Archive for February, 2015

A few nights ago, one of the folks from our former church called.  Not to ask us how we are. Not to find out why they don’t see us around anymore.  Not to ask if we would like to get together.

They called to ask us for . . .  Deep breath . . . 

Money.

And I’m thinking, “Wow.”

Maybe if you cared just a little. Just enough to say, “We miss you and would like to see you sometime.” 

Theirs is a noble cause.  Though, I must say, I was a bit surprised that they called asking us for money since theirs is a wealthy family.  So why ask for our help?  Especially when our son has already told them that we are in the midst of helping our own family member who suffered a job loss a few weeks ago? 

There was a time when I would have said, “Let’s help.” Now, I’m not so quick to help those who haven’t given a whit about helping me. With a kind word. An invitation. A note in the mail. 

For too long, I gave generously. Sacrificially.  To those who neither needed my offerings nor wanted my friendship.  I have learned from their example that my level of commitment must not exceed theirs. To do so opens one up to abuses.  

Which is why this post is a day late. 

This week is conference week. That means two 13-hour days.  Also included:  a snow storm requiring a longer commute (75 minutes instead of 45), a late start meaning shorter classes and complete lesson revisions, a reflection paper due to my evaluator, and updating 29 iPads one at a time (because we can’t afford a cart that would allow me to do them all at once so at 3 per hour . . . ).  

I have an ninety minutes left before I can leave tonight at 8:30 and three more iPads to update.  

So this post was supposed to be up yesterday.

There was a time when I would have burned the 3:00 am oil to get everything done on time.  I would have lost sleep and worried and hoped no one thought less of me for not being perfect.

In the town where my former church sits, they proudly declare their perfections – right down to their Dutch DNA. “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much!” They proudly declare. And being Dutch means being perfect.  Or at least looking that way.  I will go to my grave earlier for all of the years I spent trying to live up to their expectations.

I often tell my students that if they are working on a difficult musical passage and it just isn’t going well and they are getting tired or frustrated,  “Just stop.”  

“Go back the next day and try again.  Chances are, the next day it will be better even before you have a chance to work on it again. And if it’s not, so what? Work on it some more and then walk away. Take a break. It’s okay.”  

And my students laugh and nod and say, “Okay.” 

Tonight, I will go home after a 4-days and 42 hours and I will stay up late, sleep late, sit around in my flannels until I’ve had too much coffe, go see my granddaughter (maybe even take her home with me!), and no one will care that this post was a day late. Except the people who already believe I “ain’t much.” 

Oh, well. I’m not trying to live up to their expectations anymore. 

I teach music.  Sixth grade music.  

Sixth grade is a tough age.  Voices start changing.  The realization that there’s a whole world of music out there beyond folk songs and nursery rhymes and ‘Jesus Loves Me, this I know.”

Some kids this age love to sing.  Most hate it.

So, in my class, no one sings.  If they want to sing, they can join the choir.

In my class, we learn all kinds of great stuff about music.  We learn about tempo, dynamics, pitch, timbre, rhythm, texture and form.  We learn about keys and modes and time signatures.  We learn how those things work together to make music sound adventurous or creepy, sad or romantic, funny or foreboding.  We learn how chords work and how to count.  

And when it’s all said and done, each and every student completes a project in which they put video clips (that I provide) together, write a story, and create a sound track to accompany it.  

When it’s all said and done, they know more about music than I knew before I started studying it in college.

I have colleagues who think I’m not doing this music gig the way I should.  They think I should force every last one of my 325+ music students to sing.  Children’s songs.  My colleagues think that it’s okay if most 11 and 12-year-olds, who love music – have always loved music – begin to hate music class.  

Because that’s how it’s supposed to be done.  And if we don’t force them to sing, we may not have many singers in our choirs in 7th grade or high school.  Because we’re really about raising up performers rather than music lovers.

To which I say, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FREAKING MIND?!?!?!”

Because it makes a whole lot more sense to teach people how to create the thing that they love in a way that engages and excites them rather than force them to perform something they hate.

Today, why don’t you let go of whatever it might be that forces you to perform something you hate and get back to learning to create something you love.  

January 19, 1979. I sat in the darkened sanctuary looking at a single candle on the altar and gave in to Jesus. No strings attached. No to-do list or even to-done list. I didn’t have to prove anything or accomplish anything or sacrifice anything. Jesus was the proof. Jesus did the accomplishing. Jesus was the sacrifice.

As someone who hadn’t grown up in church and was essentially an empty vessel hungry to be filled, I devoured everything I could about this thing called Christianity. And right away, I started seeing that I had to do things. I had to give. I had to sacrifice. I had to study. I had to memorize. I had to attend. I had to work. I had to accomplish. I had to prove.

“If you’re really a Christian, you will do your daily devotions.”

“If you’re really a Christian, you will be in church twice on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, too.”

“If you’re really a Christian, you will volunteer for every activity, program, or event that the church hosts.”

“If you’re really a Christian, you will give to the church even if you can’t pay your utility bill or buy groceries this week.”

“If you’re really a Christian, you will read your bible all the way through every year.”

“If you’re really a Christian, you will obey the leaders and support whatever they want to have happen.”

“If you’re really a Christian, you will never get angry, never be sad, and never worry.”

“If you’re really a Christian, you will never do anything ‘wrong’ – and ‘wrong’ is whatever someone else decides because they have the right and authority to judge.” (But we don’t call it ‘judging.’ We call it correcting or rebuking or discipling.)

I had come to belief with no strings attached, no need to measure up. But then with each step in the walk of faith, I was given directives that moved me further and further away from “just as I am” and deeper and deeper into “you’d better . . . ” Pray (more), give (more), do (more), study (more), know (more), be (more).

Lent became one of the ultimate “more” seasons. Give up more. Take on more. Confess more. Beat myself up more.

But always in the back of my mind was this gnawing idea that “more” was not right, required, nor necessary. Every moment of every day, deep down, I knew that it was okay for me to come just as I am.

And so when I finally walked away from all of the “If you’re really a Christian” demands, I found myself back at the place where it all started. With Jesus’ sacrifice. With Jesus accomplishing. With Jesus as proof. And I let the rest go.

Not that I don’t pray. Or do. Or give. Or meditate. But that I do it without striving. Without proving. Without (dare I say it?) sacrificing.

Rather, with joy. And eagerness. And compassion. And faith. And trust.

Rather like a child. Rather like that nineteen-year-old child in that dark sanctuary. Focused on the light of Jesus. Just as I am.

This is suchmessage that I wanted to share it with those who visit my blog looking for help and healing.

A Cry For Justice

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14)

We will be writing more on this passage in the near future, but here are some highlights for this Sunday morning, meant to encourage us all.

When we address abuse in the church, when we come to the aid of its victims, we are going to offend many people. “Offend” is putting it lightly. More like “make enemies of them.”  We don’t really make them our enemies. We simply expose the fact that they are enemies of the weak and the oppressed. Jesus said: Whoever is not with me is against me…

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I always appreciate authors whose writing validates my own and my experience. This is a well-written and well-thought-out synopsis of what spiritual abuse is. I especially like the introduction in which the author delineates the difference between “no church is perfect” and what makes a church or church leadership abusive. I hope this is helpful to those of you who follow or have come to my blog because you have been more than just “hurt” by something that happened in church or at the hands of Christians, but because you have been spiritually abused.

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

When I tell people I’ve had some bad church experiences, well-meaning church-goers often respond with some version of, “yeah, no church is perfect…BUT…” and proceed to encourage me not to give up, to try this or that church, or some other similar suggestion. I’ve written some about those experiences and reactions in a previous post (Please Stop Trying to Get Me to Date Your Church). I smile and nod and end up feeling greatly misunderstood. As I have continued to journey and to reflect, I’ve realized that part of the disconnect is rooted in language. My friends often perceive that I’m talking about an average, imperfect, but overall okay church. As I have sorted out my experiences, I started realizing that I have some trauma reaction symptoms (sorry, I’m a therapist, can’t help but go there…) related to what I have been through. Eventually, I realized I had…

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I used to often remark that I go to work during the week in order to rest up from my weekends.  Saturdays were spent getting laundry, cleaning, and some cooking done because Sunday was a marathon.  We would get up at 5 a.m. so that we could leave home by 6:15.  We were expected at the church – a 35 minute drive – before 7 a.m.

Once there, my husband would start making coffee and getting the cafe set up for the morning.  He would spend the next five hours making lattes, chai teas, iced coffees, and whatever other manner of drink is available at most coffee bars.

I would head directly upstairs to the main kitchen to begin preparing the cinnamon rolls that were sold in the cafe.  They weren’t difficult since they were a pre-made, frozen roll, but by the time they were baked and iced, it would be approaching the start of the 8 a.m. service.

For the rest of the morning, I would assist in whatever way was needed at the cafe – sometimes making smoothies or serving up cinnamon rolls or doing dishes and wiping down tables.  Sometimes, I would enroll in a class which would run for 80-90 minutes.  Usually, I would go to the second service of the morning.  The paid staffer who was in charge of the cafe would go during this time no matter what was happening at the cafe – while my husband stayed to man the store.  Many times during this particular service, the cafe was understaffed, but the manager never wavered in her insistence that she go to the second service, so my husband was often there alone or with only one other helper.  And never did the manager say to my husband, “When are you going to the service?  You need to go with your wife.  I’ll stay here and go at another time.” (There were a total of 5 services every Sunday morning – some running concurrently or overlapping but in different areas.)

Often, by the time the last service ended around noon, we would be finishing up the last of the clean-up before we would finally leave.  We often then went somewhere to eat because by the time we would drive home and fix a meal, it would be well into mid-afternoon.  Also, we liked to visit my step-father on Sunday’s and to go home, fix a meal, and then leave again to make a 30 minute drive to visit him was an exhausting thought.

So our schedule was: Up at 5 a.m.  Leave home at 6:15 a.m.  Arrive at church by 7 a.m.  Finish at church at 12 – 12:30 p.m.  Go for dinner.  Head to my step-father’s at about 1:30.  Visit a couple of hours.  Head home at 3:30 – 4 p.m.  Arrive home at 4 – 5 p.m.

Our church leadership was big into encouraging people to take a “sabbath.”  It didn’t have to be on Sunday.  But everyone should have one day a week in which to “rest” and recharge.  For the church staff, this wasn’t Sunday.  Sunday was a work day for them.  So they had a sabbath day on another day of the week.  We had no argument with that.

But, after my ostracism of not being allowed to serve in the church was lifted, there was so much pressure to DO things for and at the church – and especially in ways that alleviated the work of the staff – such as the cafe and landscape work – and absolutely no thought for whether or not my husband and I were getting a “sabbath.”

It was so ingrained in us to work seven days a week – 5 at our jobs, one day at home keeping up with the house, laundry, yard work, repairs, etc., and Sunday at the church – that when we were tossed out of the church, it took a long time for us to finally slow our pace and eventually to reclaim a sabbath.

So, yesterday (Saturday) was spent getting laundry done, doing some cooking, grocery shopping, and a few other errands.  Today, is sabbath.

I’m enjoying working on a jigsaw puzzle.  I’ve watched some videos of my precious granddaughter.  I’ve emailed a friend and a family member.  I’ve called my step-father.  I’ve watched a movie (while I worked on the puzzle).  I did my yoga practice.

And I have discovered peace.  And the knowing.  That my worth is not based on doing.  And it’s especially not based on doing for the church.  Churches have done a masterful job of getting lots of free labor out of people to run their programs and businesses.  To do their heavy lifting and sweaty labor.

What if every church took a Sunday and told everyone to just stay home?  Take a nap.  Watch a movie.  Call a friend – or better yet, visit!  What if every church decided that sabbath was something so important that they would encourage everyone to take one so completely at least once a month that they should stay home one Sunday a month?  I wonder if people could even stop themselves for that long?

Let me put it this way: If church seems like “work” – and you didn’t have a sabbath one other day this week – maybe you should skip it.  Because sabbath isn’t supposed to be work.  It’s rest.  And peace. And recharging for the work that is coming.

While it’s probably too late today, if you are an every-Sunday-church-goer, why don’t you try, just for Lent, giving up one Sunday of accomplishing anything that remotely resembles work?  And especially, don’t go to church.  But don’t go anywhere else either – except maybe to visit someone and drink coffee and eat cake or pie or lunch.  But only if they made it yesterday.  Don’t have a sabbath at someone else’s expense.

And then on Monday, you won’t feel like you are going back to work to rest up from your weekend.  And you’ll have more peace.