Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the thumb in my back

i've been doing a lot of thinking and praying on the things that push us. the culture, especially the christian one, that we left when we moved was filled with 'driven' people. really driven people. everything moved so fast and very few really took the time to be present to themselves, to god, their families or especially their emotions.

the pace of life was so hectic. we found that in choosing the discipline of simplicity we were more able to see the chaos in the world around us. the maritime pace here is much more conducive to the way we want to live our lives.

i have noticed though that there are still some here (most of them in ministry of some sort) that still choose that lifestyle even though the culture here moves much more slowly and is very present to the people in community. they really take time and smell the roses, sit and converse and engage with each other. i really enjoy it. except for those little whirlwinds that blow through town like some dust storm. i guess because it's something we struggle with that i notice all the more. it really breaks my heart.

i think it comes from bad theology. like i said, most of these people are in ministry. what it is about the call of god that distorts our need for quiet, simplicity and taking the time to be present? is the call of god truly just co-dependency and a need to be needed, or do those personality types end up hearing the call because they long to be needed so desperately?

i'm just trying to untie this a bit to understand it better. i think it's pervasive and very destructive. it looks to me like ministry, or the call of god is a large thumb in the backs of so many. what are they avoiding? what are they needing? what is it that drives them instead of calls them?

i have a real struggle with codependency in my own life. raised as i was my culture and theology honed me as a sharp tool to be the true co-dependent wife. it was my call of sorts. there was no way to fulfill it on my own - only through liam. this wasn't either of our intentions and liam was never the caveman demanding my service - but we both hold responsibility for not seeing the unhealthy extremes the church influences this lifestyle upon ministry couples.

one of my favorite metaphors about workaholism and that driven mentality is that of a boiling pot. the steam must escape somewhere. we just keep adding fuel, sitting on the lid and trying our darnedest to keep it sealed tight. the truth is that there will always be a place where the steam escapes. it's a law of nature.

i think that the steam escapes either physically, the workaholic's own body betrays him. heart attacks, strokes or other manifestations of the inability to be the six-million dollar pastor. usually those type of ministers don't last. it's the physically healthy ones we prop up on the pedestals - so then the steam must escape elsewhere.

i think family relations are probably the truest vent. the weakest link in the chain of the family dynamic falls apart - usually that 'black sheep' of a pastor's kid who just can't take the all of the stress that the mechanical family is dishing out.

my greatest fear though is that the steam escapes through sin. the rationalization that happens in the mind of an overworked person is an extraordinary thing. entitlement and payback for slaving away can be so very enticing. convincing ourselves that we "deserve" a break or a reward is so easy. but unfortunately the relational ties in the life of the workaholic are so non-existent true celebration and engagement can't happen. so that desire for intimacy won't go unmet and the minister ends up substituting any fix along the way to fill the gaping void of reward and relationship.

all of these vents create such great shame that the need for the cycle to continue, the need for looking busy, working for greater achievements and avoidance of those who might begin to see the cracks increases at every turn. and the call, meant to be an invitation becomes a burden, becomes that thumb, set deep between the shoulders pushing, pushing, pushing.

shame is the great distancer. the silencer. the uncrossable divide that reminds us of how very ugly the deep things within us are. how truly unlovable we have become. that all of the things we have told those we minister to don't somehow work for us. it is this place far too many of us find ourselves. trapped with no visible way to get out. who can we tell, who will understand. that thumb that is so heavy in our backs somehow in all of the brokenness becomes the thumb of god, so we are at a loss of which way to turn. the addiction seems to be the only way to turn and that continues until the vents blow sky high and life as we know it implodes.

someone finds out, a child gets pregnant or the congregation is tired of the minister who can't engage in the community he tells everyone from the pulpit is so important. what then? the shattered pieces are so scattered can real, true life be restored? can ministry continue? what then?

this was why we withdrew from that driven life. liam and i could see it happening all around us. we knew our own need for approval and being needed was so great that our own family would wind up a casualty someday soon. we needed to withdraw to a safe place to find out if there is really a way for ministry to happen, for that call to be fulfilled that doesn't destroy and wreck all that is sacred, all that is lovely.

i suspect that something at the core of much of the theology is so broken that we can't even identify what it is. something we believe to be true and right about god and ministry is foundationally built on error. on lies. the steam must escape. ministers are not meant to be robots without emotion or flaw. how can they fulfill the work god has for them and not fall into these traps? not feel that the call is the thumb of god in their back?

i have a theory that it's about creating communities of true transparency. i know it's not a new theory, it's not original to me - but i still don't think we've really gotten the ones we've tried right somehow. i don't see any evidence that it's working.

i have the opportunity to teach in november at our new church. i know this will somehow be a small part of that somehow. i think that the 'just keep swimming' mentality isn't working. parker palmer speaks of a hidden wholeness in his new book. i believe that is what we all long for. to be so comfortable in our own skin that we are able to be present in the community we all deeply long for. to know and be known.

i remember when i finally heard those words 'may god's hand be upon you' and sat with them. it has such an oppressive feel to it. 'no thanks' was the first thought that went through my head. that thumb in my back was heavy enough already. then i realized that maybe it meant god's hand stroking my face, lifting my chin to gaze into my eyes. i think that is truly the hope that we all have. getting god's thumb out of our backs and under our chins. i think that comes when we face our shame. when we share it with a trusted soul so doesn't run screaming from the room, but still loves us anyway.

i think that is why recovery works. why being in a room of struggling alcoholics feels more like church than most sunday mornings do. they have looked into the eyes of god and seen their own reflections there.

14 comments:

Heather said...

Bobbie, thanks for the post. I really agree with you...we are trying to plant a church here in Madrid where there is a DNA of the Father's thumb under our chins, not the other way around. Christ-centered, not driven. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

david said...

You said: the culture, especially the christian one, that we left when we moved was filled with 'driven' people. . . . everything moved so fast . . . the pace of life was so hectic . . . we found that in choosing the discipline of simplicity we were more able to see the chaos in the world around us . . .

We really did live close together . . . and I’m not talking about geography!

You said: “what it is about the call of god that distorts our need for quiet, simplicity and taking the time to be present? is the call of god truly just co-dependency and a need to be needed, or do those personality types end up hearing the call because they long to be needed so desperately? . . . what is it that drives them instead of calls them?”

This is truly a huge thought . . . can you unpack this any more or are you like me merely an observer of this phenomena?? I am SO with you on this . . .

You said: “all of these vents create such great shame that the need for the cycle to continue, the need for looking busy, working for greater achievements and avoidance of those who might begin to see the cracks increases at every turn. and the call, meant to be an invitation becomes a burden, becomes that thumb, set deep between the shoulders pushing, pushing, pushing.”

I have read published books that possess less worthy nuggets . . . and I paid for most of those . . .

You said: “shame is the great distancer”

Someone once told me that those things which we are most ashamed of and we “hide” are also the very things we most have in common with those around us . . . the community that God has provided that can actually help us . . .

You said: “i suspect that something at the core of much of the theology is so broken that we can't even identify what it is”

I am sure this is true . . .

You said: “getting god's thumb out of our backs and under our chins. i think that comes when we face our shame. when we share it with a trusted soul so doesn't run screaming from the room, but still loves us anyway”

If you can cultivate, organize and develop these thoughts . . . it would be published . . . I’m serious! The reflection that you speak of is a burning bush . . . and as with the genesis story . . . moses face “shone and he knew it not” . . . so it may be with you . . .

Sheila said...

Hmmm...looks like the difference between "purpose driven" and "spirit led" (as in the sheep *follow* the shepherd) ;I'd take the second one any day. Thanks for the cogent contemplation, it connects some dots in a very explosive situation that I left a couple of years ago.

Hope said...

Wow - this is good. Hopefully when people get tired of the thumb in the back and say, "get your friggin thumb out of my back" they will get to see that God's had a thumb under their chin all the time, they just didn't realize it because the pressure on the back was overriding the gentle thumb under their chin.

I agree with David that this post needs to be read by a wider community.

Amy A. said...

This is beautiful. Thanks.

Michelle said...

At the church I was attending, there was always a five-minute guilt trip reliably inserted into the service right before the sermon about how people are not doing enough to help the church.

By contrast, I have found that Quaker meetings can be very simple, yet accomplish some pretty incredible things in the community--things that I think of as God's work--yet without the busybee effect. There aren't any here, though.

Your post made me think.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVED this post.

I wish I could hear you teach...

I suspect I would learn much.

Deborah said...

I love this line: "is the call of god truly just co-dependency and a need to be needed, or do those personality types end up hearing the call because they long to be needed so desperately?"

My hubby and I have recently gone from being busy, busy, busy in church activities and ministry to SLOWING DOWN, stopping to smell the roses, seeing our little boys as our primary ministry -- and wow! is it great! I feel much more "centered," though this was not an overnight fix (I now see that the process began over 7 years ago)and our hearts are still changing.

One book that opened our eyes to a different way to see church and ministry is a book called UNITING CHURCH AND HOME by Eric Wallace. It's not the most well-written book (sorry Mr. Wallace), but the principles within it are fabulous! It's all about simplifying life, and church, and having time to become hospitable and relational. It really makse a lot of sense.

For the first time in our dozen years of marriage, my husband and I have time to notice our neighbors and other divine appointments coming our way -- because we aren't always on the run to another ministry opportunity...and I know a lot of that was because of our desire for approval, from others and from God. Now we are trying to just stick with going for God's approval :)

Good stuff, thanks for sharing!

ldqn said...

Thank you. I've been needing to hear that. I will read it again tomorrow after I've had some time to sleep on it. You have a true gift. I'm glad you're getting to use it where you are now. What a blessing!
Lara

Deb said...

I SO agree with you bobbie! The transparent community I have found within AA is amazing. When I was attending church I knew I wanted something that I couldn't quite define. Now that I'm a part of AA, I've finally found what I've been looking for.

Sarah Louise said...

bobbie,

what a gem this post is!! As I struggle to create two communities (a verticle me-God and a horizontal me-humanity) I am learning that listening to my body is important. My body tells me when I'm exhausted or when I need to take a walk. And if I don't heed it, I get whammied with insomnia (I've been awake since midnight.)

I love the image of God's hand taking our chin and looking into our eyes and loving us. Thank you for this.

Kathleen said...

I just discovered your blog, and I too love this post. I am recovering from my own training as a pathological codependent (from a verbally, physically and sexually abusive family). No more needs-based relationships, unless its between me and my child and it's his needs. And shame ... well, getting rid of that seems to have something to do with extending compassion and forgiveness to those who have harmed us. Or so it seems to me today. Doing that exercise boomerangs it right back to me.

I got halfway through ministerial training a few years ago, and then walked away from it. For something like the same reasons. I didn't want to be surrounded by people who viewed me as some melding of the voice of God and their on-demand resource for advice and healing. It wasn't what I was about. I want to share light and I'm willing to help the truly willing to be helped, but I wasn't volunteering to be a victim/rescuer in an ecclesiastical drama triangle.

The combination of spiritual pursuit and AA-style recovery is really powerful. I've also incorporated a lot of reading on character disorders into my thinking about the obstacles between our inner God-spark and the way we see and interact with the world. All of this work comes down to removing those obstacles and becoming as Christ-like as possible.

I wonder if you have written about creating community. I'm just beginning to think of how to gather people to share their inner work. I found you through you comment on a blog entry on the book, The Starfish and the Spider. If you read that book, there's an interesting section about the key roles in starfish organizations -- visionary catalyst, organized CEO and charismatic champion. I'd be interested to hear what you think of that, and perhaps where you see yourself in that range.

bobbie said...

hey kathleen - thank you for your comment and encouragement. i will try to respond more fully in a post about your questions.

can't wait to read your blog!

Kel said...

so glad you posted this up again as a fave 5 as I would have missed it otherwise
it's like a breath of fresh air to stumble across others who are attempting to simplify, slow down and, as Deborah comments, have time to just be with neighbours