Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Abi and November's Synchroblog: Spiritual Abuse and Redemption

Updated update!  Kathy Escobar chimed in...better late than never, indeed! 

Update!  Scroll down to the bottom for the links for the rest of the posts....

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Hmmm...I have found it a bit challenging to write about a topic that still actively triggers me, but I have had a look at it from a couple perspectives lately, so here goes. This post is part of November's Synchroblog. Please do take time to go and read all the posts!

I think that the root of spiritual abuse stems from confusion: about who God is, about who we are, and about how to treat each other. Everyone is confused, on some level, about these three things. The problem is not that we are confused, but that we are unwilling to embrace self-awareness about it so that we can deal with our confusion effectively.

Spiritual abuse comes from two basic kinds of relational dysfunction:
  1. Because I am confused about who God is, I am confused about who I am in relation to God and to Others. This confusion, if I am not vigilant to seek the Truth for myself, can make me vulnerable to being dominated by the convictions of others.
  2. Because I believe I am right about who God is, I am self-righteous about who I am in relation to God and Others. This conviction makes me vulnerable to dominating others who remain in confusion.
In order for spiritual abuse to occur, you have to have both kinds of people:  the vulnerable and the dominant.  As Dr. Phil and Robin McGraw say: You teach people how to treat you.  The problem is that we usually teach this without realizing it. We give away our power to those we think are more competent to manage it. What we put up with is what we'll get.

But this is not a post about shame. It is a post about repentance and redemption. And it's something that we all need to engage with throughout our lives.  We never get past the need for repentance and redemption, because none of us are perfect.

As an aside, I think many Christians have problems here because they have misunderstood Sanctification as a state to be achieved instead of a process to embrace.  It is yet another example of the Already/Not Yet Paradox....

The late M. Scott Peck, MD, in his important book, The Different Drum, spoke about the four stages of spiritual growth.  One important insight is that as you grow, you have to choose to remember yourself as you were in the earlier stages so that you are able to relate to those still in those stages.  People who forget this tend to only relate to those in the last stage they passed through. Those who are farther back in the stages of growth will not only not relate to such a person...but will typically think they are evil.

One more morsel from Peck (see this post) that I think comes into play for this topic has to do with laziness. Peck came to see original sin as laziness:  “attempting to avoid necessary suffering, or taking the easy way out.”

The vulnerable and the dominant are both caught in the web of laziness.  Striving to know God and know yourself and others is the ultimate in necessary suffering. No one can do this work for us--we must embrace the struggle ourselves. Yes, we need companions on this journey, but we must each walk the path, step by step, ourselves...or we do not gain the strength, experience and stamina we need for relationship with God and Others.

To take the easy way out, to attempt to avoid this necessary suffering, misses the mark. It's sin.

For those who are confused and vulnerable, missing this mark can look like trying to find someone who will tell you what to think and do. These folks teach people to treat them like children who can't do things for themselves. They find their way to churches or other institutions that will give them boundaries and, for all intents and purposes, make their decisions for them. These churches or other institutions will, by definition, stunt the growth of these folks by encouraging them to cede their personal power and self-control.  It may seem benevolent, but it is still domination and it slowly steals Life.

For those who believe they are Sanctified (done deal) and Authorized to represent God, missing this mark can look like choosing programs and policies and procedures that control and standardize the thoughts and actions of others. These folks, intentionally or not, make others dependent on them rather than discipling them toward greater maturity. Resorting to power and control are actually attempts to take the easy way out by not really having to love and teach and correct personally in the context of authentic relationships.  "If you would just do what I tell you to do, everything would be fine." Or maybe not....

Now that I've sketched out spiritual abuse a bit, let's turn to redemption.

I have become more and more convinced that AA's 12 Step program is possibly the best foundation for discipleship, and certainly a good way to engage in the necessary suffering of growing up. Yes, it is a program, but it is one that brings persons into the hard work rather than shielding them. In the end, we are all addicts trying to recover from something!

The 12 steps, as outlined on the Realistic Recovery blog, are powerful.  Have you ever read them? Worked through some of the program? It is worth your time...and it is something that needs to be done with at least one other, preferably a mentor.

I would prefer a group of three:  someone I look up to as farther along the road, me, and someone who looks up to me. I think it is most balanced if someone is helping us up and we are helping someone up. Of course, these persons must be willing to engage the process with you and have already proven themselves to be trustworthy. It is not a small commitment, this....

The key to redemption is being willing to engage in the suffering that comes from honest  self-reflection.  And this is where Step #4 shines: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  Yeah, when was the last time you did that?  Have you ever done it?

Take a look at this list of Character Defects and Assets...Looking at the Man (or Woman) in the Mirror.  One man, talking about processing Step #4, said that they were not able to look at the Assets until they had thoroughly processed the Defects...because it was too easy to fool themselves into thinking that they were not really that bad--all things considered. Our capacity for self deception is, sadly, enormous!

Again, this is not a guilt or shame exercise.  Rather, it is a courageous opportunity to look deeply at your character.  Of course, Step #s 5, 6 and 7 deal with those defects discerned, while #s 8 and 9 move to identifying who we have harmed through these defects and the making of amends, where possible.  Step # 10 commits to regular self-examination and promptly admitting defects as they are recognized.  This is what the process of Sanctification looks like, friends.  It is a life-long process.

Step # 11 commits to improve our conscious contact with God and # 12 commits to living life by these principles and sharing them with other addicts.  Yeah, sounds like the Jesus Creed, doesn't it?

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There are so many others who have developed such important works that will help with understanding spiritual abuse and redemption.  My friend, Brad FuturistGuy Sargent, is a fabulous place to start....

In the end, I believe the only way to approach spiritual abuse and redemption is to realize that we all participate in it, one way or another.  We have spots where we avoid necessary suffering and take the easy way out. We have spots when we use our power to control others so we don't have to do the hard work of confrontation and correction. We have spots where we submit to the power and control of others so we don't have to do the hard work of being confronted and corrected.

If you have been abused, seek help as you process the pain...you are not alone and guilt and shame will not bind your wounds. If someone speaks to you with words of guilt and shame, RUN! Look for resources to help you. Be gentle with yourself, because the process of grief can be intense and last longer than you might think.  God can handle your emotions....

If you have witnessed abuse, wake up and look for those who are hurting and come to them with listening ears. Hear their story fully. Bear their pain with them in silence, without inflaming it with your own emotions. Honor their trust with fidelity. Your presence is more important than any words you might want to say. Be patient and do not press them beyond what they are willing to share.

If you have been abusive, gather up the courage to STOP and confess it to God. Follow the 12 Steps. Get deep into Step #4. Look into the options offered on the other posts in this Synchroblog. Find someone who will walk with you as you embrace the necessary suffering of repentance, confession, reparation and, if possible, reconciliation.  Let God's redemption drill down into your soul, to drain the swamp and clean up your soul.

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We teach each other how to treat us...but we need to learn a better way.  I call that way Perichoretic cHesed. The 12 Steps are a particularly lovely theme of The Great Dance.

Whether we like it or not, the human condition is wrapped up in suffering because growing is painful -- physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. But this is the sweetest of pains, because our dancing partner is Jesus. Are you draging him along in your dreadful dance, or are you letting him lead you in The Great Dance?

Life is a long list of Necessary Losses:  the loves, illusions, dependencies and impossible expectations that all of us have to give up in order to grow. Trying to cheat and avoid the pain of these necessary losses leads to all manner of chaos and destruction. That way dragons lie....

Be blessed as you journey. Do not think that you go alone, for Father, Son and Spirit are always with you. But do find companions to hold your left hand and your right hand as you go, because we're all in this together.


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Here are the links to the reset of the posts in the Synchroblog:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Abi's "One Sentence Summary"

I am always fascinated by the pathways the Spirit leads me down!  Today's led me to the blog of Andrew Perriman, to whom I was introduced during the work of producing Wikiklesia, Volume One: Voices of the Virtual World.

Anyway, I found my way to this post, which I found interesting. The challenge was to capture the message of the Bible in one sentence. So I decided to make a wee attempt [after two years of processing, Baxter!], which ended up in their spam filter...but I copied it so I could paste it here:

Hello, Andrew! Very late to the convo, but here's my wee attempt:

From Eternity, God has dwelt as Father, Son and Spirit in 3-in-1 Perichoretic cHesed, and chose to create in order to include Their Imago Dei, male and female, in Their relationship, though the "already/not yet" process was long, counter-intuitive, difficult, subversive and traumatic, as well as intimate, gracious, merciful, loving and joyous; and it would, from Eternity, require the Incarnation of the Son as Jesus the Christ--fully God and fully Human--to "finish/begin" the recreation/adoption/inclusion process via his birth, life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit as indwelling guide and advocate for the new brothers and sisters until Chronos ceases and Kairos is our Now/Forever reality.

From an older, white, post-evangelical, Trinitarian, American "virtual abbess"...taking a page from the Apostle Paul's "run-on-sentence" playbook.  ;^)

The first time it was blocked, it erased my "sentence" ... and I was appalled because it felt like one of those times when what I wrote could not be repeated.  But then I felt like, if this was something that was really jelled in my heart, I could repeat it.  So I did...and that is what I pasted above.  And it is close...but, I think, even better than the first attempt.  So, thanks, Spam Blocker, for the help!  ;^)

Feel free to take the challenge yourself. You can go and read all the attempts at Andrew's blog first, if you want. Or you can just jump in without being influenced (other than my wee attempt above). You can put your attempt in my comments section...I will check the Spam file and rescue you if you end up there.  :^)

This was a fine exercise for this crisp, cold and blue sky day! 


Be blessed....


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Abi and the Already/Not Yet Paradox

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the way something deep and important is revealed to me by the Spirit, but it takes another 20 years for me to "get" it.  More than just that, the process of "getting it" usually involves coming to the point where I just don't believe it anymore.  It is as if what was first revealed was a taste of the truth...but the context of my reality was such that the full flavor of the truth was blocked. It was as if that intriguing taste compelled me to slowly begin to move away from those ideas and practices of my contextual reality that were out of sync with the truth.

I love and am consistently drawn to paradox.  Perhaps that's why I enjoy space/time paradox books and movies....

I have recently finished reading Wayne Jacobsen's new book, Finding Church. It describes exactly where I find myself these days. I have gone through the deconstruction and rubble-clearing stages and have begun looking for the pattern of healthy reconstruction. So, his book is a helpful bit of confirmation of what the Spirit has been on about these past eight years.  Just as all his earlier books have been important steps along the path of my journey.  I am so grateful to God for Wayne.

I just started reading Kathy Escobar's new book, Faith Shift.  I am looking forward to finding new ways to understand what I have been experiencing, looking through her eyes and trying on her words.  Stay tuned....

I know that Wayne's book is one that I will need to give to friends and family who just don't understand my current experience outside of institutional Christianity.  I have a feeling Kathy's book may need to join it.  I am grateful to God for this brother and sister, their lives, ministry, blogs and books. I was blessed to spend time with Wayne five years ago, and I'm looking forward with hope to meeting Kathy in a couple of months.  Stay tuned for that, too....

What this added up to this morning is the realization that I have come around...again!....to the power of the simple/complex concept of covenant keeping centered in the Hebrew concept of cHesed.

I know you're surprised.  Not.

There is a Covenant Formulary that Dr. Mont Smith made in his book What the Bible Says About Covenant.  [Note:  this book is out of print, but copies can be found through various internet sources.  I have a couple dozen of them myself for use in teaching situations. Someday I hope to reformat it for digital distribution.] It is the definition of what it means to faithfully keep covenant. The formulary goes like this:  In Christ + Like Christ = With Christ.

When I first learned this over 20 years ago, it was presented as a kind of two-sides-to-a-coin thing.  The In Christ side was the faith side and the Like Christ side was the works side.  The Faith plus the Works added up to the fullness of life With Christ.  And that fit with my thinking at that time.

But that was before the deconstruction began...and as my mindset broke apart, it could no longer hold that concept. What was I going to do now? 

I had to let it go...and trust that the Spirit would return it to me when the time was right.

Apparently, that was this morning!

Because in the meantime, the Spirit was immersing me in the spoken and written words of Dr. C. Baxter Kruger...hammering out the concept of perichoresis that has been floating around in my brain for quite some time.  And while that was happening, the other shoe dropped, as it were. I found that Perichoresis remained "out there" -- just beyond reach -- until it was connected with cHesed.

So, I have been processing Perichoretic cHesed through most of 2013 and 2014. Today the old formulary was transformed so that it is real again.  It looks like this:

  • Perichoresis is that wonderful dance of mutual interpenetration without loss of distinct individuality, where the Father and Son are in one another through the power of the Spirit. It is into this Great Dance that we (all of the cosmos, actually) have been drawn by the finished work of Jesus, the Father's Eternal Son. It is this reality that is represented by the component of the formulary known as "In Christ".  Everything is now In Christ, who holds all things together. This is true whether we know it or not...whether we accept it or not. It is Reality.
  • cHesed is the attitudes and actions of perichoresis.  It is the very steps of the dance. We learn them by dancing with Father, Son and Spirit.  Their attitudes toward each other and us are revealed as we partner with them, as they lead us in the dance, as we relax and follow their lead. These attitudes of cHesed are gracious loving-kindness toward one another and manifest in specific actions:  deliberate affection (love that submits), unmerited favor (grace that serves), and kindness mutually owed (mercy that leads). To follow Jesus' lead and dance the steps of gracious loving-kindness with him is to be "Like Christ".
  • Perichoretic cHesed is the Great Dance in its fullness...the dance of covenant keeping. It is a covenant dance where everything depends on the very nature and character of God as Father, Son and Spirit.  They dance the covenant faithfully with each other -- submitting, serving and leading according to the best interest of the Other -- and have done so for Eternity...from before Creation. And by creating the Cosmos, they widened the scope of the dance so that we may join them. This is what it means to be "With Christ" -- to know the love, grace and mercy of Father, Son and Spirit intimately and to dance the steps of submission, service and leading in step with them.  When we are "With Christ", his faithful covenant keeping becomes ours. We cannot do it on our own, we do it with him.  It's a gift we share, not a skill we hone. It is not about us...it is all about Jesus Christ and his relationship with the Father in the Spirit...and our inclusion in that relationship.
The paradox remains...we have already been included In Christ. It is not our choice or reward, but the Eternal will of God which was completed through the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of the Incarnate One, the Father's Eternal Son, Jesus Christ.  But we do not yet experience it fully, because we can't get our brains around what it means to live Like Christ...we have a hard time relaxing and letting him lead us in the dance.

But as we learn to accept that we are fully included -- done deal -- In Christ, and relax into the arms of Jesus and let him lead us in the Dance -- Like Christ, we will finally have peace and rest -- With Christ. 

We will be Home.

Listen to Aslan as he calls the faithful into Narnia...to come further up, come further in.  [Time to read The Last Battle again. ;^)]

My journey seems to be one of climbing a spiral staircase.  As I go further up and further in, it seems like things I've recognized in lower rungs become clearer as I climb higher.  They are not new things I am seeing, but each time I come back around, I see things with better -- renewed -- vision.  The more that I am confident of my place In Christ, the more I begin to see and perceive Like Christ, the more I am at peace With Christ.

The Already/Not Yet Paradox.  It will remain until all things are made new.  But I don't have to wait until then to dwell in the Shalom of Perichoretic cHesed and participate in the Great Dance.

I am already a New Creation In Christ...I am participating in the Dance Like Christ...but I have not yet arrived at the top of the spiral staircase that is my Journey. The Spirit, however, is continually calling me to repentance for my poor theology, renewing my mind, and cleaning the mist off my glasses, so that I see more and more clearly.

It is an awesome view...one that I want to share with those God brings across my path.  It's a process of hope and courage.  Stay tuned!

With immense gratitude as we American's approach our Thanksgiving....

Be blessed!