Luckly I didn’t go to church last week

Every Sunday morning I wait for my wife’s creativity to emerge – usually about 90 minutes before church starts. It’s really funny and I actually look forward to what she’ll come up with each week.

Last week it was “Hey, do you want to come to church because after that we can visit your mate John who broke his back a few weeks ago and he’s home now?”

No, I didn’t want to go to church and visit John afterwards. If I wanted to visit John, I’d just visit!

There’s no pressure though and it’s all very amiable. I know she’d like me to go with her and the kids. She knows I don’t really want to, but that I probably would if there was a half decent church nearby (I enjoyed Father’s Day at a mates church three hours away). The church I used to pastor is now run by someone who studiously ignored me, never mentions anything about the past and refused to come over for dinner with us when they first arrived despite us inviting them twice. Me attending there was never going to work – for him, and I guess now for me – even though when I resigned due to depression I had wanted to stay involved.

But I have changed so much in the almost three years I’ve been gone. I see things so differently – I probably wouldn’t fit in anyway.

Last week, I’m so glad I didn’t go. My wife came home and in the afternoon was reading in bed. “How was church this morning” I asked genuinely interested. She was mad. It all came tumbling out. The pastor had said God had been speaking to him this week and asked everyone who desperately needed healing to stand. Then he asked anyone desperately needing forgiveness to stand. And the third category was anyone desperately needing a breakthrough to stand. Then he pulled his swifty; he asked all those standing, to pray for all those still seated. The premise was that if you’re desperate for God, you’re in the right place. And if you’re not desperate, you’re in need of prayer – from the desperate

I would have been one of those seated ones. I would have been prayed for by the standing, along with anyone visiting, or possibly new, or maybe those who are not yet identifying as believers… All of us together would have collectively been made to feel like there was something not quite right in our lives. I would have been fuming. What a dick!

My wife is right. Everyone has a season. There are seasons where we feel desperate. There are seasons of contentment. Who is to judge what season we’re in? My favorite paradigm is one of a journey. On a journey there are times of trouble and good times, there are twists and turns and it doesn’t matter where you are on your journey as long as you keep journeying and don’t get stuck in any one place for too long. No-one can judge where you’re at, nor should they.

Today, we had our babysitter stay overnight, so the car is full. There was no creative “Hey I was wondering….” But after last week, I think all her creative juices all but dried up.

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.

I went to church today and my brain went to work…..

I always find it good brain fodder when I go to church these days. First up, they’re an indicator for how well I’m improving. I can tell by how I feel while deciding. If I feel dread, anxiety, or sadness, I know I’m still recovering. Today it didn’t feel too bad lying in bed at 07:30 wondering if I should get up and take the kids to church. In the end, it was either that, or I was going to have to find something else to do with them or they’d climb the walls.

Secondly, I can monitor my feelings while I’m there. Today didn’t feel too bad. Ideally, I would have loved to have crept out during the last song, but it’s too hard with three kids, because I have to go find them first, rather than have them find me afterwards. Besides, I do like to say hi to friends although probably not all at once after the service.

I felt ok today. I wasn’t anxious enough to consider having a beer before going, and I didn’t take my friendly weed either (see last post). I just took everything slowly and deliberately – mindfully I think is the correct buzz word going around.

The highlight was the multimedia church news for me. Strange I know, but this was an area I loved because media was an outlet for creativity. The low point was the sermon. My replacement is doing a series on grace and using a chair to demonstrate that we have to balance all aspects of grace or we become unbalanced. But I thought grace was totally unbalanced!

Anyway, he explained that the first leg of the chair, was grace toward us (saving grace), the second leg was grace in us (changing grace), and the third leg was grace through us (God wants us to do stuff) which is where the sermon majored. He explained that 22,000 kids will die in the next 24 hours from preventable disease but then said we can’t do a whole lot about that, but we can all do something in a 25 mile radius of this church.

For me, the message got pretty heavy. The atmosphere by the end was really gloomy and quiet. I think the pastor realized that because he asked the band to come up and “play something nice”, and tacked on at the end after the closing prayer something to the effect that it would still be OK to enjoy lunch today. Phew!

The take home was that we should all do something, because God’s grace is in us. But your honor, I object. First, the people know all this already (as my wife said “you used to preach this stuff” – gotta love pastor’s wife’s) . The reason they’re not doing stuff, isn’t because they lack information. Secondly, if people had been transformed by grace, you wouldn’t need to tell them to do something, they’d be unstoppable.

My key thought out of all of this, is that pastor’s believe that they need to teach and rightly so (Paul charged Timothy to do it). Unfortunately we live in a culture with a modern Greek teaching style which consists largely of disseminating analytical information in the form of a lecture. This is a really important thought. Analysis focuses on breaking stuff down to understand it, and then the modern style is to just announce the findings to a group of people, who should listen, understand, learn and remember it. The problem with all of this, is that it is totally antithetical to what Christianity is all about. Teaching today, simply wasn’t anything like the teaching that the New Testament was suggesting.

My experience of Christianity is that it is first and foremost a faith. We are called to walk by faith, not by understanding, yet all our teaching is in an effort to understand! Secondly, I have found God to shroud himself more than he reveals himself, and there is more mystery than mastery going on everywhere I’ve looked. Paul says we look through a glass darkly and I concur. Yet everything pastors do in their sermons is to try and clarify stuff, inform the masses, make it easier to understand and do, and God just doesn’t seem to play the game.

OK, enough bashing. Want to know my thoughts on an alternative? It’s a bit post-modern, so if you have a modern brain, it’s not going to make much sense. If I had my time over again (relax, I’m not living in the past), I would ask more questions. I would help people ask good questions. I would ignite people’s wonderment. I would be a trail guide and rather than try and sit them in a room and lecture them about the trail, I’d take them out there and point at all the amazing sights and sounds and smells. I would appeal to their ability to dream. I would try my very best to involve them in a three way conversation between me, and them and the One who knows everything.

In this scenario, I don’t need to be the font of all knowledge. I don’t need to lecture. I don’t need to analyze, theologize, sermonize, or criticize. I just need to be a catalyst for a relationship, a guide for the adventure, your friend and a friend of The Friend.

Getting first things first

My mentor handed me a book by a fellow called Peter McHugh called A Voyage of Mercy. He boasts with tongue in cheek that he is one of the few pastors to break the thousand barrier twice. He lost some two-thirds of his congregation in a split having been accused as being a control freak. In his resulting breakdown he discovered some precious truths… like getting first things first.

Here’s an example that really speaks to me especially after just finishing A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren (more on that another day). Here it is:

Mystery before mastery but not without mastery.

He writes “In general, western Christians have been raised to rely on and believe in logic. We have been taught to think in categories and in neat linear fashion. We prefer to work with known principles and anything unknown is seen to be wrong or possibly dangerous. Consequently our preference is to master life. Mastery is also a way of controlling the way life unfolds. Mastery seeks satisfaction as its goal. It seeks to be safe, certain and comfortable believing that this is the pinnacle of life. In fact it is the place of death.

A performance based mindset will drive towards mastery. The fear and insecurity of performance seeks resolution and takes too much responsibility for the outcome.”

He contends -rightly so, that there is more mystery to this life of faith and following the Lord than anyone with a mastery-mindset can handle. According to Henry Miller “Until we accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing.”

So if we are to get first things first in this case. we must hold mystery above mastery, but not without mastery, so it’s both/and but the right way around…

I hope that makes sense… or is it all too mysterious?!