After burning out, would I ever lead again?

I’ve been in church leadership since 1990, and full time staff from 2000 to 2009 when I was forced to resign due to depression and anxiety. Would I lead again? Up until now, I would have refused to even contemplate the idea. But my wife just came home after attending church – my former church, fuming about things like hypocrisy, in-authenticity, and PR bullshit (we’ve been made a scapegoat for anything that was bad about church) and we had a great discussion about what church could be like if we could start with a blank slate.

If this burned out, back-from-the-brink pastor could dream a little dream, it would go something like this:

If a pastor didn’t have a budget to meet, rosters to fill, attendance wasn’t measured, and behavior modification wasn’t on the radar, then I reckon it would be a ball. We would be free to do what we’re gifted for.

One caveat would be that I would not be paid – and therefore not full time and not on staff. I don’t think I would even have anyone “reporting” to me in any official capacity, and I definitely wouldn’t have a job description. I would do what I am gifted and led to do and what I’m passionate about. That beautiful little sector where the circles of gifts, strengths and passion overlap is where I’d live.

I’d think more about following Jesus than leading others. I would let Him lead them and remain only a catalyst.

I’d think more about two-way conversations than preaching messages at or to people.

I’d focus more on relationships, than productivity and efficiency.

I would hasten slowly.

I would concern myself more with journeys than destinations.

I would be brutally honest and leave PR spin to politicians, salesmen and con artists.

The life of the church would not revolve around me. I would not be the primary vision caster or motivator. I would allow people to get their own vision from God.

The church wouldn’t be exclusive. It would be a place for followers or non-followers alike.

Relationships with God and others, underpinned by love and acceptance would be the highlight.

Being would take priority over doing.

We wouldn’t own buildings or take on any debt.

The Sunday Service would not be the peak spiritual experience of the believers week.

The arts would have equal place with the spoken word.

Busyness would be a swear word.

I would not burn people out volunteering.

People would be more important than things, issues, ideas, structures, programs, productions, goals or causes.

I would tell stories. God’s story. My stories and others’ stories.

Yes it’s just a fantasy and no I don’t think this will ever happen, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming is there? Some like Small Boat Big Sea are at least heading in the right direction. A transcript of an interview with them really gives me hope.

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What Happened to Wonder?

It’s a bit like playing a game of snap. Just as I was posting about how I crave a different church service, Tim Schraeder asks “What happened to wonder?“. Here he grapples with the same kinds of ideas. Just goes to show maybe I’m not crazy! He says:

There’s a tension that many churches are dealing with these days when it comes to their services and it’s the battle between right and left brained thinking, or emotion over intellect.

Churches, well the progressive, innovative, edgy ones, get production. Some churches feel like a rock show or Broadway, and while I’m a bit indifferent to their methods, I feel that in looking, sounding and feeling like the world we’ve lost a true sense of wonder.

Today our churches look and feel more like conference centers or coffee shops and instead of creating reverent, reflective space, they are cozy and casual. Gizmodo did an article about the STORY Conference which we hosted at Park a few months ago and said, “The Park Community Church in Chicago is a multi-story Christian center that more closely resembles a Starbucks than any cathedral—and in fact houses its own coffee shop.”

I’m not saying those things are bad, people obviously need to be in space that’s warm an inviting… but I guess I’m wrestling with if that’s the right way.

While I completely agree that the message is what matters most, the tension we live in is the fact that people hear messages on different wavelengths. Some can sit and listen to a 45 minute sermon and get it. Other people need to see a picture or hear a story, some need to hear a song. Some people need to be inspired by beauty while others simply need sacred space to reflect and remember. There’s multiple ways to hear the same message.

Today, flickering pixels are our stained glass and God has given us so many new ways to communicate His unchanging message… to do things that evoke our emotions and touch both our mind and our heart. To bring words to life through an image, a story, or a song.

I’m not saying we need to reproduce a jonsi concert, add more lights or more music, get bigger screens and better projectors… I just wholeheartedly believe we need to first be captured with the awe and wonder of who God is and let Him use the gifts He’s uniquely given to all of us to share the what we have seen …

When was the last time you left church in awe… not of the production, music, lights, or anything else… but truly left in awe of who God is and what He’s done?

Schraeder believes that the artist can help save the church. I agree that the arts should figure more prominently (their demise is a consequence of modernism) but disagree that they can (alone) save the church. I do however totally and wholeheartedly agree on where he’s going with it all. If I could go to a church service that I could dream up, it would be one which made me wonder – about God, life, relationships, heaven, earth, people, glory, mystery, faith, miracles, pain, suffering and redemption. I would have a space to reflect, pray, listen to Him and worship. I would not experience a show, a production, a lecture trying to explain or teach anything, desperate fundraising, coercion, pressure, alienation for not volunteering or humiliation.

Schraeder asks pointed questions, that really deserve answers from today’s contemporary modern church:

When was the last time you sat in wonder of God’s love and grace? When was the last time your heart was truly moved? Where is the sense of wonder?

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.

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.

My fragile resilience aka easily cracked

Since I posted about feelings of happiness beginning to emerge late last year, these have continued to be more frequent occurrences. My son and I hiked to the highest peak in our state a few weeks ago and covered some 30km during the 2 night walk and it was exhilarating.

I catch myself feeling happy from time to time and bask in the feeling like the warmth of the sun emerging from clouds. I try and appreciate and savor the feelings, knowing that emotions are just like the sun on a cloudy day. The warmth comes and goes almost unpredictably. And I’m ok with that. If I can practice my mindfulness, I’ll be even better at observing and relishing those emotions when they come.

Happiness aside, my mood is generally one of being fairly neutral-contented. I’d say this is what I experience around 80% of the time. The rest of the time is divided between happy and sad. Who knows, this might be the case for a large portion of the population.

I think the thing that concerns me most at the moment, is my fragile resilience. I crack easily.

Honestly, it doesn’t take much to make me crack. A couple of weeks ago, I’d gone for three weeks without doing any pleasurable activities – fishing and the like. I had to help my father with an emergency on the farm so I flew over there to do that. I’d been cutting wood for winter, and I don’t really have a babysitter that’s easily organised like I did last year (a high schooler living around the corner from us has now gone to live with her boyfriend).

It was doing my head in and I’d started to crack the sads. I was getting irritable and frayed. My head space was narrowing. I finally got sick of it all, threw the kayak on top and left the next morning having asked my wife to come home early to meet the kids off the bus. I put in a big day on the water for only one fish, but still enjoyed it. On arriving home late around 8pm, I came home to chaos. The dishes were lying around, pots and pans and food were left out, and my wife was watching  TV. I was dismayed – I could feel my heart sinking into my socks. And that’s where I lost it.

I accused my wife of taking advantage of me. She knew I had the next day off so basically she’d done the bare minimum – feeding the kids and putting them to bed – and now I was left with the mess. It felt like going fishing for the day was a pointless waste of time, because it meant I’d be paying for it by having to deal with what appeared to me at the time to be an overwhelming mess. Of course it wasn’t, but to me it looked like it. On top of that I felt she wasn’t really pulling her weight.

If my resilience had been better, maybe I would have looked at it differently. I could have thanked her for coming home early and for at least feeding the kids and putting them to bed. I could have rolled up my sleeves and probably got it done in an hour. But I ended up blowing my fuse, giving her both barrels and storming off to bed, thinking how pointless it was to make the effort to do something to improve my wellbeing.

Three nights ago my wife, under the guise of “open communication which is good for our marriage” expressed that she still feels hurt that she’s not a Facebook friend of mine. She went on to say that I should friend her and that it would be a public display of our love which is so important to her. She wonders what other women think when they see that I haven’t friended her. She told me that if I consulted a marriage counselor about friending my wife on Facebook they would be amazed to find I hadn’t. I told her I didn’t give a toss what marriage counselors had to say about Facebook.

I read between the lines (right or wrong) and heard the same old tapes that always play along the lines of “if you really loved me, you would __________” which I’ve been hearing for the last 18 years. I told her to build a bridge and get over it. I told her to deal with her insecurities and to forget what anyone else thought. The language was brightly colored. I explained that I’m sick of her trying to change me, and that she can either accept me for who and what I am today, or not, the choice was hers. Just don’t try and change me.

If I had been more resilient, perhaps I could have acknowledged that she was feeling hurt and been understooding, and let it be. Or maybe that would have been just too professional and clinical. Maybe she should be telling someone else how hurt she is….

Needless to say, we haven’t been talking the last few days. Like my friend said “isn’t it worth going the extra mile to get the silent treatment?”

It’s frustrating that my resilience is so low, that if anything emotionally challenging arises, I just seem to crack so easily. My mood plummets again and stays low, until like a tug of war, I manage to pull it up again, and recover. I hope I get stronger. Self care is challenging.

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.

Jesus Manifesto

Check out the Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola who state “We believe that the major disease of the church today is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder. The person of Jesus is increasingly politically incorrect, and is being replaced by the language of “justice,” “the kingdom of God,” “values,” and “leadership principles.”

I guess the one that relates most to The Scrapheap is number 6, which says:

It’s possible to confuse “the cause” of Christ with the person of Christ. When the early church said “Jesus is Lord,” they did not mean “Jesus is my core value.” Jesus isn’t a cause; he is a real and living person who can be known, loved, experienced, enthroned and embodied. Focusing on his cause or mission doesn’t equate focusing on or following him. It’s all too possible to serve “the god” of serving Jesus as opposed to serving him out of an enraptured heart that’s been captivated by his irresistible beauty and unfathomable love.

http://ajesusmanifesto.wordpress.com/