Captured by the Spirit You Oppose

Photo: The (b)log in my eye.

I’m going to be very judgmental here.

I’m going to be judgmental of the one person I am qualified to judge –me.

When the same verse of scripture and the same concept arises in diverse places several times in a few days it’s time to pay attention.

Something irks me, really irks me. Stepping on this trip wire brings down a cascade of feelings I would rather avoid. Like most trip wires this one is anchored to an old hurt. How do I describe it?

I was enjoying a YouTube musical smorgasbord concert last night, listening to favourite songs and rabbit trailing to new discoveries, when I foolishly read some of the comments.

(On some of the world’s greatest singers) “His voice is very tense and somewhat forced at 1:02 and again at 1:49. I hope he fixes this soon… She hesitated at 2:01. Listen for it… F____ has such a flat affect in this performance.  Where’s the passion? Good try, but I like A_____’s performance in 2009 at Covent better…”

I liked the commenter who said, “I’m glad I’m not a music major. I can just enjoy  the music.”

One of the reasons I dislike music competitions (including popular TV talent shows with judges and elimination-type formats) is because the audience comes away with a critical, judgmental, elimination-type spirit. Everyone is a judge. Alas, it is the nasty, witty judge who builds his own ego at the expense of the performer who people love to emulate. The joy of music chokes in the dust up.

A good music festival or competition adjudicator will always say more supportive encouraging words than critical. They will gently choose one or two areas that can be improved with very practical steps demonstrated on the spot. They will close their remarks with more acknowledgment of that which was done well. They will not compete with advanced students by becoming extremely, ridiculously picky. They will retain the love of music for music’s sake.

There are very few good adjudicators. Most either suggest nothing practically helpful or undermine the participant’s confidence by pointing out far too many imperfections or worse, try to one-up the outstanding ones by flaunting their knowledge.

When I read comments online that publicly criticize anyone, whatever their field, I want to lash back with my own nasty comments. The issue I struggle with is knowing where to perch myself on the worship/helpful critique/criticism/judgment/condemnation spectrum. I want to publicly criticize people for being publicly critical of other people. How crazy is that? It’s like being intolerant of the intolerant.

This week I read a book by Frank Viola called, Revise Us Again. (The title appealed to me.)

In one chapter he identified a trend I have long noticed myself. It’s the tendency for people who vociferously oppose the teachings or acts of others to start to eventually exhibit the same type of problem. Sometimes they recoil to the opposite extreme of the expressed idea, but their actions begin to look similar after a while. Viola calls this being “captured by the spirit you oppose.”

Church history is full of examples of those who broke away from established groups over an issue only to go off the rails in the same area within a generation or two. The persecuted became the persecutors.

A harassed medieval band of believers who were opposed to the lavish lifestyle of the clergy took vows of poverty, yet years later the order agreed to hawk indulgences and supervise inquisitions –as fund-raising projects, because the living by faith thing was too hard.

Over a century ago, a group left an old mainline denomination stuck in apathy and tradition to start an interdenominational parachurch organization intending to pool efforts to reach the poor and seek the deeper life. Within three generations many of the descendants of earlier converts of the movement, now  just like the first shallow, well-to-do pew-warmers with insider status, could be found hunkering down in yet another denomination with its own traditions and frustrating unwritten rules.

Another group was so concerned about unity that it ditched the serious, but sometimes uncomfortable discussion of Biblical theology. Now they are so tolerant they no longer even have the unifying belief in Jesus Christ in common.

It happens over and over, and even now the hundreds of new denominations forming every year continue to suffer from recoil, captured by the spirit they opposed.

Viola’s premise is that when something about another believer’s choices upsets us so much that we want to go on the warpath, we are often projecting our own unacknowledged weaknesses on them –and it’s easier to fix them than fix ourselves. We have blind spots. Our self-righteous rejection of them leaves an open door for this spirit.

We’ve all met people who are constantly afraid of being cheated only to discover they’ve got a little fraud thing going themselves, or those who preach vehemently against certain sins who later appear in tabloid photos in remarkably familiar compromises.

Jesus said, “How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Luke 6:42)

In all probability the speck is just a chip off our own log.

This week I am very aware of the Lord bringing my attention to the need for purity of the church –the Bride of Christ.

I want to pray, “Yes, Lord! It’s about time. Fix them!”

When my prayers are met with silence on the other end I am instead humbled by my own tendency to write people off for not studying scripture more, (or on the other hand, letting unloving, blatantly bad teaching slip through unchallenged for fear of rocking the boat), for lacking a compassionate heart and instead avoiding feelings by intellectualizing, for being so pedantic about proper technique I miss beauty, for depending on my own resources and not seeking the Lord enough.

When I look at what irks me about other people’s specks I can follow the trail back to my own logs.

Holy Spirit is capable of purifying his church. He doesn’t need my meddling.

He can employ servants who have dealt with their own stuff first though. Apollos needed Priscilla and Aquilla to quietly take him aside and correct his theology –but first they had to get straight with God themselves or pride would have led them to discount his ministry, discourage him, or compete with him rather than raise him up to become greater than his teachers. They honoured him. Godly leadership enters as a platform to raise up, not a ceiling to clamp down.

Help, Lord.

For now we see in part

Photo: night on the lake

On the one hand I grieve over the way some self-appointed guardians of the extra narrow way are quick to disqualify other writers and speakers when they discover flaws; on the other hand I do worry about the under-use of the gift of discernment and a tendency for some people to turn those with a certain amount of insight into heroes or even idols.

Do we tend to place some people on a pedestal that is too high because they are like one-eyed men in the country of the blind? Do we ourselves install some people as gods and then stone them when we discover they are frail humans?

Perhaps the problem is not the person with greater, but still imperfect vision. Perhaps the problem is that not enough people realize they can learn to see better as well. Perhaps we need to pursue the Healer himself. Perhaps if we combined our glimpses of truth we could all see better.

Perhaps all of the adopted children in God’s family are meant to be royalty.

Grow in Grace

Photo: Colouring in and outside of the lines

Colouring
Colouring

 

I have the joy of caring for two of my grandchildren this week. They teach me so much.

The three-year old (I’ll call her Daisy) is full of profundities and observations on life. When she said she was hungry I suggested we could take a peek in Nana’s pantry to see if we could find something good for a snack. She looked at me suspiciously, then said softly to her mommy, “But I don’t want to take a peek in Nana’s panties.” (Please read the scenario again carefully if you feel the need to accuse this red-faced granny of improprieties.)

Daisy teaches me about the importance of clarification and that people do not always perceive our offerings the way we intend them to be perceived.

When Daisy told me about all the things she could do on her little white table and chair set –like put puzzles together, play with her tea set, and play the matching game– I asked her if she coloured on her table too.

Again she gave me her patient look as she explained, “No. I don’t colour on the table. Mommy doesn’t let me colour on the table. She says I have to use paper or a colouring book.”

Yesterday she taught me about the difference between making a mistake, and sinning. Making a mistake is colouring outside the lines when you are learning to colour because sometimes even when you try hard your hand slips. Being seriously in error — or sinning is when you know Mommy said to colour in the colouring book, but your crayon doesn’t just slip outside the lines. It slips right off the table and across the room and colours on the glass door to the patio. When that happens you need to take responsibility for your deliberate choice and use the damp cloth Nana hands you to scrub the door until your mess is cleaned up.

I read a book review this week by a popular Christian blogger that upset me for some reason. Usually I shrug that sort of thing off, but this felt like an irritating hangnail that kept snagging on my peace for days.

People have differing opinions on literature, of course. Not everyone appreciates a poetic imagery-bound gift. I’ve heard enough left-brained friends bewail subjective marking styles of English teachers to know poetry baffles them. I hear their frustration with trying to guess what they need to do to get an A when there are no answers in the back of the book. It drives them as crazy as the just-the-facts-ma’am, right-or-wrong-answer-at-the-bottom-of-the-page writing style that bores me into a nap on the desk. I get it. Tomayto/tomahto

The critic later issued an apology on his blog, admitting he lost sight of the fact there was a sensitive human behind the words in the book. Wow. A critic issues an apology? There is a God.

He didn’t back down on his stance on “not recommending” the book, however, because he found some things that did not line up with his theological viewpoint based on his and Et Al’s interpretation of scripture. He also used the guilt by association marking pen when the author admitted to receiving helpful glimpses of  insight from people and institutions who did not have evangelical seals of approval stamped on their undersides.

Here’s my problem: this book, like many other books, (or youtube videos)  experienced unanticipated popularity. It was not written as a theological treatise at the end of a lifetime of study. Should a book presented for use as a textbook in seminary be subject to rigorous doctrinal examination? I should hope so. Should a book that was intended to be a sharing of the author’s personal experience of endeavouring to change her attitude be subjected to the same scrutiny?

I remember having to fill out a workbook for Sunday School class when I was about eleven years old. It had a lot of those frustrating what-am-I-thinking-of-in-verse-six kind of questions, (I always seemed to see something different from my teacher) but at the bottom of the page there was a big open box which allowed room for “sharing” how I felt about concepts covered in the lesson.

I shared.

My teacher marked it with a red X. WRONG.

Wow, that hurt. I remember telling my dad that I would have understood that red X if I answered the other questions wrong, but who gave her the right to mark my feelings as wrong? My feelings and opinions were my feelings and opinions. Should I lie? (Alas I did learn to lie to pastors and teachers. I told them what they wanted to hear for many years after that. Not a good idea. That habit set me up for a lot of  wasted time.) What I needed was a loving, mature person to come along side and help me to reach for a higher goal -not to invalidate my attempts at expression.

Art is an attempt to connect with others. A creative writer’s intent may be more about making connection with fellow sojourners than lecturing on doctrine. It strikes me that when communicating some aspect of experience of God in a deeper way, we need to have a little grace space. To grow in grace we need to be in an atmosphere of  grace. Does a child’s work need to be perfect before it may be displayed on the fridge? Are we in the family of God not all children in a process of learning? Did Jesus ever say, “Except ye all become as big old experts ye cannot see the kingdom of God?’ (in archaic English just like that.)

Ideas about God and how he created us to relate to him which ignore the manual handed to us (the Bible) raise alarms all over the place for me too. Indeed, there are times when artwork can be the result of a sinful rebellious attitude, when inappropriate scribbles appear on the patio doors, for example, and when those in a position of caring authority need to lovingly hand the author a wet rag and say, “Seriously? Come on, clean up your mess, sweetie.”

While I do not agree with every thing in the reviewed book, and some ideas are definitely discussion-worthy, I relate to the experience of the writer and appreciate the extremely important discovery of  having a grateful heart.  I do not believe it is motivated by self-seeking rebellion.

One of the hazards of popularity is that works of people in progress can be suddenly elevated to the level of works of studied authority. (The Bible says “Let not many of you become teachers knowing you shall incur a stricter judgment.” It just doesn’t tell you that most of the critical stricter judgment comes from people who consider themselves more studied teachers.)

My point? Art is an expression of where we are at the moment we create it. It is not the final conclusion of a lifetime of learning. Art fills in the big empty box at the bottom of the page where we have a chance to share how we feel about what we have learned. Art asks the observer, “You know what I mean?” If it goes viral on a giant public fridge with greater exposure than we anticipated when we created it, if it becomes extremely popular because a million people connect with it as a familiar stage of learning in their own lives, the onus is still on the reader or observer to use discernment. I wonder about the need of  self-appointed guardians of perfect theology to tear it down publicly and give it “not recommended” status because they do not like the creator’s style or question whether it has stayed within lines the artist may not know about.

Worship of anything or anyone other than God is always idolatry. Yes, pop culture can promote idols, but to assume that  a popular work will become an unexamined object of idolatry to other believers is to assume  people observing the art are far less discerning than the critic. In an attempt to protect the naive by issuing a public judgment and condemnation of a work for failing to be something it never claimed to be, the present handed to us may not necessarily be a gift tied up in ribbon. It maybe just be an arrogance-bound box of envy.

In my humble imperfect opinion.