i decided something today: judgmentalism is the easy seduction of the hipster (or progressive) christian. i’ve been so convicted recently about my own judgmental attitude. god has been just nailing me on this — not by showing me god’s wrath or something like that, but by revealing to me that i’m hurting the heart of god. and the frustrating part of this is that god is showing me how i’m doing this to people in the opposite direction that i’m heading: people more conservative than me. i mean, really, wouldn’t it be easier if god showed me how i’m hurting his heart with my judgmentalism toward people who are adherants to frameworks of faith that i wish i could possess? wouldn’t that be neat? but, no. god has to go and show me the hurt being brought on the kingdom by my judgmentalism toward those who’ve hurt me, those who taught me legalism, those who were even more extreme than i in their devotion to structure and rules and answers.
and today i was confronted by it from some friends i love very, very dearly.
[[update: i have decided to delete the story i had here. it was very personal, involving people i love; and it’s not right for me to “put it out there” without their permission. so, to neuter the story: some people i feel a strong amount of kinship to, people i choose to be with because of their lack of legalism and abundance of grace to me, showed, today, the dark underside of judgmentalism. it was toward a young guy new to our collective experience, who’s doing what young guys do: showing some great passion while making a few decisions someone who’d been around the block a few more times would not make – call them rookie moves. i think that’s all i can tell and still have it be neutered.]]
but here’s the point. a big part of why i love these people so much is that they really understand grace. they have been burned by legalism and judgmentalism in the past — every one of them. and they want nothing to do with it.
i’m not trying be holier-than-thou here — i’m sure plenty of stones could be cast at me. and, ironically, if they weren’t so set on judging, i would likely be going there myself — they just got to it first, so i’ve been offered a reprieve. it just seems to me that judgmentalism is a muck of quicksand that we humans can’t quite seem to get ourselves out of. me and my friends in the emerging church are just as prone to judgmentalism as first-fundie-baptist church down the street (though the emergent response to our critics is an absolutely stellar piece of non-judgemtalism).
the most enlightened so easily slip into dismissing the “un-enlightened”
the most progressive so easily slip into dismissing the non-progressive
the most mature so easily slip into dismissing the immature
the most hip and culturally-creative so easily slip into dismissing the less hip and less culturally-creative
the most whatever so easily slip into dismissing the un-whatever
lord, save me from this.
i’ve had a pre-release copy of brian mclaren’s “the last word and the word after that” since early february — months before it was released. and like a total dork, i put it on my shelf (can’t think what i was reading at that moment), and didn’t get to it until these last two weeks (i coulda been the cool kid on the emergent playground if i’d read it back then!). i finished it at an irish pub this evening on a “reading date” with my wife, jeannie (she was reading the first-draft manuscript of mark yaconelli’s upcoming book).
one of the more significant threads of my theological journey over the past half-dozen years is the nagging sense that my understanding of the atonement, my classic evangelical explanations of christ and the cross (which i’ve held warmly for three decades or more, and have used as explanations to thousands of junior highers), just weren’t enough for me anymore. the idea that jesus death is/was only about staking the wrath of a perfect, yet just, god, who must punish sin, and all that. [don’t flame on for this — i know pretty much every argument you could throw my way — i’ve thrown them myself for years.]
a half-dozen years back, i started shifting how i did “the response time” at camps and retreats i spoke at. even though my approach had long ago moved beyond what i considered to be manipulative, i was once again being confronted with the idea that i was manipulating young teens into the kingdom (this time, not by my methodology, but by my theology). so i started changing my language, and started shifting my approach, and all the while, i was seeking — personally — for a deeper or newer or more complete understanding of salvation and atonement.
in the last two years, i think i’ve mostly landed somewhere on this. but it’s still pretty fuzzy in many ways. brian’s book (which is getting high praise from some, and being wholly dismissed or called dangerous by others) puts words on many of the things i’ve been thinking.
i’m not sure i agree with everything in the book — yet. but, i still contend that questions are better than answers; and brian’s book helps me frame my questions.
in the end, i liked the 2nd book in the trilogy (“the story we find ourselves in“) best — it was the most helpful to me of the three. but this one rocked also. i might have to read it again, along with the first two.
i just got back from meeting with my spiritual director. i was talking about this whole question of accountability and my group of guys i meet with annually. i mentioned that i’d settled on the idea that our process was more one of group spiritual discernment, or group spiritual direction. she agreed, but then went on to tell me how our first two steps were the same first two steps of a “quaker clearness committee”.
1. someone talks for however long they need (30 – 45 minutes) to identify the primary themes or problems or challenges or milestones of the past year and their current reality.
2. the group probes with questions for another 30 – 60 minutes. the process of questionning, in itself, becomes an act of spiritual discernment, as the answers lead to new questions, and the group begins to zero in on new or clarified issues.
3. finally, the group (in most cases — last week, in six of eight) gets a bit prescriptive in some action(s) we collectively sense need to be taken or considered.
quaker clearness committee
1. & 2. same thing
3. someone has been recording the process (a written record), and gives it to the subject for further reflection and listening.
in other words, the clearness committee doesn’t get prescriptive.
intriguing stuff to me. plus, i think “clearness committee” or “quaker clearness committee” would be a cool band name.
i’m home from my four days in the woods, 3 hours north of toronto. here is a stream-of-consciousness list of random thoughts (some in response to the experience, some in response to the comments on my earlier post). i’ll also post seperately about my own time of sharing and implications.
the water in lakes three hours north of toronto is still absurdly cold in early may, as was experienced when five of us took a jump off the end of the dock. we all agreed later, while in the hot tub, that another minute or so in the lake could have meant death.
8 guys can consume a remarkable amount of junk food in 72 hours.
i can’t force anyone to share what they don’t want to share. that was the crux of my earlier post. in the evangelical church (my tradition), we’ve had this idea that accountability is something you “hold” someone to. bull.
a better word for what we experience at this annual gathering is “group discernment”. in six of the eight cases, the end result of our individual sharing times was something we didn’t see coming. it wasn’t about listing our sins. it was about saying, “here’s what’s been going on in my life and mind and soul this year”, followed by 30 to 60 minutes of probing questions that lead to a collective discernment (a spiritual discernment) of some action that needs to take place. it was spiritual direction without any one person taking the roll of spiritual director (we all took that role, collectively). in two of the cases, the result will likely mean a sabbatical of some sort — to address what we discerned as the-edge-of-burnout or the-edge-of-depression. in two more cases, the result will likely mean some sort of short-term counseling to help with either identity pieces or anger issues.
i think this group discernment is what some of you were getting at in your comments about accountability being an issue of community. but i had community with the guys i met with back in the day (where deep levels of crap were still withheld by some) — which still leaves me thinking our traditional concept of accountability is wack.
i also have a truly wonderful community i meet with every week — my small group — that provides some of this; but it’s different. there was something significant about this week being a time when us 8 guys said, “we’re here to deal with our stuff — good, bad, ugly.” one of the great strengths of my small group is its diversity — we are all different ages, in different life stages, and in varying places in our spiritual journey. this provides a context that is more like a true expression of church. the group i met with this week, however, is somewhat more homogeneous — we’re all guys, we’re all in professional roles with high pressure and the ability to have culture-shaping influence. we all have the ability to screw up our families if we’re not keeping that on the radar. and all of us have been in some season of role transition — which provides a level of insight and kinship that, i think, massively aids in the group discernment process (we can see each others issues more quickly and clearly). another interesting piece of this group is that we truly have the capability of helping each other, in tangible ways, with the “next steps”.
i stand by the idea that (maybe this is more true for men than it would be for women?) there’s something very powerful about us only meeting once a year (and, understand, everyone in the group is in more regular connection with some of the others in group on a more regular basis). it’s helpful for looking at the macro-level issues in our lives, because our starting point for each person is what we talked about last year when we were together. it seems to me that some of the strength of this group would be minimized if we met weekly or monthly (which would be impossible, of course, since we are all over north america), which could rob us of the opportunity to truly get into the macro-level stuff.
having a seperate space to set up a video projector for Halo carnage is cathartic.
so, i guess one of my conclusions is that i need to stop referring to this group as an accountability group. that, and i’m really not a fan of salt-and-vinegar chips, which the canadians ate as if their lives depended on it.
I don’t expect to be able to blog this week, until Friday. I’m on a plane right now, flying to Toronto for my annual accountability group, and will be meeting in a fairly remote cabin/condo without connection.
So – annual accountability? For years (not now, but previously) I was in a guys accountability group that met weekly. They were my best friends, and we really lived life together. But we also met once a week – usually on my front porch, so cigars were involved in the best Lewis and Tolkein way – and voluntarily talked about what was going on in our lives and minds and hearts and souls.
Problem is: all accountability is voluntary. Just because we met every week, we never had a hint that one of the guys had a 10 year struggle with porn that – later, after our group had moved on – almost ended his marriage, and did end his youth ministry career. And this was just the kind of thing we talked about in our group. But he, voluntarily, chose not to.
So when some friends from around the country and I entertained the idea, three years ago, of starting an accountability group that would meet for three days once a year, my first response was: well, how can we have any real accountability with that format. Bottom line: accountability is a sham. You can no more hold someone accountable to issues of the mind and soul than you can mandate grace or peace. It’s voluntary. one of the guys in my current group didn’t reveal his struggle with alcohol the first year, but did last year. really, let’s just excise the word “accountability” from our little church-y lexicon.
i’ll be bearing my sould to 7 friends this week in Toronto. or not. we’ll see.