Sunday, 29 June 2014

How Divisions Occur

It's my way to be sarcastic, sneering and colourful about stuff that I think is stupid and bad.  This limits who is able to stomach what I write.  So I set myself the challenge today of writing the same thing about how divisions occur, but without any sneer or colour or humour.  Made it quite difficult to express myself, as my feelings are left out of it to a much larger degree:

In the Brethren movement, since 1848, divisions have been happening almost constantly.  At any given moment, there seems to be a division brewing in some Brethren group, somewhere.  What exactly happens?  Is there a pattern?  I don't know of any Brethren writings about why divisions happen, or how to prevent them. 

Step 1: The Cause/Person
When a division is going to happen, first there is inevitably going to need to be something or someone people are going to object to, or fight against.  Something or someone that people will fear.  Will see as a threat.  Any Brethren assembly can be seen as dividable, somehow, into two camps (old/young, modern/traditional, thoughts/feelings-based, this family/that family).   For a division to happen, a wedge is then driven into that barely-visible seam. It uses fear and judgment.  Not thinking the best of others, no genuine attempts to understand, no grace, love or forgiveness.  Those things are deemed vulnerable, and thrown out the minute any kind of emergency situation is declared. If they were maintained, they would save the day. In fact, they are the only things that will.  No amount of doctrine-parsing is going to do that job.
   Because normally this divisive wedge itself comes in the guise of some kind of "doctrinal" issue.  Pouring more doctrinal debate on top of doctrinal argument is like pouring gasoline on a fire, to put it out. The fact is, many things Christians hold dear and feel very strongly about are incredibly lofty and mysterious and beyond human comprehension.  Things like the precise nature of and relationship between the various persons of the Godhead, (or exactly what's going on with God allowing sin, then curing it somehow with death. By dying.  Himself.  Incarnated as Man.  But distinct from Himself. Yet one.)
  What tends to happen at the onset of division is a man will write or say something opinionated about one of these very mysterious doctrinal things we see through a glass darkly, but love to fight about.  This action of his will divide the room.  Many of the people taking sides will never really understand the matter, but will jump on in anyway, passionately.
  So if a man writes or says anything like that, someone who often really doesn't fully understand what the man was intending to say will frequently feel personally threatened and will therefore proclaim it A Threat. To God.  To His Name.  His People. His Table.  His Doctrine.  His Testimony.  Something that is His.  What seldom happens at this point is that anyone is willing to speak to the man himself very much at all about the matter.  And the man himself, and any who say they're on his side, are seen as a serious threat, and fear happens, once again, with outrage. Something needs to be done.  And what is always done is "silencing" and division. Not love.  Not understanding.  Not communication.
   These doctrinal things we argue so opinionatedly about, in endless disputations, are famously deep and far beyond full human comprehension, but people will say that it's all actually quite simple.  And then they will get ready to defend God from the "new" and "complicated" ideas.
  God does not require this.  God makes things clear.  And people have to fumble through in order to learn hard things.  They need to be given time to get things right.  They have to be allowed missteps along the way.  But that's not how things go when there's going to be a division.  It's going to be strictly "black or white"?  Yes or no? Eternal or everlasting? Total or partial?  Open or closed? One or two-part? Predestination or election?  Infant or Believer?
  No one will be allowed to opt out of taking a position.  Because there need to be two teams and an open field for there to be a division.

Step 2: Two Teams
At this point those two parties or teams are assembled.  It is decided who will follow which of the two "Captains."  People are vetted to see which team they will be on.  This is done by a number of quiet meetings in coffee shops, and by emails and phone calls.  Direct communication.  Eye contact.  Lowered voices.  Leaning in conspiratorially.  Smiling and shaking heads in shared disbelief over the folly of the other team.  Sad shaking of heads that anyone could be so easily led astray as the people on the other team clearly are.  Often, teams bond over suspicion, spite and past grievances. Usually over power struggles.  Once assembled, each team gets ready to defend the Lord and His people from men with "new ideas."  They will prove unable to defend the flock from being torn up, the weak culled, and the sheep scattered, the whole time nobody's getting fed.

Step 3: Token Gesture
Brethren people know right well that fighting and dividing are bad. They know scripture speaks very highly of keeping unity.  They know what the fruits of the Spirit are, and don't wish to be seen to lack these fruits.  So what they do, for conscience's sake, is extend some kind of olive branch.  This is not normally done by phone calls or face to face meetings.  It's normally done with a sanctimoniously worded, extremely formal, authoritative, unfriendly letter.  Indirect communication.    This letter will inevitably be rejected, and people are going to photocopy it a number of times and show it to everyone as evidence of sincere attempts being made at peace-making. 
  What makes these letters fail is that they usually are, sometimes between the lines, sometimes very overtly, actually quite judgmental, closed, passive-aggressive, insulting and assumption-filled.  They assume personal correctness and the guilt and rebellion against scripture of those addressed, and they claim to be humbly, faithfully, sadly doing good.  But they ring false to anyone looking on.  Normally they contain a number of insulting verses.  They tend to use the word "concern(s,ed,ing)" repeatedly. 

Step 4: Rallying the Troops Letter
Once both teams are clearly defined, are angry at each other, and very much done talking (not that very much healthy communication was achieved, nor was an arbiter called in to help make sure it happened) each side will then write a letter to the rest of the assemblies in the world.  Copies of the previous letters may be enclosed to help each side make a case.  Internet and phones are once again used at this point (direct communication again), as there is nothing token about the attempts being made to turn sympathetic people firmly against the other side and get the doctrinal/membership war going.  
   These letters need to be stirring.  They are a trumpet call, urging Christians to join together in battle to do the ecclesiastical equivalent of killing each other on the battlefield.  They are about power, and who has it.  Who wields the sceptre?  Who is in the right place (Judah) and who isn't (Israel)?  They talk about obedience and "bowing."  They tend to use the words "sad" and "forced" and "leaving us with no choice but to".  Also "precious" and "faithful."  They are all about "positions" taken.  They use military imagery, like "armour."  The assumption is clear: your brother is now The Enemy.   Support our troops.
   I've seen quite a few of these. Here is part of one (I don't have the rest, including the part which, having moved on from "taking stand" against a faction, would urge everyone else to divide/withdraw from them too, or be "off scriptural ground.")

Step 5: Declaration of War
And then it's all about fighting.  Fighting over who gets to keep the meeting hall.  Over who is put out by whom.  Over who said or wrote what.  Over what scriptures can be launched at whom.  Over getting good shots in. Over putdowns. More letters will fly.  Letters about how "sad" brethren are to have been "forced," to have been "left with no other choice" but to decimate their assemblies, firing photocopied, highlighted letter after scripture-decorated, carefully signed letter; like an endless barrage of missiles landing on people's doorstops, daring any and all not to read them.  And almost no one will be able to resist having a bit of a surreptitious peek, and then they'll be asked which side they support.  What position they "take."  Who they're "bowing" to.  The Lord, or that rabble-rousing man we used to call "Brother."
  Locally, these divisions happen about once every ten years. They are done in the name of obeying scripture and walking uprightly.  They are done in the name of maintaining Christian testimony.  They are done in the name of endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit. They are done in the name of protecting God and His Name and His Table from people everyone grew up with. They are done in the name of protecting the children who might otherwise be led astray or hurt by these people and their dangerous influence. (Of course divisions hurt children. The more sensitive, idealistic, aware and faithful, the more it will hurt them.)  This dividing is done in the name of faithfulness, obedience and love.  And the claim is always that the saints have been forced to divide, and have no other choice but to be faithful. To bow.  To submit.  To stand.

Step 6: Aftermath
Afterward, all too often, people from the various sides of divisions will not have any real dealings with one another ever again.  Reconcilliation seldom occurs.  Before the division, they'd always and only worked with these people, when it came to spiritual/Christian/religious stuff.  After the division, these would be the last people they would have any dealings with in this arena.
   When a division occurs, what usually happens is a quarter of the people leave for good, a quarter stay for good (or until the next division in about ten years time), and half are just "gone."  They often stop going to church entirely, or certainly do not stay with either of those two warring sides. It's how flocks are scattered.
   I have repeatedly heard Brethren stand up and thank God in prayer for "keeping them faithful."  For "being kept."  For "making the true path, the right way, clear."  For "allowing us to see Thy mind."  (All this is the opposite of being lost.  Of being faithless. Of not being able to find the true, right path and way. Of not being able to discern the mind of the Lord.)
   What I generally hear is that "it was all very simple." And I hear people (from the other side) being named as wholly to blame.  With "evil doctrine" given as the reason for the division. 

Divisions all seem to be pretty much the same, starting with the one in Bethesda, 1848.  I wish people would stop repeating the past with the same spiritual error.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Uncontrollable Faithfulness

A lot of us love The Lord of the Rings.  The movies.  The books.  Both.  And one of the weird things about The Lord of the Rings is how many characters it has.  How many stories.  How many important characters with individual journeys and agendas.  Game of Thrones, in being the dark or anti-Tolkien has the same thing going on.  (Of course, John Piper says if you watch GofT, with its nude scenes, it follows that you don't care about the souls of naked people, and in doing so, you recrucify Jesus.  I don't know about all that.)
   But, who's your favourite Lord of the Rings character?  A lot of people like Aragorn best of all.  Because he's the action hero.  Because he's like Jesus.  With the sword and the shouted speeches from horseback.  With the nobility and sensitive soul.  And Gandalf is fun too.  Grouch and beard and fumbling his way through things, never telling the whole truth.
   I went and heard Sean Astin speak in Ottawa last month, and it made me think about how, for some people, Sam is the best character.  Because he's faithful.  He's not the strongest, the smartest, the best warrior, or anything like that.  He's just there. Always. The whole way. And that makes him a lot of people's favourite.
   I've liked a lot of different women of different kinds in my time, and a female friend of mine recently said it was a really good thing none of them chose to go the distance with me, because none of them were right for me, and if any one of them had stuck with me, just for her staying I'd never have left her, no matter what she did. Because it's not in me.  Just like I would never have left my church, back in the day, no matter what.  They had to kick me out and refuse repeated attempts on my part to get back in.  And they're still not satisfied they're sufficiently rid of me.  I don't want back in, but I'm not done talking to people who will talk to me.
   And all of this stuff reminded me today of various abused wives who've confided in me over the years.  I still know some.  I note how their husbands can be alcoholics, or drug users, manipulative, abusive deadbeats, but these women somehow really just can't leave, because it's simply not in their nature to walk away from someone.  Ever.  It's not an option for them, even if their very lives are in jeopardy.
   Even with my cars, I have done ridiculous things to try to keep a beloved old car on the road.  Wasted endless time and money keeping a zombie car going.  When I was about 18, my dad said he wasn't going to bother to fix up "my" car one more time.  Now, I loved that car.  It had driven me safely away from school and church when I needed to escape those.  And then it always drove me back when I was ready, each time.  But Dad said it "wasn't worth fixing."  It was old and damaged.  More than fifteen years old.  Done.  Bad on gas. Out of style.  Useless.
   I  was about to go to University, and so had signed up to owe lots of money for a long time, not spend it on anything car-related.  But I got really angry, and was determined that some way or other, I was just going to somehow keep that beloved big, black car on the road.  I just couldn't face losing it.   Not even if there was eventually going to be another big black car to replace it. We had way too much history.
   In fact, I went out the door in a huff, to just drive that car (faulty brakes, failing emissions, bad steering, broken fuel gauge).  To drive it anywhere.  I hopped into it, and aggressively backed it around to drive out of the driveway.  I was taking charge.  Going to be an adult about this.  And I hit a tree.  I dented in a rear fender, while I was so dramatically swinging the car around.  (Our property has always had loitering crowds of trees just standing around, any of whom are apt to wander off and possibly stand right where you can run into them.)  And when the back part of my car caved in a bit, something broke in my resolve. I knew that now I had one more thing to fix on that car, that I couldn't fix.  And that I would never be able to fix it.  That I could make it worse but not better.  And it killed me. To give up on that car. I still wish I had that car.
   And years later when an important part flew out of my engine when driving home and crossing from Pennsylvania into New York State, my dad told me over my chunky Nokia cell phone to scrap that big black car too.  Instead, once I rented a (little blue) car and got back home, a few days later I rented a U-Haul truck, drove back down to just south of Binghamton and towed that car all the way back home to Canada, hoping to be able to fix it.  In the end, all that was time and money wasted, because I never did manage to get anything together to fix that car, as it needed a whole new engine.  But I couldn't just leave it.
    I'm like that about people, I think.  My friend Bethany is like that too.  It's not really in her nature to walk away from someone.  And before a friend of mine said that about me and my fortunately faithless exes, it had never occurred to me that I was a "faithful" person myself, especially in bad ways.  Ways that made me weak, and which limited my options.  Faithfulness bordering on obsession.
   And then I realized where I got this from.  My Mom.  Hates change.  Would never leave someone or something no matter what was done to her.  My dad is the only one of his three brothers who didn't end up getting divorced by his wife.  His father got divorced too.  Because we Moores are eminently divorceable.  But my dad's got my mom.  And my mom doesn't quit on people.  Just doesn't.  It's a virtue.  But she also can't.
   She's found herself walking out of a Brethren group, permanently, twice in the last decade or so.  Because of Dad.  If it weren't for him sighing heavily, snapping his bible shut, getting up and walking out, because eventually enough's enough, she would never have done it, not matter what she felt about what was going on.  Would never be able to.  So this time, she just sat there for a bit, then got up and followed his wide back out the door and they've never gone back.  And she seems to be delighted to be free, now.  Ecstatic.  A burden lifted from her, a series of weekly obligations and package of social censorships gone.  Not that she could have freed herself.
   It's like that "eff this" mode that my friend Bill once told me I clearly don't have.  My mom doesn't have that either.  I'm trying to have it.  Like a safety valve.  Making it possible for me to give up on something, sometimes.  Perhaps with the understanding that I'm kind of relentlessly going to keep at most things, only later, once I've had time to regroup.  If I stop talking to someone, I always intend to start up again.  If I walk out of a room, I always intend to walk back into it. I think it's okay to leave if you're going to come back.  If you're going to periodically check and see if coming back could work. I don't believe in giving up on people.  Which is handy, because I can't. I just rejoined a Facebook group I was tired of arguing with people on, because someone with a high ethical standard suggested that I can't really speak out against church division, and then do the same thing on the Internet. And I feel better for having rejoined it, even though I really don't want to argue with those guys.  You know: the ones who strain at a gnat and swallow camels whole.  The obsessive guys.  The ones like me.
   Sometimes this obsessive trait leads me into Mordor, I suppose.  "Simply walk"ing into it.  I'm sure the unflagging relentlessness, and the failure to say "oh, eff this, then!" about kids in my classes trying to get out of work, drives my students and bosses nuts.  So I guess I should think about it a bit.  It's not how normal people function.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Can People See Into You And Know You?

Obviously there are two schools of thought on this one:  Yes.  And no.

When I was at Teacher's College, we had various professors. They were all in their 50s and 60s, and they were all pretty colourful and utterly different from one another.  Linda was a sharply-dressed corporate type. One of those women who lives mainly to sit on committees and generally be "involved" with or "chairing" an inhuman number of things.  I don't remember exactly what it was, but something "turned" our class against her.  Something she said and did.  
   Now, as a high school teacher, it gives me the willies whenever I've got parents mad at me for anything (usually it's because their kid is wanting to be allowed to skip something they think is hard instead of letting me teach them how to do it, and I'm not letting them do that).  Can't imagine what it's like to have a room full of adults, who've all paid a heap of money to be there, with families and mortgages and jobs, and you're standing there with your PhD, but they think you've messed up and aren't being fair and don't understand and aren't listening.  
   Tensions were uncomfortably high in the classroom.  Some of the adult students' "questions" were really just thinly veiled criticisms and complaints, and Linda's testiness and sense of outrage were painfully obvious each class we had. It was very awkward.
    And I had to go meet her in her office to ask about something, and of course most people were avoiding talking to her at all, and would certainly have never broached the class climate as a topic, but like people always say, something's wrong with me.  I mentioned it in passing, and she tried to dismiss it and say she didn't know what I was referring to, so I had to tell her pretty plainly:  "The class seems to really have turned on you, and you for your part are clearly very angry with them.  And no workable communication is happening. You're trying to go on without addressing it directly.  And they won't let it drop."
   First she denied that the class had turned on her, so I just looked her in the eye and said "They have. You know they have. You're reacting to it every class.  You're trying to fight it.  You're trying to force them to move on without discussing it anymore.  You're angry."
   She said of course she wasn't angry.  I said it was very obvious that she was.  She said "I'm a professional.  I leave that outside the classroom. If I'm angry, I certainly don't show it." I said it was right there in the classroom every day, because she was in the classroom. And she brought it in with herself.
   I told her what I thought she could do about the situation (show at least some token willingness to seem open to discussing the matter, even if only outside class, individually), and that was that.  I seem to recall she kinda did what I said, more or less, and I do remember things eventually got a bit better.  And there was this weird feeling like she felt I was her one non-enemy in the class.  Like I was the one she didn't disrespect.  The non-wanker.  Wouldn't overtly admit to a thing I said of course, but seemed to feel understood.  Seemed to feel me communicating awkwardly instead of sneakily attacking her or resenting her.  I put myself in her shoes and advised her.  And I think she heard me.  No doubt due to the "me putting myself in her shoes and trying to help" bit.
   But I was sitting there thinking "You really do think you can just somehow hide everything you're thinking and feeling.  When really you're like a large-print book.  Everyone can see you being you, thinking and feeling stuff, moment by moment.  And so much of what's going on inside you is being broadcast in your dealings with every student you interact in any way with during class.  With everything you avoid.  With the words you almost say and then reword, mid-sentence.  With what you refuse to address.  With ever evasion and redirection. With every conversation you excuse yourself from and walk quickly away.  And you're terrified of the very idea that maybe you can't hide all that stuff, after all.  Your self-image is predicated around the idea that you are a safe place to hide you in.  Well you can't hide you inside you. You're right here, interacting with us. We can see you."

And then there was Mark.  Mark kind of pretended to be a mind-reader.  Girls were fascinated.  They were all like "You can't know that about me!  You don't understand me..." and then they giggled and slapped him and talked to him endlessly.  About themselves.  It's funny how when you pretend to be able to read people, they will believe you can.  And they will let you know them.  Because they want you to be able to.  They hope you're interested, generally. Like Twitter or blogs.  You hope some people are interested, even if you don't want to actually hang out with them.  A distant kind of one-way connection.  You are understood, in part, remotely.
  Horoscopes, palm-reading, all that stuff, pretends to understand people.  You say something general enough to apply to most human beings, and people will be tempted to accept it, because they want to be understood and accepted.  They will hear it applying to them.  Works well if it applies to everyone.  They like even the attempt to understand them.  They like the interest shown.
   They do, right?  Want to be understood?  As for me, I was delighted to meet Mark because I'd spent a life in my culture being continually asked to justify why I was me, why I couldn't just be more like someone else.  Why did I seem intense?  Why didn't I enjoy the stuff we were all supposed to?  And Mark said he "got" me.  And he really seemed to.  And to him I wasn't troubling, offensive, weird or odd to him.  Not interesting enough.  I was just normal, if a bit boring.  Mark is the master of backhanded compliments.  I was delighted.  I was overjoyed to be boring, rather than threatening and "up to stuff."  I was delighted to talk to people who weren't continually threatened and offput by me being myself.  I prefer it when my companions are wackier than I. I don't like the pressure of having to be the entertaining one.  I'm not cut out for it.  I'm a better straight man.
   But Mark also said, early when I met him "You really seem to want to be understood... weird."  He has always maintained that he himself really doesn't want to be understood.  Said he would hate for people to understand him.  And that rang weird.  He's got his problems, and I've always wondered about how the apparent discomfort with being known, the apparent endless need to mystify people, to know everything and be known of no one, might figure in or relate to it all in some way.  But there are whole sections of friends of mine that are "dark."  That don't surprise me at all anymore, but keep happening and I don't know why. 
    Is the ability to understand someone else, to "get" them even when they're not trying to help you understand, tied to caring about them?
    Whenever I have cared for a girl, perhaps I deluded myself, but I felt like a connection formed and information started spilling back and forth between us.  Like, a lot of understanding/information.  The connection was based on caring for them, and it really seemed to somehow make everything they did and said seem wholly unsurprising and normal.  Familiar.  And I felt ends of sentences coming in advance.  Ends of everythings.
   And in general, whenever I read someone's writing, I feel like I can sort of feel how they're feeling when they write it.  I feel like I'm "seeing" more of them than they intend.  Far more.  I don't try.  But that happens when I read.  When I read people's books, blogs or Facebook comments.  When I mark hundreds and hundreds of assignments.  People pour themselves into their writing, even when they think they're not.  They're leaking all over the place.  They know what they're intending to say, but they clearly have no control over how much, and what sort of stuff, is included in there with what they intend to share.

Are There People Who Don't Want People To Understand Them?
Sometimes I do meet other people besides Mark who say they don't want to be understood.  Who get angry and panicked at the very idea that I might be able to have insight into them, unless they flat out tell me things when they're ready.
   I'm weird in that, once I decide I know something about someone, I don't wait for them to tell me it to me before I act on it.  So, people eventually tell you they've broken up, or have started a relationship, or have quit their job, or are gay, or were lying about something, far after most of us have figured out more or less what happened.  And when they tell you, it's not like OMFG!  It's much more like "Yeah.  Of course.  I know."  At most clueless, most of us are "So that's what that was all about."  We're almost never "I had absolutely no idea and never would have guessed. I didn't even know anything was going on." Takes quite something to make us say that.  It's very rare.
   But sometimes folks act like my interest in people, in who they are, what they're trying to do, in how that's working out for them?  Is perverse.  Hurts people.  Upsets them for my own selfish reasons.  "I have to ask, exactly how much pleasure do you derive from making other people uncomfortable?"  That me taking an interest in the human beings around me is, at very least, deluded and irresponsible.  Like, I can't actually know people.  Not really.  Not if they don't want me to.  Not if they're not purposely trying to help me know them, having invited me to do so.   Because, the saying goes, you can't know someone. Even if they actually want you to know them, conventional wisdom is that you never really know anyone.
   Now I imagine there's truth to that.  Yet, I can't help shake the feeling that when you "get" someone, especially if you care, there is that connection, and you understand to such a degree that if it isn't supernatural, it sure can make you believe it is.

Naked Is Vulnerable. It's Also Great Fun
I guess I don't understand people who don't want to be known.  I really don't, on any level.  We don't get along.  I understand people who are afraid that if you knew more of them, you wouldn't like them. (So you get to know more of them, and you keep liking them.)  I understand people wanting to "come off well," best foot forward, making a good impression.  I understand that some people want to "give you permission" to see what kind of person they are, before being comfortable with you noticing what kind of person they are.
  But ultimately, if you work with people, live with people or even near people, if you travel with people, camp with people, swim with people, play musical instruments with people, play sports or games against people, shop with people, if you discuss anything much at length with people, even on the Internet, connections form.  No more "best foot forward."  It's "warts and all" or not at all.  You start to understand at least a facet of that person. A knowing takes place.  Sometimes slowly.  Perhaps only that one facet.  When someone opens his or her mouth and sings to or with me, I can't help but see into them.  There's something incredibly naked in that act.

A Threat?
So I think I believe I can "get" people.  Always missing various bits of the picture, whole facets, sides of them.  But I still think I can know people.  In fact, I think it's mainly what we're down here to do, I think it's what Jesus manifestly did, over and over.  I think it's natural and happens unless we disrupt it purposely.  And I guess it scares some people to be known.  Like it's safer to not be known than to be known and rejected.  Our Northern European heritage makes a lot of us North Americans embrace a kind of insulated, "isolation while near others."  I live in an apartment.  And we "give each other space."  We do not hang out.  We choose to separate. 
   One of the things my father said to me long ago was "Son, you often feel you're understood, when really you aren't."  No doubt he has a point.  But having lived a few decades, what I find happening with me isn't that people can't understand who I am because I'm deeply secretive, never talk about myself, or don't live a life that tells people what I care about.  No.  It's that they don't believe I am what I am.  Like, they don't want me to be being here, being me, the way I am.  They can't believe that a well-intentioned, good-hearted, sane, competent person could make them feel uncomfortable, just by being himself.
  So they seem to need me to be the Joker, the Emperor, Charles Manson, Lex Luthor, Darth Vader, Voldemort or Hades.  Or Forrest Gump.  They are determined to ascribe malice and/or ineptitude to me.  To assume I'm joking when I'm quite serious.  Or to take me seriously when I'm joking.  Or to assume I'm being sarcastic when I'm being nice.  And the more they do this, the more they feel like I'm actually terribly hard to figure out.  Because the more they try to see the malicious, irresponsible, deluded, inept person they need me to be, the more my actions and dealings confuse them. Something "doesn't add up."
   Because that's how ignorance works: you can't see what your eyes are looking at, because you believe you know better.  You believe you see deeper.  And actually you're replacing what is right in front of you with Other Stuff.  Sometimes what you're seeing is what's real, no matter what pretenses and protestations and other crap is flying about.  Sometimes the attempts to hide stuff, or your attempts to hide from someone else's stuff make you incapable of dealing with what's right in front of you.
    I want to be understood.  I don't want people to attribute malice to me.  I don't want my every attempt to understand my own culture be interpreted as nothing other than a muck-raking attack.
   I don't blog absolutely anything I want.  Just because I have a very different agenda, and very different ethics about these things (for example, I believe there is worth and necessity in shining lights under rocks, in scrubbing underneath the kitchen sink and behind the toilet) isn't proof of my having an evil agenda, or no ethics at all.  I come in peace.  And I want to know and be known. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

God Forces Destruction on the Unwilling, But Only Helps the Willing With Good Stuff?

Something I'm thinking about (not a finished set of thoughts):

We know a God in the bible who is depicted as a destroyer of pride, of complacency, of idolatry, of oppressors and exploiters.  We see Him depicted as someone who forcefully disrupts lives that aren't going where He wants.  We see Him presented as laying nations and families and lives to waste so good/better things can replace the bad.  Sometimes He rips up a lot of stuff that's not even really terribly bad, because He wants something good to come out of the thing.

But, the bad being forcibly disrupted, I think we then see a change.  We see Him stop the forcing.  The "love" stuff is merely offered.  Often there is a covenant.  No one is forced to take Him up on it. He'll forcibly punish sin, but won't force grace.  He will shatter someone's uncaring pride, but not force acceptance and generosity upon that person.

It seems as if good stuff can't really be forced without wrecking it.  And good doesn't come just because you've removed evil.  Good is no more merely the absence of evil than life is simply the absence of death, nor love, merely the absence of hate.  And good is organic, in the sense that it needs to grow and develop.  And it needs willingness.  A relationship.  Adherence to a covenant.  And it's not guaranteed to work.  The parable of the sower seems to present this pretty clearly.

I think God can shatter our pride and our vices, disrupt our church groups and families when they do bad things in His name, but I don't think He can really force good things upon us.  I don't think He can force us to love.  I don't think He can force any of the fruits of the spirit upon us without invalidating how that's supposed to go.

Almost makes it seem like, if there's bad stuff, He'll take care of it, whether we want Him to or not.  And if we want good stuff, though, He'll provide opportunities, but unless we actively pursue good stuff, it's not something He's going to force.  He can shatter our belief in our doctrines of bondage and shame and legalism, but He can't/won't force us to live free of bondage, shame and legalism.

Monday, 23 June 2014

How To Host a Plymouth Brethren Style Division: The Bethesda Method

Snark-free version available here.
Just like the Olympics, the Plymouth Brethren Division is something that keeps coming around, and everyone's into it and talking about it for years afterward, with strong loyalties and room-dividing views.  It's the oldest tradition the Brethren have, having first celebrated a glorious, hotly contended division in Bethesda, in 1848.  The First Great Brethren Division!  What an honour to be the spiritual descendants of this great heritage!
  But maybe your small group isn't going to be lucky enough to have a division of its own, on its own... and without a division, how will everyone know who's wrong?  Below is a simple guide to Hosting a Plymouth Brethren style division of your own!  It's easy!  (Everyone's doing it):

Step 1: Choose a Cause/Person
First you need something or someone to object to, or fight against.  Something you can make people fear.  The best thing to do is have a look at any and all ways that your group could be seen as divided into two camps (old/young, modern/traditional, thoughts/feelings-based, Beatles/Stones, it really doesn't matter.)  Then you drive a wedge into that barely-visible seam.
   A particularly good method of driving a wedge between two groups, is to use some kind of "doctrinal" issue.  It's best to take something incredibly lofty and mysterious and beyond human comprehension like the precise nature of and relationship between the various persons of the Godhead, (or exactly what's going on with God allowing sin, then curing it somehow with death. By dying.  Himself.  Incarnated as Man.  But distinct from Himself. Yet one.)  Then either say something opinionated which will divide the room, or better yet, if someone else says anything like that, (especially if it's something you don't really fully understand, either in terms of what the man is saying or intends to say) proclaim it A Threat. To God.  To His Name.  His People. His Table.  His Doctrine.  His Testimony.  His Whatever.  It helps if this person wrote this down so you can quote bits of it out of context without speaking to the man much at all about the matter.
   Then, and this is particularly brave and vital: say it's all actually quite simple.  And then roll up your sleeves get ready to defend God from the "new" and "complicated" ideas of your brethren!

Step 2: Form Two Teams
You can get jerseys, a rallying song, a humorous mascot, team names, or whatever.   What you need to do at this point is figure out who's going to be on your team.   In fact, you really need to draft people to your team.  This should be done by quiet meetings in coffee shops, seeking to woo future team members, and by secret emails and phone calls.  Direct communication.  Eye contact.  Lowered voices.  Leaning in conspiratorially.  Smiling and shaking heads in agreed disbelief over the folly of the other team and its clownish captaincy.  Agree who you really just don't like very much.  Bond over spite and past grievances. Use any form of closed-hearted bigotry that is available to you.  See how many people can be brought into the great cause of Defending God From The Threat you've concocted.

Step 3: Token Gesture of Poisoned Peace
This is important: You don't want to look like the Bad Guy.  So what you need to do is reach out, to what has now become The Other Team, with a poisoned olive branch.  This is best done with an extremely sanctimoniously* worded, extremely formal letter.  Indirect communication.  No phone calls or face to face meetings.  Not even emails.  That risks connection and understanding.  No.  You need a paper olive branch.  A letter.  That you're going to photocopy a lot and show to everyone as evidence of how nice you were, in your passive-aggressive, pious way, yet, somehow, your gesture of fellowship will have been inexplicably spit upon and cast to the floor!  Oh, the humanity!
  It's a delicate balance.  It has to seem almost sincere, but also be as judgmental, closed, passive-aggressive, insulting and assumption-filled as possible.   Make the language not merely Edwardian, but Victorian, if not downright Elizabethan.  Quote a number of insulting verses.  (That's easy.  The bible's full of verses that can be used to impugn people, all the while maintaining full deniability. "It's not me disrespecting you.  I'm just faithfully passing on what God said about you...")
   Be sure to use the word "concern(s,ed,ing)" repeatedly.  Because of course you aren't fighting and insulting people and just being nasty, paranoid and trigger-happy.  No. You're concerned.  For God. For His Things.  And for His people, whom He's left, clearly, in your care, lest All be lost.
* (sanctimoniously: in the manner of a prissy, effete, tattle-tale, duplicitous, muckraking, religious bitch-boy who feels he is above absolutely everyone.)

Step 4: Rallying the Troops Letter
Once your false peace overture has the Other Team properly enraged, this is all that's left to do:  You now need a letter to your own team across the globe, sent with copies of the poisoned olive branch letter and the equally sanctimonious retaliation letter from the other.  You can use the Internet and phones at this point, but because now you want direct communication that could result in a genuinely knit together team with which to engage what you have now ensured is the Other Team.  
   This letter needs to be stirring.  It's like the "rallying the troops" speech that's in almost any movie you carefully deny having ever seen, only it's on paper.  It can be a lovely souvenir to keep in a place of honour after the war, to be used during re-enactments.  It should use the word "sad" and "forced" and "leaving us with no choice but to" as much as possible.  A good template of a "rallying the troops" letter could be drawn from Aragorn's speech in The Return of the King:

Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!

Now, cast more in the Plymouth Brethren style, this forms an excellent skeleton for the Brethren equivalent of a "rallying the troops" speech, inciting division (what Brethren do instead of genocides and wars):

Beloved Brethren gathered to the previous name of our Lord Jesus Christ! Saints! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the faithfulness of the saints fails, when we forsake the path clearly laid out by those who have gone on before, and walk in blatant disregard of what is clearly outlined in the divinely inspired Word of God, but it is not this day. An hour of grievous wolves and false teaching and new strange doctrines and falling away when our beloved Christian testimony comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we stand on scripture! Because you hold dear the holy Word of God, forswearing the temptations and corruption of this wicked world, I bid you stand, gathered saints!

(Note: It may help to shout this speech from the back of a rearing horse while waving a sword about.) 

Step 5: Mock-Regretful Declaration of War
And then it's off.  Reach out with your anger.  Feel your hate.  Fire a number of bitchy, pious letters about how "sad" you are to have been "forced," to have been "left with no other choice" but to gleefully tear around the countryside bashing one another upside the head, and firing photocopied, highlighted letter after scripture-decorated, carefully signed letter; like an endless barrage of stinking dung missiles landing on people's doorstops, daring any and all not to read them.  Like accidentally discovered porn in a park, no one will be able to resist having a bit of a surreptitious peek, no matter how disgusted it will make them once they have.
  It's amazing to have the privilege of hosting a really good Division.  Just do it.   About once every eleven years. You can thank me later. You'll love it.  If it's your first division, don't be self-conscious or worry about being too petty or silly.  Anything goes.  Do it in the name of obeying scripture and walking uprightly.  Do it in the name of maintaining Christian testimony.  Do it in the name of endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit. Do it in the name of protecting God and His Name and His Table from the ideas of the people you grew up with.  Do it in the name of protecting the children who might otherwise be led astray or you know, hurt.  Above all, do it in the name of faithfulness, obedience and love.  Because you've been forced to, and have no other choice but to be faithful.

Step 6: Armistace Day
And then there's nothing left but to clear away all the bodies.  Party's over.  Time to put out the trash.  Toss them into mass graves with monuments to the bravery and faithfulness of all those involved in the struggle against the vicious Hun/your brother Steve.
  Wait until the poppies have had time to grow.  Dress up in your Sunday morning business casual uniforms.  Salute the cenotaph.  Stick out your chest to more proudly display the faithfulness/status medals you earned in this tragic, necessary venture, when you risked your all to defend the Lord Himself from that mysterious, sudden, shocking attack that came from out of nowhere.  Pray to the Lord Above, thanking Him in ornate, flowery prose that He helped you remain Right, and obedient to scripture.  Thank Him that you are not as other churches are, even like those Presbyterians.
  Take a deep breath and demand from everyone in attendance there, the full recognition you deserve for having fought so that your children could leave your assembly and more than a third of your gathering could quit attending any kind of church again forever, manifesting their lack of faithfulness.  And console yourself that in future, when things get too dusty and cobwebby and lonely, that you can reminisce about how hard it was and how faithful, brave and smart everyone was. And when you get bored of that, you can always start another one.  Hallelujah!

Raven-Taylor-Hales Exclusives Survey - Part 3

In the "What Kind of Person Are You Now" section, I asked:

Text box respondents said things like:
  •  i always felt i had to hide everything i did, so yes , privacy is still something i need 
  • initially being highly secretive (discreet) from ExB culture, but now, becoming more and more transparent as my spiritual calling requires  
  • quite the contrary I have always been very open possibly too much so 
  • I hate secrets!!! but my privacy is so so important  
  • Privacy somewhat; secrets probably LESS important than for many people. 

Text box respondent said:
  • I am hyper vigilant when authority figures get too heavyhanded. I have a more developed sense of discernment.  

Text box respondent said:
  • I may not speak out, but I will avoid that person, if possible.  

Text box respondents said things like:
    • No idea! 
    • No idea
    • It's a mix - I wear my heart on my face very much. But as an EB-raised female I am intrinsically good at disguising my heart-feelings, so I can adjust my face at will. But I try not to much, these days.
    • I really don't know 
Text box respondents said things like:
  • very uncomfortable at dances, weddings, 
  • used to love now my husband can't so we don't  

Text box respondents said things like:
  • i like a glass of wine on wknds, still feel like i shouldnt broadcast it in front of my parents  
  • I am an alcoholic in recovery - 12yrs (I don't drink because I can't) 

Text box respondent said:
  • No. I tried it when I was a teenager, and found out then it was not for me.  

I asked this:

Is there a single spiritual leader in your life now? (A pastor, an author, a self-help guru or nutritionist?)

No less than eight people skipped this one.  Those who answered, said things like:

  •  Yes - an excellent Teaching Pastor (last 3 years)
  • Jesus.
  • not just one, but our pastors at church
  • No one single person no, apart from Gods Word in the Bible and Jesus Christ. My wife and I have surrounded ourselves with lots of good sincere Christians from different churches and we have elders and pastors from a wide variety of churches who have taken an interest in us as well. Our local new Church also has a multiple eldership team who we can talk to freely, when we left the Renton Brethren we used to talk to them for hours to share our experiences and discuss issues that happened. we also have many non christian friends that we didnt have before
  • No
  • Yes, Awesome Pastor
  • definitely not
  • No
  • Definitely not.
  • No
  • No
  • no
  • no/maybe
  • No
  • No
  • no
  • no
  • No
  • no
  • No
  • no
  • No
  • Buddha
  • Jesus
  • No
  • Nope
  • No
  • Not a single one, but there are several pastors and mentors I look to.
  • No
  • No. Multiple sources of enlightenment!
  • No
  • no
  • No
  • I attend the Episcopal Church and sing in the choir, but do not tend to follow any leader — tend to distrust them.
  • no but I lead a spiritual (not religious) life
  • Yes a pastor 
  • was going to say mike moore, jokingly, but realize these surveys and blogs are causing me to think and re-examine so many feelings that I have tried to hide and forge

    • I did very much so for the first 7-8 yrs, but now I feel more normal than weird
    • I did but not so much now
    • Only to explain my lack of family members 

    And last I asked:
 Someone has just left the Taylor-Hales Brethren and has contact you to ask what s/he should do for his/her first year "out."  S/he wants to acclimatize to life outside the movement, keep ties to the Taylor Hales Exclusive Brethren severed, and get a workable life together.  What advice would you offer?

    • ·         RELAX! Ideally link to an exEB network and learn from others who have made a transition. Important to be ready to branch away when meeting those who are ‘stuck’. Develop an open mind over as many issues as possible. Assess your on morality parameters - when leaving a tight cult there is a tendency to over-indulge as the entire Morality is a Group Morality and you need to rediscover in baby-steps the right path and self-discipline for your own choice making discipline.
    • ·         it’s a tough one, simple things like walking into a theatre or lcbo (Ontario Liquor Store) , still have me looking over my shoulder sometimes, so I guess working on the feelings of guilt are something that will take a lot longer than a yr. I would also say, don't explain yourself to everyone, we always feel that we are so different , everyone must notice, but really, many don't notice, and most find it kind of impossible to believe.
    • ·         I would suggest that they make absolutely no decisions that would be life-changing. That their first year should be in soaking up the outdoor world (hiking, biking, etc) and that they should start reading a bible that is easy to read (The Message as an example), and take college courses that expose them to world history and current events. I'd suggest that they join groups that are supportive to a five-step system (AA for example) and get into therapy with a counselor that they're able to be open and honest with.
    • ·         get back with the brethren asap
    • ·         try to get in contact with someone who was also in the exclusive brethren and has been gone for a while, I found it helps to keep you grounded and to also be able to move forth with your new life. I appreciated being in that situation to have someone from my past that could relate to what I was feeling.
    • Don't go mad. Make friends. 'Worldy people are more trustworthy than the Brethren
    •  travel, and or join gyms or social groups of their intrests
    • ·         Firstly, don't assess God by the way the ExB portrayed Him - but rather get to know who HE really is because being in relationship with Jesus will make the difference between being someone who is now out of the ExB and living life in complete freedom, peace, joy and love to someone who has left the ExB and carries the bitterness of pain and unforgiveness and never really experiences the freedom they so desire. Then take it easy, don't rush into the ''forbidden fruit" but become discerning because some of it really is festering and putrid, just like they warned in the ExB Keep a journal for the spiritual emotional journey in these early days - writing it down can be a completely confidential way to receive counselling and vent or offload the injustices & grief . . . then later can be useful in sharing with others, reflecting on personal growth or fire fuel !! Listen to and observe others, but take care in what you decide to do for yourself because 'we are not street-wise' and are highly gullible and vulnerable to being led astray . . . (new planet, remember !!) make friends . . . especially with those who can provide positive input, eg: people from healthy churches, sporting groups and other common interest groups - be aware of those who complain about life/situations - they are stuck in the mud and you don't need that to get a life . . .
    • ·         Be your own person, make friends
    • ·         Find a good friendly understanding church
    • ·         Be financially prepared. * Surround yourself with a strong network of new family and friends. * Talk to others who have been through the same experiences. * Resist attempts by the Brethren to bully/bribe you. * Be honest with yourself and with others about who you are and where you come from.
    • ·         Shift city, or preferably country - start afresh with no memories, no worry about bumping into someone. It's a lot easier to be yourself when you can say "oh my family is in ..." somewhere far away. Make friends with people based on the present, not the past.
    • ·         Do it. Don't look back. Make good new friends. Work hard, play hard and make a new life. Be strong and put it behind you.
    • ·         keep your head down and don't make huge financial and emotional decisions for a year get to know yourself, so spend time alone without other peoples direct influence, to sort out the shit in your head, because its there, dont think its not and youre the one person who is going to come out unscathed
    • ·         Keep in a Christian circle find a youth group, look up old friends if possible and doping go mad.,
    • ·         If it feels good, do it!
    • ·         get a social network together and follow your nose try as many things as possible and be open to new things
    • ·         not sure, it depends on the person
    • ·         It takes time. Be very patient with yourself. Consider counselling or PTSD treatment.
    • ·         Stay true to yourself, your thoughts, feelings and do not let anybody tell you what to do! I will be there any time of the day or night to help if it is within my ability!
    • ·         Keep away from drink, drugs and bad company and go for whatever activity appeals to you that keeps you physically fit and mentally sharp with all the energy you have
    • ·         go easy, don't think you have to try everything at once
    • ·         Would not know what advice to offer to be perfectly honest
    • ·         I would tell them the truth. How difficult it is & also how rewarding it is. I would tell to think carefully but follow their hearts.
    • ·         Find a good evangelical bible-believing church
    •          Depends on who it is and where they are from. I would offer to help in any way needed for support but basically tell them they won't have their every need met and handed to them on a silver platter. They will have to find a job based on their resume and/or skills and not the fact that they just belong to the same group as someone. They will have to make decisions that they've never had to make before. They will probably end up making some decisions that may not be the best decision but it will be their decision and therefore it is easier to own up to it and learn from it. And the decisions that they make that turn out to be great will be way more gratifying and rewarding. Other than that you're a free bird - go out and enjoy God's creation the way He meant it to be enjoyed.
    • ·         To travel, get an education, and move on, ie not to let the past dictate the present.
    • ·         I would suggest taking it very slowly, and watching a lot before diving in and making any big decisions. only do what you are comfortable with, and don't do things you don't feel ready to try just because your new friends say 'everyone' has to do it.
    • ·         My advice is to study on and get a grip on what your personal beliefs are. You have to decide what things you believe in and what you want to be involved in, not just knee jerk reaction to do everything. I didn't have much to do with ex-brethren at first because the ones I knew just wanted to sit around and criticize the brethren and gripe about how badly they had been treated. I wanted to move past that and become a "normal person" and not dwell on past hurts. I did want to become actively involved in a church and really learn God's word as those who have studied it well could teach. I feel like the teaching in the brethren was so stunted and meeting just consisted of hearing about what we shouldn't be doing, and yet the same people who were spouting that were horrible gossips and mistreated people. I was ready for real Christianity.
    • ·         I would run a mile. Too hardd
    •        Choose carefully who you stay close to. Save up a nest-egg if you possibly can. Don't hide your light under a bushel - you're a wonderful child of the universe as WELL as that "O wretched man that I am", so celebrate the first & be self-disciplined about the second. Question things - most people in the outside world are very understanding & helpful if you let them know a bit about why you don't know stuff. Find a few wise older mentors amongst the exEB community. Have FUN, but do it wisely - you have to pick up your own pieces now! Be bereavement aware: by leaving your family, friends, church, culture, you have sustained huge losses so at various times in your life over the next decades, the grief will hit... talk to other exEB if you can, when this happens.
    • ·         Leave the country or at least move away from the locality you belonged to ....make a fresh start if possible and don't look back ,they will be watching you and it wears you down in the end.Also try not to be bitter ,believe you have chosen your life's path and they have chosen theirs ,respect their choice and ask that they respect yours
    • ·         let your anger go, we could have been born into many much worse situations
    • ·         Depends on the individual, there is a lot of unlearning to go through so depends where their at.I encourage them in prayer and to find a good church to go to.
    • ·         Make friends you can trust. Try to get an education. I was fortunate, I had already started in college (it wasn't quite forbidden in the mid 60's in Baltimore) — though it was disapproved of. But getting an education will improve your job chances and help you to broaden your horizons.
    •         come and stay with me for a bit - or at least come to see me and chat
    • ·         Ideally don't leave until you have a job to go to that provides a good income and have somewhere stable to live. Build yourself a life free from reliance on other ex EB's and make it your mission to stand on your own feet in the world as this reminds you every day of the reasons why you broke free in the first place.
    • ·         Take it one day at a time, give yourself time to adjust before you try to do everything
    • ·         In no particular order and depending on the person the list could be longer:
    1. It takes time to unlearn the false teaching and be prepared to unlearn everything and relearn it
    2. Don’t abandon Christianity, you will find what you were taught to be Christianity in the Brethren, really isn’t
    3. Take things at your own pace, you don’t have to join a new church, you can just take time out to relax and repair your emotional and psychological health
    4. Do some hobbies, join a club, go on holiday, watch a sport, despite being told these things are wrong by the Brethren, they really aren’t
    5. If the EB keep trying to contact and hassle then change address, change phone number, contact your local police to make them aware of the religious abuse.
    6. Any conversations with EB should be recorded, they are notorious for lying about content of discussions and twisting what was said
    7. Buy a TV and a Radio
    8. Start to change your mindset and prejudices of other Christians and other Churches by becoming involved in a small way with one or two
    9. You won’t be struck down by lightening or cursed if you walk into a Christian Church, nor are other Christians and Christian Churches evil, or worldly, despite what you have been taught
    10. Research the internet for groups discussing the Exclusive Brethren and those exposing the group for what it is. These groups can be immensely therapeutic and cathartic, especially if you tell your story.
    11. Some say its best not to join a new Christian Church too soon and some say it’s best to search out a good Christian Church early on. For us finding a new Bible following Christian church was important as it helped to replace lost friends and relationships and provided a new church family to share experiences with and provide help and support in receiving from the harm and toxic teaching. Real genuine Christians will be very understanding and helpful
    12. Leaving the Exclusive Brethren (any group TW, Taylor Hales, Renton etc), is similar to leaving the Jehovah’s Witness. Mainstream Christian Churches are very familiar with ex Jehovah's Witness and helping them.
    13. Before joining any new Christian Church, do your research, take your time, visit a good number of them, in which do you feel most welcome or at home, in which is the teaching easy to understand etc
    14. If you do decide to leave the Christian faith for a while, that’s not a crime and God will not abandon you. God understands the spiritually abused
    15. If you do decide to leave the Christian faith altogether, after so much spiritual abuse and false teaching, that’s not a surprise
    16. The pull of family, friends etc is understandable but is not a reason to go back into a man made system of spiritual abuse masquerading as Christianity. Remember, Exclusive Brethrenism is not Christianity as taught in the Bible.
    17. Read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse By David Johnson and Jeff Vanvonderen (Bethany House, 1991, 2005). 235 pages. Review as per this link –
    18. Be free to ask new friends and church friends to be a witness to the religious abuse and hassle if the EB persist in trying to contact you
    19. If you do go to church don’t feel you have to engage straight away, just stepping in the doors of a Church is daunting on it s own. If its communion, just observe, or if you feel comfortable take the bread and cup at the Lords Table (it’s His Table, the Brethren do not own it or control it). There is no pressure on you, remember it is your faith, no one else’s, it is your choice, no one else’s.
    20. The Brethren have no control over you, or over your faith in God if you have it
    21. The Brethren will try to intimidate you and bully you, using whatever means they can to get you to submit to their will, don’t give in. There way is not Gods way
    22. Don’t feel afraid to seek counselling if you need it for emotional or psychological issues or other problems. There are groups and persons who can help.
    23. Don’t be afraid to seek help with housing or job etc, again there are systems and organisations in place to help There is no space on the survey for contact details – if needed I write under a pen name of Bother Rev at