Sunday, October 20, 2019

How your abuser hurts you most

How your abuser hurts you most is how he makes your loved ones feel for the very fact he’s in your life. For the fact of how he makes you feel. For the fact that you stay with him when he mistreats you like he does.
For the facts of the pain he causes you in myriad ways, that always seem to catch you by surprise; some so cruel as if to cause maximum pain. And yet you can’t seem to end it.
For the facts of the vicarious trauma that your dear loved ones’ face as they ride the hellish journey with you, always willing to do whatever they reasonably can; it’s just that all viable options to act seem beyond their capacity to do, for they are thwarted. To do anything, or to say anything, would only hurt YOU more. And they want to reduce your pain, not increase it.
For the fact that they can see your health plummet and your state of being eroded by the month or week or day. They watch on, prayerful and hopeful, but with each concession to your abuser, that hope begins to wane, and they find themselves in that in-between place of holding unacceptable tensions as they seek to find some way to resolve it for themselves.
But just how does one reach a place of acceptance when a loved one is being abused?
Your loved ones want your relationship over, but they feel they can’t say a word. Anytime they try and say something it backfires. They feel completely hamstrung. Indeed, they may feel like you; immobilised and unable to act even though a thousand potential actions circulate through their minds constantly. And to add insult to injury, fleeting thoughts arrive for the joy this torment may give to your abuser: “That’ll teach them! Mess with me and you pay!”
So, the way your abuser hurts you most is something you may have often considered. 
It’s the vicarious impact of an ever-extending ripple of your pain into others’ lives you care most about, as they carry the tension and stress and ambiguous loss in themselves and on their own backs.

Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash

Thursday, October 17, 2019

So, the Lord told me… really?

Using God as a weapon. Ever been affected or impacted? Have you ever heard someone say to you:
“The Lord told me to tell you…”
“The Lord said to me that [this] is his will…”
“So, God told me that [what I’m saying] is gospel…”
“… so, God told me that [what you did or said] is rubbish…”
“You’re going to hell for that… [and/or] what you did is unforgiveable…”
“Don’t you remember what you said? You can’t fool God you know…”
“The Lord has called me to pray for you [when you know that that’s not good—when they’re using their ‘prayer’ to somehow control you]…”
When that happened, what did you think? Did you automatically rebuff them, or did what was said set you back where you began to unknowingly doubt yourself before your Creator?
The impact of what might seem a little thing said nonchalantly is usually bigger than we think it is. Just about every time we’re either too floored to respond or we may believe at least subconsciously that we’re out of step with God. Pangs of guilt rise instantly, and the person abusing God’s Word walks off having done Satan’s work, many times absolutely fooled that they’re an agent for God.
The pangs rise because, God-believer, there is a conscience for the things of God in you. It’s the one abusing the holy text, who walks away feeling powerful having ground you into dust, who is against the purposes of God, as they wreak havoc everywhere their tongue runs riot against the Kingdom prerogative.
The damage drives deep.
Abusive, so-called prophetic words linger in the soul. Our spirit languishes upon a word spoken and it penetrates deeply, and once that wound is formed, like a spur it drills into the abyss of our being. Once a word like this has gone in, it’s almost like an exorcism is needed to extract the toxin. These are like spoken curses and done in God’s name!
Even worse if it comes from someone in spiritual authority or the one in spiritual authority allows it to happen unchecked. A congregant who will spew this vile will almost certainly set themselves up against a people-pleasing pastor. The challenge will be set, for they thrive on the audacity of challenging for conquest. Or, they are cunning enough to ensure the pastor and other leaders are not in earshot. Again, that’s audacity.
The prophetic gifts need to be properly identified in a person by more than one spiritual leader, and these gifts need to be used with prayerful restraint for the building up of the body of believers.
Behaviour like spiritual abuse is very commonly minimised, where good people will most commonly doubt their right to question even an obvious abuse.
And what of the spiritual assassin? They reside in every church, I’m sure. Ultra-confident that they have the inside running on God’s exact desire, they have no idea or probably don’t care that they not only damage God’s name, but they execute their own judgement.
We need sentinels in the church who will quietly, respectfully though firmly and promptly call this verbal form of spiritual abuse for what it is. Yes, there are those, too, in every fellowship who will have an ear for spiritual rubbish.
It’s incumbent on every pastor to identify who within the fellowship bears these gifts, and to empower their use, equipping these people with the trust they need to begin to act.

Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

Sow Just Wisdom

What is this all about:
Sow (plant seed; disseminate) 
Just (only; only what is just) 
Wisdom (truth and love integrated).
Sow: in faith… the promise to keep planting, even in drought and famine, especially when there is no hope, for that is hope’s paradox; it’s only when we sow with no hope, which is zero hint of faith in a promise being kept, that we show true hope. 
This paradox is complete when we recognise that we stepped forward in faith with zero hope of being rewarded. To do THAT is to sow impeccably. True hope is not enticed by thought of reward. True hope decides to sow whatever the outcome… for truth… for love… because these are all that matter.
This commitment to sow, and to keep sowing no matter what, is based on the wisdom that believes, to love God we must honour truth. The more we love truth, the more we love God. And yet truth has no, or covers all, biases.
Just: that’s all. Only that. But also, that which is just. So, both meanings of the word. As I string all the experiences of my life together, the common thread is justice. But what I need to be from now on, at all times as a servant of God, is wisdom; just wisdom, and yet a just wisdom, of which, there is no other kind.
Wisdom: my thesis is that wisdom is the integration of truth and love perfected into one. Wisdom is God’s will, and, because it is the integration of truth and love perfected into one, it cannot betray either truth or love at any time.
It can certainly appear from many life situations that wisdom is beyond us, and in these cases, we must simply accept that we have given the best we have to offer. That, in and of itself, is wisdom exemplified; it honours that truth and love are so often beyond us, even as we would strive to reach them, humble enough to not be frustrated by our lack.
In this social media day, it’s such a serious temptation to dive into the minutia of controversy, because, well we all have a view, and because that’s where the traffic is. Everything is about engagement and brand and trends and chasing what’s viral. I’ve certainly been drawn into it.
But this is my stand. Now I want to sow just wisdom.

Photo by Werner Sevenster on Unsplash

Saturday, October 12, 2019

What if I were to tell you? Would you believe me?

TRIGGER WARNING: for anyone who has suffered abuse in church employment.
Imagine being told things that seemed too crazy to be believable. Visualise if you can the situation of somebody making outlandish claims. What about if I told you that there are people who actually experience things that seem unbelievable, who are then not believed nor supported, and those people are further traumatised as a result.
What happens when a person experiences something beyond the pale with someone else and they need support to reconcile it and they don’t get any. Further trauma results.
What if I were to tell you… would you believe me?
What if I told you that a pastor was warned in writing for making too many pastoral visits, and told to stop greeting people before the church service?
What if I told you that this pastor’s wife did not know how to reconcile how her husband was being treated and spiralled into a massive depression?
What if I told you that a pastor was offered the opportunity to reconcile with a woman ministry leader he had hurt, but wouldn’t listen to her for more than two minutes before defending himself, her leaving in tears?
What if I told you that a church performance-managed a pastor, issuing him with a letter with words to the effect, “we will terminate your employment,” when the pastor was enduring the grief of losing his child?
What if I told you a church organised for mediation for two pastors in conflict, and it turned out that only the senior pastor got a say. The other pastor felt pressured into submitting his resignation there and then (without consulting with his wife) and the church quickly accepted the resignation?
What if I told you a junior pastor asked his senior pastor for help with their relationship, and instead of mediation, performance management promptly ensued?
What if I told you that while a senior member of staff in a church was being bullied, that style of ‘management’ was considered ‘okay’ because the bully had organised for someone else to do the staff member’s ‘pastoral care’?
What if I told you that a CEO pastor who had a family member employed, ‘needed’ to remove another staff member because there was clash with his family member?
What if I told you that a CEO pastor would tell a subordinate pastor that he had ‘memory problems’, so much so that that pastor went and had clinical tests and discovered his memory was fine?
What if I told you that there was a pastor who challenged the head elder about church staff and within six weeks the pastor was dismissed?
What if I told you that on his first day in the job, a pastor was strongly encouraged by the CEO pastor to avoid contact with another pastor on that church’s staff?
What if I told you that there are ministers who had never been hurt in secular work life, but were traumatised soon after entering church employment?
What if I told you that there were ministers who felt abused but received zero sympathy and support from their church or its denomination? And what if I told you that further to a lack of sympathy and support, they felt silenced and scapegoated?
What if I told you that on top of receiving no support, but silence and sidelining from their church, pastors have been issued with a ‘please explain’ for their role in situations that led to their own abuse by their denomination as part of their professional standards checks? What if I told you that this action, couched as part of the ‘development plan’ of the pastor in progressing through the denomination, caused the pastor not only to not develop, but further traumatised the pastor? What if I told you that this has happened many times to many pastors? And what if I told you that offending churches got ‘slaps on the wrist’ for their role in abusive actions against pastors, because denominational entities have no jurisdictional power over churches, the way that some denominations interpret the Bible? What if I told you that denominational staff have felt impotent in advocating for cases? And what if I told you that churches continued on their merry abusive ways, unchecked, because there is no recourse, other than criminal recourse where that applies? What if I told you, in other words, that in these cases, it seems there is no moral or biblical recourse, only the criminal recourse?
What about if I told you that the loss of pastors’ ‘credentials’ over highly contentious matters, via investigation findings not subject to third party rigour and review, occurred and pastors’ recourse for appeal led them to have to deal with the same (internal) people and process, which further traumatised them. What if I told you that pastors have been left exposed for their occupational security?
What if I told you that there are churches who are reputed as ‘pastor killers’?
What if I told you that a pastor once asked another pastor if he could fulfil a promise he had made to a congregant, and that pastor never again spoke to the pastor with the query? What if I told you that this happened 25 years ago, and the hurt is as fresh as yesterday?
What if I told you that a Christian institution refused to acknowledge the theology of scapegoating even though it is a biblical principle (see Leviticus 16) and a proven sociological principle?
Now, if I told you about these, would you believe me? I’m not certain you would.
Maybe you’re experiencing the opposite; that these descriptions are all to obviously believable?
Of course, I’m only scratching the surface. Some that would read this would add their dozen or more different ones.
Having worked nearly two decades in an area allied to human resources in secular work life in large organisations, there is one thing I feel that separates secular workplaces from churches—it’s silence. Churches, in my experience, do not typically cope well with an elephant in the room.
I do not post this lightly. I’m aware that it is contentious. For I don’t assume that being a whistle-blower within a system of church leaves me with protections afforded whistle-blowing in other public spaces—a freedom of speech protection—for instance, in the United States. This concerns me, and that very concern is an indicator of an abusive system. This seems anachronistic. I wonder why the system of church runs this way, given that in my previous career in occupational health and safety, there would be almost universal support by all concerned, and especially by management, to address and reduce these psychosocial hazards and risks.
So, my question is, why is the church any different? The answer must have something to do with power.

Photo by Cameron Mourot on Unsplash

Thursday, October 10, 2019

How do I read my Bible?

I’m writing this for my mother. She’s getting her own Bible tomorrow and needs some tips on how to read it.
Well, of course, it’s not like a normal book; not to be read cover-to-cover, though some people have attempted it, and fewer still have achieved it. It might be okay for you readers, but I usually began to falter at about 1 Kings.
My suggestions for reading the Bible are these:
1.           Pick a Gospel, perhaps Mark because it’s written like a story, and spend an hour-and-a-half reading it right the way through. Just read it. Don’t stop and study it or take notes, unless you’ve got more time on your hands. Your goal is simply to read right to the end of the sixteenth chapter. If you want to learn about Jesus’ compassion for the marginalised, read Luke. If you want Jesus’ concise teaching, read Matthew. If you want to learn about the Son of God, read John.
2.           Okay, now go to the Old Testament and find Psalms; pick a psalm a day. Some are really long and others are ultra-short. Some are sad and others are full of joy. They are poetry and song. Learn to love the psalms. Read them when you’re connected emotionally or need emotional connection.
3.           Let’s go to Acts. Learn about the first 30 years after Christ ascended to be with the Father. Learn about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Discover Peter’s preaching in the first half, and Paul’s preaching in the second half. Make sure you don’t skip over Acts chapter 9, the conversion of Paul, or the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter 8, or the first martyr, Stephen, in chapter 7—see the problem we have? Acts is a very rich book about the early Church and God’s power.
4.           Now where shall we go. Proverbs for wisdom. Ecclesiastes too, but a vastly different kind. And Job! Go there when life’s making no sense at all. Jeremiah, too. Oh yes, God knows all about our suffering.
5.           Okay, let’s dive into one of Paul’s letters. Want some joy despite your circumstances, then go to Philippians. Colossians. Ephesians. All written when Paul was imprisoned. They say Paul didn’t write Hebrews, but it’s such well written Scripture. If you’ve got time, 1 and 2 Corinthians (the tearful letter) are personal favourites.
6.           Where did it all begin? Go to Genesis: from creation, the Abrahamic covenant, through Abraham’s line all the way to Joseph. Long book. Very important book. The first five books are the Pentateuch, the books of the Law, or Torah. Exodus is the grand book of Moses, a crucial book for the Jewish people. Leviticus and Numbers, books of law and Mosaic history. Deuteronomy, the second telling of the Law.
7.           While we’re there, go with Joshua into the Promised Land. The history books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles will take you a fair while to get through, but knowing Israel’s history, the divided Kingdom, and exile is interesting reading.
8.           Don’t forget Judges for some highly important theological observations, and the sinful nature of humanity when we’re poorly led or not led at all.
9.           Up for something different. Go to Revelation. Some pretty crazy visions, yet it gives us some idea of God’s passion for humanity, and the victory of the Lamb.
10.        The letters of John, 1, 2, 3, are black and white and commanding in what they say about truth and light and darkness and love.
11.        If you want to learn the knowledge of God, go to Romans. Spells out the story of grace.
12.        Lastly, the Prophets, both Minor and Major, will help you understand the waywardness of the people of God. But if you want hope, go to Isaiah 40-66, but don’t be surprised when you find hope even in places like Lamentations.
That’s enough for now.  

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The role of trust in protecting the vulnerable

Who is worthy of unequivocal trust in dealing with the vulnerable? Simple answer: nobody. No one is implicitly trustworthy to deal with the vulnerable without account.
Not one person is owed the power of trust without an equal and opposite accountability expected of them and, indeed, required of them.
If you have a child or know an adult who has been traumatised through abuse or have a child at any age with significant special needs. Are they vulnerable? Yes.
What about a woman in the company of a man with malevolent intent?
Or the man in the company of a woman with coercive intent?
A person in the company of a person with malicious intent?
Or, the worker who is coerced into a particular action to keep his or her job. It’s all the same. Vulnerable people or people in vulnerable situations.
When we think of people who not in the vulnerable set dealing with those that are, we see that there is a power imbalance that is potentially manipulated. We don’t have to view them as guilty as much as ensure even and strict standards apply to protect those who can’t be expected to protect themselves.
If it’s my child, I’m thinking everyone I trust to care for them is capable of treating them inappropriately, including family and best friends, let alone coaches and others. That makes me think twice about my actions regarding when and how I expose my child to their trust.
Why do I do this? One abuse is way too many. As a parent, I can’t afford any lapses on my own part. If you are the trusted adult I leave my child with, I’m cautious for their benefit, for yours, and for mine. Sorry, it’s the way it has to be. In fact, I retract the apology. It’s unnecessary. A child deserves safety.
It’s my experience that those who understand my safeguards are easier to trust. Those who wonder why I’m worried about protecting a vulnerable person are a concern. Those who get upset when I seek assurance for safety are least trustworthy.
Why is the global church in a sex abuse crisis right now? Probably for the same reasons it always will have been wherever the powers that be have a particular entitlement mentality and they have no serious accountability. Is the sex abuse only relevant to our present time? No, of course it isn’t. It’s always been there. Only now is it being exposed.
The narcissist leader or organisation will exploit vulnerabilities for the simple reason that they can. And some are brazen in their sense of entitlement, and doubly manipulative to betray the trust of those not only that they abuse, but also those who extend to them the power to abuse.
But let me get back to the role of trust in terms of work with the vulnerable.
If you have a child, what is your starting point for anyone who interacts with their little vulnerable life, who has power over them in terms of maturity, voice, physical and psychological power?
Do you implicitly trust them?
Knowing that 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-6 boys will suffer some form of sexual abuse before they turn 18. Knowing that even if they aren’t sexually abused in a particular scenario, they’re even more vulnerable to a misuse of power to verbally, mentally, emotionally or spiritually abuse them. Knowing what we do know about a section of our population. And knowing that most if not all have the capacity to abuse if wise systems of accounting aren’t in place and aren’t used properly. Yes, of course, many of us think even the thought of abusing another human being as abhorrent, but we cannot assume others think and will behave this way even if they say they do and will.
If you have ever heard of the ‘swiss cheese model’ you will quickly determine why there are occasionally air traffic disasters or medical procedures that go wrong. These are all due to a series of system failures that occur latently and human failures that occur at the point of incident. Now, in the case of abuse those who might exploit opportunities to abuse the vulnerable are let through, because of systems failures. They get through a system. Without its checks and balances.
A system designed to serve the vulnerable that doesn’t have a bias toward protecting them is abominable.
The role of trust in protecting the vulnerable is cut and dried in my view. The vulnerable require protection. They get the care and trust is always subservient to that.
In terms of risk, abuse of the vulnerable is such an unacceptable consequence, all likelihood of abuse should be eliminated, as far as possible and as far as that depends on us.

Photo by Fabian Gieske on Unsplash

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Justice as an indicator within narcissistic systems

Occupational justice within organisational improvement. That was the gist of my professional work for nearly 20 years before I was employed as a pastor in the church.
A good deal of the time I exhorted a mantra—report all incidents; we cannot reduce risk and eliminate hazards unless all injuries, damage, near-misses and potential incidents are reported, so appropriate investigations can be made, and improvement plans developed and implemented.
I was serious and always believed with all my heart that the organisations I worked for cared enough to constantly improve the working environment for workers.
What I found is what every person finds in the course of human culture.
Care little about what is reported, and people stop reporting. The organisation doesn’t seem to care, so employees simply toe that line. It’s a dynamic of culture that works in business, in families, in churches, everywhere there are people being led.
Organisations that don’t care about the safety and wellbeing of employees can aptly be described as narcissistic organisations, given that more focus is put on selfish factors, like economic performance alone.
High reliability organisations (HROs), on the other hand, are famous for their triple bottom line focus—they add environmental and social performance indicators to their economic indicators to form a more rounded, far less narcissistic approach to performance success. HROs organise their business with foci in areas that provide for and advance employee, community and society wellbeing.
HROs see themselves as having a responsibility to care.
Organisations—all organisations—workplaces, schools, churches, NGOs, Governments, etc—have a responsibility to care. But far too many organisations, given the numbers of the abused, do not care, even if they say they do.
Care is about action, not words. Care is about the perceptions of those cared for, not about any well-intentioned vision statement that is never reflected in reality.
Care is about a culture of caring to the degree that management systems are in place to serve the people. (Narcissistic systems are ones where people serve the system.) The best organisations understand that the best results come when their people are happy, and when people are happy, they feel empowered to make processes efficient.
It’s no different in families and churches.
Just like (other) organisations, families and churches can and do either fail to care, say they care when they clearly don’t, or put their time, effort and money where their mouths are, convincing those who belong within the family or church that they do in fact care. Imagine the family or church that doesn’t even bother with words but is intrinsically caring by their actions. Not “do as I say,” but “see by our example.” No fancy words and fanfare, just actions that are full of integrity.
Entities that are narcissistic are self-serving, quite obviously, but it’s entities that say they aren’t but who in fact are that are the biggest concern. This is where churches fit in, because they are, by nature, social enterprises. So, in fact, are families.
Think of the family that presents as picture perfect, yet behind closed doors all sorts of assaults and atrocities take place. Narcissism presents such a proud image of, “Just look at us!” The narcissistic husband and father knows how to appear so charming, witty and attractive. He knows when to turn it on for the crowd. But get him where he’s the king, and things go his way or else. The members of the family are pawns, and they each have their role to play.
The church leader who leads a ‘very special’ church or ministry is in the same game. Perhaps this church is the envy of those around them, but they don’t know what insiders know. For his people, it’s perform or else. But there’s the appearance, and the words to match, that the ministry is all for the people. And such a leader seems completely content living in that dichotomy. They. Don’t. Care.
Getting back to the earlier theme of reporting so issues can be addressed. In narcissistic families and churches, like in all narcissistic organisations, the truth is driven underground, and a false ‘very incredible’ reality is peddled.
In churches or families that are not narcissistic, reports of hazards and risks, and actual incidents are made, because those organisations value the truth, and they’re not afraid of the cost of improvement or the perception they’re not perfect. But in narcissistic families and churches there is no capacity to safely report any such hazard, risk or injury. Reporting behaviour is frowned upon and always will be.
So, that’s how we can know whether we’re in a narcissistic system or not.
If our concerns are welcome and taken seriously, and changes are made, the system is not narcissistic. But if our reports are unwelcome, hushed up, and we’re silenced and get into trouble, then we are in a narcissistic system.
Now, if the system we’re in—whether it’s a workplace, family or church—says they value knowing our concerns so they can be addressed, but they show ambivalence and never get around to actually dealing with the concerns, what kind of system would that indicate? What if the system seems to appreciate what we say, but says “you can’t say or do anything because someone will get into trouble or won’t look good”? What kind of system would that indicate?

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Thursday, October 3, 2019

When grace helps us accept what we cannot change

We all bear many things we cannot change, whether these things are about us or about others. This is an inevitable part of being human. We are stuck in a life that in many ways doesn’t work, within the overall glory of a life that is, as we are walking miracles, an absolute miracle.
So, how exactly does grace work in helping us accept what we cannot change.
Well, it’s a miracle and for me at least that cannot easily be explained—the how. But what to do is different. The ‘what’ is easy to lay out.
It’s simply about being able to see and acknowledge the truth.
We see that something is a pattern, that it’s been a pattern for a long time, or that it’s become a pattern, and we should expect the pattern to continue.
This is not to say that patterns cannot be broken. We can all shift a few patterns in our lives, but to say that any of us can change all the problematic patterns in our lives is, I think, unrealistic, and I think it attempts to rob something from the difference between God and humanity to make us more equal than we are. Humanity is not in control. Humanity is also inherently flawed.
Discipleship and growth are not just about changing things up. It is just as much, perhaps even more, about finding the grace to accept the things we cannot change.
There is a great amount of freedom in receiving the grace that accepts what cannot be changed in either ourselves or others. This, I believe, is the first portal of forgiveness.
Now, this is not necessarily about putting up with those things that can’t be changed, especially as it pertains to others.
If we cannot bear what another person does to us, or their behaviour impacts us toxically, we need to change the situation, but first we must be decisive about accepting that we cannot change them.
Indeed, the crucial first step is acknowledging they won’t change, that we cannot expect them to change, and then from there, we have a decision to make. Put up with it or move on. My experience with toxic dynamics in relationships is they don’t get better without radical intervention, and so just about every time they get worse. 
See what I mean about how necessary acceptance is.
And still so many decisions are incredibly hard to make because even in acceptance, there are significant downsides to good decisions.
People hang on for too long believing another person could change, and when they never do much damage has already been done. (Yet, I do know there are just as many striving for release and sadly they cannot seem to get free.)
Often, we can berate ourselves incessantly about a feature of ourselves that we cannot accept we can’t change. Maybe it’s how speak before we think, or perhaps it’s a habit we have that we hate, or it could a false narrative about our self-image that we think is true, but others say is not the case at all, but we cannot brings ourselves to see what they see. Or, there’s also the case of berating our situation for how perplexed we are that we cannot change it.
We disapprove of what we loath and despise about ourselves, but perhaps if we worked first on accepting what cannot at present be changed, we may find an easier, more innovative way to address the problem.
What we need first and foremost is the grace of Jesus’ love that helps us accept—be still and know that God is good—what we cannot change, and that that is okay. Then from that place of stillness often comes the miracle of movement—once we’ve taken the pressure down.
Change is not always about changing. Sometimes change is about accepting. And sometimes through acceptance, change then suddenly becomes possible. But acceptance comes first.

Photo by Leighann Renee on Unsplash