much like with my last post concerning poets, prophets and preachers, it’s very difficult to distill the overwhelming and transformative information that was presented into a single, readable blog post. so, once again, i’m choosing a particular session that had significant insights and personal meaning to me.
in this case, it was the final session called The One Thing I’ve Never Heard Someone Talk About That Has Changed Everything For Me presented by rob bell. specifically, the session dealt with our response to people who feel it’s appropriate to say abusive, attacking and insensitive things to you just because you’re a pastor. it’s a very real and sad reality and it’s something that is very hurtful and trying.
bell began by talking about a letter he received from a “supporter”. the writer mentioned that people were calling him (rob bell) “fluff” and “irrelevant” but that he stood up for him and called these people out. while it was a “positive” letter of support, bell said that the only words he remembered were “fluff” and “irrelevant.” he says he gets these kinds of things a lot and calls them “chocolate covered turds.” they look so good on the outside, but when you actually bite into them…well, you get the idea… 🙂
in all actuality, whereas the “big stuff”—the blatant attacks—cut deeply, it’s often these smaller things that accumulate and do the most damage in the long run.
it’s like death by paper cuts.
while paper cuts hurt very badly, we don’t tend to notice the harm they do unless they were in extreme abundance. in this way, we tend to shrug off the little “paper cuts” that accumulate over time until they bleed us dry, leaving us burned out and disconnected.
what first struck me about bell’s talk was his extreme honesty and vulnerability. if anyone knows attacks and lies and rumors, it’s rob bell (look no further than the senseless and judgmental comments here of late on a couple of my posts). so, it was a deeply connective and soul-stirring session. for me, it was the most appropriate and god-ordained word i could have heard at the moment. over the last several weeks, i had been feeling a little beaten down and overwhelmed, so it was an amazing time of renewal and reflection.
as bell continued, he talked about 3 responses we have to this kind of treatment. first, we hold back. we hold back creatively, prophetically and personally. i know in times where i felt attacked, i tended to question the challenging and prophetic words that i wanted to deliver and ultimately, at times, chose not to speak them. next, we tend to make lists and label. we make lists of “those people” and label the “bad people.” finally, we take revenge. often, our revenge isn’t blatant, but passive aggressive. instead of helping people, we hold back words of wisdom or words of healing.
what, then, should we do?
we should not only be students of forgiveness, but masters.
forgiveness is both the most simple thing and the most painful and internally complex thing.
forgiveness frees us and follows a christ pattern of forgiveness. the christ pattern consists of two parts: death and resurrection.
in death, we absorb the pain of the betrayal and end the cycle of pain. parker palmer—whom i quoted
just the other day—has a beautiful and powerful quote about the pain of forgiveness in the context of the death of the cross. he says,
The cross says, ‘the pain stops here.’ The way of the cross is a way of absorbing pain, not passing it on, a way that transforms pain from destructive impulse into creative power. When Jesus accepted the cross, his death opened up the channel for the redeeming power of love.
wow. simply beautiful.
of course, death leads to resurrection in the christ story. another beautiful summation of this pattern is presented by tim keller in his book, the reason for god. in it, he states,
You can forgive. It’s a form of suffering. Forgiveness means refusing to make them pay for what they did. However, you are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself instead of taking it out on the other person… Yes, but it is a death that leads to resurrection instead of the life long death of bitterness and cynicism.
again, beautiful and powerful.
in the christ pattern of forgiveness, we go through a painful death but then experience a beautiful resurrection that leads to new life. the other person may never know about our new life, but our resurrection offers the opportunity to repeat the cycle for others.
all this talk of forgiveness, then, led to bell offering a few caveats, so to speak, in regards to forgiving others. while we certainly draw no boundaries in our forgiveness, we do, often, need to create boundaries with a couple kinds of people.
first, there are simply divisive people. these people treat pastors like ecclesiastical punching bags who are hired to take the blows of the masses. they are cutting, abusive people who don’t respond to grace and love. second, there are toxic people. these people tend to plug into you and suck all your energy without you ever knowing it. in spite of our forgiveness, we need to draw clear boundaries that allow us to remove ourselves from these people.
the point that bell made that i will close with is that pastors and leaders are precious resources who deserve better treatment than that from divisive and toxic people. our precious gift is one that is most useful and transformative when it is freed by forgiveness.
i forgive you.