All of life is the ‘war for awe’ – who get’s your awe? There’s a great danger you think you’ve arrived – that you’re different from those to whom you minister. The key question is ‘who do you think you are? Seriously.’ Nobody talks to you more than you – so what are you talking about? If you think you’ve arrived, you’ve forgotten who you are – you no longer esteem the necessity of sanctification in the body of Christ. Sometimes God has to use ‘tough grace’ to produce in us that which we couldn’t produce on our own. Heb 3:12-13 shows us that sin is deceitful, therefore we must encourage one another daily. We need the rest of the body in our own sanctification. Personal spiritual insight is the product of community. In 2 Pet 1:3 we see that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. We need each other so that we don’t fall into the trap of believing our own press.
I had the privilege of visiting a couple of church memebers this week at their work place. They run a large and successful business, and I was impressed by their structual organization and clear articulation of core values. Of particular interest to me was a couple of pages of do’s and don’ts in their welcome document. Now we could all sign up to the do’s (strive for excellence, embrace change, plan for the future etc.), but the don’ts are where it’s uncomfortable, and actually most useful. Here are some of them:
- leave things unfinished
- choose dubious business partners
- undervalue our strengths
- criticise or complain about colleagues behind their backs
- blame others
- over promise and under deliver
- use bad language
- fail to keep our promises and commitments
- cover up mistakes
- waste resources
- abuse trust
That’s a pretty interesting list of things to find in a business core values document. It displays the ethical integrity of the owners, and provides them with a means of accountability for employer and employee.
But perhaps here’s where the rubber hits the road for church leaders – do you/would you have a document like this for your organization? Do you have a document which not only lists positive attitudes and behaviours, but also unacceptable behaviours and attitudes – a document which enables you to keep staff and volunteers accountable for their roles and responsibilities? So, next time your [fill in the blank] team leader misses a deadline or fails to complete a task well, we can remind them of our explicit core values – as an organization we won’t blame others or cover up mistakes. Or next time the ‘turf-war’ breaks out over resources we can remind our people that we won’t criticize or complain behind other people’s backs. Much of this stuff we agree to tacitly. I wonder whether making it explicit helps leaders and team members keep one another on track without it feeling like a personal attack. Making our core values (positive and negative) explicit can only help to clarify what we’re about, which in turn helps us to clarify what we do and why.
Our pastor, Ray Evans, recently passed on to me some old tapes (remember those?) going back to some teaching ministry done at Spring Harvest in about 1998. The teaching consisted of four talks given by a spanish psychiatrist called Pablo Martinez. He’s written some books you can find on Amazon. His teaching series was examining the whole issue of identity – how it’s formed, what happens when it goes wrong, and how to counsel people struggling with identity issues from the gospel.
Of particular interest for those of us who work with people was his material on how people struggling with identity issues present. Often people struggle with inferiority of insecurity, and mask this with the following behaviours:
- Hyper-sensitivity – easily offended. Victim mentality. Very critical of others. Jealousy often a problem. Jealousy almost always related to insecurity. If you can’t trust yourself, you won’t be able to trust others. Problems often stem from an inability to trust parents. Linked with paranoid personality.
- Superiority – masking inferiority. Great dictators follow the same pattern – inferiority masked by superiority. Tend to be aggressive. Verbally loud often – feel need to re-enforce words with volume and verbosity.
- Narcissistic – constantly praising themselves. Everything and everyone revolves around them. Hysterical personality. Want to be the centre wherever they go. Often arrive late to meetings – everyone looks at them. They seek protagonism (to be the main part). They love it when people talk about them. If they can’t be at the centre they start quarrels everywhere. Often extremist in opinions, clothing. Often selfish – takers – absorb your energy – drain you.
- Compulsive – addictive personalities – cannot do without. Lost control. Seek after success in money, power, titles. Identity crisis upon retirement.
- Isolation – problems in relationships; fear of intimacy. Actually a fear of rejection. “Before they reject me, I’ll reject them.” Lonely people. Difficulty expressing emotions. Shyness a symptom.
I’m sure many of us who work with people will immediately be putting names and faces to some of these descriptions. Of course the key is not to be intimidated or antagonistic towards such people (let’s face it – we’re probably not much better ourselves), but rather recognize that such behaviours are often masking real identity problems. At which point we must always point them back to the gospel, and to the God who speaks most powerfully and truly of their identity – they are chosen, special, adopted, a priesthood, family, a body, loved, cherished, destined etc etc. We had an 84 year old lady last night at church share how she was a ‘foundling’ – abandoned by her parents as a baby, and found in a bag on a bus going over Westminster bridge. She described the great comfort and joy of knowing she is chosen and adopted by a heavenly Father who will never leave nor forsake her.
A good friend recently pointed me in the direction of a sermon preached by William Coffin (unfortunate!) just ten days after his son, Alex, had been killed in a car accident. As a result of this conversation I went and found the sermon online. Here are a couple of particularly striking paragraphs:
I mentioned the healing flood of letters. Some of the very best, and easily the worst, knew their Bibles better than the human condition. I know all the “right” biblical passages, including “Blessed are those who mourn,” and my faith is no house of rest, came from fellow reverends, a few of whom proved they knew their cards; these passages are true, I know. But the point is this. While the words of the Bible are true, grief renders them unreal. The reality of grief is the absence of God — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The reality of grief is the solitude of pain, the feeling that your heart is in pieces, your mind’s a blank, that “there is no joy the world can give like that it takes away.” (Lord Byron).
That’s why immediately after such a tragedy people must come to your rescue, people who only want to hold your hand, not to quote anybody or even say anything, people who simply bring food and flowers — the basics of beauty and life — people who sign letters simply, “Your brokenhearted sister.” In other words, in my intense grief I felt some of my fellow reverends — not many, and none of you, thank God — were using comforting words of Scripture for self-protection, to pretty up a situation whose bleakness they simply couldn’t face. But like God herself [sic], Scripture is not around for anyone’s protection, just for everyone’s unending support.
I can’t say I agreed with every word in the sermon, but the opening line quoted above hit me – do we know (pretend to know) the Bible better than the human condition? Are we able to simply weep with those who weep, and resist the temptation to offer theological platitudes, which while true, may not be well timed or directed? Something to ponder.
There is a beautiful prayer in The Valley of Vision entitled “Love Lustres at Calvary.” The worshipper piles up descriptions of what Christ endured on the cross for our sake. I’ve paraphrased some of it’s content here:
Cast off that I might be welcomed
Stripped that I might be clothed
Wounded that I might be healed
Athirst that I might drink
Tormented that I might be comforted
Shamed that I might be glorified
Cast into darkness that I might have light
Crowned with thorns that I might be crowned with righteousness
Killed that I might live
A little while ago there was a BBC documentary about Dumfries House. Having hit hard times, the 18th c. Scottish stately home was to sell off bespoke Thomas Chippendale furniture to raise funds. The house and it’s furniture was rescued from being sold off at the last minute by Prince Charles. The furniture was halfway down the M1, on its way to Christies Auctioneers, when the Prince intervened. Lorries full of Chippendale furniture were heading to auction in London, only to be called back in the middle of the night, once the rescue of the house and contents had been secured. The Prince’s intervention secured not only the rescue of the furniture, but also the restoration of the whole house.
Hooper was made bishop of Gloucester and Worcester during the success of the reformation enjoyed under Edward VI. When Mary asceded to the throne in 1553 events took a turn for the worse. Many of the reformers were imprisoned and martyred. Hooper himself was kept in prison for 18 months before eventually being led out on a cold February morning in 1555 to be burned at the stake. As it was a cold and windy morning the fire didn’t take properly and had to be re-lit three times, all the while Hooper’s lower parts were being slowly and tortuously burned away. It took a terrible 45 minutes for Hooper to expire – a horrific and cruel way to die.
Perhaps, most moving of all, having read all this, is Hooper’s response to a friend who visited him shortly before his death urging him to just say the words the establishment wanted him to say. His friend said “Can you not see that life is sweet and death is bitter?” Hooper replied “The life to come is more sweet; the death to come more bitter.”
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre –
To be redeemed from fire by fire
T.S.Eliot, “Little Gidding” in Four Quartets