Gaslighting for God, Part 8
Going for Goodness
In a recent Facebook post, I offered up a few thoughts on appreciation by asking: “Why is it so hard for folks to say phrases like...“thank you”... “I’m grateful for what you did”... and other signs that one's volunteer efforts are acknowledged and appreciated?
This question arose for me when I was informed that the person for whom I made the connections that enabled their first book to get published is now retelling the story as though they did it all on their own. As a classic enabler, my motto used to be "There's no point in having street cred unless you use it to help build up the neighborhood." While this sentiment remains true in theory, in my desire to “help” new voices, all-too-often I failed to recognize when those new voices I thought I was helping were creating their own Christian castles instead. Once they got themselves established as king or queen, they proved they were more about promoting their unbiblical brand than issuing the prophetic proclamations that drew me to their work in the first place.
This incident was well over a decade ago back when I was in the professional Christian world. At this time, there still existed a buzz surrounding "progressive Christian authors.” (Yes, said buzz has well buzzed on but try to tell that to the institutional church. They continue to push “holy hipsterdom” despite the fact they all look like aging rockers replaying their favorite hits to an every graying audience. It’s like watching a Christian version of VH-1’s ancient “Where Are They Now?” series.) During my tenure in the Christian publishing world, fellow like minded authors promoted each others' works -- that's how the bible biz goes. And yes, I get why many of those I once considered professional peers no longer connect with me. I'm not marketing myself as an explicitly "Christian" author and hence, I'm not a viable professional contact to help them advance their careers.
Unlike previous incidents where such narcissistic moves would have triggered me, I’ve done enough work on myself that I now know not to personalize such narcissistic moves. I can step back and see the long history of this person appropriating others' work in a quest to build up their own personal progressive platform, along with a long history of bullying both on and offline. As one U.S. emergent icon who has a similar bullying history told a friend of mine, "It doesn't matter what I believe, it matters what sells."
Instead of getting angry and pissy like I did in the pat, I now found myself feeling compassion with those self-proclaimed Christian celebrities who are so out of touch with their actual lives that they have to invent stories? What's going on with one’s soul that they felt this need to prop themselves up while denigrating and dismissing others just so they can present themselves to the publishing world as more marketable?
Then, I began to reflect on my more recent experiences volunteering my time and talents since moving to Portland in 2014. Initially, I thought I was helping to create new forms of community, which spoke to the Celtic spirituality and sacred sexuality that embodied the outdoor spirit of the Pacific Northwest.
However, during the summer of 2020, the combination of Covid, almost-daily protests in PDX that soon became more about rioting and virtue-signaling than actually defending the rights of black folks, and the ongoing rise of partisan politics produced one heck of a stinky spiritual stew. Those who delighted in this dish insisted that this would be the ONLY dish served at their gatherings. Those like me who might prefer more inclusive fare that welcomed all soon found ourselves disinvited from those tables where we were once viewed as a valued member of the community. Just like with my relationship with fellow Christian authors, I get why I didn't work out as I didn't fit their newfound every increasing politicized agenda.
But it's telling how often folks forget to say "thanks." I tell this story as a key sign for me that I am in a healthy community as when those leading and guiding the group have the gift of appreciation.
Recently, I was reminded how I took a friend's contribution for granted. I apologized and have since been making a more conscious effort to express appreciation both to this friend and others. So if I owe anyone a "thanks," please reach out to me and we can chat. I don't want to become like those who took from others and never responded with gratitude. Not how I want to roll.
After pastor and author Deborah Loyd left the Bridge Community she founded and co-led for seven years, she gave herself the gift of time. She went for two years without participating in a faith community. "I wanted to figure out what the function of a safe community was in my life. During that time, I sorted through all the things that a faith community tells you what you have to do such as read the bible every day, try to get people saved, and go to church every week. I got an understanding with the Holy Spirit regarding what this means for me. So, when I returned, it felt OK to throw all this out, and it felt like a very generous God to me."
Loyd knew she was ready to enter into a new community when she no longer felt an ongoing angst in her gut. Upon entering the church that she later joined, she felt a sense of genuine welcome. Instead of replicating formulas developed by "successful" churches, like other authentic communities, this church had its own identity and praxis. "These are communities of faith where you can see the fingerprints of all the people who belong," Loyd reflects.
And therein lies another aspect of a healthy community - all are welcome. Those leading such communities choose people over politics and create communities where people can come together and connect over what they have in common in their shared humanity. They work to curate a place where anyone can come as they are and just be. (Assuming of course, this person will respect boundaries and not engage in behaviors that harm others.) Simply put, no one has to buy into a specific partisan agenda or purchase specific products in order to play.
Sermons/lectures, protests/rants, and the like did little to change my mind about a given socio-political or theological topic. But the kinds of spaces such as the one Loyd found enable my heart to become transformed by being in community with those who differ from my in terms of eduction, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation, and other markers that are all too often used to divide us apart.
Hence, I’m grateful for those event organizers who chose to continue their events online during Covid until they felt it was safe enough to open up for in person events that include all members of their community. Conversely, it pains me to see as we emerge from this extended period of isolation to see that some events still have some Covid requirement in place. This is especially for live music events, as music is indeed the universal language that connects us at a soul level),. The former lets all know they are valued members of this group, while the latter creates a two-tier system that serves to divide those who were once in good standing within these communities into worthy/good/righteous versus unworthy/bad/sinful categories.
When searching for healthy communities that welcome all, the Rev. Kurt Neilson, author of Urban Iona, reminds me that leadership and community character is only part of the equation. "An essential piece of searching for a healthy community is for the searcher to do their own work and be clear about what needs they bring to spiritual settings." Kurt's experiences as a pastor mirror my coverage of American Christianity. I've heard countless stories of seekers that go church hopping bunny rabbit style in their never ending search for the one true community that will meet all their needs. Such a community may sound heavenly but does not exist here on earth.
As I pointed out in a post for Spirituality & Health titled Change Yourself to Change the World before we can change the world, we need to change ourselves. On his blog, David Hayward, aka Naked Pastor and author of the book Flip It Like This, offers these steps for those seeking to find a healthy spirituality.
Credit: www.nakedpastor.com. Used with permission.
If you want to be healthy, you become conscientious about what you eat. You notice things. You become diligent, independent and responsible. You read labels. You distrust companies. You do independent research. You study. You taste and test. Your dietary intelligence increases. Shouldn't this be the case with our spirituality? Taste and see? Test everything? Discernment? Good fruit? Blind leading the blind? Don't eat garbage. Be healthy.
Feeling a little special—helps us to see ourselves and those we love through slightly rose-colored glasses, remain resilient when we fail, feel passionate about what we love, and pursue our dreams even when they seem a bit beyond our reach. Regarding our interests and needs as important enough to let the world fall away and see where our desires take us is an important aspect of healthy narcissism.
Armed with a healthy ego, we can dare to dream and seek out other like minded souls in a mutual quest to bring our visions to fruition. Also, we will have enough self-awareness to recognize when a project or community no longer resonates with our soul, and it's time for us to leave in peace and seek other places to play.
A final parting thought - in addition to appreciation, look for communities that hold each other accountable. By the time I launched my first book (Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church), I had been a satirist for over a decade. During this time, I lost count of the number of times I interviewed a promising new voice only to have them become all American-Idolized once they hit the glare of the media spotlight. So I knew a similar fate could befall me if I didn't surround myself with a few trusted souls who would be willing and able to tell me when my Christian crapola began to stink.
Over the years, this small trusted circle has changed a bit. A few friends I thought I could trust used our private conversations as a way to garner intel they used within their emergent church circles to raise their street cred by spreading false rumors about me. But as I grew in my awareness of narcissistic and sociopathic energies, I developed a keener sense of who can be a trusted companion on my journey.
Not reliving this faith fracas though and again, multiple apologies to anyone who was ever at the end of one of my rants. Yes, the cyberbullying and offline bullying among the US Emergent Church and the Outlaw Preachers was god awful, and many folks had it worse than me. And as I’ve reported in 2018, the situation remains SNAFU as victims remain too fearful to come forward knowing the blowback that happens when someone speaks out against this unchristian crapola.
But I let my anger get the better of me in my quest to“fix” this scenario, as well as get justice for those abused. I have since learned that the best way to handle communities led by spiritual narcissists is to just leave. Go. As in. Now.
As you travel in search of those communities that feed your soul, be sure to surround yourself with an accountability buddy (or a few). These trustworthy souls can help you discern if the spiritual sensation you're feeling is a genuine movement of the spirit or just around round of faith farts. To quote the late Australian evangelist John Chapman "Is it God or is it gas?" Your soul and sinuses will thank you.
If everyone practiced this type of spiritual discernment, I'd be out of a job as a religious satirist. As someone who now focuses her attention on the craft culture of the PNW (beer, cider, spirits, wine, and cannabis), I'd definitely drink to that.
But until this day arrives, The Wittenburg Door remains open.
The opinions expressed in the Gaslighting for God series are those of the Author (Becky Garrison) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, publisher, or any other party associated with the production of these published work.
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