Monday, August 6, 2012

#255 - Not "The World" - Part 2

**I wasn’t planning on adding more disclaimers to this, but some feedback has made it necessary. A few readers singled out a paragraph from part one and were quite upset due to their being under the impression that I was speaking about people they knew. I can honestly and emphatically say that said paragraph cited several things as singular events that were, in fact, multiple occasions. It should also be noted that the stories cited were from several churches, cities and states, not just one and most certainly not only my own church. I make no apologies for citing examples, but I can apologize to those who thought I was airing their dirty laundry when I absolutely was not, and would not. I have far more shameful secrets than those cited and do not think myself superior or better than those cited in any way. Thank you.**

If you haven't read PART 1 yet please do, as I picked up where we left off.


A little reading music...


I’ve learned a lot about church. I’ve learned not to allow a ministers words to strike fear into me. Said often, but rarely understood, I’ve learned that the man behind the pulpit is a flesh and blood human being, born of a man and woman just like me, and allowed to make mistakes, just like me. I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask questions. I’ve learned that it’s okay if you disagree with your pastor. I’ve learned, as a friend said on Twitter, ‘that the questions we are not allowed to ask or discouraged from asking are absolutely the questions we must ask.’ I’ve learned that the answer “God is not logical” usually a cop out. Of course God is not logical, but odds are that when a minister says it, basically he’s really saying “my theology is logical, and when it ceases to be logical I just blame God for being illogical.” I’ve learned not to settle for an answer being over my head. I've learned not to accept that there are answers and theologies that I "can't handle". I’ve learned that God doesn’t whisper secrets to preachers about a cryptic law beyond the Bible. I’ve learned that if I’m to be expected to live my life a certain way then it is imperative that I understand why I live that way. I’ve learned not to settle for any answer that makes me feel inferior in the eyes of God. I am the one bound to work out my salvation, not anyone else, contrary to what they’ll tell me. I’ve learned not to be afraid to be wrong, but more importantly not to be afraid to call a wrong answer what it is. I’ve learned to be suspicious of men who can’t recall a place where they’ve been wrong in their beliefs.

There’s a quote that says ‘sometimes things we build have to fall.’ If you’re anything like me this is easier said than done. If you’re journey is like mine, you’ll have people in your life that you’ve grown to respect, but as you grow and study, you’ll realize their status has to diminish in your mind. This will hurt a lot. I’ve learned however, and this is important, that those leaders DO have good intentions. The people placing restrictions on you and striking fear in you are doing it because they love you. They do love you. They aren’t lying when they tell you that. They want the best for you. They just don’t know what the best for you really is. They’re not malicious and they’re not trying to hurt or control you. I’ve learned that you should not conspire that preachers have hidden indignation toward you. We aren’t that special. I had those conspiracy theories too. I hated the preachers that I felt misled me. But then I realized they really were doing it out of genuine love. I realized it was just misguided love. When I realized this, I came to be at peace. I’ve learned to accept responsibility for myself and respectfully walk away in peace.

But know this: If you walk away, you will not like what they’ll say about you. It will tear you up inside when the words said about you come from people that you look up to and care deeply about. They’ll call you bitter. They’ll say you have a reprobate mind. They’ll say you’re rebellious. If they’re semi-intelligent they will just say that you are just confused and that they’re praying for you. Their words are passive insults. But none of that matters. What matters is how you respond. You can use these words to justify why you’re bitter. Or you can let them build your character and move on. Those things they say about you are simply words. They have no depth. They’re a last resort. An insurance policy, to make sure you know they don’t approve of your conclusions. It’s what they believe and you can’t change them. You can only change you.


The world is not your enemy. Don’t make an enemy out of something impartial. It’s what you, as human being, do with the world that is either bad or good. There is no longer a holy land distinct from the rest of the world. Jesus died to such a distinction. We are all born from this world. To forget this fact is dangerous. To act like your ties are severed from this world and you’re just passing through to the next not only absolves your ability to witness in this world but also attempts to do something God Himself would not do. God could have stayed apart from the world but he came down here and showed that a part of holiness is to live within this world while not conforming to it. Christians believe the devil is clever and I agree. I believe a great tactic for such a clever nemesis would be to take the focus off of himself, and make us focus on things that are not inherently bad or evil. He’d make what is banal appear dangerous, and what is really dangerous seem invisible. I can imagine an enemy like that tricking a religious culture by aiding it in creating it’s own alternate perception of reality. How much would this cause the isolation of these people from the others outside of this alternate reality? Causing the ‘Out There’ to be viewed as extreme and crazy? How many people would begin to distance themselves from the strangers next door or the next cubicle over, who don’t believe in the alternate reality? How much would those within the alternate reality begin to shrink and shrivel and yet pound their chest in triumph? They would say the reason they are so different is because they are Holy. They are separate. They are Full of Truth. And the Devil, here, he may just be smiling.

I know the background of most of the men I heard preach about ‘the world’ for most of my life, and the interesting thing is that they never spent much, if any, time in it. For the most part, though not always, they were either born in church or converted at a young age. They were preaching in their teens and have never known a life outside of a pew or pulpit. Not that there is anything wrong with growing up in church, but they go on to brow beat and cast fear into impressionable minds, claiming they have divine knowledge and irrefutable evidence of this dystopian wasteland ‘Out There’ that is really just constructed in their minds. Their knowledge comes from men before them, spewing the exact same hyperbole, and a few worst-case scenario’s that wandered into their churches broken and hurt, whose stories serve to verify everything they’ve said all along in regard to ‘the world’.

And the worst part about this is damage done to young minds. Most will spend their lives believing this, and living in an alternate reality, happy and comfortable in the confines of The Village, not functioning properly in society, keeping their classmates and coworkers at arms length, for fear of becoming contaminated by the icky ‘world’. They’ll isolate themselves; their only major interactions with people will consist of their examining conversations for an opportunity for a church invite or home bible study offer, never really making a true connection, turning people off to God and religion all along the way. They’ll believe they know things about people, not because they’ve been given reason or empirical evidence, but simply because the man behind the pulpit said it, so it must be true. Their church becomes the sole defining means of understanding of the self, and society around ones self, which makes those in church feel good about themselves. But at the same time those outside of church gradually become more and more alien and strange. The enemy becomes a silent threat and the man in the pulpit the only voice to listen to. The convenient thing here is that living in such an environment is pretty simple and doesn’t require much soul searching or self-education. There are good guys who tell you how things are. There are bad guys not to listen to. This is simple. But it’s also harmful. And it’s really sad for those who grow up under it.

But few others, and this is very extreme and semi-rare, will keep this picture in their head as they step out into the world as they grow older. They were told the world is lawless and when they step into it they begin to live out this lawlessness. The ‘backslider’ (a vitriolic term that should be abandoned) will think in order to fit in they have to dress the way the church has told them the world dresses. They will dress skanky. They will wear too much make up. They will become a lush, a whore and allow themselves to be used. They’ll have promiscuous sex, abuse controlled substances and become battered and broken. The men will abuse women, drugs and alcohol. They’ll go to the extreme because they’ve been taught to believe this is normal. And while this is happening the pastor or preacher or parent that planted these seeds of misinformation will look from afar at a self fulfilling prophecy and say “see, I told you so,” ignorant to the fact that they’re the one who set these wheels in motion. Now, as I said, this is extreme. My circle of friends didn’t do this, but I have witnessed those who did, both growing up and now, as an adult. Loose acquaintances that grew discontent with the church and segued into the world, trying to fit in, in all the wrong places. It’s painful to watch, and even more painful to be powerless to help.

‘Worldly People’ (another vitriolic term) are offered no forgiveness by the church. If you’re in ‘the world’ and you sin your sins are viewed with contention and degradation. If you sin, well that’s just typical because you’re worldly. However, when sin rears its ugly head in the church, well, “we’re only human, thank God for grace. We may fall but we’re covered by the blood.” I could go pages on this but I’ll settle for saying that this is just plain ugly, it turns people off, and it’s poisonous rhetoric. We’re all human, we all sin, sinners in church are just as much sinners as those outside of it, and while yes, our sins are covered by the blood it doesn’t make us any more righteous or put us in any position whatsoever to play this game of justification and lack of humanity.

This is what I meant when I said that this post is about being a part of the human experience. Joel posted a few weeks ago about a funeral in which a pastor used the deceased as an object lesson, completely dehumanizing him in the process. We do this every day when we refer to people as backsliders, sinners, worldly, and so on. We’re taught to be separate for our own safety, like the world is contagious and we have to always be guarded, which indirectly objectifies those around us. We view people as these creatures and puppets, under control of Satan. They remain this way until we manage to sneak Jesus or church into a conversation and then they become ‘a lost soul’, which is really just another jewel in our crown we attempt to gather like a vintage video game. But they’re not a creature, a tool, a soul or a jewel. They’re a person. Just like you and I. They have feelings, goals, families, emotions. They have pain and joy and angst and love and beauty. They’re complex. They’re human. And when we turn humanity into a game of Us vs. Them we commit a sort of cosmic injustice and turn our world into a very ugly place. Everyone deserves the mutual respect to have their humanity acknowledged.

I covered, in part one, what I haven’t done in ‘the world’, and before posting this second half I have gotten a few comments and a small handful of text messages questioning if I believe the world is as safe as the church, have I turned my back on God, what I hope to accomplish, etc. All that I can hope to offer now is perspective. The perspective of someone who grew up believing things that I now believe are, at worst, wrong, and at best inaccurate. I cannot tell you how to live, but I can tell you what has worked for me. A scripture has resonated with me since the first time I read it five years ago. Of all the sermons and all the teaching I have ever heard the scripture that took hold of my heart the strongest was a few summers ago when a group of friends were studying our way through Romans. The scripture was Romans 2:7, which states: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life. Or to put it in plain English – Steady persistence, consistent growth is the best way to live, and likely a way to heaven. It’s a principle that I hope to always guide me. It’s tattooed on my arm, so that I may never forget, in all I do, that God wants me to be consistent, and to grow. The points in my life that were the most problematic and difficult for me, both in the church and the world, were times when I was living without consistency and moderation. When lacking moderation in my diet I gained an inordinate amount of weight, began having chest pains, back pain and skin problems. Only through consistency in diet and exercise did I lose the weight and become healthy. Inconsistency with my money management led to debt, but consistency and moderation in spending got me out. Lacking self-control caused me stress, heartache, pain and angst. Gaining consistency rectified these things. Yes, I did things I regret. I committed sins far worse than any I cited in Part One. As Paul said, I am a sinner, worse than most of you. I do not presume to write all of this from a place of arrogance. I was arrogant, but I was humbled. I made mistakes I can’t undo. I have skeletons in my closet I’m ashamed of, as we all do. But that doesn’t mean I just got caught up in ‘the world’. It simply means I didn’t live consistently.

In conclusion, there is only one thing left to say:

There are no creatures in the woods. Let’s go exploring.

One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons--marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.”
-C.S Lewis


  1. Thank you, once again for a well-written, thought-provoking post. Although, I generally approve when the author quotes “Mere Christianity”.

  2. This is called Glen trying to make it seem like the blog was not as long as it really is.

  3. No this is called Joel telling me I'm not allowed to use bigger fonts because I, quoting here, "Don't understand the psychological ramifications for the reader."

  4. Writing this as anonymous for obvious reasons...

    Glen, I recently left the fold after years of being borderline. Thankfully, I was somehow able to escape the mentality of the "leaving equals complete degradation". I had just gradually come to the realization that I didn't believe the majority of what was being taught, but that I did love God. How I managed to arrive at that point is really a mystery, because you are absolutely correct, the "Village" mentality is really, REALLY, real. For years I thought that I could just go along for the most part if the spirit behind what was being taught was right, but recent events have changed my view of that spirit.

    I love my family dearly, but they are (mostly) completely unable to comprehend any other way of thinking as being valid. I had a conversation with my mother about exactly why I was leaving, and exactly what I believed and did not believe, in the kindest possible way. I did NOT have the conversation with my dad, because honestly, even as an adult, I have a fear of crossing him (he is not a mean man).

    After the conversation with my mom, my sister lets me know that, according to my mom I am leaving the church because I "am mad"... SMH A few weeks pass and I get a message from my dad that goes like this "your mom says you have some questions about the Bible, and I am here to answer them if you want me to. I realize I haven't been a perfect pastor"... Double SMH. #1, he was a great pastor, I just disagree, and #2, I never indicated that I had ANY questions. Followed up by a Saturday night phone call from my mom last week, saying "isn't it time you came back around?" So, apparently the consensus is that I am: confused, mad, and this is just a phase.

    It's just inconciviable that I actually know what I believe, and that I am not mad and bitter, because those are the only reason that anyone could ever really have for leaving. I don't have the heart to tell them I actually have been attending a large non-denom, that would be even worse than me not going to their church. People who have never lived in this kind of (for lack of a better word) cult like culture, have no concept how hard it is to leave and retain/regain sanity.

    1. Anonymous,

      I really appreciate your account. Definitely made me happy hearing that people like you are out there. Thank you.