This was shown at the church we are attending. War Room is fifth movie from the Kendrick brothers, movie-making ministers at Sherwood Baptist Church; their other movies include “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants.”
The movie’s premise essentially hammers home the message that it’s incumbent upon the believer’s works in order for God to act. Nothing going your way? Husband about to cheat? [Etc. etc.] Well you better get down on your knees, sister because, well, the reason God isn’t intervening in your life? Well, you’re just not praying enough. As if God needs us to do anything in order for Him to do everything.
Guess the Fundies loved the premise of this movie, though, as I note on IMDB.com that this movie grossed, as of the end of December, 2015, over 67,000,000. It’s the top grossing evangelical movie ever. [The Kendrick’s previous movies also grossed in the millions.]
What would the Kendrick’s say to the pastor and his wife who lost two of their children? To the friends we have who lost their adult son? To us, who prayed for my father in law when he was ill (he passed away last fall)? To my praying husband, who’s been without work since the end of November, 2015? “Well, you just weren’t praying enough.” I CALL UTTER B.S. Prayer doesn’t function like some magic genie – rub the genie and your wishes are granted.
Although these days I’m finding it difficult to figure out exactly what prayer does do in my life. Prayer? Can’t hurt, might help, I guess. Other people’s prayers are seemingly answered or at least God’s given the credit when things work out.
As an aside, things seem pretty hush-hush however when it comes to distribution of all those greenbacks. So, where does all the money go? Is some of it given to the poor? Scholarships set up for kids too poor to go to University? Syrian refugees sponsored? Food banks started? Missionaries sponsored overseas? Or does it all go to finance a uber-wealthy lifestyle for the Kendricks? Wouldn’t be the first time pastors lived high on the hog.
Yesterday, I read this article how church can help the depressed on how the church can love those in its’ congregation who suffer from depression. While the points made in the article were good (educate yourself, listen, and pray), I felt the article barely scratched the surface of what the church can do to help those in need. I’d like to add a few more points for consideration:
Eliminate Christian-ese and platitudes when talking with someone who’s depressed. Comments like “you just need to get out more” or “if you just exercise, you’ll feel better” or “you’re not praying enough” or even “you have a demon inside you” are not helpful at all. The depressed person wants to get better, no doubt about it, but simply has no resources within themselves to do so. Certain types of depression are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Cultivate ties with Christian counsellors experienced in treating depression. Have a list ready of psychologists (including contact information) to provide the individual who is coping with depression. If a person comes for pastoral counselling, something a pastor can do (since pastors are not necessarily trained as therapists) is to help the individual set up an appointment with a Christian therapist.
If you are a friend to someone who is suffering with depression, know that while this may be a difficult time for you to be their friend due to their depressed state, try not to “dump” them (this happened to me…which hardly made my depression better).
Have a guest speaker come in, such as a Christian counsellor, to talk about mental illness.
Keep a list of emergency phone numbers handy such as the local Suicide Prevention hotline. Take any talk of suicide seriously.
Acknowledge the need for lament. Perhaps a sermon or two on lamenting would be helpful.
Anyone else notice there seems to be a lack of authenticity in church; we all put on a plastic grin? Not only depression is hidden but all wounds, scars, shame, and flaws. (If you really knew me would you still love me?) This song by Casting Crowns says it much better than this post.
If everything is objective and there is no room for subjectivity (not relativity, but subjectivity), there is no room for true human experience. And so we are left denying our experiences, which are not always good ones, in the face of the hard objective truth that God is good. We’re often not really given the permission to do otherwise.
Friendship, Deconstructed or The Final Nail In The Coffin
At the end of November, 2014, a couple that we thought we had a significant friendship told us, after I’d asked them about their recent lack of communication with us, how they really felt. The husband, (hereinafter referred to as “A”) said rather condescendingly: “We want the best for you” and “I can’t be around sad people because of my job” [Translation: we want the best for you, but please fuck off]. The wife (hereinafter referred to as “B”) said to me: “You’re like my sister—fragile, lack self-confidence, and need therapy. I have more in common with (your husband) because he’s a professional.”
“I hope this was helpful” “A” said as they went out the door. Helpful? Hmm, not so much. Illuminating, yes. Painful? ABSOLUTELY.
I was devastated. Analysis, and grieving, ensued.
Two days later, at church, “A” acted like nothing had happened and, a week later, they sat with us at a church lunch. [Are you fucking kidding me?????] I could hardly look at them, much less talk to them.
In December I tried to “win them back” and “fit in” by hustling for worthiness as Brene Brown puts it. This “hustling” consisted of gratitude Facebook posts. You know, something like: “Today’s gratitude: the sky is blue.” Once I realized what I was doing, I stopped.*
For months, I would even dream about these friends. A professional said it was both an attempt by my unconscious to make sense of what happened and a form of grieving.
Please understand: We had done numerous things with this couple: gone to each other’s homes, we’d spent weekends with them, been part of the same church group, we’d looked after their dog whilst they were away, etc. There was literally no area of our life where their fingerprints weren’t on it. Now, it even hurts to look at our kitchen backsplash as I painfully remember how “A” helped my husband tile it, and I wonder if painful memories such as those are enough to justify moving.
Gradually, a review showed how little of a friendship it actually was except perhaps in my own mind. Eventually self-esteem returned: why would I want to be friends with people who thought so little of me?
Early in 2015, this couple requested a meeting. Thinking okay, God wants reconciliation here, we agreed. After initial chit-chat, “A” stated he’d noticed how unresponsive I’d been and how much pain I was in. They asked how I was doing. I decided to be as blunt with them as “B” had been with me. Among other things, I told them I rejected “B’s” characterization of me and if they knew me better, and all I’d gone through, they’d think differently too. I went on to say I’m friends with people from all walks of life. I also stated I’m not a person to be fixed with books and pamphlets [they like to lend people books and pamphlets when said people share their heart about a struggle they are dealing with] but a friend to be loved. (I stopped just short of saying I’m not a project to be managed—one of them is in management).
Virtually all communication between us ceased after that, with the exception of occasional encounters at church. It seems apparent God didn’t want reconciliation after all, and that meeting was just an opportunity for me to share what I’d been feeling since that awful day in November.
The latest brief encounter a few days ago made me very sad for what used to be.
The demise of this friendship played a definite role in our decision to leave the church. Awkward encounters for the rest of our life? I don’t think so.
*Hustling for worthiness means, according to Ms. Brown,
When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness – that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging – lives inside of our story. ~From her book The Gifts of Imperfection
The wise Brene Brown on fitting in vs. belonging:
Fitting in is about becoming who you need to be to gain acceptance. Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.
We’re breaking up with you. And here’s why:
For approximately 10 years we’ve tried to fit in. We’ve attended Bible Studies, Life Groups, Book Clubs, Dessert Nights, BBQ’s, volunteered in various capacities, etc. and ad nauseaem.
The Bible Studies/Life Groups we’ve attended have either not been a good fit, or have folded. We asked to join the last small group we attended and were “allowed in.” The group folded thereafter, save for monthly social events.
A recent invitation extended to myself to a women’s breakfast was given, I suspect, purely because I’d overheard discussion about same and asked about it. My suspicions seemed to be confirmed when the main organizer of the woman’s breakfast conveniently (and, purportedly, accidentally) kept leaving my name off the email list for same.
The life groups, BBQ’s, dessert nights, etc., to which it appeared only a select few were invited or welcome, continued. We’d only hear about them in passing, and at times we’d wonder, firstly, why these events were not publicized to the church at large and secondly, why we were so continually left out.
Church, to us, felt less inclusive and more exclusive.
Slowly, we found little community within your walls.
We had few people we could call friends.
All Take and No Give
I’d hurt my back quite significantly in 2008 and requests for help went almost completely unanswered. Yet you were happy to take from us – including our money, and my time spent volunteering. Often, the only phone calls we received were calls to help out, not invitations to connect. Because I work both out of the home, and am a homemaker, the assumption seems to be made by you, Church, I have scads of free time just waiting to give to the church.
Sharing Not Acceptable
In 2013 – 2014, because of the death of my father and two beloved pets, as well as additional health challenges, I’d been going through a rough patch and thought I could share the same with the life group. Silly me. In response, I’d get the usual Christianese “propaganda”. [Seriously people, can I make a suggestion: just shut up if that’s the best you can offer.] Its notable there’s no room for true heart sharing in most life groups—only the “safe” prayer requests like health or job or family concerns are “allowed.” And God forbid you show emotion when requesting the same. Stiff upper lip: the hallmark of evangelicalism, western religion and culture.
Our Responsibility, And Our Fault
One lady and I did become friends. When we tried to discuss the situation with her and her husband regarding the lack of friends and community, we were told “you aren’t always there on Sunday,” “you’re not reliable,” and the latest comment was along the lines of “we had unreasonable expectations.” Further, they intimated, it’s up to us to reach out. Comments like those seem to imply that it’s both our responsibility and our fault that we have so little connection.
Our beloved lead Pastor left last year and several people left likely as a result of that. At this point, it’s a small church of around 100 people.
We’ve now been over a year without a lead pastor. An interim lead pastor was eventually hired. The interim pastor’s sermons have become so legalistic my husband nearly walked out the last time we heard one. Further, this interim pastor appears to be complementarian [he stated, first sermon he gave, that women can’t be in leadership positions in the church], does not seem to believe in being a welcoming church to the LGTBQ community, and his approach comes across rather patronizing, condescending and extremely authoritarian.
Meanwhile, back at church, I threw myself into more volunteering, adding more and more responsibilities, and thinking I’d find connection & community that way. Yeah, not so much. There were interactions of course during certain volunteer activities but beyond that, nada. Few invitations, few initiations to connect, and all I’m left with now are feelings of sadness, fatigue, and burnout.
We all have areas in our lives that need improvement: I struggle with communication and listening skills, fight constantly against self-absorption and making conversation all about me. This is not a negative trait or a trait that needs improvement; however my husband is an introvert. It’s with disbelief I ponder: could those traits be the reason for an entire church community to turn its’ back on us?
Beliefs Not Congruent
We are an older couple without children who do not have family in the area. We’re grace-based, non-fundamentalist, don’t believe rules and legalism ever changed anyone’s hearts, or drew them to Jesus. We don’t believe in the guilt and shame of focusing on our sin (and sinful nature) with daily confession, and guilt trips from the pulpit about how awful we, as Christians, are because of “sin”. We believe in showing love and acceptance to our fellow man, not judgment.
We’re the misfits – too liberal for the conservative churches, yet not liberal enough for the liberal ones.
It’s telling that there’s no community for us at this church after 10 plus years , but what it’s telling us we still do not know exactly why. It’s also telling there’s more community in a secular Facebook group I’m part of than at our church.
So, we’re done. Done trying to fit in, done trying to be the square pegs in the round holes, and done trying to figure out why this has happened. The next church we attend, if there is one, the plan is to start over, keep expectations extremely low, and our conversations light and fluffy.
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Light and Fluffy – like Cotton Candy. Cotton Candy, as you know, melts in your mouth, maybe because too much water from the saliva in your mouth breaks it down. It could be said water is the stress that breaks cotton candy down. I wonder, is too much authenticity the stress that breaks down community at church?
We participated in a book club discussion recently at church that discussed the book “Welcoming but not Affirming, an Evangelical Response to Homosexuality”. That discussion sure revealed there were two camps in our church body:
Book Club Discussion, Camp Number One:
The fundies, who believe “sure homosexuals can come in the door, but oh no, they can’t become members” (so, only so “welcoming” I guess). However, cynical me says these same fundies are probably happy to take their financial offerings! Anyways , to continue,the fundies in our midst that morning further thought that once a homosexual set foot inside our church, we should descend on them like a pack of wolves to try and turn them from their “gayness”, including, but not limited to, forcing a Christian, committed, gay couple – even a gay couple who was abstinent – to live apart. To which I responded that was a non-starter if that’s the first thing we do the minute a homosexual enters our midst, they will walk out the door and never return.
(I suspect these same fundies would force a heterosexual couple who started attending our church and who were living together – whether they had children from that union or not – to move into separate dwellings until they married. And membership? Well, forget that. That’s right, rip a family apart.)
“He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.”
But I Digress..On To …
Book Club Discussion, Camp Number Two:
The second camp – the one we were in (which was a pretty lonely place, just my husband and I and maybe one other person) – believed, as the author of the book seemed to state, that we are to come alongside homosexuals and love them and accept them and let God /Jesus/Holy Spirit sort out the rest.
Thanks to said discussion, we contemplated revoking our church membership.
We have been a part of that church community for approximately ten years. Leaving anything one has been a part of for that long — be it church, job, a relationship, or a community — is not any easy decision to make, yet is one we are contemplating.
Nonetheless, at the moment our decision is to stay, to continue to help out in small ways, attend occasionally, and discontinue going to church meetings. I believe in our food distribution program our church has for example, and have taken a larger role in that recently.
We feel like we don’t belong anywhere, church wise. It’s clear we don’t fit in with the fundies (which is most of our current church) because we are quite progressive, and yet we are not quite liberal enough in our beliefs to attend other churches.
Rock, meet hard place.
Jesus loves all, accepts all, died for all, and rose for all. Both those who identify as insiders (i.e. believers) and those who identify as outsiders (non-believers). Isn’t it time to end the “us vs. them” mentality so prevalent in Christian circles?
All means all, people. Wouldn’t it be nice if this Easter if the fundies could finally get that?