Communion Reflection

A neat thought came to me during worship a couple of weeks ago. I can’t remember the hymn but I started imagining carrying my sins and struggles up a gravel road toward the cross. Whether it was a person, a word, an item that represents a temptation, I carried the heavy load and tossed it at the foot of the cross.

But a few minutes later I had a better idea, a better image, it was of me carrying me toward the cross.

I am the problem. Think about how much you weigh. Even the strongest and smallest of us would get tired of carrying that weight very far or long. And we do.

So I tried to imagine carrying 180 lbs uphill toward a dying, naked man. And arriving, I would fling my heavy body on the rocks beneath my Lord. Let him take it, do whatever with it. Toss my heavy butt on the ground. Give it up. to Him.

That’s what I need.

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Pastoral Burnout and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Ahh….burnout.  Been there.  Done that. Couldn’t afford the T-shirt.

Juggling God’s expectations, a local church’s expectations (even among one group there is variety), and a preacher’s expectations of himself is overwhelming at times. Throw in “good intentions” and Satan, and you get terrible stats about drop-out rates, pornography addiction, depression, failed marriages and broken churches.  You can Google the stats if you aren’t familiar with them. I am going to share from the book and not spend time explaining the problem.  If you aren’t a minister, you might not even understand the need.  If you know, you know.

I really believe that Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality provides a BIG part of the answer. There are at least two facets and both are affected by spiritual warfare.  Many congregations are sick systems.  Traditions and leadership methods which are unhealthy and ineffective are passed down.  Sometimes everyone sees it but nothing changes.  Other times leaders and members are oblivious.  Changing these systems takes a lot of prayer, time, intention.  I think the book would be helpful for sincere churches to make changes as a group but I think the book focuses (and I choose to focus) on the other aspect: the preacher himself.

What can he do to prevent, heal, and continue?

DISCLAIMER:  Yes, I am a counseling student so I am interested in mental health.  Scazzero doesn’t have a mental health background, but 20 plus years of ministry experience, a bad case of burnout, and being on the receiving end of counseling lead him to write this book.

The book actually combines two of my favorite things that I am still learning about but excited about their being mixed up together:  emotional health and contemplative spirituality.

Scazzero had a successful ministry from the outside, from a modern, worldly perspective, but it wasn’t of the Spirit.

Here is the author’s realization:

“It wasn’t until the pain exposed how much was hiding under my surface of being a “good Christian” that it hit me: whole layers of my emotional life had lain buried, untouched by God’s transforming power.  I had been too busy for “morbid introspection,” too consumed with building God’s work to spend time digging around in my subconscious. Yet now the pain was forcing me to face how superficially Jesus had penetrated my inner person, even though I had been a Christian for twenty years.”

If you don’t believe the past affects the present, you won’t like this book (and you will continue to be controlled by your past).

If you feel emotions are dangerous for Christians and should be left out it, you won’t like this book (and you will be missing out on an important part of your relationship.  Also hope to read and blog about Descarte’s Error at some point).

If you don’t accept that healing often hurts at first before you feel better, you might be wasting your time with this book.

If you think being a pastor is all about doing but don’t really think about “being,” you might not get this book.

If you don’t believe you have ulterior motives, pride, bad habits from family/childhood that affect everything you say and do, you won’t like this book and you will never get past the plateaued cycle of burnout.

So, I guess what I saying is: 

if you are about to give up, if you are questioning your ministry, if you are miserable as a preacher, and are willing to consider all options………you will love this book and it will help you.

Some of you know of Jim Woodruff. He was the interim preacher where we worshipped a decade ago.  He told the story of a lady who came to him with this revelation: “all my life I have been a human doing, instead of a human being.”  Or something like that.  I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.

We can emphasize doing and not doing without ever being. Or without ever knowing Jesus. Yes, obedience is a sign of love and totally necessary, but it is soooo much easier to do a lot of good things (and not do the bad things) than it is to really see ourselves as God sees us and allow Him to transform us from the inside by his Spirit. That’s what we should strive for. Being more, not just doing more.

Alcoholics have to recognize the addiction so they can overcome.  Christians are encouraged to get busy doing good, and that will make someone a “good person.” Okay, now I am preaching and rambling.

More to come!!

In the meanwhile, meditate on this phrase from Scazzero: “how superficially Jesus had penetrated my inner person…”

Breathing Under Water (Rohr), ch. 5

“Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”  Step 5 from Alcoholics Anonymous

…a dualistic system of reward and punishment, good guys and bad guys, and makes perfect sense to the ego.  I call it the normal economy of merit or “meritocracy,” and it is the best that prisons, courtrooms, wars, lawyers, and even most of the church, which should know better, can do.

The revelation from the cross and the Twelve Steps, however, believes that  sin and failure are, in fact, the setting and opportunity for the transformation and enlightenment of the offender–and that the future will take care of itself. It is a mystery that makes sense to the soul and is entirely an “economy of grace,” which makes sense only to those who have experienced it.

You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge, and what you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control of you from within, festering and destroying you and those around you.

He states that when one person confesses sin to another…”it is no longer an exercise to achieve moral purity, or regain God’s love, but in fact a direct encounter with God’s love.  It is not about punishing one side but liberating both sides.  If you are still inside the economy of merit, which is a quid pro quo universe, you will undoubtedly not like this, which is why it has taken us so long to get here.

He goes in a discussion of Ezekiel, God’s faithfulness to covenant in spite of Israel’s failure.  I just recommend reading Ezekiel (BPN).

Have you ever experienced the embarrassed red-faced look of shame and self-recognition on the face of anyone who has been loved gratuitously after they have clearly done wrong? This is the way God seduces us all into the economy of grace–by loving us in spite of ourselves in the very places where we cannot or will not or dare not love ourselves.

Only love effects true inner transformation, not duress, guilt, shunning, or social pressure.

Love is not love unless it is totally free.  Grace is not grace unless it is totally free.  You would think Christian people would know that by now, but it is still a secret of the soul.

Grace is always punishment for us.

He compares the two systems (grace and merit) by comparing two sequential processes, also referring to Ezekiel:

The usual and expected ego pattern is this:  sin →punishment→repentance→transformation

but proposes the Biblical truth is actually:    sin→unconditional love→transformation→repentance

I know have haven’t been blogging much, or interacting much in recent months on my blog, but I would appreciate some feedback and thoughts about what Rohr discusses in this chapter.  It seems foundational and paradigm-changing all at once.

Have you experienced the “grace economy”?  Why, when, or what happened?

Do you cling to the merit economy?  I can understand that, but it worries me.

Breathing Under Water, Chapter 4 (Rohr)

Some more quotes to consider.  Man, the next chapter blew my mind! You should be anticipating it.

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 4 of AA

I am convinced that some people are driven to addictions to quiet their constant inner critic.

Yes, “the Truth will set you free” as Jesus says, but first it tends to make you miserable.

People only come to deeper consciousness by intentional struggles with contradictions, conflicts, inconsistencies, inner confusion, and what the biblical tradition calls “sin” or moral failure.

People who are more transparent and admitting of their blind spots and personal flaws are actually quite easy to love and be with.

In each story (Prodigal, Publican/Pharisee), the the one who did wrong ends up being right–simply because he is honest about it.

The game is over once we see clearly because evil succeeds only by disguising itself as good, necessary, or helpful.

“Who Shall Deliver Me?”

Cristina Rossetti is one of my favorite poets, and this is one of my favorite poems.  I recently came across it, written in a journal of mine, from early 1995.

God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?

If I could once lay down myself,
And start self-purged upon the race
That all must run ! Death runs apace.

If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!

God harden me against myself,
This coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease and rest and joys

Myself, arch-traitor to mysel ;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me
Break off the yoke and set me free