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The Contemporary Church is a Crack house

March 03, 2012

It’s no secret that life is difficult. Yet most of us expend a great deal of time and energy attempting to avoid a direct confrontation with this reality. The problem however is that our attempt to avoid the inherent difficulties of life does not mean that we are free from suffering but rather that we are most oppressed by it.

By filling our lives with any number of activities we avoid that most frightening of things. What I am referring to is not the act of becoming silent, but rather the realisation that silence is all but impossible for us.

When we stop what we are doing and attempt to become still we discover that there are fears and anxieties within us that clutter up our world. Thus we must be careful of the popular wisdom that we must become still in order to work things through. For it would be better to say that the ability to be truly still is a sign that you have done the work.

The truth that we suffer is one that we can avoid most of the time. While it always seeps out in other ways (through frenetic activity, health problems, self-hatred, hatred of others, etc.) we can generally maintain our inner facebook profile (the idealised image we have of ourselves).

However there are times whenever this is difficult and we must work hard to keep the image intact, times whenever we go through a particularly traumatic event.

One of the ways that many of us avoid our inner pain is through the use of drugs. Imagine that you have just lost someone who was very close to you. Let us imagine that the pain of their passing is so intense that you find an escape through drink and other drugs. Initially this proves to be a powerful way of avoiding your suffering, especially when combined with social activity.

Such acts are not in themselves a problem but rather the solution to a problem: the pain. Yet the limitation of this basic solution is exposed the next day when we experience the return of everything we had repressed through the drugs and partying. The pain is not worked through but simply avoided. As a result we are tempted to repeat the cycle.

This is a vicious circle that most of us know is problematic, however it would seem preferable to a direct confrontation with our pain. For that would likely be too much for us to cope with.

However there is a different way to handle such a traumatic event, one that neither seeks to repress the pain, nor confront it directly. This other way involves participation in symbolic activity. For example, you might go to hear a poet who puts into music the suffering of loss; an individual who is able to speak the type of anger/frustration/pain you feel in lyrical form. In such a poet we encounter an individual who has demonstrated profound courage, for in being able to sing her suffering she shows that she is not overwrought by it; that while it is real she has robbed it of its sting.

As we listen to the music we are invited to participate in a form of communion. A call is being issued asking us to touch the dark core of the music so as to encounter our own dark core. Yet the artistic form is such that this encounter with the darkness is bearable.  We encounter our pain and anger in a way that we can cope with and we begin the work of mourning.

Like the professional mourners at funerals we might not cry, but we are paying someone else to cry on our behalf. Not so that we might avoid our suffering, but so that we may be able to access it in a way that is not crushing.

My concern is that most of the actually existing church acts as a type of drug den with the leaders being like the nicest, most sincere, drug dealers. What we pay for are songs, sermons and prayers that help us avoid our suffering. These drugs are very appealing because of the quick fix and powerful high they offer, hence the success of such communities. However they do not help us face up to, speak out and work through our pain.

In contrast we need collectives that are more like the professional mourners who cry for us, the stand-up comedians who talk about the pain of being human or the poets singing about life at local pubs.

In other words, what if the church could be a place where we found a liturgical structure that would not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties. A place where we are invited to confront the reality of our humanity, not so that we will despair, but so that we will be free of the despair that already lurks within us, the despair that enslaves us, the despair that we refuse to acknowledge.

The following video offers one concrete example of the type of liturgical experience I am writing about (the singer is Pádraig Ó Tuama).

For the lyrics of this song and a more in depth reflection on these themes get Insurrection

37 Responses to The Contemporary Church is a Crack house

  1. Mark Wreford says:

    Doesn’t this conception of life demand that we abandon the God of the Bible who is often described as the answer to the needs of the of the human condition in its various forms? If yes, why should we accept the biblical basis you attempt to draw re: God is love. If no, can we not assume that God in his self-revelation came before the urges we use him to fill, thus legitimising the kind of Church you castigate here?
    Yours,
    A confused theology student!

  2. SAM TICKLE MD. says:

    THANKS PETE THE VIDIOS OPEN A NEW WORLD FOR YOU. THEY MAKE ME WABT TO REACH OUT AND HUG YOU. SAM

  3. Kelly says:

    His song was rich in beauty.

  4. Rob says:

    Beautiful! First step is admitting our crack addiction and then living in exile is beautiful.

  5. Gary Manders says:

    The practice of silence helps us access reality in the raw if we follow through with the discipline on a regular basis. Then we realise what you said below:

    For it would be better to say that the ability to be truly still is a sign that you have done the work.

  6. Brian says:

    Love this thought! I have been saying these ideas for a couple years and thinks its great that other people see it!
    Just a thought to Mark W.- I think an idea to help with the tension you have is how you define “answer”. A friend of mine has been trying to help his wife with something she struggles with and I keep telling him not to steal the problem from her. Let her own it and wrestle with it. I think church sometimes wants to steal our problems instead of giving us space to wrestle like Jacob. just a thought… :)
    Thanks

    • Jim Fisher says:

      I, too, am learning that the key to helping a friend through a struggle is not to try to steal the problem from her. Let her own it and wrestle with it. Let her figure out how to body-slam it to the ground, stand, brush off, smile proudly and walk away with renewed confidence … and to be there at all times with open arms and a patient, awaiting hug. Sitting and sharing, not standing and preaching.

  7. Dan Ledingham says:

    Henry Nouwen expresses a similar sentiment by inviting us to recognize that while we have specific pains, they are a way in which we ‘come in touch with the human condition of suffering.’

    I’ll let his own words speak

    “Your pain, deep as it is, is connected with specific circumstances. You do not suffer in the abstract. You suffer because someone hurts you at a specific time and in a specific place. Your feelings of rejection, abandonment, and uselessness are rooted in the most concrete events. In this way all suffering is unique. This is eminently true of the suffering of Jesus. His disciples left him, Pilate condemned him, Roman soldiers tortured and crucified him.

    Still, as long as you keep pointing to the specifics, you will miss the full meaning of your pain. You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances, and events had been different, your pain would not exist. This might be partly true, but the deeper truth is that the situation which brought about your pain was simply the form in which you came in touch with the human condition of suffering. Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.

    Paradoxically, therefore, healing means moving from your pain to the pain. When you keep focusing on the specific circumstances of your pain, you easily become angry, resentful, and even vindictive. You are inclined to do something about the externals of your pain in order to relieve it; this explains why you often seek revenge. But real healing comes from realizing that your own particular pain is a share in humanity’s pain. That realization allows you to forgive your enemies and enter into a truly compassionate life. That is the way of Jesus, who prayed on the cross: ‘Father forgive them; they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). Jesus’ suffering, concrete as it was, was the suffering of all humanity. His pain was the pain.

    Every rime you can shift your attention away from the external situation that caused your pain and focus on the pain of humanity in which you participate, your suffering becomes easier to bear. It becomes a ‘light burden’ and an ‘easy yoke’ (Matthew II:30). Once you discover that you are called to live in solidarity with the hungry, the homeless, the prisoners, the refugees, the sick, and the dying, your very personal pain begins to be converted into the pain and you find new strength to live it. Herein lies the hope of all Christians.

    • Margaret says:

      I really like what you say here. Pain as part of the human condition is something to accept and in a way, embrace. Pain as a set of circumstances is either something to blame or a personal failure – things that make the bearing of it harder. Something to think about. Thanks for this.

  8. Margaret says:

    There are churches and churches, many no doubt caught up in the need to be seen to be providing answers and solutions. I am sure there are others who have pockets of genuine truth-seeking in them, however imperfectly and sporadically they may exist.

    I feel that this post – probably unintentionally – indicates that suffering has to be engaged in head-on and immediately and without relief. I DO see the point that churches and other well-meaning resources can try to anaesthetise one. One therefore feels guilty for suffering, and the suffering is driven underground with disastrous consequences later on.

    But it is also true that suffering comes in waves. It is very dark, with some extremely bad patches in the beginning, but “life” is resiliant, and if we are healthy human beings, surrounded by those who love us, suffering runs its course even if things are irrevocably changed, and we are never the same again. Church can put its big “you must have faith” feet into the sensitive hurting part of my soul, but it can also help to see that there is “normality” in the world, and my dark pit is only a part of it. I sometimes need a break!

    The other point is that, as this post indicates, the resurrection is used by Christians as an all-covering sticky-plaster to cover my deep wounds. However, our personal crucifixions DO have the promise of a resurrection, and this Christian hope is one of the seminal parts of our faith. To use our faith to escape from suffering, as Peter points out,is a travesty of that faith, but suffering is not always about unrelieved darkness. What the church often does not do is provide a place where it is safe to suffer, the result being that we stifle our crucifixion because we may not work through it, and are thus denied the resurrection at the end. THAT is the blasphemy, and that is what robs people of what Christ lived.

  9. Debbie says:

    I didnt grow up in church. I was born into addiction with a mother who was eighteen and had already had my brother at sixteen. Two more by twenty one and she ran off with the heroin addict next door and my father hooked up with his girlfriend. She was a dark dark soul who made me eat my porridge even though it was horrible and I vomited in it. My reward was the colouring pencils she bought ‘the bitches’ children. I was four and a half years old. A few weeks later my father packed us all up and moved to his mum and dad’s because she had punished my face with a piece of steel over a mouldy loaf of bread her own mother had put in the high cupboard of the kitchen. People self medicate because they are mentally unwell and can do very wicked things.

    Jesus Christ saved my broken, pregnant body and soul from a shower floor when I had nobody but my own four year old son for help, no phone. I was thirty one years old and He told me to be still and know he was God. I could not help but agree, when I was able to stand and walk around for eight more days with bladder retention. A catheter and two litres of urine later and the plumbing was fine yet my life itself had just encountered something beyond words…yet He was familiar, a child’s heart heard His voice and remembered.

    I believe The Church may not understand how or even why Jesus binds up the broken hearted and helps the lame and weary and deaf and blind and hungry, thirsty, forsaken children of God. I truly could not answer that except with an agreement that He does. His Way is the most amazing thing in all the stories of the found and people in church, I discovered, didn’t want to talk of those things, in as much as they were studying the written word to follow rules…I lasted about three to four years in total before the insanity of it all drove me out but I took my copy of the book with me. And then read everything I could get my hands on to try and understand this disconnect between the reality of what Christ did for me ‘outside’ the temple and what was going on inside with those who said they knew The Truth and The Life and The Way.

    Granted some did, but a single mother of four children (I had two outside of wedlock, one while I was going to church) to three different fathers was not the most popular invite back for lunch. The only family who did was a Greek brother and sister near half century old and it turned out it was because The Holy Spirit told the brother I was to be his wife. I didn’t get the same memo so I just walked away from it all.

    Why would Jesus save me from a marijuana enjoyment of my own to send me to hell for not having ten percent enough ever to tithe? I almost committed suicide because I failed all the new laws I had to live by :(

    Anyway. I’m rambling on here with maybe too much information yet I do have a closing point. Most of the poets and songwriters and word dancers and movie makers and storytellers who have bypassed my messed up head and pierced my heart were on some kind of drug anyway except Jesus, and I wrote the best answers to my future selves in journals and poems and short tales of my own life, while stoned. And after being stoned for one decade, ages 20-31, and four to five – three to eight months – relapses in the fourteen years since is progress :) Amen to 12 steps – ‘the mind that got you here will not be the same mind that leads you free’ – slogan :) did their classes for awhile….and stepped into the 21st century of ether space with an even greater wonder.

    I am a podrishioner as I listen to sermons by Greg Boyd, Louie Giglio, Rick McKinley and Peter Rollins iTunes ‘trauma’ meditations :) lol! On my ipod. I listen to three months of John Piper while I painted the outside of the first home I purchased. Yay me! And I am forever indebted to the clarity Piper showed me and Louie Giglio kept it funny and child like fresh.

    In my hearing around Facebook, and from what my friends share, I see a great rise in the use of anti- depressants among the pew people who meet face to face and maybe their music is a reflection of what those drugs do to the mind. Inhibit the past and interrupt the present and send all thoughts in a forward focus…they inhibit synapses in the brain and can cause either lucid scary dreams or no dreams at all. The drug debate to me may have to move beyond the good/evil dance as I believe only man judges some evil, and some the best happy pills around, and only man judges each user or non user accordingly. I see no life in this attitude and no way of bringing people to freedom and the beauty of their pain.

    Peter, the way you see into it all has given this journey girl much hope indeed.

    Thank you if you made it this far. Pyro-theology is a free fire and chaff flees at even the warmth yet my vessel remains untouched, clean and pure and white as snow when The Father and I get it going on :)

    Hebrews 9:1 – we are not first covenant people and I’m so dang grateful for the awakening that’s rippling world wide. And the Internet…this single mothers mind gets blown like Elvis blew my mothers and I have a global network at my hands who all are cherished in my heart. Some I’ve know for over a decade now since Ted Dekker wrote the most amazing Elyon tales..

    Deb.

    • Peter G says:

      Hi Debbie, vy strong potent and lived stuff! WoW!

      Ok, Yesterday i was in Newton, MA and had the pleasure of talking with Pete Rollins about this very aspect about drugs hampering/dampening “the meant-for effect” .. (as i excerpt your own quote:)

      “.. In my hearing around Facebook, and from what my friends share, I see a great rise in the use of anti- depressants among the pew people who meet face to face and maybe their music is a reflection of what those drugs do to the mind. Inhibit the past and interrupt the present and send all thoughts in a forward focus…they inhibit synapses in the brain and can cause either lucid scary dreams or no dreams at all. The drug debate to me may have to move beyond the good/evil dance ..”

      In the website referenced above in the link, MadinAmerica dot com, this topic rages on! Oh YES it does.

      One of the most compassionate bloggers on that website, Michael Cornwall turned me on to his mentor, John Weir Perry and contemporaries of that time (being the late 1950′s – early 1980′s) and there were alternative UN-medicated approaches being explored with an astounding rate of success as some of the pioneering docs worthy of mention discovered, people like John Weir Perry and R.D. LAING. Cutting it short, Letting the ego disintegrate within compassionate facilitating circumstances with a loving “anchor” person to latch on to and letting the same ego re-integrate. etc etc.
      In Perry’s landmark book: Trials of the Visionary Mind, he even gives an observed common time line where this happens.

      As I share with all i talk to about this, it seems “we” the seemingly normal folk that experience life in our accustomed way of perceiving it, we seem to really or totally freak out at the SYMPTOMS as they manifest and want to medicate immediately to stop our discomfort, but that’s NOT to teh benefit of the person undergoing this journey of transformation.

      Encourage you to catch up on bloggers like Michael Cornwall and Laura Delano and especially the recovery stories on that site as well.

      Sending you best wishes
      -pg

  10. Doug Hagler says:

    A church of mourners, poets and comedians. Where do I sign up?

  11. Terry says:

    In the last two weeks I sat with my brother and then my father as they died. As a Presbyterian minister who struggles with the this tension between proclamations of faith and reality I am leaning into the possibility of what Pete is proposing. Out of my own grief, as I held my father’s hand and looked death in the eye I wrote this poem.

    DUST
    Through the tears and
    Raspy breath and the 
    Letting go, not in the 
    Metaphorical sense,
    It all seems like dust.

    ALL DUST

    The words and the 
    Freight they carry; 
    The plans and aspirations; 
    Accumulated wisdom, or that
    Which you counted as such;
    Someone else’s faith that
    Never quite fit the contours 
    Of your heart;  prayers too.

    DUST

    Yet there is a memory
    Or was it a dream or
    Premonition of
    When dust rises from
    The earth and meets
    Creator’s breath 
    And begins to dance.

    Is all this dust the same
    Being reshaped over
    And over through eternity 
    into a father or son,
    A star or a rose
    Which lives and dies
    Until the next resurrection?   

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  13. Matt says:

    Do you enjoy the counseling theory of Gestalt? I like your perspective, but I wonder if you can do both? Hope and appreciate the life in communal worship while understanding that we all have unfinished business within ourselves?

  14. Debbie says:

    @ Terry….big hugs for your loss. The passing of your father is a painful journey beyond words and to have the pain of your brothers passing as well is a double barrell. I resonated with your poem and delighted with the way you drew the dust up with the breath of God to dance. My heart gave you a high five! Again may your pain, unanswered pain, and pain still to come be just as holy as what you have just shared. (((((Terry)))) – person can never have enough hugs sometimes. Weep well.

  15. Susan says:

    My experience, as someone who’s been crippled for the last nine years, has been similar to his in terms of how a lot of the church has responded to me. They often don’t know what to make of me. I mean, I seem to be Christian, so what’s wrong with me that God hasn’t healed me (or I haven’t let Him or whatever their thinking is)? Thanks.

  16. Becky says:

    That’s exactly the kind of pastor I want to be! I want to help people live with the difficulties of life and know that God walks with us through them.

  17. Jim Fisher says:

    Amen! If you don’t have time to read Daniel’s entire sermon, just read the second to the last paragraph.

    As the cross of Jesus teaches us, we must sit with our darkness rather than try to outrun it.

    Stages of Grief

  18. Free Dumb says:

    The “mystery” of the God of Abraham comes with a lot of inherently painful baggage. Until a person can renounce the immoral belief structure that posits a fallen/broken nature to humans injected sometime in the last 200,000 years of human history and a redemptive Christ who can take the blame for the sins of others – as well as the basic assumption that there is some essential “personality/soul” that can be carried past the bounds of death – they can never truly be free.

  19. rhoda serafim says:

    your argument, Pete:
    Idolizing God is not a good thing-it draws away from Christianity itself;

    my argument: in order to not idolize God, we must let all three Gods (Trinity) die.

    Therefore, we must let Jesus die too without resurrecting him but simply letting him become star stuff (Carl Sagan), like one of us.
    Rhoda

  20. merlinaeus says:

    Thank you Pete. This – and so much of your other stuff – connects deeply with a talk I’ve just been pointed to by Brene Brown, utterly compelling on ‘The Power of Vulnerability’

    Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=iCvmsMzlF7o

  21. I watched this Maranatha video while at work. I don’t really have the words to describe how it affected me other than to say that when he sang “I fucked it up, alleluia” it connected fiercly the isolation and the joy of being in Christ. So often I connect with those two things at different times, but not this time.

    I had to hold back sobbing because it was both celebration and weakness at the same time. I have the freedom in my life that has been acquired a little at a time as God has undone the knots that the religion I thought was Christianity has tied me up in. This, though, this was a moment when I realized that other people know that freedom and that struggle too. It was such a beautiful, truthful song. Please tell him thank you for sharing it. Thank you.

  22. Angele Rice says:

    The Mystery of Life

    Don’t under estimate misery’s blade,
    It can teach you to stand,
    On one leg.

    Don’t under estimate disappointment’s sting,
    It can teach you to hope,
    With half a wing.

    Don’t under estimate grief’s torment,
    It can teach you to be joyous,
    When nothing is left.

    Define your life with what you have left,
    Not what you have lost.

    A Poem by Angele Rice
    Thanks Peter for the courage to be open and Padraig everything that you spoke and sang made me think of my own story. Thanks for giving me a voice along with so many others through song.

  23. Jesus felt forsaken
    So do we
    But he admitted it
    And was then set free

    We pretend like we get it
    But as soon as we do it is gone
    Every answer is a death
    While the question lives on

    We are all resurrected
    When we die to “our strength”
    It’s the natural result
    Of surrendering what we think

  24. Smudge says:

    Amazing to find a real spirituality that breaks down the veneer of perfection conveyed in our churches. Thank you for saying it like it is! Deeply refreshing and a massive help to those of us who are steeped in humanity but yearn for a way to confront it, embrace it and worship God!

  25. Jacinda says:

    In other words, what if the church could be a place where we found a liturgical structure that would not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties.
    I’ve found this in the daily recitation of the Psalms (all the psalms, in a month, no skipping the hard ones) through the medium of the Daily Office. I prefer the Anglican/Episcopalian version, personally.

  26. EricG says:

    Great post Pete. I’m facing a terminal illness, and sometimes cannot bear to go to worship services because there is too much god-as-drug and nothing acknowledging real despair. I don’t think anyone is going to break the church of this drug though – it is too powerful, and seemingly necessary for some people, however damaging it is. People will go to absurd lengths to preserve a view of god that allows them to avoid the reality of suffering.

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  28. Heidi says:

    I know I’m late on the response – I was JUST introduced to you and incredibly skeptical because as a rule I’m just incredibly skeptical of people telling me what to think regarding God and spirituality. I grew up in the church and realized only recently (I’m now almost 22) that I’ve been living for the last 21 years with an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt from never being adequate in the church – never prayerful enough, I never spoke in tongues, I didn’t listen enough… etc. etc. etc. Anyway… so despite having a faith that I thought was my own it suddenly gave way beneath me and stopped making sense last year leaving an overwhelming gap in my life where my foundation used to be. Since then, I’ve fallen into multiple deep depressions (I’m currently drugged up for that), started binge drinking, and have been latching on to meaningless relationships desperately trying to fill that space. I so strongly relate to this article because the church was my drug, my escape, my safehouse for so long until I realized that that’s all it was.

    Now I’m just hoping and praying that at some point I’ll find a way to fill that gap with the real thing… I’m connected with an awesome church, very liturgical, but the community is phenomenal and the senior paster is one of the only ones I’ve met who doesn’t feel the need to justify, explain, and microanalyse biblical text. That being said, I still don’t know how to gain a sincere spirituality and not just to continue to band-aid pain and confusion with quick-fix religion or empty highs.

  29. Jeremy says:

    Or we could all just come back to the Church Jesus founded and make a real difference… The Holy Catholic Church stands with her arms open.

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