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Treadmill Revivalism

Treadmill Revivalism

 

Not long after we join a church or para-church movement we’re told, either bluntly, or ever-so subtly, that we’re all on a mission for God. Out there in the big wide world are millions of our fellow-men and women, those who don’t know Jesus like we know Him. The Christian life is one big mission, the evangelising of the whole world no less. If we don’t get it done nobody else will, and to accomplish it we need to commit to our sect of choice.

Of course, there are many varied brands within the Christian flock, but we’re told by much older experienced hands that the holy grail that we singularly seek is  revival. Now I’m all for revivals when they come along, but I’m not so sure that Divine Love is obsessed with them. And lets face it, numerous revivals have been claimed, when they are really no more than subtle mind-control events, hyped up with seductive music and a touch of show biz glamour.

In my dour wee homeland of Northern Ireland, a revival took place in the early 20th century. At the heart of it lay the fiery preaching of WP Nicholson, a travelling evangelist from my home town, who literally scared the hell out of folk. Gifted with the blunt language of the common man Nicholson painted a burning end for those who didn’t respond to his particular take on salvation. So effective was he that his converts returned a mountain of stolen tools to  the Harland and Wolf shipyard, builder of the ill-fated Titanic. Yet, can terror or hell-driven conviction for sin really be the sign of Divine Love at work. I tend to think not.

Anyway, when we’ve signed up to our beguiling new Christian movement we’re informed that something big, really big, is just around the corner , like the visit of the aliens in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, only holier. Yes, you guessed it – God has plans for a great world revival and we’re at the heart of His planning committee. Of course as a new convert, one eager to please both God and man, we tend to believe such sacred spin. And so our addiction for pre-revival disciplines begins.

I’ve done them all in my time. Prayer and fasting are the biggies for many revival heads. The game plan is simple: the more we pray the more God turns up. The more we fast the more powerful or influential our prayers. Now this raises a few important questions. Why does God not come at the first sign of a request from His followers? Why does giving up our daily sustenance twist God’s arm even more. One begins to wonder if God is really into this penny in the slot, type of faith dynamic.

In my own Charismatic sect of choice, we discovered that an ancient Celtic monastery in our town had established a 24 hour prayer and praise regime during the early medieval period. For over a couple of hundred years Celtic hymns and contemplative prayers were offered up without a moments break. Three 8 hour shifts of chorister monks at full throttle, copying the daily routine of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Hundreds of monks travelled from my wee town to the pagan lands of Europe with much success in their attempts to introduce the wild Germanic hordes to the love of Jesus. So, inspired by our ancestors pious dedication we began. The task of continuous prayer through the hours of darkness was handed out to the men of the fellowship. If one refused, a not so subtle demotion in the eyes of our zealous leaders resulted, doubting one’s commitment or indeed manhood. The dear women of our group theoretically covered the daylight hours, when they weren’t being model wives and mothers.

Yep, the Prayer Watch, as it was known, marked us out as one spiritual notch above the rest in the religious Bible of Northern Ireland. As dragged ourselves out of bed at some unearthly hour to tumble down to the church offices to pray with our prayer partner, the spirit was willing but the flesh extremely weak. Boy those were the days – days of madness in hindsight. Of course not everything went to plan. I well remember the night when my partner and I got stuck in a snow drift and couldn’t fulfil our obligations. The poor duo who we were supposed to relieve on watch, had to do our stint as well. I’m sure many employers wondered why once a week their model Christian workers would turn up to work fit for nothing, catnapping their way throughout the paid working day.

I guess we were peer pressured young idealists willing to join the revivalist treadmill. After all, if we put in the effort God would surely deliver – wouldn’t He? Of course it was a recipe for psycho-spiritual burnout. A presented but unreal God who expected us to put in a good penny’s worth in order for others to discover him for themselves.

Is it any wonder that we eventually fall off our religious treadmills, exhausted and somewhat disillusioned by the modus operand of our particular revivalist sect? There is much madness in the Christian world whilst wisdom, true wisdom lies within. So, if you’re tempted to sign up for a spiritual gym with the carrot of revival set temptingly before you, best return to the privacy of your own Self and listen for the still small Voice.

Next week I’ll tackle the crazy practice of fasting as a prayer enhancer. More crazy tales of a semi-starving religious junkie.

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Where Does God Hang Out?

Where Does God Hang Out?

 

Ever wondered where God hangs out? Now I know that God is everywhere, but what I’m trying to get at is where does the Divine hang out with us. Where do we really experience the intimacy of the One who fills all in all.

When we observe those who believe in a Divinity, it would appear that for many it’s a sacred building wherein lies the Reality of Transcendence. For each Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, millions worldwide head to their local, Mosque, Synagogue or Church in their search for God. An alien observing our religious practices would have to conclude that the Source has instructed It’s followers to meet up with It in the dedicated structures of ‘holy’ buildings.

I once remember sitting at the back of  St. Mary’s Basilica, in the historic city of Krakow, Poland, with my eyes focused on the isle in front of me. A recovering Protestant like me couldn’t believe my eyes. For on a regular weekday morning, a steady stream of teenagers would walk into the cathedral and immediately drop to their knees, making the sign of the cross as they devotedly stared at the altar. Back in Northern Ireland it was a Herculean task to drag a hormone tossed teenager into a church on a Sunday morning outing! Of course, Poland is still a Catholic fuelled nation, one whose identity is closely tied in with its faith of choice. Nevertheless, it was the perception of the young folk concerned that God somehow hung out here more than anywhere else that slightly disturbed me.

The danger for all religions is that a place and its related rituals, be it group prayer, worship via song, sacramental acts of remembrance or the sermon-homile become the only place for Divine contact in the eyes of their adherents. More worryingly is the underlying programming that one must  attend and support the associated institution in order to keep in touch with the Divine. Holy texts, tradition and guilt are all used to keep the faithful on the hamster-wheel of religious attendance.

Unsurprisingly the Divine may touch the hungry soul in such an environment. If the individual in question only looks for Divine Love in their hallowed environment of choice then that is where It will manifest from time to time. An act of mercy, rather than the outcome expected for putting the attendance penny in the slot of the religious fruit machine.

Many of my old Christian friends often look at me with saddened eyes before asking if I don’t miss the regular meeting together of the saints on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening in my church of choice. My answer tends to shock them a little; it’s always an emphatic but hopefully humble no. I’m afraid I’ve attended too many Christian circuses in my time to appreciate the spiritual nuances of being in a sacred building doing my sacred stuff. I have to be honest; churches tend to give me the creeps.

Here in Lincoln, we have one of the most striking Gothic Cathedrals in the world. Tourists come by the coach-load to pay their £8 and see the ecclesiastical wonder that meets them. Yet, it does nothing for me, failing to touch any sense of the Transcendence within. Lincolnshire, being a very rural county is peppered with endless little Anglican parish churches, striving to survive the ravages of time. Occasionally I will go in to have a wee peep. Again nothing but the ghosts of times long gone, war memorials to the fallen brave of our past military misadventures. Not a spark of the eternal grabs my open heart.

Of course many folk find solace and meaning in their shrine of choice. For many ritual is faith and faith ritual. Yet, I’m afraid, no longer for me.  I’ve left behind the past scenes of my holy encounters, the waving arms, the rock fuelled worship, the teaching times of human wisdom. Yet, let me make clear that I’m not here to judge my fellow travellers, only to point towards another way for those tired of their building devotion. So where is this place where I and Spirit touch. If not in the purpose-built sanctuaries of man then where?

Well, let me answer with a simple little illustration.

This morning as I left my local paper shop to jump into my car I had an encounter. An encounter with Other, via the most touching of forms. Suddenly I spotted a mother duck crossing the road in front of me. Walking with great confidence and assurance she was followed by her three, little, fluffy ducklings, eyes devotedly fixed on their mama in front.

‘There’s mimesis for you my son,’ whispered my inner Voice.

‘See how it’s done! Follow me.’

Enough said.

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Religious Attachments Again

Religious Attachments Again

I’ve been amazed over the last few days at how many folk have visited my old Post ‘ How To Recognize Dysfunctional Religious Attachments’. One commentator thought the title a bit of a mouthful, better used for the title of a thesis perhaps! Don’t I just love honesty on the blogosphere! Of course the young lady in question has a valid point, so from now on my post titles will be much shorter and snappier!

So why more on dysfunctional religious attachments?

Well, simply because many of us still appear to have a psycho-spiritual itch that no-one has dared put a name to. To do so would risk immediate expulsion from the religious flock of choice. Since I’m long gone from the power plays of Sunday morning faith life I’ll step forward and put my Irish spiritual neck on the religious block. So, here goes:

Attachments are the invisible chords that hold us into a psychological dependency on a group, person or thing. Usually though they operate best on a person-to-person basis, often in the disguise of undying love or admirable commitment.  They appear to be the chords of love but are far from it, for true love is cordless, releasing the beloved to roam at will. You can see why these attachments attach themselves to the matters of religious belief and practice. It’s a great breeding ground for them as they try to hide in the respectable setting of God and His people.

Attachments are clever little creatures. They can adapt chameleon-like to whatever surroundings they find themselves in. There are Catholic attachments, Protestant attachments, Orthodox attachments, Pentecostal attachments, non denominational attachments etc, etc. Even in the heightened environs of those who claim to practice authentic Christianity in their recovered New Testament church models lurk the dreaded attachments with their insidious attempt to lock up sincere folk within the Matrix of metaphysical desire.

Matrix? Where did that come from? Well, if you’ve seen the movie you’ll remember the shocking setting; rows and rows, tier after tier of embryonic bodies having the life sucked out of them by the merciless machines, as they dreamed of normal life. So to in our religious life?

I believe so.

As we sit in our pews or cushioned plastic seats each Sunday morning we’re lining up to suck a metaphysical certainty of sorts out of our pastor, preacher, priest in exchange for our loyalty. In other words, he/she dishes out the faith and we keep coming and perhaps more importantly, paying.

The psychic glue that keeps the whole sacred attachment show on the road is of course desire and its insidious offspring expectation. We want to know God. Wonderful! Yet this is not a desire in isolation – it has a not so hidden context. We want to know God like Pastor Joe or Rev. Jones or Sister Mary or ……….. This is the key to our dependency, the attachment that locks us into a quasi-like devotion to those who appear to dispense the very life of God. Of course any of us who’ve willingly played the role of spiritual dispenser on a professional basis knows that although we work for God we are in fact chained to our people for both authentication, approval and cash flow. Like a quick-sand that pulls one down into the darkness of death, the ministry game, whether paid or hobby-like in nature has many skeletons in its white-washed cupboards.

Well Dylan, that’s all very well but thankfully I only depend on Jesus!

Wonderful, but may I humbly make a couple of perhaps pointed observations:

1) If you genuinely depend on Jesus why not try giving up attendance at religious services or meetings for the next three months. I respectfully suggest that you might experience some cold turkey symptoms linked to people or group dependency on your newly acquired, quiet Sunday mornings.

2) I wonder if Jesus, or Yeshua as his Jewish mum called him, wants you to be dependent on him. Was the goal of the Nazarene to have a multitude of followers trailing like little puppy dogs or a band of brothers and sisters to join him in the Divine Dance?

Sadly most of us only realize our addictions when we try to give up the substance concerned. I’m sitting here in Cafe Nero, ( I know, not a great name for Christians!), my local coffee shop with my regular Americano in hand. If I’d skipped it this morning I’d most certainly have a headache by 1 p.m. So too with our religious habits.

What is it in our spiritual life that deep down we suspect we’re dependent on? What has hooked us into a religious dependency that we just can’t admit? Many of us, fueled by a fear of rejection, will fight tooth and nail for our spiritual fixes in the guise of zealous God lovers.

As we let go of our various religious Attachments it can appear that our spiritual life is about to rapidly go down the drain of non belief.

Not so.

Alone in our vulnerability we shall feel the Divine Hand reach out to lead us in the Dance of Life. The Dancer and the Dance, a celebration of Union and freedom; the freedom to be and to give Love, no strings attached.

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Dysfunctional Religious Attachments

Dysfunctional Religious Attachments

Recovering from abuse experienced within a spiritual or religious setting is a long and painful process. While the level of abuse can vary along a given spectrum there are some characteristics common to all cases.

In the same way that an alcoholic denies that he/she has a drink problem or a battered wife’s denies that her husband is an abuser, so too with victims of religious or spiritual abuse. Deep within the abused will be a feeling that something isn’t quite right and yet a strong emotional attachment still locks the victim, for that’s what they are, into a mind-control matrix. The first step to freedom is to admit that one may be imprisoned in such a complex system.

There are a number of phenomena linked to subliminal abuse and control that might suggest you’re suffering a level of abuse.

1) The elevation of the abusive group above all other faith groups.

A clear danger sign is the exclusive nature of such a religious group. The ‘God has chosen us to be special syndrome’ is a symptom of a control mentality.

2) Broken or distrustful relationships with previous friends, family or outsiders.

An ‘us and them’ mental stronghold leads to emotional fractures with those previously close to the victim.

When my wife and I left our Shepherding group, an elder’s wife publically asked the pastor if  she could discuss ‘family business’ with us if she met us on the high street. Thankfully and to my great surprise she was told to be as open as she wanted. Yet the question revealed an ‘us and them’ mentality that was prevalent.

3) A level of ‘committment’ to the group that eats up time, money and emotional energy that’s often to the detriment of normal family life.

Often commitment to God is interpreted as commitment to the group. In my experience this is a real sign of near cultic tendencies within faith groups.

4) A strong charismatic leader with an elevated view of his own position and service.

In my own experience I was drawn to the charisma of my leader through mimetic or imitative desire – I wanted to be as close to God as he appeared to be. Like me, such ‘followers’  can greatly inflate a leaders view of his own importance leading to religious delusions and tight control.

5) A one-man-band leader who insists on doing all the public service of the church.

Variety is a strong characteristic of creation and should be reflected in the life of a faith community. It’s not just the ‘Joe Blogg’s Show’

6) A dismissal of genuine concerns by the leader or leadership.

If the leadership of your faith group are constantly ignoring or belittling your and others feelings of unease then it usually suggests a superiority attitude within the group’s leadership team.

7) God has appointed us as leaders and we always will be  – we perceive any disagreement with us as a lack of  ‘faith’ on your part.

In my own experience my ‘Shepherd’ had a great technique whereby I left private meetings with him with the impression that the ‘problem’ only lay within me. It was a brilliant psychological trick skillfully played on all dissenters!

8) A secrecy regarding the financial expenditure of the group, especially regarding the leader’s salary.

We had a great technique in our fellowship for hiding details of expenditure. The salaries of all our workers were grouped together at the AGM giving the impression of an equality within the salary structure. The opposite was the case – if your group is secretive about detailed expenditure beware. You are under a form of financial control that is contrary to basic integrity.

9) A regular feeling of guilt regarding your ‘service’ to God via the group.

Guilt has nothing to do with being a follower of Yeshua. If this guilt lands on you after attending a faith group then you are being abused.

10) A special ‘in’ language that outsiders can’t understand.

A new language that innocently conveys the ‘hidden agenda’ of  the abusers. In my own case such phrases as ‘being under authority’ and ‘ having covering’ were falsely revered as spiritual correctness.

11) A lack of vulnerability on behalf of the leader or teacher.

Most abusive leaders are locked into a denial of their own flaws and weaknesses, appearing strong to their followers. At the same time a level of vulnerability and openness is often required from followers by such a leader. Such a degree of openness keeps the follower locked into the abusive matrix. Remember knowledge is power and especially in abusive pastoral situations.

Potentially, all of us are vulnerable to such abuse when we seek to serve the Divine within the close confines of a faith or esoteric group. Yet, there is another way. My own wee tale of religious puppetry and eventual escape, fleshes out the above pitfalls, while giving hope to those still hungry for the Love that flows from above. Here’s a helpful  link to ‘The Prodigal Prophet’ if you’d like to read more of the often unspoken issues raised here.

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