The Bone of the Beast

I was trying to explain something to someone the other day. He was upset that I seem to keep trashing the church. I’d told a story during my sermon last week that happened at a church conference years ago. He felt it was unfair to bring up the incident, that it puts the church in a bad light, and the church is getting trashed enough as it is. It gives the impression, he thought, that I believe our own church and my style of ministry has got it right and everyone else has got it wrong. I apologized and said that I wasn’t meaning to criticize that one incident, nor the Vineyard movement, nor conferences, nor Christianity, nor religion, but humanity in general. I may not have been clear enough on that.

I happen to believe that every little thing we think, say and do reveals something about our deepest selves. They are all little windows into our secret identities and darkest urges. So when I choose one incident and grab onto it and gnaw on it and won’t let it go, I’m like a dog with a bone. But it’s not the bone I really care about, but the larger issue it’s connected to. I ultimately don’t care about the bone, but the beast it’s attached to.

I do think politics, family, education, art, religion and so on, can be particularly pretentious manifestations of our darkest selves. I think it is important to dissect and analyze all that we think, say and do. It ought to expose our pretentions. It ought to reveal our hypocrisy. It ought to reveal the urgency of change. How else can we expect to be humble, to be transformed, or to find the love to help others?

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  • “I apologized and said that I wasn’t meaning to criticize that one incident, nor the Vineyard movement, nor conferences, nor Christianity, nor religion, but humanity in general. I may not have been clear enough on that.”

    That’s so beautiful. I originally dubbed my site “newprotest: a healthy criticism of the western church,” but I later changed it to “a healthy criticism of everything,” and specifically, I mean the things that people do. It’s neat to see someone else with a similar perspective on that issue.

  • Fred

    I disagree. You will never completely identify with your own motives. You simply can’t (on your own) expose all your pretensions. You simply can’t (on your own) reveal hypocrisy. The entire process becomes self-defeating.

  • fishon

    You wrote: . “How else can we expect to be humble, to be transformed, or to find the love to help others?”

    I believe that the humility that God wants us to have comes from, not so much looking at the dark side of ourselves, analyzing all we think and do, or even recognizing our hypocrisy [you seem to obcess on that]; that can become a grind and lead us down the road of great depression.

    I believe that the most honest way to being a humble Christian is to invest time in discovering the bigness, majesty, glory, awesomeness of God and His power. When we start to realize who God REALLY is, that is as He reveals Himself to us, we then come to know the real reason for humblness.

    Our humbleness, I believe should come from not how dirty and small we were and can be, but how big is our God and creator. This, I believe will lead to a healthy humility, not a depressed humility that really isn’t humility at all, but a self-deprecating sense of self.

    For I am “God’s workmanship [masterpiece]….” If I read my Greek right, the word “workmanship” is where we get our word Poem {poiema}??? We are a “royal priesthood.”

    Enough for now.
    MAKE IT a great tomorrow.

  • Fred

    fishon, nicely said.

  • ttm

    AA’s 12 step program has been quite effective in helping human beings with addictions to change behaviors and to transform their lives. Acknowledgement of the problem is a beginning. Relationship to a Higher Power is necessary. Making resitution to those you’ve hurt is suggested as are several other things.) And then there is Step 10: “Continue to take a detailed personal inventory to root out your shortcomings.” This is not a one-time inventory. The whole point is that it is ongoing self-analysis. Some might say this is “worldly psychology.”

    So, consider Scripture. Job was not shy in recounting his struggles and wrestling with the “dark side” of things. David penned several Psalms which focused on his sin, his remorse, his weakness, and the empty frustration of his own (and others’) human failings. Christ challenged the Pharisees not to gloss over their faults but to focus their attention on their own hypocrisy. Paul boasted in his weaknesses (I Corinthians 12).

    I think humility comes through both venues–recognizing our own smallness and acknowledging God’s infinite bigness. But we are commanded to “work out our salvation” which seems to me to be an ongoing issue–not something settled once and for all in a five-minute altar call while the organist quietly plays “Just as I am” from memory.

  • I agree with fishon! I dare not say anymore as my words might reveal more than I want them too!

  • Fishon, normally I skip what others have to say, to add my two cents without changing the original thought that I had. But you said it well. Yah some part of everyone sucks, that is why grace is necessary. Because if we could obliterate our suckiness, then grace would not be necessary, because we can make ourselves perfect.

    I agree, that focusing on God is the key. My base of humility comes from realizing how big God is. My view of him, is like looking at the mountians, and how small they make me feel.

    Also, a man came in to the restaurant where I work spreading the word of God. He called me a thieving, lying, blasphemous, adulterer. (I comepletetly lost my train of thought when straining to remeber that phrase.) It was the grandaddy of all points to mke too.

  • Hm. I have to disagree fishon and agree-ers. True, realizing the majesty of God is important. But the effect this ought to have on us is not just humility but downright dread. No? Why does everyone drop as if dead at the sight of the holy? There’s no other possible posture before it. The pharisee left the synagogue justified in himself fully aware of the majesty of God. The publican was justified because, tearing his clothes and weeping, realized how desperate he was, a sinner, and in need of the love and mercy of this majestic God. Both God’s majesty and our depravity must be kept in view. No, in fact, they will be kept in view. I hear it all the time, that to analyze ourselves will only lead down the slippery slope of depression. So? Shall we then live in denial? Do we wish to live deluded? Blind? Hypocritical? This sentiment reveals fear… fear of what we really are. How will we ever appreciate the magnitude of the extent of God’s grace unless we realize the magnitude of our sin? He who has been forgiven more loves more.

  • david, i like your honesty and somewhat intrepid-ness

    if i had to guess, i would say you were somehow reading parker palmer, because what you are talking about here reminds me of something i heard parker palmer talk about: a common delusion among leaders, espcially in ‘Christian circles’, is that their efforts are always well-intended, and thus their projection of power upon others is benign.

    but we must penetrate that illusion (with both personal and communal effort) because the tragedy of our institutions and communities and even blogs that people who are leaders start is that when leaders operate with a deep, unexamined insecurity about their own identity (both fallen and in Christ), they usually create an environment and setting that actually deprives others of their identity even as it enhances their own. this isn’t Jesus-style leadership that considers others first, that operates in mutual submission. we have to journey to the point of seeking to examine the darkness that lurks in our hearts and those fears and wounds that populate my heart and manifest themselves in ways that seem admirable to others…

  • Hey Steven, what book does Palmer talk about that in?

  • ya steve, what book is that? i hadn’t read him. what you say, i think, is right on. everyone, anyone, can say it better than i can.

  • brian –

    i actually heard him speak on this at a seminar at that shalem center here in maryland…but i think he referenced that he had talked about this in either ‘The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life’ or possibly ‘A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life’

    hope that helps…

  • ttm

    Parker touches on the same issue in his book “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation” Here’s a quote from chapter 5 entitled “Leading from Within.”

    “The spiritual journey runs counter to the power of positive thinking. Why must we go in and down? Because as we do so, we will meet the darkness that we carry within ourselves–the ultimate source of the shadows that we project onto other people. If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone “out there” into the enemy, becoming leaders who oppress rather than liberate others.” (p.80)

    This book is a gift to me in so many ways and I would encourage every believer to read it if possible.

  • ttm

    Oh, and the book is short. You can read it in no time. And you can meditate on it forever.

  • deb

    i have to say i didn’t feel your example was dissing anything but humanity in general.
    and i also believe we have to keep God and our filthy rag selves both in the picture. that way i can remember how much grace has been extended to me and be more gracious to others.

  • deb

    ps hopefully!!

  • I think self-examination is always important, but I do think it can get to a point of becoming obsessive and making us too self involved and/or depressed. I don’t think you can be all God wants you to be when you have taken it that far. Are we really doing the work of God by spending the majority of our time analyzing ourselves?

  • I think it is about focus. Yes, there are flaws in the church and from certain angles the bride is downright ugly, but Jesus loves her and would die for her (did, in fact). The same must be true of me or I am out of sync with God’s purposes and motivations and methods. Is it important to point out the flaws? Sometimes it is totally right and necessary. At other times, I believe we are called to cover each others shame. The focus and story has to remain on the central character, Jesus, at all times, not on the dilapidated building in the background or foreground. What He sees, I want to see and what he is saying at the moment, I want to be telling. No more, no less.

  • Fred

    NP, dread makes you humble…

  • fishon

    I don’t know if you are still keeping up with this ongoing discussion, but I will give my furture thought anyway.

    You wrote; “But the effect this ought to have on us is not just humility but downright dread.” ————Dread? I think not. Reverent fear, awe, beyond respect, yes. David, as I read through the Bible, OT and NT, we see God portrade in many ways, but the most beautiful way He is characterized is as “Father.” And His nature is “Love.” We Christians are His sons and daughters, and as His sons and daughters I maintain, our Father does NOT want us to have “dread” of Him. I don’t see that in any of God’s children in our relationship to Him in heaven and we on earth. Yes, it is true, when men encountered God one on one, they were hitting the ground fast. But for many of them — dread, no — absolute awe, yes.

    You say: “The pharisee left the synagogue justified in himself fully aware of the majesty of God.” ——————Yes, the pharisee left the synagogue feeling justified, but I have no doubt that MOST of them did NOT have “fully aware[ness] of the majesty of God.” If they had, they would have followed Christ. They had a religious education, not they did not know the God of their religion.

    David wrote: “I hear it all the time, that to analyze ourselves will only lead down the slippery slope of depression. So? Shall we then live in denial? Do we wish to live deluded? Blind? Hypocritical?”———————But how long and often do you want to focus on them? Isn’t there a time to be healed? Isn’t there a time when God says, “Ok, you have analyzed yourself enough–do something about it with my help and move on.” It seems to me as if you focus on the negative way more than God wants us to.

    You wrote: “How will we ever appreciate the magnitude of the extent of God’s grace unless we realize the magnitude of our sin?”——————–We will never be able to “appreciate the magnitude…of God’s grace….” To face our sin, to recognize our sin, to admit our sin, to repent our sin, yes—then move on. When the need to face it again–face it, do something about it, move on. And so it goes. But to continually beat ourselves up, as I feel you do to yourself, is to deny God’s grace in the face of His childrens/us sins forgiven.

    You say: “He who has been forgiven more loves more.” ——————————-Yes, absolutely, and that is the point–“forgiven.”
    fishon [jerry]

  • ttm

    I can’t remember where I heard it, but the other day I chanced upon an audio clip of a few pastors discussing that Christians often view God’s omniscience of their souls as a warm fuzzy sort of thing. And I must admit that was, and still is to some extent, how I feel. (Because I do understand that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He knows me and he loves my in spite of my self.)

    The concensus of these pastors was that it is odd that we don’t shake in our boots at the very suggestion that God knows every sin we commit; downright strange that we don’t fear his knowledge of our thoughts. God knows every hatefilled thought I have, every single time I’ve murdered someone (or called her a fool), every single act of adultery (or moment of lust), every time I acted right for the wrong reasons, etc., etc.

    At some point, I got lost in the discussion and wished for a more definite ending. But I did walk away thinking about the other side of the precious coin. God knows every little thing about me…and, if I’m honest, that really is a dread-full thing! Because while Scripture says “There is now no condemnation…” it also says I will be called to “account for every careless word I’ve spoken.” Egads! EVERY WORD? I’m in trouble…

  • Julia

    Sometimes a period of despair is the result of experiencing a “dark night of the soul.” Why are we so reluctant to go there? I think that’s exactly the kind of thing we should expect from going deeper and realizing what types of things are alive and well in our human hearts. We need to see these things because many of us have been so steeped in religion that we have a natural defence against seeing who we really are (ie. we are convinced of our “good intentions”).
    Nothing convinces me more of God’s loving kindness toward me than seeing the darkness that lies within me.

  • fishon

    I agree. That God knows every little thing about me should cause a ‘dread-full thing’ within in us. But I don’t thing we should constantly live in that realm. It just seems to me that there are some who write on this blog who think they need to live in a constant depression and guilt over sin in their life. Maybe I am reading to much into what some say. I hope so.

  • fishon

    I don’t know if you are pointing some of what you say at me [paranoid maybe], but thought I try and live in a positive light and attitude, I have had my share of “dark night of the soul.” I choice not to stay there to long, however. Some choice to live in the “dark night” because they become use to it, and sadly, comfortable there.

  • nc

    I find it ironic that people who want to let everyone else know “the Truth” won’t face it about themselves and the state of their religious community.

    But I get it.

    Christians get to tell the truth to others, even support people who beat people up with it.
    But if it comes to looking into the mirror with that cold, clear, “the gospel is an offense” message for themselves…forget it.

    And then some of you whine about how “the Church” gets trashed.
    It’s cuz of dishonesty llike that.

    And frankly…If that’s what marks the Church’s comportment in the world…then you deserve getting “trashed”.

    In the real world that’s called “deserved criticism”.

    If the same kid gloves approach was evident with all the other “wrong” folk on the opposite side of Christian “pet issues” I could see the point, but until then the Naked Pastor should keep on “trashing” what deserves to be trashed.

    That’s actually what “loving”, mature adults do.
    They love enough to be honest about our shortcoming, faults and the dream of seeing what you love be better, greater and more beautiful.

    Children can only “love” what affirms their myths, needs and ignorance.

    Sorry if this seems harsh, but I’m really over Christians whining, when they should be owning their stuff and changing.