The Fantasy of Church Culture

The Fantasy of Church Culture September 1, 2015

Sometimes, waking up is a process. Screen cap from the Disney film 'Frozen'
Sometimes, waking up is a process.
Screen cap from the Disney film ‘Frozen’

by Living Liminal cross posted from her blog Living Liminal

In my last post, I mentioned watching the efforts of my ex-fellow elder to pretend he was unaware of my presence. I also mentioned how funny I found them. (I also admitted that I used to find this sort of behaviour deeply painful and hurtful.) So when a friend commented on my Facebook page that it gave her hope that she might also get to that same point of freedom from the pain, it made me stop and think about my response to his performance, and how I have got to this place myself.

One of the biggest factors at play has got to be the ‘awakening’ process I’ve journeyed through. I call it that because when I think about it, I am reminded of the lyrics of the Keith Green song:

Like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed
Until your love broke through
I’ve been lost in a fantasy, that blinded me
Until your love broke through

That’s how it feels sometimes – that I’ve lived so much of my life in a dream-like state known as ‘church culture’, and finally the real love of God has opened my eyes to how much rubbish has been substituted for the simplicity of following Jesus. Christian culture too often blinds us to the unadorned call to love God and love others.
Waking up was a process. It didn’t happen overnight. At first, I grieved the loss of all that is seen as important in church culture – things like a ‘position’ in the church and an officially recognised ‘ministry’. I had fallen for the lie that I needed these things to be effective for God and it felt like I’d had these things stolen from me. I wanted to love and care for others, but I wasn’t allowed to.

To make matters worse, those who had ripped me apart emotionally in this way were being held up to me as shining examples of how I should be. They were right (& righteous!). They had forgiven. They had ‘moved on’. I should be like them.

But I kept hoping for an apology from those who’d abused me. Wanting justice for the wrong that had been done to me. Seeking validation of my claims against others.

I wanted something from these people, but they wouldn’t even look at me!

So when they judged me and shunned me – when they treated me like I wasn’t there and looked straight through me – it just re-opened all the wounds they’d inflicted on me and rubbed salt into them.

And then I started to wake up. To open my eyes. To see that these people were victims of their own fantasy. They’d built up a world that didn’t exist. Where everyone was happy and loving and forgiving and perfect. Where all you had to do was say the magic words and everything was all ok. They couldn’t afford to have the fantasy exposed, so anyone who saw things differently was a threat to the illusion, and they had to be dealt with! (What a pity burning at the stake was no longer an option!)

It seemed to me that they had locked themselves in a cage and thrown away the key… and were now desperately trying to convince everyone (including themselves) that they were the ones who were free. And it occurred to me that if these people couldn’t even face me to acknowledge my presence, let alone actually meet with me and deal with our issues, it wasn’t me who had the problem.

As I watched the contortions and the pretence, it became obvious which of us had really “forgiven and moved on”.

And it was when I realised I no longer wanted – or needed – anything from these people.

It was then that I realised that I’d woken up from the dream-world of church culture. I didn’t need official platforms or the approval of ‘church leaders’ to love and minster to others. I was free to love God and love others… wherever and whenever. It stopped being a performance and became simply the way I lived. I realised that I was happy… and I was free.

And I pray that my friend finds that place of freedom, too!

Living Liminal lives in Australia with her husband and three sons, and she is learning to thrive in the liminal space her life has become. She writes at Living Liminal. 

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