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.

Why I Am a Label-eschewer

Photo: Fashionista



Why do I avoid labels?

Because I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.

Because I have been through so many paradigm shifts sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a peacenik swimsuit, a woolen toque and a tutu on a John Deere lawn mower tractor –whilst waddling in pink Crocs that ought to be on the other foots.

Because like the blind man, every time I think I have figured out what an elephant feels like God drags me around to the other side –or the other end– and tells me to try again.

Because the phrase that seems to pop out of my mouth most often lately is “On the one hand…” followed by, “But on the other hand…”

Am I indecisive? Well, maybe. I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that one.


Photo: Mugwump. My Dad used to say a mugwump was a person who sat with his mug on one side of the fence and his wump on the other.

Maybe I’m just tired of making apologies.

This position may look humble, but dropping to the ground is sometimes the only safe posture when caught in the cross-fire between warring factions. I am so very aware of the quarrels among us.



Hymn and organ lovers ….vs….Chorus and drums lovers


Practically experienced….vs….Theoretically indoctrinated

Sinners saved by grace….vs…. Saints who reckon themselves dead to sin

Those who are working out their faith….vs…. Those who are saved by grace and not by works

Those who offer grace….vs…..Those who maintain standards

Those who are sure that God is grieved ….vs….Those who insist that God is in a good mood


“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” ….vs….”Jesus said, ‘But I call you friends.’”

“May you prosper as your soul prospers”….vs…. “Rich men, camels & eyes of needles and all that.”

“He who will not work shall not eat”….vs….”He who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor shall cry himself and not be heard.”

“By His stripes we are healed”….vs….”Knowing Him and the fellowship of his sufferings.”

Then there’s

Reverential folk….vs…. “I got to move it, move it, move it!” folk


Church building builders.…vs….church building leavers


Seeing something from one particular viewpoint is called a paradigm. Oliver Sachs wrote about a middle-aged man who regained the sight he lost in childhood, but who then faced so many challenges he chose to ignore his new faculty after a while. A dog from the front looks completely different from a dog from the side, yet they are both dogs. Who knew?

A paradigm is our most comfortable default position. Things fit nicely and work well. We only have to deal with one construct at a time that way. For example, we assume a beloved nephew has been unfairly fired, and advocate for him — then we find out from the boss he embezzled a gazillion pencils. It was easier before we knew both sides of the story. We still love him and support him;  we are proud of his brilliance, but now we are also ashamed of his stupidity.

Paradox greatly complicates things, but God’s ways seem to be more about paradox than paradigm. Jesus often spoke of two seemingly opposite concepts which are both true. The Bible is full of paradox like, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” “You need to lay down your life in order to live,” “You receive through giving,” “Rest under his yoke,” “You are strongest when you are weak,” “We see the unseen,” and many more.

Paradox is awkward. It feels unstable. We tend to want to gravitate to one end or the other. We polarize easily.

It struck me this week that the pole we choose to slide toward is often strongly influenced by which aspect of our soul dominates –mind, will or emotion.

Look at worship styles, for example. For some, worship means thinking, studying, discussing ideas about God, and listening to sermons which exegete the Bible with skill. For them, authentic worship is getting doctrine right.

For some, worship is an act of the will. These people love words like decide, purpose, endeavour, determine. Worship for them is a deed, whether it is signing up to commit to journaling for forty days, or volunteering for a new program , or inviting someone home for soup, or buying a plane ticket to The Gambia. For them, authentic worship means not only hearing but doing.

For some, worship must engage the emotions, whether it’s quiet contentment or raucous rejoicing; they desire an encounter with God that touches them deeply. For them authentic worship doesn’t ignore emotions forever; it connects and moves the heart.

At one point or another I have cycled and re-cycled through all three camps.

Here’s the thing. The mind, the will and the emotions are all fine, God-given, God-created parts of our souls –but they are all limited and, without the Holy Spirit sanctifying, refining and empowering them to operate from the perspective of the Kingdom of God, they remain, well, self-centered. Proof of self-centeredness is that we continue to engage in silly disputes over who is right and who Papa God likes best.

I was asking Papa God about this, after listening to yet another discussion of sovereignty  vs. free will (which, as usual, produced more heat than light). Both sides could quote scriptures to back their positions. That night I dreamed I was playing on the floor like a child. A kind, gentle, patient person was helping me fit metal puzzle pieces together. (These puzzles drive me nuts. I hardly ever figure them out.) In the dream I actually got a couple of them to work. After quite a bit of effort we finished a complicated mat-like square of interconnecting puzzle pieces about a meter long and a meter wide. I was as happy as a toddler and clapped for myself with glee, although the man helping me had done nearly all of the work.



“Yay me! Me so smart!”

Then he started building upwards. He was making connections and building a solid cube about a meter long and wide AND a meter high.

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding!”

He smiled and said, “Quit thinking in two dimensions.”

I recognized him as Jesus.

I awoke.

I have been thinking about this for quite a while. Unity is about more than living with the tension of paradox.  Paradox is not “this or this;” it’s ”this and this.”  But paradox is also incomplete.

Building a solid structure also requires another dimension– another way of thinking –another viewpoint.

More later….