Friday, February 16, 2024

Why Not Make Human Flourishing- Not Degradation- the Standard?

Human beings are capable of anything great and terrible. Hear the words of the Indian Jesuit, Anthony DeMello: "I am no great improvement on the men who killed the Savior." (1) I once heard Martin Marty suggest that Original Sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine of Christianity. (2) We see it play out every day in murders and mayhem, violence and destruction, and in every harm we perpetrate on others. 

But is the doctrine itself a self-fulfilling prophecy? Further along, if everyone is a sinner- inclining to reject love at every turn, and only randomly-or by God's help- choose the good, why should a more a loving and just world be possible- or even an aspiration? Why expect anyone or any nation to share? Why hope for anything better? Do miserable sinners deserve to flourish?

But if all humanity is created in God's likeness and image, and is very good as created, and further, if the whole creation is good, then everyone and everything fulfills their purpose just by being. Intrinsic worth is the baseline, not the exception. We love because we are capable of both loving God- and others. We are capable of covenant love because God created us. 

Original Sin is normative in Christianity. (2) It's the rule, the standard for sound doctrine. Candidates for ministry preach it before boards and committees, hoping for the passing grade on orthodoxy (right belief). Humanity is condemned, helpless, and deserve whatever it is we get. 

But really, why is degrading humanity so important? For educational purposes, telling people they are sinners is, in practice, mere indoctrination. What if we understood our brokenness as descriptive, exposing the harm we do to each other and the creation? And what if we, by faith, believed in the goodness of creation and the God-likeness of humanity, the norm for belief and practice, teaching and preaching? 

(1) De Mello, Wellsprings, 1986, p. 51
(2) Article VII states, "Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually." The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2016.
(3) Even though the doctrine of the goodness of God, creation and of humankind is implied throughout Scripture, Original Sin as a doctrine, and all creation and humankind as "fallen," is the rule. The invitation of faith, young and old, is to explore the importance and meaning of the doctrine of Creation as primary, not secondary.  

 




Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Talking to Myself about Faith and Ministry in December

Aren't you tired of people asking "Are you ready for Christmas?"
They're just making conversation. It's like December's way of asking "how's it going?"
You mean to be a little less serious about everything. 
Yes, and give everyone a break, including yourself. We all have a lot on our minds, and everyone is doing the best we can.
Christmas has changed for me. I'm not doing ministry anymore. This whole month used to be really crazy, like adding another full time job.
If someone has never had to work overtime during the holidays, then you can't expect them to understand. The more you look around, the more you'll see that most people have to work on or over a major holiday or two. I'm interested in your first comment, about how Christmas has changed for you.
Our parents and family members have died. Most of our younger family has moved far away. I wanted to make a big Christmas meal, but that's hard to do for three. I feel alone.
You could consider yourself lucky you don't have to plan for 15 or 20. Be creative. You are free to do some things a little differently if you want. 
What do you mean?
Getting together is the important thing. So plan things that everyone can do and enjoy. The main thing is you do it together.
It will be different, but maybe you're right.
You're always making memories for yourself and the people you love. They can bring a smile. Sharing stories- make that your priority. That's the bread and butter of the gathering.
To change the subject, when I was in full time ministry, I ploughed ahead without much thought to those who question the Christmas Gospel. I realize that I have questions too.
If you have your doubts about how things happened in the Christmas Story, then you're certainly not alone. God comes to all of us, especially to those who have been disregarded or judged because they can't or don't believe in a literal reading.
Go on, you have my attention.
The point is, you can still believe in the story as literal and also hear a deeper message. And you can still believe in the teaching within the story even though you question the words as scientifically verifiable. They are Gospels, not hard journalism, a reality series, or twitter posts. Their meaning then and for today is what's important. And after all, Mark wrote his Gospel first-- and skipped the birth stories altogether! 
The meaning? You mean, that God actually loves us, even in the mess we're in?  What about the Israel and Hamas War? Everyone is choosing sides as if there's a moral equivalency with terrorists.  I don't think there is, just my opinion. Pray for peace, believe the Christmas message. Pray for the  release of all the hostages as soon as possible.  Pray and support those people and organizations who are trying to supply food, water, medicine and shelter. And for those who are negotiating a fair and just settlement. 
Part of what overwhelms me this time of year is everyone's hardship, even locally. There are so many calls for financial gifts.
Ask God to help you make a decision on supporting one or two worthy causes, then let go.
What about those who are counting on what I did last year. 
That was last year. Again, ask God about it.
When did the amount I spend on people start to be so important?
Since before you were born. Joyful giving is possible within limits. There's so much guilt in wondering if you did enough and stress in overspending too.
That's helpful to hear, I guess. There's just so much pressure to perform.  I don't think I will ever finish my to do list.
Now you're worrying me. Don't be afraid to ask for help now and then.
There are just some things I needed to get off my chest.
Then do it, and let it go downstream.





Monday, December 4, 2023

Deconstructing Perfectionism

Myth: (5) an unproven or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.

The myth of perfectionism can make leaders and their communities havens of toxicity and control, instead of freedom and growth.  In groups espousing Christian faith, the perfectionist myth is sometimes referenced by an imperative of Jesus: "You shall be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect." *

For me, perfection is an ideal and exists only in the eye of the beholder. It can project an image of being in control and in-touch. But the the dark passengers of the perfectionist are fear and self-disdain. 

Aspiration and idealism are worthy attributes. Self-improvement and pursuing excellence are not perfectionism. The core belief underlying excellence is that I am created and equipped to better myself and my world.  Not so with perfectionism. 

Perfectionism is older brother to hypocrisy. Clergy fulfill a necessary role in communities of faith. But if image management is my default, I may be overlooking a rotting spiritual center. The perfectionist as a spiritual leader is a positive hindrance to the flourishing of others.

Perfectionist Myths

1. "I'm a lot harder on myself than I am on others." Really? However, we end up treating others as we treat ourselves (or worse). Claiming the perfectionist tag can be a red flag for self-delusion and grandiosity.  

2. "They would like me if I try harder." Is living to impress others a worthy goal, and is it really possible? Being and doing your best is not the same as people-pleasing.

3. "I am not enough." Instead of being created in the image and likeness of God, the perfectionist is not enough. Resources like God's love and peace are scarce. 

Recovery from Perfectionism

1. Deconstruct the myth of perfectionism.
   What is the source of perfectionism within? Fear, shame, guilt?
   What does perfectionism promise and are these promises true?
    In what ways do I benefit from image control?
    In what ways has perfectionism drained, hurt me?
    How is it affecting my family and friendships? 
2. I can affirm that I am created in the image and likeness of God. Can I begin to learn  compassionate love of self and neighbor? I deal with my self- hate without projecting it onto others.

3. I accept that I am capable of a God-relationship that doesn't diminish or hinder others. In light of this, all labels are constructions of the ego, the false self. 

Things I have found helpful

1. Find a helpful psychotherapist who is a good fit. The objective here is too explore my own perfectionism, without fear of judgement- or "fixing." 

2. Recovery from perfectionism requires my ongoing inner work- learning a new way beginning with honesty and self acceptance, and self-love. Perfectionism is a core issue for recovery groups, such as Workaholics Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, and Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families

3. A spiritual director helps to explore my God-relationship and God-image. Why? Because I often treat myself and others in the same way I envision God treating me.  A spiritual director can listen to me in a way others close to me- or others I serve- can't. 

*See Matthew 5:48, NRSV. Another translation of "perfect" is helpful too. New Testament Greek scholar Clarence Jordan translates the same verse this way: "Now you, all of you, must be mature, as your spiritual Father is mature." The text can be found online at kenanderson.net/bible/html/matthew. 

Oldies but Goodies