be afraid be very afraid

afraid cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“Afraid” by nakedpastor David Hayward

This has been me. I distinctly remember going through periods of severe spiritual testing where I wasn’t sure if I knew anything. I still had to get up there every week and open my mouth. I have come to learn since that admitting I don’t know is a great place to start.

The thing is… many people in the church feel this way. They are terrified. They don’t know. They live with uncertainty. They dwell with doubt. Questions torment them day in and day out. But they don’t have to open their mouths and say something. They can suffer in silence.

Not so Don, this preacher. His suffering is bound to leak out somewhere. His only hope is that those who are with him are in touch with their own suffering and can show him compassion. By the fear written across his face I suspect he questions their support.

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  • Pat

    Some suffer in silence, but their doubts are sometimes drowned out by those ruling members who take it as their right to defend the faith against all supposed threats. When the pastor does venture into unchartered waters, they don’t speak up because of fear and uncertainty, thus leaving the pastor to twist in the wind unsupported.

  • poetically and truthfully said.

  • God, please give me grace that I might extend your grace and reflect your love into the world around me. Help me to live my life in such a way that helps others to see you as you are. Amen.

  • Gary

    Curious Jonathan, is this an editorial comment or is it your sincere prayer to God? Because if it was meant as your personal prayer…that whole thing of praying on street corners comes to mind.

  • wow, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking about it like that when I posted it, but your comment hits home. I suppose, as I review my motivations, that it was meant both as a comment and a public prayer; but I can also see some showboating (is that the right word?) as well that I didn’t realize was there at the time. I apologize; I’d take the comment down if I could.

  • the spirit of the prayer is right on… if more pastors prayed that….

  • Gary

    Your response is very gracious. (Moreso than my question) I suspect that even though we likely disagree about much theologically…we could have an enjoyable discussion and likely part as friends.

  • I should hope so 🙂

  • leahadassah

    Good article. It sheds light on various subjects: pastors, suffering, and the human experience.
    I, for one, am glad that it makes people aware that pastor’s are not gods or GOD, but are human.
    The article is informative in letting people that suffering is part of the human experience, just like joy, love , etc.
    Thanks for article.

  • thanks Leah. Nice to meet you.

  • Carol

    It is not always a dogmatic and insensitive cleric that inflicts pain and discouragement on those whose faith calls them to seek a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God than that marketed for mass (lowest common denominator) consumption by the institutional church.

    It seems to me that many cradle Christians are more concerned about their relationships with their co-religionists than they are with their relationship with God.

    Lay Church-goers seeking consolation rather than understanding from their religion often form “lord of the flies” packs to silence they fellow lay persons who refuse to drink the KoolAid without an explanation for why they should do so.

    Lay people also “rat” the questioners among themselves out to the clerical authority. When several people join in lodging a complaint, they inevitably have more credibility than the accused individual. For some reason it never seems to occur to the clergy person(s) to ask whether the accuser(s) have first personally confronted the defendent, as instructed to do by Scripture, before appealing to an authority figure.

    I guess the aggrieved individual or pack may suspect that the questioner has raised some valid issues and without any basis other than someone expressed a doubt or belief that threatened to take them outside of their psychological comfort zone, the complaint would not be taken seriously by the offending honest lover/seeker after reality/truth.

    God always answers in the deeps, never in the shallows of our soul. –Anonymous

  • Carol

    Gary, this is not a street corner. It is an online community where people come to share their tentative spiritual understanding and/or theological convictions, feelings and experiences of trying to faithfully practice their Christian committment in a rapidly changing and radically challenging world.

    I would guess that there are very few times when any of us think or act without the influence of unconscious self-interested motives or disordered desires. Can’t you cut us “imperfects” a little slack on occasion?

  • Gary

    Carol I believe my observation was fine. And as you can see Jonathan and I have had a healthy exchange without any hall monitoring from you. You really must learn to let go of your obsession with my posts. It seems that the one you do not allow any “slack” is me.

  • Carol

    Well you had an exchange that didn’t escalate into a pissing contest; but I wouldn’t really call guilt-tripping and accepting the guilt-trip healthy.

    Just my opinion; but I’ve seen this dynamic so many times in so many churches.

    Coming from a secular background, I prefer being on the receiving end of more overt aggression rather than passive manipulative aggression. Just as painful; but it doesn’t mess with one’s head as much.

  • Gary

    Enough Carol.

    Jonathan and I both found the exchange helpful. Sometimes it can be extremely helpful to recognize how we are perceived by others in an area we may have overlooked. Your characterization of my comment as “guilt tripping” and “passive manipulative aggression” is pure bullshit and reveals your bias against me very clearly. My observation reflects my history with an abusive church where public displays of spirituality were often used as a means of control and as such my comment was perfectly valid. I really no longer care about your constant attacks. Since you prefer “overt aggression” (though aggression is your term not mine) I’ll simply say…leave me the hell alone and stop trying to censure everything I say!!!

  • Carol, I appreciate your defense, but I don’t need to be defended. Point of fact is that Gary was right, even if my motivations were hidden from me, I did make that post hoping for validation from you all. That’s not how a Christian is supposed to act, and I appreciate Gary for pointing that out to me. I know that I’m fallable and I need people to help me, to keep me from falling prey to my own mistakes.

    Besides, after my apology, Gary’s response was gracious and he even said “Your response is very gracious. (Moreso than my question)” I would not have said that he lacked grace, but his acknowledement is meaningful. So, I think Gary and I have resolved the issue, forgiven where forgiveness was needed and moved on.

    Again, though, I appreciate the spirit of your defense.

  • Pat

    You’re right, Carol, although I’ve seen it play out a couple of different ways. Sometimes the pastor does push back and ask if they have questioned the person about their beliefs, while at other times they cave in to pressure in order to keep a job and a roof over their family’s heads. That’s why there’s no one true example that applies to all groups. Some clergy are quite earnest and good at what they do but often get run off and run down by the controlling minority; other times they are the overbearing, dogmatic type who bully people into submission. It can all be quite a vicious cycle.

  • Carol

    This may explain the tendency of formal religious institutions to become legalistic rather than transformative:
    When the Scriptures are used maturely, they proceed in this order:
    1. They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to: “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false and smaller kingdoms.
    2. They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true, and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt, or fear which are low-level motivations, but which operate more quickly and so churches often resort to them).
    3. They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart. If you seek consolation as the first meaning of a Biblical text, you never get very far, because the small self or ego is still directing the mind and heart. As many have said before me, the truth will set you free, but first it must make you miserable.
    Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 64-65

    Legalism/fear is not transformational, but it usually has an immediate restraining effect on aggressive human selfishness and, like sex and violence, consolation sells better than enlightenment and discipline.

  • Carol

    Jonathan, I know that you are able to take criticism gracefully. Those who have personally experienced God’s Love as Unconditional which frees us from dependence on the approval of others can do that.
    However, a life time of theological/spiritual formation in our Western Churches has left many people with a concept of God that is more like Baal than the Loving Merciful God and Father of Jesus.

    There is a fine line between judgmentalism and discernment. Judgmentalism imputes motive which is presumptious since only God can look on the heart. St. Paul, whose writings always emphasized grace and forgiveness over law and sin, knew how blind we can be to our own faults and failings and so refused to judge even himself.
    Although our discernment may be correct, Scripture commands us to “truth one another in love”, not just “truth one another.” Truth without the empathy of seeing our own sins revealed in the sins of others lacks the necessary love part.

    It is a convincing testimony to the power of Grace when someone is able to take criticism as you have; but fear of such criticism can also have the affect of making those just learning of the depth of Divine Love after years of being taught to worship a Cosmic Bully fearful of sharing their own experiences and expressions of faith.

    For some reason Gary is very reactive to theological beliefs he does not share or anything with the least hint of traditional piety. In the early stages of transitioning from a formal religion to a personal faith those are often the only words a person has to express what they are learning and feeling.

    That is why I plead for a little slack for those of us who are as yet “unfinished” works in the Potter’s hands.

    I think St. Paul was a bit overzealous when he first began his ministry. He was partnered with Barnabas who was known as “the encourager.” Scripture tells us that their disagreements caused them to part ways. A later reconciliation is also implied.

    “Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else. A man who lives, not by what he loves but what he hates, is a sick man.” –Archibald Macleish

    “Mature religion’s function is to make us capable of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, and care for others. When religion is not creating people who can reconcile things, heal things, and absorb contradictions—then religion isn’t doing its job.
    When we stopped teaching the contemplative mind in a systematic way about 400 to 500 years ago, we lost the capacity to deal with paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection. . . . . Despite all our universities and churches in Western Christianity, we learned to choose one side over the other and if possible, exclude, punish, or even kill the other side. That’s dualistic thinking at its worst; and it’s the normal mind that has taken over our world. It creates very angry and often, violent people. Peace and happiness are no longer possible, because there is always a crusade to be waged and won. That is ego at work and surely not soul.” ~Richard Rohr

    “When treading through areas where hatred and greed and depravity are running amuck, it is more important to watch our hearts, than it is to watch our backs. For if we rage at the rageful, grab from the greedy, or assault those we deem immoral out of self-righteousness, then we become them. And what goodness we had in us, is cut away by the swords we hold in our own hands.”
    ~ Sandra Kring

    “You don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too.”
    — Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

  • Gary

    Carol your characterization of me continues to simply be false. You have hounded me with your criticisms countless times and you still bear false witness against me and simply make up your own reality pertaining to my motives. Even now you talk down to me (about me) as if you understand my journey in its early stages so full of a lack of enlightenment. You must feel so proud to see yourself so much further down the path of spiritual maturity.

    Carol we have different beliefs. I am not simply on the same path as you somewhere distantly behind your spiritual development. I do not base my views on some form of wounded puppy type of ignorance. I have been a pastor, taught the bible to adults for 25 years, earned two higher business degrees, and have taught part time at my local university for more than 10 years. I am a successful business leader in my organization as well. The fact is, we flatly disagree about many things. You spend so much time talking about things like grace, yet you don’t seem to have enough of it to allow those who have a different view and/or style of interaction from yours to express themselves without your lecture of improper behavior. This is your chief criticism of me…yet you yourself demonstrate what you perceive as my sin in nearly every post to or about me.

    I have a beef with those who would use their religious beliefs to marginalize and/or abuse others. You know this as I have told you many times. I believe it is appropriate to challenge views that would seek to do so. (This had nothing to do with my comment to Johnathan BTW) I make no apologies for this…least of all to you. I am very tired of having this conversation with you. You have reached a point of openly harassing me repeatedly. What part of leave me the hell alone can you not understand.

  • Carol

    I was not speaking of YOUR personal journey; but from the perspective of my own transitional experience and the experiences of others who have informally shared the stories of their pilgrimages of faith with me–and they have been many.

    I have no formal education, other than a word processing program certificate from a local business school, to give my opinions any more weight than yours or anyone else’s who posts on this blog.

    This is a more or less public forum. If you put yourself out there, you risk unfavorable responses. That goes with the territory.

    Unless David exercises his right as originator/facilitator of this blog and blocks my posts, I have as much right to express my beliefs and speculations on this blog as anyone else.

    I do not feel that I have the right to be taken seriously. Read my posts or don’t read my posts. Agree with them or disagree with them. That is your right.

    I appreciate responses, but neither need nor expect them.

    If you think that merely posting on a blog confers a little authority on people, well then, I’ve got as little authority as anyone else on this blog. Given my total lack of any institutional credentialing or authority, either formal or defacto, I am at a loss to understand why you apparently take my posted beliefs and speculations so seriously.

  • Gary

    Carol I quote you directly here…

    “For some reason Gary is very reactive to theological beliefs he does not share or anything with the least hint of traditional piety. In the early stages of transitioning from a formal religion to a personal faith those are often the only words a person has to express what they are learning and feeling.”

    And again from above…

    “I was not speaking of YOUR personal journey;”

    Of course your falsehood is plainly exposed for all to see.

    Carol I challenge views…you challenge me personally. I have no problem with unfavorable responses…in fact a healthy debate can be quite stimulating. You however, continue to make it personal. All I am asking is that you stop playing whatever game you are playing with me.

  • could not agree more!

  • Carol


    The observation that you are reactive when others do not agree with your beliefs or share their faith experiences using traditional terminology WAS about you. What I posted about being in the early stages of transitioning from a formal religion to a personal faith WAS NOT about you, but was about those to whom you react abrasively.

    Indeed, we most certainly do have different beliefs and are on different paths. Does that mean that although you can post your disagreements with others who believe differently or are on a different path from you as a challenge, but I cannot respond in kind to your posts when I sincerely believe them to be in error or disrespectful, even bordering on abuse?

    ISTM that you are claiming a freedom for yourself regarding what others post that you are unwilling to extend to others regarding what you post.

    I can see by your CV that you are used to being in positions of institutional authority. Perhaps you are not used to having your beliefs and management style challenged.

    Welcome to the messy, egalitarian, democratic process that David graciously allows to unfold on his blog.

    Squire: “Sire, the peasants are revolting!”
    King: “They certainly are.”

  • Gary

    You really do just make up whatever you want about me as you go along don’t you? And your denial of the statement being about me won’t fly either. You lead into that statement by criticizing me and used it as a springboard into the following and that was the sum total of the paragraph. Now you make up more nonsense about me all of which is a personal attack. When I disagree with someone it is with their view. Sometimes they respond badly and make things personal but I know that is nothing more than a lack of maturity. Perhaps you would understand if I simply responded to every attack you make against me with a simple “Hey Carol…FUCK OFF”! You tell me. If that is more effective I will certainly give it a try. I am sick of your lies and manipulations and character assassinations though. Seriously Carol…just grow up will you?

  • Carol

    Gary, you have already tried the “fuck off” approach. I grew up in a secular culture so the f-word doesn’t have the same disturbing affect on me that it does on most cradle Christians.

    You have labeled me a “hall monitor” while consistently projecting the worst possible interpretation on the postings of others, suggesting possible base motives whenever you take exception to what another has shared. This is a public venue. That is inconsiderate at best and potentially cruel depending on the emotional state of the person you are judging without really knowing.

    Here is the reason, a quite different conviction from yours apparently, why I will keep responding to your posts:
    Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else. A man who lives, not by what he loves but what he hates, is a sick man. –Archibald Macleish

    If you wish to consider that “harassment” that is your choice. However, this is an online virtual community, not an “in your face in time and space” community. You are totally in control of all virtual relationships as am I. I can choose to neither read, nor respond to any of the posts on this blog. I can choose who I let into my world and who I keep out. And so can you. It is impossible to be “harassed” without being complicit in the harassment in a virtual community, so drop the “victim” crapola.

    I will continue to challenge you personally, as long as you continue to challenge others personally although you cannot possibly know the uniquely personal circumstances from which they are posting.

    There are “spiritual” laws as well as physical laws. It’s called karma or “what goes around comes around.” If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out or stop reading my posts. Meanwhile, feel free to use whatever expletives you choose, I find the “f” and “s” words to be especially cathartic.

    Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words. — Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

  • Gary

    Carol you represent the worst of the Pharisees I left behind in the church. Only perhaps even more so because not only do you believe it is your place to correct everyone who does not “behave” in the fashion you prescribe…there is no honesty, no integrity. No matter how many times you lie about me…the lies will not suddenly become truth. Shame and guilt is your weapon and you wield it as freely as any fundy preacher attempting to exert control by brow beating their congregation. I have no idea what kind of god complex drives you to behave so badly with me, or how corrupted your religious background must have been to make you into the person you have become.

    Fact is we come to David’s blog because it challenges the traditional trappings of religion and confronts hypocrisy. We debate, we express ideas, we challenge those we disagree with. Most of us find such discussion quite helpful. Every time you declare I attack another personally you look more like the hypocrite because that is ALL YOU DO when you challenge me. It is NEVER about my ideas or views expressed. It is ALWAYS personal. For someone who constantly declares they stand against pissing matches and bad behavior…that is all you seem capable of with me. And perhaps what pisses you off the most is that your attempts to shame me into conformity with your beliefs don’t work. When I said FUCK OFF it was not shock you…it was to illustrate the complete lack of affect your Pharisaical head games have on me. Absolutely none.

    I am done with your games in this thread. No doubt you will write one more long winded attempt to shame me. I’ll give you that last word here as you seem to have a great need for it. But the next time you go into a tirade against me I will likely tell you once again to Fuck Off, not to shock you but simply as a reminder that free people no longer fall prey to such tactics.