poets, prophets and preachers: chocolate covered turds and death by paper cuts

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Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

poets, prophets and preachers: chocolate covered turds and death by paper cuts

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.
so,
i forgive you.
please stop.

4 Comments

  1. Morgon77 says:

    A quote from Spider Robinson: Pain Shared is Pain Diminished, Joy Shared is Joy increased.

    All pastors should find people that they can just share with and lean on and be accountable with. Any church that refuses to allow their pastor to be human and to falter is just waiting to shoot a saint.

  2. MamaMia says:

    Good point, Morgon. Pastors do need a good support system, honest friends who lovingly uphold them, and also who lovingly offer that iron to sharpen their iron.

    Just a question: ryan, when you refer to the prophetic (i.e. "the challenging and prophetic words that i wanted to deliver"), I'm not sure I'm getting the meaning. It seems apparent that you're not referring to the traditional definition of the word, so if you'd please clue me in, I'd appreciate it. Thanks!

  3. Morgon77 says:

    The usage of the term "prophetic" to indicate those who predict the future has only been in use for a couple of hundred years.

    The actual original meaning of a prophet was somebody who could look at what was going on, and accurately speak for God (or directly from God) about what things were shaping up to be, and what the consequences of actions were going to be.

    Originally, somebody who could predict the future was called a "seer".

    A lot of Jewish words have been translated conveniently and caused a problem with this.

    When Paul talks about having a gift for prophecy, he's talking about discernment and speaking for God, not predicting the future.

  4. Existential Punk says:

    It's not just pastors who get the brunt attacks of mean-spirited Christians. i take A LOT of crap from people because i am queer and a Christ-follower who started the blog Queermergent.

    Tou posted this quote and i have a bit of a problem with it because i am NOT Christ: '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.' i get the basic premise that it is better for the condition of my soul to forgive and not to expect the other to apologize. Christ is the only one who took on the wages of sin solely because He is G-D from my understanding of the gospel.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Warmest Regards,
    EP

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