Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Impetus For The Exodus

It’s a well-known fact that ‘official’ Church numbers – people attending Christian churches – are on the decline. People are leaving the established churches in droves, and they’re not being replaced.*

It’s easy to see why, at any rate for those who have the eyes to see. It’s all summarised in this excellent piece by John Pavlovitz, a writer whose work I haven’t quoted for quite some time. Let’s put that omission right today, eh?

Over to John:


The Christians Making Atheists

Growing-up in the Church, I was taught that the worst thing one could be was a non-believer; that nothing was as tragic as a doomed soul that condemned itself by rejecting God. The religion of my childhood drew a sharp, clear line between the saved and the damned. All that mattered was making sure someone found themselves on the better side of this line—and the Atheists and Humanists didn’t have a shot.

In light of this supposed truth, the heart of the faith (I was told), was to live in a way that reflected the character and love of Jesus so vividly, so beautifully, that others were compelled to follow after him; that a Christian’s living testimony might be the catalyst for someone’s conversion. The Bible called it “making disciples” and it was the heart of our tradition. As the venerable hymn declared, we Jesus people were to be known by our love.

What a difference a couple of decades make.

Just ask around. People outside the Church will tell you: love is no longer our calling card. It is now condemnation, bigotry, judgment and hypocrisy. In fact, the Christianity prevalent in so much of America right now isn’t just failing to draw others to Christ, it is actively repelling them from him. By operating in a way that is in full opposition to the life and ministry of Jesus—it is understandably producing people fully opposed to the faith that bears his name.

In record numbers, the Conservative American Church is consistently and surely making Atheists—or at the very least it is making former Christians; people who no longer consider organized religion an option because the Jesus they recognize is absent. With its sky-is-falling hand-wringing, its political bed-making, and its constant venom toward diversity, it is giving people no alternative but to conclude, that based on the evidence of people professing to be Godly—that God is of little use. In fact, this God may be toxic.

And that’s the greatest irony of it all; that the very Evangelicals who’ve spent that last 50 years in this country demonizing those who reject Jesus—are now the single most compelling reason for them to do so. They are giving people who suspect that all Christians are self-righteous, hateful hypocrites, all the evidence they need. The Church is confirming the outside world’s most dire suspicions about itself.

These people aren’t stupid. They realize that bigotry, even when it is wrapped in religion or justified by the Bible or spoken from a pulpit is still bigotry. They can smell the putrid stench of phony religion from a mile away—and this version of the Church, frankly reeks of it. People are steering clear in droves, choosing to find meaning and community and something that resembles love outside its gatherings.

With every persecution of the LGBTQ community, with every unprovoked attack on Muslims, with every planet-wrecking decision, with every regressive civil rights move—the flight from Christianity continues. Meanwhile the celebrity preachers and professional Christians publicly beat their breasts about the multitudes walking away from God, oblivious to the fact that they are the impetus for the exodus.

And one day soon, these same religious folks will look around, lamenting the empty buildings and the irrelevance of the Church and a world that has no use for it, and they’ll wonder how this happened. They’ll blame a corrupt culture, or the liberal media, or a rejection of Biblical values, or the devil himself—but it will be none of those things.

No, the reason the Church soon will be teetering on the verge of extinction and irrelevance, will be because those entrusted to perpetuate the love of Jesus in the world, lost the plot so horribly, and gave the world no other option but to look elsewhere for goodness and purpose and truth.

Soon these Evangelicals will ask why so much of America has rejected Jesus, and we will remind them of these days, and assure them that they have not rejected Jesus at all—they just found no evidence of him in their Church or in them.


Here is the link to the original article


*This is not to say that the ‘non-established’ churches (for want of a better description) are on the decline; far from it. Many more Christians are meeting like-minded brothers and sisters online and ‘doing Church’ there instead. I am one of them, although I do go to a weekly house church meeting linked to ‘my’ CofE church that I call my home church.

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Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

Here is an excellent post from Christy Lynne Wood, one of my favourite bloggers and someone whose writing and spirituality is going from strength to strength. Her writing is always refreshing, innovative and showing immense wisdom and perception. If you have not ‘followed’ Christy’s blog yet, may I heartily recommend that you do so. There are insights on there that are absolute gold.

Over to Christy:


Mental Illness, Possessed Baby Dolls, and the Church

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I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, in the middle of religious cultic craziness, I thought I’d been given the gift of spiritual discernment. I truly believed that I could discern whether or not people’s toys, specifically baby dolls, were possessed. Parents in my church brought me their children’s dolls so that I could stare into their eyes and tell them if there was a demon inside or not. Yes, I now recognize that this is absolutely nuts. Yikes!! But at the time, it seemed very real.

We had all heard anecdotal stories of people’s experiences with possessed toys. We had heard stories about demons coming out of synthesizers and electronic keyboards.(Because rock music, you know, was from the devil.) The amount of fear involved was ridiculous. No one wanted demons in their houses. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Mental illness often gets put in the same Christianese category as possessed toys. While not on the same level, it’s something that we fear, don’t understand, and want to control. Christians feel like there should be a formula to change it. It feels safer to tell people that it’s the result of sin. It feels more comfortable to categorize it as “spiritual warfare.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as spiritual warfare. I just don’t think it usually looks like we think it does.

I think we give way more credit to fear, anecdotal stories, and just brokenness in the world, and not enough credit to the subtle lies the enemy whispers to us about ourselves, other people, and God. Satan isn’t necessarily behind the cold you caught, the fact that your car broke down, or even your anxiety. But, he definitely loves that you feel hopeless and doubt God’s love for you.

As humans, we are naturally afraid of things we don’t understand.  But when you combine fear with religion, the idea that I have to do something to get results, brokenness and destruction happens.

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Do you know how many people are silently struggling with things like depression and anxiety within our churches but are afraid to say anything? Do you know how many people are told that their mental illness is a result of a “lack of faith” or “bitterness” or some other problem on their part? They aren’t doing enough and that’s why they are broken. People are afraid to speak up and ashamed to seek help or admit they need medication. That’s not okay. No one should have to struggle in secret. No one should be isolated in their pain and afraid of the body of Christ. It’s wrong that the church has made them feel this way.

How did we get here? I believe three things have played a huge part.

  • Religious Christianity

“Religion is the business of appeasing gods.” This sentence from Mike Cosper’s book Recapturing the Wonder has been challenging my thinking for almost a year now. We do that within Christianity. We put our ideas about God in a tiny box. Then we work our hardest to appease our god-in-a-box because we want his approval and blessings. That’s religious Christianity. Formulaic thinking abounds within religious Christianity. We search for a magical guarantee to make our god do what we want.

We can be conservative, religious Christians, or we can be liberal, religious Christians. It’s all about the box. We might have different ideas about God in our box, but if we are focused on doing things to make our god-in-a-box happy, then we are religious.

The real Jesus doesn’t fit in a box. He will always be bigger than our understanding. He will never make sense. And He doesn’t need to be appeased, because He already appeased Himself on the cross. 🙂

  • Lack of Education

The church has been suspicious of psychology for far too long. There is nothing wrong with learning how the human brain tends to work. Just because some of the scientists that made breakthroughs in psychology weren’t Christians doesn’t make their work invalid. Psychology is a beautiful thing. It’s exciting and freeing to understand potential whys behind thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Somehow, Christians often separate the spiritual part of people from the rest of them. I just don’t think that’s an accurate way of doing things. We are complex beings. And our spirituality, that is our ability to connect with God, is interwoven deeply with our story, our beliefs about our self, the way we interact with people, etc.

The church that we currently attend loves psychology. And honestly, the more I have come to understand myself, the healthier I have become spiritually.

  • Fear

Ironically fear is often the motivator behind our religious Christianity and our lack of education. We are afraid of the god we have imagined, so we create a list of religious behaviors to follow. We are afraid of a lack of control, so we try to earn God’s blessings by our actions. People are afraid of psychology, so they don’t get better educated. We are afraid of God and people’s condemnation, so we keep our depression and anxiety to ourselves.

Fear is not from the real Jesus, friends! Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible is? “Do not be afraid.”  Wow! While fear is a legitimate emotion, it does not need to control us. Fear is not a helpful motivator. And the real Jesus is bigger than our fears.

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Let me just close with some thoughts.

  • Spirituality is very abstract. Sometimes we need concrete help before we can deal with abstract spiritual things. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. If I’m in the middle of a panic attack, frantically praying or trying to quote the Bible is not nearly as helpful as taking deep breaths, using some grounding techniques, and speaking truth to myself. Once I’m in a better place, I can take a look at what triggered me and go from there.
  • Because we are complicated, spiritual beings, many parts of us are intertwined and affected by other parts. Are there lies that we are believing about ourselves, God, and others that might be adding to our depression or anxiety? It’s very possible. However, we need to help our brains get to a place where we can logically deal with those lies.
  • If you are struggling with a mental illness, it’s not your fault. We live in a world broken by sin, and one of the things that is affected is our brains. They are complex organs, and sometimes they get sick. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and look for help. You are not less spiritual because you go to therapy or are on medication. It’s okay! Those are good things. God is not disappointed and He doesn’t condemn you.

I know that the church’s attitude towards mental illness has often been more hurtful than helpful. But the church is made up of individuals. The church culture towards mental illness can change as more and more of us develop a healthy attitude and understanding. I have hope! 🙂

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The link to the original post is here

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The Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo

Most of my readers will know that I used to be a worship leader in a Charismatic-style church; we’d have ‘open worship’ with, as well as the singing, things like tongues, prophecy and other spiritual gifts. There’d be singing ‘in the Spirit’ too, and it was all most uplifting.

My particular setup was that I had an electronic keyboard/piano: a Roland JV-30, which at the time, and despite having only five octaves (thus limiting my pitch range capability), was pretty much state of the art.

The JV-30 does not have its own internal loudspeakers; it requires external amplification. In this case, and since we were using a public hall for our meetings, the keyboard’s output was piped over to a sound desk at the back, manned by a couple of teenage non-musician lads that we nicknamed (unsurprisingly) the ‘Sound Boys’.

We also had other musicians: three vocalists – myself, Fiona and Cathy; Steve, our bass player; and sometimes an acoustic guitarist. I won’t give any names for the guitarists because there were quite a few of them and we never really knew who we were going to get from one week to the next. And in addition to the keyboard, each of these ‘inputs’ – the microphones for the vocalists, Steve’s bass guitar, and my keyboard, plus any guitarist(s) we had (playing into an electronic pickup clipped to the guitar’s sound hole), also went into the sound desk, each input with its own dedicated channel, to be dominated controlled by the Sound Boys.

The relationship between the musicians and the Sound Boys was somewhat complex, and often pretty fraught*. I usually felt that the Sound Boys had the volume of the piano turned way too far down; this was long before we had any ‘foldback’ (a loudspeaker set up facing the instrumentalist so that they can hear what they are playing) so not only could I not really hear myself playing, but I also had to trust the Sound Boys that the congregation was able to hear what we were playing. They assured us that they could, but I was never fully convinced!

Sometimes they even used to mute my output channel completely, such as during the sermon, or if there were some prayers going on; or if for whatever reason they ‘thought’ (and that’s being generous) that the piano was not needed at that time. It was almost as if they didn’t trust me to handle my instrument correctly, and to not do a huge bloody great big ‘dead body in the bath’ chord in the middle of the notices.

And so it seemed that, despite our best efforts, all that we did as a band was subject to the power-crazed whims of the Sound Boys and their all-powerful sound desk. Whenever you lead public singing, you need to have quite a bit of, well, let’s call it ‘authority’, but I don’t mean it in a domineering kind of way; more a practical way. When you are leading 300-400 people in singing, you need to be heard, so that they can follow your lead. For example, sometimes the congregation’s timing goes a little off so you need to lead them back into time again. To do this, you’d boost your volume to emphasise the timing and allow people to hear what you are doing and to re-synchronise. Or maybe they have drifted off pitch (out of tune), but this is actually quite rare. The problem comes when you can’t lead the music properly because your sound volume is turned wayoooh-doooowwwwn and you don’t have the oomph; thanks a bunch, Sound Boys.

And so, I had to develop a little trick to let me lead properly and thwart the best efforts of the Sound Boys. I called it the ‘Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo’.

Here’s what you do.

Set the keyboard’s volume control to about 30-35%, and do all your sound checks from there. Begin the worship with the same volume setting; the Sound Boys will have set you at a moderate volume for the opening song, and hopefully they will boost you once the congregation join in and the general volume in the hall increases. So far, so good.

But let’s say that after a couple of verses, you realise that the congregation’s timing is drifting (possibly because of the low lead instrument volume – who’d ‘a thunk it?!), so it’s time to ‘assert your authority’ as lead musician and bring it all back together again for them. Your piano isn’t yet loud enough to re-establish the rhythm, so you’re going to need more volume; trouble is that the Sound Boys don’t realise this is what you need to do, and if you gently nudge your volume up, they will correspondingly gently nudge your channel volume down in response, and to show you who’s boss of course. So there’s no net effect on the volume and things get worse for the song being sung.

So, you don’t do it that gentle way. What you do is to whack your volume control slider up into afterburner – say about 90-100% setting…

Afterburners on a Typhoon fighter

…and this allows you to use that increased volume to stabilise the song’s rhythm or whatever it is that’s drifted. Before long, of course, the Sound Boys will have rumbled what you’re up to, and will have reacted to your gross misbehaviour by drastically racking your channel volume fader right back down again. By that time, though, they’re way too late and they’ve proper missed their boat; you have brought things back into line again, in musical terms, like you wanted to do. And that was easy. Just doing my job.

However, at this point, of course, the Sound Boys have solidly put you in your place; your channel volume is a long way down and your keyboard volume is maxed out, although nobody can tell because the net effect on your piano volume as heard by the congregation is unaffected, and no-one’s any the wiser apart from yourself and the Sound Boys, of course. So now you need somehow to recover that reserve power so that you can use it again, possibly soon. And this is the clever bit, and the part that gives the Yo-Yo its name.

While playing, and in a reverse of the actions that the Sound Boys would perform if you boosted your volume gradually, you reduce your keyboard volume equally gradually, say by about 10% per minute. Maybe you could do this after each verse of the song you are playing, especially if you’re varying your song’s dynamics, which disguises what you are doing very nicely. One hopes that the Sound Boys will notice that your volume is getting a bit low, so they will (ideally!) advance your channel volume bit by bit until they can hear you better.

You continue doing this until your keyboard volume slider is back at around 30-35% and then you can use your afterburner again as required. You have now restored your ‘volume reserve’ and it’s available for use once more. Lather, rinse and repeat.

And that’s the the Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo, so called because you move your volume slider up and down like a yo-yo.

Granted, if you are an instrumentalist in a similar position and you’re thinking about using this trick, remember that  your Sound Boys might have read this too, and therefore they will be wise to what you’re up to, but there’s nothing they can really do about it if they want the congregation to hear the piano at all.

Or maybe you’re extremely lucky and have Sound Boys that actually listen to you and provide the service you need. In which case, I envy you.

But it’s still a useful trick to have in your repertoire!


*Sound Boys, if you should read this, don’t worry, I forgave you a long time ago, and this is just humour, ok? 😉

 

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