Ghosting In the Machine

This post has nothing to do with Gilbert Ryle, or Arthur Koestler, or the English rock band, The Police. It has to do with something that goes on among Christians far too often within the “machine” we call the “church.”

Benjamin Corey at Patheos has an excellent piece on the practice of Christian “ghosting.” The term refers to  the act of cutting people out of your life overnight without a second glance behind you. If you’ve been “ghosted”, you cease to exist to those involved.

Corey’s article describes how this happened to him in his church fellowship and what the fallout was for him and his family. Once you are labeled, those who disagree with you on any number of issues can then discard you with ease. In many churches, there is no concept of co-existing with those who have divergent views. I’m not talking about views on cardinal doctrine, I am talking about things like gun ownership, length of hair on either gender, clothing choices, types of music listened to, education or vaccines—that sort of thing. Oh, and people will ghost you on secondary or tertiary doctrinal issues as well, like age at baptism, Christian “Sabbath” keeping, election and predestination, etc. etc.

I spoke once, this was about 12 years ago, to a family in the UK. They had helped to found a church in North America that became very large. Their family suffered a terrible wrong at the hands of one of the church members. Because the victimizer was a family member of an elder, the wagons were circled, the perpetrator was protected, and the church family, of one accord, turned on the victim with blame. Both parents took turns on the phone describing the horror of going from church founders,  beloved members of a church community, to pariahs. To be seen at a local mall and to have backs turned on you, people who once supposedly loved and cared for you is devastating. The couple and their family ended up leaving to return to their home in the UK.  It was a multi-layered tragedy., the fallout of which continued through the years in their family.

Lack of love and respect for others within what calls itself Christianity is a recurring theme at this blog. Daily, I am reminded of the damage done when sinful conduct towards others not only goes on, but is even passed off as piety. “We separated from the terrible compromisers!” Or, “We removed the leaven from among us!”  Actually, you attempted to cover the stench of your spiritual rot with the more powerful stench of your sanctimony.  But don’t let that get in the way of your act, ghosters.

The absence of a conscience on these matters is the hallmark of our times.  I often ask myself if those who have “ghosted” our family ever have a thought in the night of what they did.  Do they ever lie awake and feel an ounce of shame? What excuses do they tell themselves to justify what they did when we had done nothing to them? I can say with confidence that they don’t think of it.  If you have love, it compels you to right wrongs. If you fear the Lord in the right way, you can’t leave things unsettled for years on end. Shame, the right kind of shame you feel when you’ve done something bad to someone else, has to kick in at some point, and it makes you yearn for things to be right. That’s if you have a conscience.

It’s odd how the verse n Scripture about the loss of natural affection in the Last Days is frequently used by fundamentalist Christians  to describe things like aborting or otherwise abusing a child, a parent against child, a child against parent. We see this all over the headlines. But the most blatant loss of natural affection for each other as believers is ignored. That’s also a sign of the perilous times the Scriptures speak of.  No shame in treating your fellow Christians badly. No conscience on things that matter most—being right with other people around you.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again.  The moaning about the exodus of young adults from evangelical and fundamental churches misses the most obvious cause for the departure. The forms of religion continue – but the power of God is gone. Where God’s power is, there is forgiveness. There is love for each other that is not easily wiped out. There is the right kind of tolerance–tolerance that allows the Holy Spirit to do the work in the lives of others,  tolerance that accepts differences of opinion, that doesn’t sit back and judge the motives and tastes of fellow Christians as though we alone have it right on every single issue.

You can mark it down. Wherever there is humility and reconciliation, that is where the Lord is present. Most churches today, I don’t care what stripe or label they claim, are operating by the power of the flesh. That includes many churches that thunder against the moral issues in the world while ignoring the weightier matters of cannibalism within their own ranks. That is why the landscape spiritually is so bleak. Hearts softened by the living Lord are moved to forgive.  They are moved with genuine concern, not about church growth—but about the well being of people.  That’s where healing is. That’s where joy is. And that’s the kind of living Christianity that will attract rather than repel.

 

 

The Hope Blog is Ten Years Old

It was  ten years ago today (July 15, 2007) that I began this personal blog on WordPress.  Within two hours, I had 4,000 unique visitors. I was publishing a busy news and comment blog as a part of the issues program I produced and co-hosted,  and when it crashed unexpectedly due to a technical problem, the ensuing silence of several days allowed me to put together  the personal blog I had long wanted.

My primary site was down, but a co-blogger in that field told readers what had happened to my site and directed them to the brand new Hope Blog. That’s why things were so busy that first day.

Looking back in your life, have you changed much in ten years? Is it good change or not so good change?  I reflect today on  the good changes and lessons learned over the last decade. It’s also interesting to look at ways we have stayed the same. In certain ways, i have stayed the same.

How have I changed? Here are a few ways.

I am  far less trusting of people than I was ten years ago. Like the saying goes, I never trust words, sometimes question actions , but I never doubt patterns.  Not anymore. I am wiser about people. I’ve learned to listen to my instincts  far more than I used to.

I have changed in that I have witnessed, firsthand, God’s providence in caring for our family.  Tom and I have lived this, especially over the last six years since our lives were turned upside down. We went from theory to seeing first hand the miracles God did to provide all our needs, something He continues to do. We were also blessed by the love of those God used to provide for us when we were without employment, overnight, with a family to care for and a mortgage to pay.

I have changed in that I no longer have any interest in much of what passes for “discernment” ministry.  So much I could say here, but I think my first point on my list pretty well covers it.  I think one of my adult sons summed it up well when he said, “Any ministry that is based only on pointing out the error of others is, by nature, imbalanced and unhealthy.” My son was absolutely right, and this is the world that I operated in for so very long.  It’s not opposing error that is wrong. But when that’s 90 percent of what you do, you have a mentally and spiritually unhealthy situation.

I care far less about the opinions of others than I did ten years ago.  Due to the many different denominations, viewpoints, agendas. I was constantly in contact with through Christian talk radio, I felt I had to please everyone, sometimes leading to ludicrous situations.  Twenty-three years of trying to please everyone. Too often, I never pleased anybody, and my in box would overflow with outraged listeners telling me where I had gone wrong. I even had more than one show up at the studios to “rebuke” me for promoting this cause or guest or author. It was madness.

It’s only now, years later, that I am able to say, without embarrassment, this is who I am. If you disagree, that is certainly your right to do so, but I am not changing to please you. I love God, I want to be the woman  that God made me to be, not a clone of somebody else. That may displease some people who watch from afar, but I won’t lose a wink of sleep over it. I feel a freedom that I never used to have before. By losing pretty much everybody from our former lives ,  God was able to give me something far better. The people now in our lives are those we choose to spend time with, not opportunists, users, pharisees and ministry idolaters who will leave tread marks from their “ministry” bus all over your face when you’re no longer useful. We have the dearest neighbors. Unlike those we used to work with, they love us, and we have had numerous chances to show love right back. Emily is the family ambassador, smiling and waving at all who walk or drive by.

I have stayed the same in ways. Tom and I just celebrated 22 years of marriage.  In his quiet way, he has done more to strengthen my faith in the Lord through tough  times than a lot of those thundering about this or that from pulpits or microphones.  Tom lives what he believes every single day, and his family, co-workers  and neighbors have  seen it. I love him even more than the day we married.

My faith in the Lord is not only still there, it has been strengthened. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever. Great is the Lord’s faithfulness, the one who lifts up our heads in the midst of incredible sadness. I will not join the many who spew blasphemy and curses because they were targeted by someone for abuse. Those engaging in evil will answer for it at the Court of No Appeal.  We may have been targets, but we don’t have to be victims. Love really is greater than hate. Nothing can grow in the soil of hate.  But when love is the soil, what beauty can grow from it!

It’s expensive to maintain files of ten years. I’m paying annually for extra space needed on WordPress. I may drop the blog  archives and retool the site at some point in the near future. There is much more I could improve on this site. But I’m not interested in “growing my brand.”  I have no brand. I just have this site to share my thoughts  and talk about my Savior and my family. Thank you for stopping by. and for the encouragement you send. Even if a handful read what I share, you are worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Churches “Gray Out”

Some people have an unusually sharp sense of when something in an atmosphere is wrong. I mean seriously wrong. I’m not talking about some psychic ability, I am talking about an emotional radar that picks up on currents and undercurrents more quickly than many others do. When I was a child, my mom used to say that there was no fooling me when it came to these things. It was an ability to sense things going on that were not immediately obvious to others.

Years later, I’ve done a lot of reading about Empaths, those with an emotional radar on high alert. Empaths tend to absorb the emotional atmosphere of a group of people, a place very quickly. It can be helpful in life, but it can also be exhausting when things are troubled.

There is much more to this personality type, but this is one aspect of it.  I think it applies also to sensitivity to the spiritual atmosphere in places, as well.  It’s called discernment.  I will give one example.  Thirty-odd years ago, as a teen, I was attending a church with my family. It was a small church that was a split of a split. The church was reportedly going through some turmoil, but it went over my head as far as what the problem was exactly.

I hated the place. I hated being there, and I couldn’t say why. One of the unhappy church people was in charge of “children’s church” that ran during service time for the kids. I was roped into playing the old upright piano for the handful of kids she was leading. Eager to please, I was shocked to see the music she set before me just as the singing was to begin. Not being a very solid sight reader, I stumbled and hit several wrong notes. I was unprepared for the music she was using and had not had a chance to practice.

The sour look on the leader’s sharp face pretty much let me know that I had been an epic disappointment. It makes me laugh now, but at the time, I felt terrible. Lacking a great deal in confidence, I was apparently  a total failure as Children’s Church pianist.

I slunk off home that day, vowing to never ever again make such  a fool of myself and upset a church lady, especially that church lady who clearly disliked me. A few days later, one of my parents informed me that she had been most displeased with my performance and they had been informed that I was not needed in the future. My parents were disgusted with the church lady as well. I was relieved that my brief career as Children’s Church pianist was over.

Things worsened at the church, and every time I sat through the service, I had the uncanny sense that I had left a world of color.  This sounds strange, and it was strange. Over the years since then, I have called it “graying out.”  In these situations, it’s as though my eyes see things in gray and white, not in living color anymore.

I started resisting going, and various complaints kept me home altogether. My parents didn’t seem to mind. I developed a strange revulsion for the place. Then came word of something bizarre going on at the church. The pastor confided that strange things were occurring in the building. The piano in the sanctuary late one night began to play by itself., he said. In the dark. He believed it was some occult phenomenon due to the ugliness going on among the handful of church people, one of which was an angry pianist.  He claimed that strange chanting had been heard under his office windows. The pastor had been a missionary in South America prior to pastoring in the US. He was a devout Christian trying to hold the church together. He said things were dark spiritually at this church.  He resigned soon after, and he and and his family left the state. The church folded soon after that. Mercifully.

This “graying out” in the atmosphere I have experienced many times since.  I believe that God uses this sense as a warning about unhealthy places. It’s not something I disregard anymore.

As Christians, we are taught to believe the best in a situation, have patience, and to not hastily judge a person or circumstance. All of this is true, but when there is clearly the sense that something is wrong, it is worth stepping back and carefully evaluating a relationship or situation to decide what it is that we are sensing. The times I have ignored this have been serious mistakes.

When a room  or when a church “grays out” and the color and vibrancy is gone, something vital is missing. Life in the truest sense is being suppressed and repressed by something. Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s un-forgiveness and grudge holding. maybe it’s a powerful spirit of control that robs the atmosphere of color and oxygen.  Where the Lord truly is, there is a spirit of liberty, not control. Where love is, pride can’t rule and reign. Where forgiveness is, there is vibrant life and every color imaginable. There’s joy. No “graying out.”

A lot of churches in America are “graying out.” The forms remain, but the God that is being claimed has long ago left the premises. Those exceptional churches where humility and Christ-likeness reign are few and far between. Never take that for granted if you have one.  The love of Christ is life-giving. People grow in healthy ways. There is a freedom and respect for boundaries, and an atmosphere of hope. What a difference the Lord’s presence makes. All gray is gone, and the spirit of heaviness disappears like dew in the morning sun.

The ‘Can’t Talk’ Rule – Red Flags in Abusive Churches

At a time when spiritual abuse in churches is epidemic, being able to spot it when it occurs is crucial. I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, and time and again, I am reminded of why understanding how abusive church leaders operate is important. Abusive leaders all tend to operate with the same play book. The difference between a secular abusive environment and one that is religious is that abusers in high places of a church have some extra tools in their control toolbox to bludgeon those under them into submission. Throughout history, on a grand scale or on a small scale, you can see how corrupt religious leaders make full use of speaking for God in order to consolidate and wield their power. It’s how they roll.

One of the hallmarks of this kind of corruption in churches is the application of the “Can’t Talk Rule.” This rule is best explained by authors David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen in their book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. (See image below.)

That book is just one of the many that spells out, in clearest terms, how these pastors and church boards operate. They fear exposure. More than anything else, these corrupt, prideful leaders fear having the harm they do to others laid bare to the public. The only recourse they see, like so many before them, is to try to crush talk. Spiritual manipulation of a congregation is easy enough. Call it gossip. Call it sin. Rebuke those who speak up for innocent people run off from the church and characterize the cries of those being injured as also being gossip and malicious undermining of church “authority.” It’s all so very easy to do.

Meanwhile, those members who value friendship, history and comfort over what is right and true smugly inform those who are deeply troubled over spiritual leadership that is biblically off the rails that they choose not to get involved. These are the abuse enablers who contribute to the destruction of reputations, faith and families.

The good news is that when a church engages in this conduct – a sign of desperation – they cannot succeed in their growth plans for very long. If churches looked to the political scene alone, they would see that corruption always becomes public eventually. Rot on the inside of any leadership always makes its way outward. It’s only a matter of time. Tick Tock. Those pastors and leaders who behave like crime families should not expect anything but a revolving door of members and staff. Anyone with an ounce of discernment should hit the road when they see this happening. There’s always a reason for it.

Abuser-Enabling Pastors: A Vital Question

This post from Crying Out for Justice is spot on. A warm thank you to Jeff Crippen for writing it. Over and over again, I have heard the stories of those affected by abuse-enabling pastors and churches. The churches themselves are abuse systems far too often. The testimony of the targets is disregarded and disbelieved in these places. The abuser is believed, backed up, enabled, and strengthened in harming.  It’s worth looking more closely at this.

The post from Crying Out for Justice asks the question, “Where are all these abuser enabling pastors coming from?” I add my own. question: “Why are secular counselors more often equipped to identify evil and provide help to those being abused than these pastors who claim to speak for the Lord?”

Yes, I believe seminaries are not adequately preparing pastors to  recognize evil when they see it, and when there are so many books that spell out, exactly, how it operates in people, there is no excuse for not knowing these things.  Evil doesn’t normally come billowing clouds of sulfur in the form of a red devil with a pitchfork and a tail. It comes beautifully, deceptively and with a tongue that can spin clever lies.

I believe something else as well. The lack of love in pastors and churches blinds them and prevents discernment from the Lord. When you have two people with two vastly different stories, how do  pastors know who is lying and manipulating in a counseling session? Wouldn’t you think that the real presence of the Holy Spirit would allow the truth to be seen? If these were men of prayer doing the counseling, wouldn’t the indwelling of the Lord in their thoughts show clearly the truth in the testimony of the abused and help them spot the smoke blown by the liar? The absence of discernment from the Lord is the hallmark of our times.

Pastors are not only enabling abuse. They sometimes are the abusive ones. As our culture spins more and more out of control, and  we see more and more churches that long ago lost their first love, if they ever had it,  there are a growing number of abusive pastors  with fawning, sycophant followers who refuse to see their malignant narcissistic leadership for what it is.

There is no denominational corner on this. These abusive and corrupt leadership structures exist in churches across the spectrum. Seeker big box monstrosities are just as likely to have an abusive pastor as a dried up little doctrinal sermon club/church. The common denominator is sin unchecked and the the ensuing absence of love that means an absence of discernment from the Lord.

No pastoral training is complete without warnings from teachers and professors about how evil operates . Knowing the enemy’s devices is absolutely essential. Without that knowledge, pastors, tragically, can end up enabling  evil and further harming those already abused, resulting in lasting damage to the faith and families in their care.

 

 

 

The Dad of Our Home

Only a dad, with a tired face,
Coming home from the daily race,
Bringing little of gold or fame,
To show how well he has played the game,
But glad in his heart that his own rejoice
To see him come, and to hear his voice.

Only a dad, with a brood of four,
One of ten million men or more.
Plodding along in the daily strife,
Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,
With never a whimper of pain or hate,
For the sake of those who at home await.

Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,
Merely one of the surging crowd
Toiling, striving from day to day,
Facing whatever may come his way,
Silent, whenever the harsh condemn,
And bearing it all for the love of them.

Only a dad, but he gives his all
To smooth the way for his children small,
Doing, with courage stern and grim,
The deeds that his father did for him.
This is the line that for him I pen,
Only a dad, but the best of men.

Edgar Guest

Tom,  on the porch this week, home from work. He is the father of our home, and one of the “best of men” Edgar Guest referred to.

Sound Track of Love

I was walking around the house this morning warbling “Good Morning to You..” and “Beautiful Dreamer” for no particular reason other than the sun was shining.  My Emmy said, “You have a beautiful singing voice, Mama.”

I smiled, because to anyone else, I am sure I do not, but it made me remember my mom singing when I was her age, something she did all the time–in the car and the kitchen doing dishes, everywhere, and I remember thinking how beautiful her voice was. Recording worthy even! Love makes it all beautiful, I think.

I learned a lot of songs and hymns from my mom. We sang in the car with her many times. Lisa sang harmony, and I sang third part. One memory is when we were camping out on Hinsdale Island up in the boundary waters of the Kabetogama State Forest . We were in the tent one evening around sunset, and Mom was singing this one:

Love divine, so great and wondrous,
Deep and mighty, pure, sublime,
Coming from the heart of Jesus.
Just the same through tests of time!

He the pearly gates will open,
So that I may enter in;
For He purchased my redemption
And forgave me all my sin.

In life’s eventide at twilight,
At His door I’ll knock and wait;
By the precious love of Jesus,
I shall enter heaven’s gate.

Lisa and I liked to join in on the chorus.

He the pearly gates will open,
So that I may enter in;
For He purchased my redemption
And forgave me all my sin
.

If Mom was singing, we knew everything was alright. No matter what else was wrong in this crazy old world, Mom was singing, so things were A-OK in ours.

We have no idea  how the music we play and sing is imprinted on the minds and hearts of our children. The memories of my mom singing go far back into earliest childhood. She sang many songs wherever we were, but the Christian songs and hymns are the ones that I remember most.  Her singing laid the soundtrack for my life and that of my siblings, and that soundtrack has never shut off. Sometimes, during the rough passages in life, the soundtrack grew quieter, but it has never left me. As I grow older, those same hymns and songs come back to me in full volume, and I try to pass some of them down.

I was singing this song recently, and my little daughter asked me about it. The song passes along everything I want to convey to her and to all of my children—most important words in the soundtrack of her life.

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know he holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives

And then one day
We’ll all cross the river
And fight life’s final war with pain
And then, as death gives way to victory
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he reigns

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know he holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives

One last thought. Emmy passed the speakers at home one day recently and stopped in her tracks. It was the song I posted here recently, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” She listened to it on her way out the door to play. “That’s a very nice song,” she said, and she  walked out. Just another song in the soundtrack of love in her life.

 

 

 

The Gospel of Madeleine L’Engle

I realize the subject matter of this post is a little off the beaten track for the Hope Blog. A friend recently described the growing influence of occult and paranormal  themes in children’s literature.  A trip to the children’s section of any bookstore will show just how true this is.  Like many parents, I have witnessed an acceleration of this in recent years.

The Gospel of Madeleine L’Engle is written by Claris Van Kuiken, an author and researcher I have known for over 25 years. While it is off the beaten track for my blog here, the spiritual nature of the subject matter makes it highly relevant.  One of the early children’s authors to blatantly introduce occult concepts and terms to children was the late Madeleine L’Engle.  The article details just how extensive these ideas are within her books, both for children and adults.  For Christian parents, it’s worth knowing.

 

 

Come Back, Please

Following up on last week’s post, Shepherds False and True, I want to focus on one aspect of that piece. I want to talk about love that pursues.

In my previous post, I referenced the passage of Scripture that describes the man with one hundred sheep, the one who left the 99 to go after the one that was missing. This story ended in rejoicing that after a search, the sheep had been found. The man loved the sheep enough to go after it. He pursued it.

For many of us, the thought of being pursued in love, and I’m not talking about some sick control thing, by any church when there is a problem is beyond comprehension. These institutions are so used to having traffic go both ways on a regular basis that one more family out the door means nothing.

If a family is struggling with something at the church, it is far easier, a relief even, for these leaders to just wave good-bye  than to actually face the issues at hand. Doing so might reveal deep problems, sin, real issues at the church, and “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Love that pursues.  Think of what these words below would mean when you are having to walk away in a seemingly unsolvable situation:

“Wait, would you come back? We value you. We love you and your family. You are important to us. Can we talk this over one more time? Please don’t leave yet.”

Think how healing these words, spoken in sincerity, would be! Think how beautiful to know that your presence, your family’s presence, matters. That all is not lost.

Imagine this scenario. A church has serious issues going on. Gossip is rampant, families are leaving in droves. Hearts are broken everywhere, as the environment deteriorates and families see no other choice but to drive away.

What if the pastor(s), rather than circling the wagons, meeting with lawyers, holding stern congregational meetings with threats about gossip and slander, stopped everything planned.

What if every meeting, every Bible class, every Sunday School class, every youth group event, every small group get-together, every single thing on the schedule came to a halt? And for as long as it took, they held prayer meetings inside the church sanctuary. Sackcloth and ashes time. A call to reconciliation and confession of pride and everything else. Pastors on their faces rather than lecturing against gossip. Imagine a congregation following the leadership’s model of humility and love.

What if apologies were sent out to pursue wronged and departed members, letters of contrition, letters of love and requested reconciliation to those families forced to leave by arrogance, pride and cold hearts at the top on down?

No slick “revivals”, no professional seminars, no programmatic anything. Just seeking the Jesus so often talked about, and yet so rarely present.

Would this change things? Yes, it would change everything if cold, unfeeling hearts were replaced by the Holy Spirit with new ones, tender and easily broken.  It would change things very quickly if callous indifference were replaced with love, the love that pursues and doesn’t give up.

Maybe this has happened in our time, somewhere in America. I have never heard of it if it has. I do know of countless Christians who have been forced to leave churches they once loved, churches where they hoped to raise their families. This is the terrible reality many know. Meanwhile, the church show must go on.

On a related note, there is general concern expressed in many places about the departure of Millennials from churches. I’ve read countless articles from various Christian news sources about how this demographic is walking away from evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

I’ve also read all the suggested fixes for this, ranging from the usual “cool church” makeovers of formerly staid and conservative congregations to denying cardinal doctrine.  It’s all a howling joke, people. It won’t work.

Some young people will leave church, because the message of the Gospel is offensive and they prefer the world. But who is to answer for the many others  who have walked away, because they have never, ever seen any reality of Jesus in the professing Christians in the churches where they were raised, and theyhave ceased to believe Jesus even exists? Who will give an account for the church politics (I could tell so many stories about that one), the obsession with image over reality, the false fronts, the play acting, the egos, the fraud and the total absence of power in the lives of the “believers” they knew from earliest childhood? Absence of power? What power? The power of forgiveness and reconciliation from Jesus Christ as seen in relationships! The power that can cause a hard heart to grow soft — a miracle only God can achieve. The power that causes change, not just empty talk.

This is what young people need to see. It’s what all of us need to see, more than ever in these times when the “love of many has grown cold.” It’s what we need to show in our own lives.

We may have nobody who pursues us in love, especially from any institution calling itself church. But we must be the church and pursue others in love when there are problems. Pride shuts the door and locks it on those with whom there is a problem. Churches like this are citadels of pride. We can all be citadels of pride. But where pride reigns, it ruins. It ruins people, and it ruins churches as a result.

“Please don’t go. You and your family matter to us. Come back, won’t you? Let’s talk this out. We love you.”

Those beautiful words, so rarely spoken in sincerity.  What wonders they could accomplish.