – good luck to them. The reality is that the top echelon of Hillsong are extremely talented entrepreneurial individuals. If they weren’t working in the church arena, they’d probably be wealthier working in big business. They certainly have that X factor that organisations pay big bucks for. They give plenty of their blood, sweat and tears, so they do earn every dollar.

Personally I wouldn’t be part of Hillsong if I lived next door to it. It is a certain model of doing church that is very “successful”, but is fairly unique to Brian Houston and a small handful of others. I respect him for that – he’s built a church fairly and squarely on his gifts and talents. He’s been his own man and refused to listen to the naysayers and done what he’s felt God has called him to do…. that’s the lesson that other pastors should be learning – not trying to copy Hillsong (which usually results in fairly lame churches). I don’t think the Hillsong model is very reproducible because it’s built around Brian. Trying to replicate it is just that! Very trying. So many pastors out there are awkwardly staggering about like David wearing Saul’s armor. I don’t think even Brian’s top guys pull it off that well. Imitating Brian is quite painful to watch and it will be interesting to see what happens when he retires.

The model is too corporate for me, built on leadership principles transferred from the business world. I’m looking for something more organic, less directive, less top-down, more “ground up”, less pretentious, less structure, less like hard work. More freedom, less about buildings and appearances (Hillsong are notorious for their fashion). It’s quite an institutional model which I think has been taken to the limit and is a bit maxed out. It’s pretty hierarchical. There are important people there, and no so important ones. The important ones are very hard to even get to and seem to have a fairly privileged life (although they pay for it ultimately). I’m not sure that numbers or prominence or great music equals success, I guess everyone differs on how to define success in the church setting.

The ones to watch (if you want to watch at all) are Hillsong United (Joel Houston and his scruffy looking pals). I think Brian realises he’s taken the Hillsong paradigm to its limit (I secretly think he’s over it actually), and if the church in Australia is going to continue to engage grass-roots (non-sydney) Aussies in a more real, authentic “Australian” post-modern way, then the next generation are going to have to figure that out – just like he did 30 years ago. Hillsong United have been given a huge amount of freedom to basically reinvent church again. These guys seem to be respectful, non-conformists focused on music, media, social justice, and more into tapping into the psyche of Gen Y than Hillsong ever has. They’re becoming more a “movement” than a “church” – which is probably what church was always intended to be…. Watch this space!

Mark Tindall takes a dimmer view in his blog post after attending a morning service, and to be honest, I totally get where he’s coming from and can more than empathise with his perspective. I think his thoughts are fairly representative of those who aren’t fans of Hillsong. But then again, there are loads of stories of people who feel Hillsong has been great for them.

Thirteen sex games that don’t involve sex (for girls only)

My 40-year-old mate Dave and father of four once said of wife jokingly “she’s got her kids now and the kitchen is closed”. I hope he was joking anyway. 1950’s woman would have always been prepared to keep her man happy in the bedroom, but todays modern woman is sexually liberated. This is good news for all the single ladies (put your hands up). But I suspect for those over 30 with small children it means their new-found freedom means choosing to abstain more often than getting their rocks off.

The modern woman who is having it all is feeling the squeeze. Careers, relationships, travel, exercise, diet, hobbies, health and kids means the after-hours bedroom romp has now morphed into a game of “how can I get out of it?” Add in mental illness and medication and the kitchen isn’t just closed, it’s most likely vacated the country!

If you’re new at this game, here are some tips on how to play (some I’ve experienced, others I know would definitely work on me).

1. Wait ’til he falls asleep. An oldie but still a goodie. I fall for this all the time. I go to bed hopeful, but can’t keep my eyes open and off I nod to the land of all things platonic.

2. Go to bed early and fall asleep. This involves sneaking off to bed unnoticed or hubby will think “great we’re heading off early – I’m in luck tonight!”

3. If he catches onto the sneaking off trick just do your regular routine before bed then grab a book and start reading in your comfy chair. Flick on the sports. When he’s engrossed then sneak off.

4. If you’ve gone for (2) and you’re not asleep – pretend. Lie very still. Do not itch that scratch. Try and breathe deeply. Every now and then hold your breath give a little throaty snort and start breathing again. He won’t dare check, in case you really are asleep.

5. When he pops the question explain you’ve had a terrible day. Go into detail. Lengthy detail. Start to repeat yourself until his eyes glaze over.  This will well and truly put to rest any amorous ideas.

6. Tell him your period is coming/here/going and you’re feeling bloated/tender/irritable. This should cover you for at least half the month. Use different combinations of those excuses so he doesn’t realize you’re making them up.

7. Following on from (6) hide the glow-in-the-dark lube and explain this is your “dry” time of the month and it just won’t be possible. Speculate that the kids have been playing in the room and probably mistook it for invisible paint.

8. Tell him the kids aren’t asleep yet (you can hear them and your hearing is better than his). How is that relevant? Because a) you can’t enjoy it if your listening out for them and b) they will come in any minute and ask for a drink.

9. Tell him you just had a shower and you don’t want to get up and wash again and you don’t want to feel sticky all night. Alternatively tell him you haven’t showered and don’t feel clean. If he assures you he really doesn’t mind tell him you’ll get UTI and that he might get it too. Explain UTI. In detail.

10. When he drops the hint tell him sex starts in the morning and he should have romanced you all day to get you in the mood. Explain that women are just wired that way and he should understand that by now.

11. Explain that you have candida or thrush. This will sound like you are now an avian enthusiast to him but mutter something about yeast infection. If he confuses this with some kind of baking activity (the term “bun in the oven” doesn’t help) and he still isn’t registering mention that he could catch it too and it will be like peeing razor blades. Since men think with their penises, this should start to make his temples tingle on the spot.

12. Naturally the closer you get to 50 and menopause you get to play the “my body is changing” card. Things are hot/dry/sensitive/uncomfortable/painful. Early menopause has been known to afflict a number of women so you could probably start this one, oh say 40?

13. The A-Bomb of avoidance that trumps them all is to say that you don’t feel loved and sex is about love not just some physical act of “wham bam thank you ma’am”. Have a lengthy discourse about how this sets us apart from animals, again, until the eyes glaze over. He has no comeback for this one and arguing would simply dash his chances anyway.

Obviously you’ll need to open the kitchen occasionally (or at least set up a camp oven) so he isn’t tempted to eat out. This is tricky. Too frequent and he gets used to it and this actually increases libido but on the other hand, too infrequent and it will drive him nuts and you’ll find him conversing with your boobs or butt depending on which way you’re facing at the time. Obviously this isn’t great either. But if you mix ‘n match the above I think you could probably get away with opening the kitchen oh maybe once a month? Good luck.

Confession: I Manipulated and Controlled People

I’m pretty ashamed to say it, but it’s true. And I regret it. If it was for freedom that Christ set us free, pastors don’t have any right to take away that freedom, and yet we so often do. Very subtly of course, and mostly unintentionally (our motives are usually pretty good). I mean we don’t actually see it as manipulation and control, it’s just what it ends up being in the cold light of day.

When it comes to outcomes (taking the church where God wants it to go – as if we have this nailed down) pastors don’t really have to many levers, but the ones we do have, are very powerful. We can’t pay people to do what we want, so therefore we can fire them. Of course some churches opt for firing people anyway under the guise of church discipline, but in larger churches this is very rare. And we can’t make people think or believe what we think or believe. Nor can we make people turn up or volunteer or give when we want them to. This kills us of course and we spend a lot of time thinking about this dilemma. We have this amazing (overrated word, please stop using it pastors) vision from God, we have incredible (also a word beaten to death) “God-given” strategies and plans and of course we know time is short, Jesus’ return is imminent and souls need to be saved – yesterday. So mobilising people to get our goals achieved (ahem, I mean God’s goals of course) without the levers we would like is tough.

But the one lever I did swing off quite a bit was to control people’s words and actions, by forming a culture which defines what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s not dissimilar to the army where if one soldier or recruit screwed up, all would be punished, such that in the future, the platoon or section would monitor and control their own to save from being disciplined. Saves the brass from doing it and they don’t have to have eyes and ears everywhere, all the time! The goal is to build a culture of control. Great solution.

Why are we trying to control people? Well we need them to attend (remember we’re going for numbers, because numbers matter, because Jesus counted the sheep and realised one was missing, so therefore the more the better), we need them to give, we need them to find somewhere to serve, we need them to bring their friends (so they can add to the numbers), we need them to be on board with the building fund and missions giving (all separate from tithing of course) and we need them to do all this enthusiastically with a cheerful spirit and an attitude of servant hood. That’s a tough ask without any control! This is why Bill Hybels said to George Bush, that it’s easier to be the president of the USA than a pastor, because at least Bush could fire someone’s ass and if push came to shove, he had the world’s biggest firepower at his disposal. That’s a pretty good lever right there!

How does it happen? (remember it’s usually inadvertent, otherwise I would have said “How do we do it?”). It happens through our words and actions. I’ll try and unpack this in a future post, but here it is in brief.

  • We use ideas of unity and oneness to get everyone to conform. Unity brings God’s blessing. You wouldn’t want to stand in the way of that would you?
  • We somehow hold up an ideal of the Christian life so that everyone knows what to aim for, but also so everyone can see if someone else is failing and “help” them
  • We use “spiritual” religious language to describe what’s “in” and what’s “out”. The spiritual language makes it sound like God’s saying it.
  • We talk about having a positive attitude versus a “negative spirit”. We prime people not to listen to anyone who is “negative” i.e. anyone who disagrees with leadership. Sprinkle a dose of stuff about a root of bitterness here too.
  • We teach about the importance of leadership and following leadership and vision and following vision – incessantly
  • We teach about rebellion, having “another kind” of spirit, about the perils of “division” and “divisive” people.
  • We teach about servanthood (man I’ve seen some abuses of this one) and show people that Jesus was a servant, therefore they must serve….us… I mean the church
  • We drop huge hints from the pulpit and get people to draw the conclusions they want us to draw and we might even use jokes or joke about real issues or problems in order to make the group laugh at them, so the people with the real problems or issues won’t be able to raise them for fear of not being taken seriously.
  • We tend to isolate people who disagree. We talk about them in a negative light. We warn people not to listen to them. We take them off rosters and we make them unwelcome. We might even covertly preach AT them in sermons (they know who they are). Basically we want to freeze them out.
  • We can make a big deal and reward people who are getting it right. We can applaud them and lionize them.
  • The most extreme case of manipulation is reserved for the most insecure pastors and that is where they warn “Don’t touch the Lord’s anointed”

Well, I’ve bared my soul, but I don’t feel any better. I’m not proud of the fact I’ve done this even if I didn’t make it to the last one.

It doesn’t mean church is bad and it doesn’t mean pastors are bad. It means that if we push the envelope on the way we’re doing church and what we’re trying to achieve, these are the kinds of levers we will pull on when we get desperate. It’s not just a matter of naming this up and asking pastors not to do it. It’s a matter of looking deeper at what the pastor is trying to do in his role as a pastor and they way we run our churches and asking “should we be doing this, the way it’s being done?”

Control works to a great extent, but the collateral is huge. See how it worked in Elizabeth’s life and see if you can pick the dot points above in operation:

My church taught me that church and school were very different worlds, and that I should not associate with Non-christians at my school because they might influence me to do wrong and destructive things. Most of my friends at school did not go to church, but I kept this fact well hidden, living two very different lives. I was so involved at church that some of the pastors on staff there called me “the Calvary Chapel princess” but at the same time, I was getting into trouble at school with my friends, mostly by ditching classes.

When I was in high school, I had a Christian boyfriend. I tried to confide in my mom one day by telling her that I wanted to do more than just kiss him and hold his hand. My mom began to panic when she found out that we had kissed each other, and she told me that I needed to break up with him if I wanted to be a Christian. Since we were so in love, I argued with her about it. So she set up an appointment for me with the pastor of our church, who told me that I needed to obey my mom if I wanted to be a Christian. I cried for days and I finally broke up with my boyfriend, shattering his heart too. I thought that God had required me to make some very difficult and unhappy decisions.

After graduating from high school, I became a youth group counselor at my church. One night I went out with some of my friends from high school to a dance club. A “back-slidden” youth group student saw me there and the next day, she happened to mention it to another youth group counselor, who mentioned it to the youth pastor. He called me into his church office and explained that I could not be a Christian and go out dancing. I told him that I wanted to be a Christian but that dancing is fun and he became angry with me and told me I had an inferiority complex. I left his church office in tears. Finally, I made the decision to stop being friends with anyone who did not go to church so that I could be a Christian and also be a youth group counselor at my church. I think that this hurt my Non-christian friends very deeply.

After a while, I couldn’t stand the pressure of living up to the high standards of being a Christian so I moved away from home to go to college

Read Elizabeth’s Full Story here

Cartoons of Significant Others

You know how cartoonists draw a picture of a prominent figure (usually a politician) that seems to typify them or characterize them in some way (usually exaggerating certain features)? I’m starting to get the sneaky feeling that we do that in our heads for our significant others.

I did a drawing course a couple of years ago when I decided I needed to exercise my right brain a bit and we did an interesting exercise called “blind drawing” which of course has nothing to do with drawing a blind person, as you would a naked person if you were doing a nude drawing (which I think would be enjoyable depending on the model).

Rather, blind drawing is where you look at an object, and draw off to one side, without looking at your paper, or removing your pen from the page. There’s a bunch of reasons why it exercises the right brain which I won’t go into, but we were asked to first up, draw our hand.

Now of course we all know what our hands look like don’t we? After all they’ve been attached to the ends of our arms for some time. And drawing hands are easy. We’ve done it before, so it should be a piece of cake. Everyone knows you draw a hand like this! But blind drawing forces you to really look at your hand without taking your eyes off it. You begin to study it and notice veins, textures, flaws, nails, blemishes, knuckles, wrinkles, colors and shades and the way the light falls on it casting shadows. Take a look at your hand right now and really look at it, and you’ll see what I mean. It really looks nothing like the way we would draw it.

The brain basically likes to take snapshots of things and turn them into cartoons, capturing the main elements and ignoring the subtleties and detail because it’s easier. Seen one hand – seen them all. No need to look anymore or think about it. It’s basically an approximation of the actual object. It stops the brain from going into sensory overload and allows it to focus on what you need it to, rather than noticing everything everyday afresh.

But this causes problems for our relationships with significant others because we cartoon them as well.

I’ve been married for ummm seventeen, no eighteen years now (maths isn’t so good anymore) and sadly, I think my wife and I are entrenched in the way we see each other. Over a period of time, I think we “characterise” our experience of the other person – their actions, behaviors, words, cobbled together with our own assumptions, ideals, values and expectations and we draw a mental cartoon of them (exaggerating certain features, approximating or ignoring others), and then have a relationship with the cartoon.

So I have come to see my wife as being fun-loving, spontaneous, extroverted, slightly disorganised, but at the same time insecure, fearful, lacking in self esteem and clingy. She on the other hand has come to see me as domineering, driven, goal oriented, uncaring, unsympathetic, over bearing, critical, negative, unfeeling, analytical, and unloving.

The problem is, that I worry that she may be more or less of those things than I perceive. And I definitely have softened particularly in the last few years, but her cartoon of me remains the same. I think when it comes to significant others, having caricatures of them is counter productive. Everyone is on a journey, and everyone is changing. It’s unfair to relate to them according to our mental-historical cartoon of them and not only unfair, but dishonoring and it leads to a static relationship, not a dynamic one – which is what we’re all longing for. Not only do people need to be on a journey to become the best they can be, but our relationships have to be free of cartoons, to be the best it can be.

For the fans of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar out there, the Na’vi greet one another with “I see you” which is the direct translation of the Sanskrit Namaste. Which doesn’t just mean I can physically see you, it literally means “the God in me sees the God in you.”

I wonder how we can really begin to “see” our significant others again, and not just a dodgy, approximated, static, exaggerated cartoon of them.