(fyi- this is a re-post from my previous blog in August, 2012.)
Scene from THE CROW “Victims, aren’t we all….”
I’ve been thinking about the things that put me “around the bend” regarding the institutions of the church. First of all I don’t believe the Church was ever meant to be an institution. It was just a label given to groups of people who got together from time to time.
The scene above from the excellent film, THE CROW, is a modern parable. A parable on the consequences of viewing ourselves, our churches, our religion, our culture as victims. When we view ourselves as victims we will only know violence, hatred and revenge. I’ve often told people, I am not and never will be a victim. That does not mean that others won’t try to make me a victim or victimize me in some way. But I choose to never see myself as a victim. That’s doesn’t mean my life is any easier. In fact, because of my choices, my life is at times more difficult than what it may need to be (I’ve been told more than once to just “play the game”).
This does not seem to be the case for the Church/institutional Christianity. It seems that the “church” everywhere is embracing victimization. For further proof one only needs to look at the elaborate security systems churches have in an effort to protect their investment. And that may be part of the problem. The investment for the church has become something other than the people who make up the church. Fund raising is used to prop up the institution. The Church has entered the realm of monument building. And it will do everything it can to defend and prop up it’s monuments. In short Churches have become “Like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27) Everywhere we turn the so-called Church is on the attack. Defending it’s turf, complaining about its circumstances, and seeking anti-christian (legal/political) means of resolving it’s conflicts has become habitual behavior. In this age when the media is filled with stories of hate-crimes against different religions it is easy fall into the trap of victimization.
Why is victimization a trap? As soon as someone sees themselves as a victim they have already decided to react by complaining about their situation, lashing out, placing blame, even attacking the perceived cause/source of victimization. It’s done in the name of defending themselves. This is a very unhealthy and unproductive mindset. Sadly this is especially true in America since 9/11. Gun sales have risen sharply since that time. Sadly many of these buyers claim to be Christian. I know of people who try their best to use different bible passages to justify taking up arms (always out of context for self-justification). I know of one Christian who recently bought a gun in the name of defending his family. He sees himself as a minister of the gospel. But I ask what precedent does this set for your children? What example does that give to others? How does this even coincide with Jesus’ teaching – which you claim to follow? In fear, we already see ourselves as victims. When we are afraid we make unhealthy choices not only for ourselves but also for those around us who we may claim to be protecting. We become slaves to that fear of victimization. The result is we victimize ourselves. Sadly this has permeated the so-called church. We have applied this mindset to our beliefs – in spite of the actual teachings of the Source of the faith.
When we claim that we, our church and/or our religion are victims we are in bondage. We are trapped by our thinking. We have stopped promoting a gospel of love and freedom. We create and defend a gospel of bondage. We have created our own chains. Is it any wonder that Christianity has such a bad name today? Is it any wonder that church institutional membership is declining? Who wants to be in bondage? Not me! Jesus came to set people free from the very things that the church is doing.
Where I grew up and where I live there’s a lot of talk about being a “slave to Christ”, “in bondage to Christ”. Now the church has taken some archaic language in the bible and twisted it to support its gospel of bondage. As is surrendering one’s rights to the church has something to do with being Christian. It doesn’t. First of all slavery should never be promoted. If a person chooses to enslave themselves that is their choice. When the Bible is talking about being a “slave to Christ” it is not talking literally but metaphorically. It is about aligning oneself to the teachings of Christ and making every effort to live them in daily life and not give up trying even though one fails. That’s different from giving in to institution demand and mindset to defend the faith – as if faith was something to defend. This has given rise to an increase in Christian Apologetics. Genuine faith cannot be defended – it can only be lived.
Now, I want to be clear – I’ve NEVER heard a church or Christian say, “We are victims”. But a person doesn’t need to say it in words. As I’ve suggested all along – it’s in our attitudes/mindsets and our actions. Look at the Christians (whether Orthodox, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, etc) who seek to punish those they perceive are criminals (criminals being; those that object to, criticize, ridicule, distort and slander a person’s faith or religion in word and/or action) And this they apply to the arts, politics, science, education, lifestyles and other religions/belief systems. What has happened is that the Church has come to see itself as separate from humanity and not a part of it. This separation has had dire consequences. It is “Us vs. Them”. The church does not promote unity, healing, love among humanity but is a source of division. It not only puts one on the defensive but it becomes justification to attack and is used as a reason to go out and proselytize others in an effort to “bring them into the fold.” Instead of Christianity’s institutional leaders directing the path taught by Christ, this thinking is supported and encouraged. It is even applied to the institutions themselves – thus the evolution of the Gospel of Bondage.
This is inappropriate and was NEVER supported by Jesus. And that’s part of the problem. Jesus is being taught as the Messiah, that Savior of Humanity that did a lot of cool things and told some cool stories. But by-and-large the Church has stopped investigating his teachings. People use other scriptures out of context to justify their actions, thoughts and lives without testing them against what Christ taught. But if it doesn’t align with what Christ taught it is anti-christian.
So how should we then live? If we are Christians we need to re-investigate Jesus actual teachings and seek every effort to apply them to our lives. Teachings like forgiveness, love, compassion, mercy, caring for ALL people (not just those of our own faith or those who agree with us). When we can do this for people who are against us we no longer see them as separate from but actually a part of the big picture – a part of God’s creation – a part of the human family. We need to understand what he taught about the kingdom of heaven and what it means for us today.
We each have our function and purpose on this earth. We are part of one existence. Part of the God-consciousness itself. Each of us may be a different part of the body (i.e. someone may be a hand, foot, eye etc) but we can’t survive without each other. In fact we need each other. But If we reject others for their beliefs, actions, etc we are actually rejecting a part of the body that we are a part of. When this happens we are slowly killing ourselves by self decapitation. Have you ever seen a decapitation that was a good thing? Decapitation is ALWAYS violent and ugly.
A personal story:
I work in the Customer Service industry. No, not retail, not something that glamorous. I actually work the phones for a utility company. That means that I have the opportunity to be verbally attacked and even threatened – and it does happen from time to time. When I started this job (nearly 5 years ago) I literally had no idea what this would be like. Naturally at first I was on the defensive and it seemed that almost every call was a personal attack. And it’s hard not to feel that way when you are being verbally attacked or having your life or family threatened. Add to that we have a changing work-place environment based on the changing economy that adds challenges to the relationships I have with co-workers and supervisors. This all adds up to one stressful day. I tend to be more emotional anyway so dealing with these things are very difficult at times because it is my nature to react emotionally first and intellectually second. I am getting better at taking a moment (a breath, a pause, a heartbeat) to step back from the situation. But my growth and change has not been easy. I don’t think it’s supposed to be easy. But I view it as necessary. I keep a phrase by my computer that I look at quite often to remind me. It is simply, “Like water off a ducks back, let it roll over me.” The next step was to, as I’ve been talking about, viewing these people I deal with not just as “callers” or “co-worker’s” or “management” but as part of the human body – my body. It is a real game changer to think in this way. I can say that the outcome of my calls has been significantly different from when I started with this company. I still have a long way to go but I at least feel that I am on the right path. But again, it all comes down to the fact that at some point I decided NOT to be a victim or victimize others by being defensive.
We need to diminish our conflicts and differences not escalate them. It’s a choice. The choices we make now not only affect our actions but the actions of others both now and in the future. If we choose to perceive ourselves, our churches, our religion as victims we are making a very dangerous choice with dire consequences, both short-term and long-term. So don’t ever call me a victim. I am not and never will be a victim no matter what happens to me in this life. And it feels so good to say that. 🙂
Scene from DANGEROUS MINDS – “Choice”
Music today by Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn – GOSPEL OF BONDAGE
From the album ‘Big Circumstance’ (1989).
GOSPEL OF BONDAGE by BRUCE COCKBURN
Tabloids, bellowing raw delight
Hail the return of the Teutonic Knights
Inbred for purity and spoiling for a fight,
Another little puppet of the New Right
See-through dollars and mystery plagues
Varied detritus of Aquarian Age
Shutters on storefronts and shutters in the mind –
We kill ourselves to keep ourselves safe from crime.
That’s the gospel of bondage…
We’re so afraid of disorder we make it into a god
We can only placate with state security laws
Whose church consists of secret courts and wiretaps and shocks
Whose priests hold smoking guns, and whose sign is the double cross
But God must be on the side of the side that’s right
And not the right that justifies itself in terms of might –
Least of all a bunch of neo-nazis running hooded through the night
Which may be why He’s so conspicuously out of sight
Of the gospel of bondage…
You read the Bible in your special ways
You’re fond of quoting certain things it says –
Mouth full of righteousness and wrath from above
But when do we hear about forgiveness and love?
Sometimes you can hear the Spirit whispering to you,
But if God stays silent, what else can you do
Except listen to the silence? if you ever did you’d surely see
That God won’t be reduced to an ideology
Such as the gospel of bondage…