August 2, 2013

Spiritual Bullies…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:51 pm


…They are afraid that any betrayal of themselves into a gentler,
warmer and more tolerant speech and gesture, will make them more
suspect to their fellows, and lay them open to the assaults, threats,
tyrannies, and domination they fear.

—Thomas Wolfe

I’m not quite sure how it ever got to where it did. Or why I let it happen as it did. Because I could have stopped it at any point along the way. Could have chosen to just not speak. And I knew enough to know that it would be best to walk away, silent. But I didn’t. Probably because it roiled in me, what I knew to be true, and I wanted to tell it how it really was. And when two people like that cross paths, they mostly talk past each other, seems like. Which usually means there’s a whole lot of talking going on, and very little listening.

The emails still trickle in now and then. They’re not as plentiful as they once were. I try to answer each one, although now and then I just don’t get it done. It’s not deliberate. I just don’t get to it. And this guy’s first email seemed benign enough, except something about it didn’t seem quite right. He had read my book, of course. That’s why he emailed me. To tell me that. He liked it, he claimed. But then he went on. He lived close to a sizable Amish community somewhere in the Midwest. He knew some of the Amish people in that community, interacted with them in his line of work. Fine people, they were. And he had a question. How could he best witness to them about Jesus?

And there’s nothing wrong with that question, on its surface. It’s legit enough. Any Christian wants people to know who Jesus is. But still, there was something about the way he asked it. I sensed where he was coming from. He thinks all Amish are lost. He wanted to “save” them. And I thought. That’s pretty arrogant. To just assume that. Who does he think he is? He’s looking from an outside world into a world that does not speak his language. And because he does not understand the language, he just figures it has to be how he sees it. What he sees is a primitive group of people that needs his help. And he’s gonna give that help to them, whether they want it or not. One way or the other.

Had I known what was coming, I would most definitely have ignored him from the start. But there’s no way I could have known. So I wrote back and told him. Don’t worry so much about “witnessing” for Jesus with your talk. Don’t go preach at them. That’ll make them all suspicious. Just be who you are, be their friend. Walk with them where you can. Talk to them face to face. Never speak from above. And you’ll get to slide it in, tell them what you know, in the course of things, if that’s where your heart is. And they’ll know what you’re saying is true, because they see you living it.

And he was a little too eager, writing back. Oh, yes. That’s exactly what he wanted to do. And, oh, no. He’d never dream of speaking from above. He wanted to be a servant to them. And again, something about his tone rankled me. And I thought about it. “Christian service” comes from below, the way most people see it. Except it doesn’t, often. A lot of it comes with a good strong dose of judgment. I’m here to lift you up, you poor lost soul. You are fortunate that I showed up to save you from your sins. Now, here’s what you have to do, to know Jesus. Here’s a copy of the sinner’s prayer. And don’t forget, I’m serving you, here.

I recoil from that mindset. And recoil from such methods. Judge me all you want, but I do. And I shrink from all that serving from below. Because this is how I see it. If you consciously think you’re serving someone from below, you’re serving one person, mostly. Yourself, and your ego. Stop consciously “serving.” Just live. Talk face to face, at eye level. Right where people are. There are a lot of people out there who have never seen a Christian stop and just listen to their voices and their stories and their hearts. And hear them, right there at eye level. Not from above. Not from “below.” But right there, in their world. Right there, without judgment. And that’s what I tried to tell the guy. Just listen, and be there, if you want to “witness.” That’s what I see as the heart of Christ.

I think he was suspicious of me when he first wrote, for some reason. Probably because my book wasn’t preachy enough for him. I know he wasn’t all that impressed with my response. It made him all the more suspicious. He didn’t let on, though, not for a while. And we emailed back and forth a few more times. He seemed amiable enough, and I thought nothing of it. But he was waiting out there, lurking. Waiting to nail me, waiting for me to post something he could possibly take issue with, fuss about. And it didn’t take long. I think it was my very next blog that made him decide that I was due for some serious correction and admonition.

It was back before I left for Germany, and the blog that triggered him was the one about the prison. That day, when I went to Philly and hung out with Janice and Wilm. And where I flipped out about the dehumanizing evil that is prison. And the vile false god that is the state. Went down in there and felt it, the despair of unjust and brutal incarceration. Decried it for the evil that it was and is and will always be. And when I go down deep, emotionally like that, it always takes a few days to work my way back up out of it.

And over the weekend, he must have thought about it a lot. How he could tell me I’m wrong. Where he could correct me. All in love, of course. I have no idea what motivated him. Maybe he was excited that he was actually communicating with a real “writer.” And excited that he could influence me. I don’t know. I just don’t understand people who do what he did next.

His email arrived that Monday morning, about the time my head was clearing up. He had read my blog, he told me. And just that close, he had sent me a rah, rah message, saying how much he liked it. But somehow, something held him back. The spirit of the Lord. He didn’t say that, just implied it. And he couldn’t send that message. He lowered the boom instead, right out of the blue. He felt compelled to tell me what I don’t know, he wrote (paraphrasing, here). Some dark thing, lurking, that I didn’t see. He could tell, from my writing. I’m in a prison, in my head. And there’s something, somewhere, that I’m not willing to confront. He didn’t say what that something was. They never do, those who accuse you like that, in that way. There’s something you’re not willing to confront, they say with smug assurance. But they won’t tell you what that is. Just that they sense something in your spirit. It’s the principle of the thing, you see. They know, from their judgment of your spirit. But they don’t call it judgment. They call it discernment. And how can any accused person stand against the discernment of the Lord? There is no doubt in my mind that he figured he had nailed me good.

But he wasn’t done. That wasn’t his only concern, that I was imprisoned in my head. Oh, no. He had discerned something else, too. I had a heart of pride. That magazine cover I was on, the one I linked and told my readers about at the end of the blog. That was really a shallow goal, not worthy of a serious Christian (again, paraphrasing, here). When would I learn that all such things are fleeting, like dust and ashes? Stop pursuing such goals, he told me. I should put my efforts into working for the real King. Jesus. And he was praying for me, that I’d do that. Just bring it all to Him. He’ll take care of your problems, your burdens. And you won’t be in a prison, in your head. You’ll be able to face that thing you don’t want to confront. He signed off piously, then, with lots of “Christian” love and all.

And I will admit. His message triggered something inside me. And not what he was expecting. A flashback to another place, a long time ago. Followed by a hot savage wave of irritation and rage. Who in the heck did the guy think he was? Did he really think I’d just agree with him? Prison in my head? What did that mean? And the magazine cover? I made that pretty clear when I wrote it. It wasn’t something I had ever pursued. But when it came at me, I took it. With pride, sure. And a lot of gratitude and satisfaction, too. What could possibly be wrong with that?

When someone comes out of the blue like that and accuses you like that, it’s jolting. Hits you right up the side of your head. And you think about it, the accusation. A prison in my head? Who’s to say he wasn’t right? I suspect we are all imprisoned in our heads, one way or another. My restless spirit, that’s where my writing comes from. I’ve said that before, and I’ll say it again. Most writers, I think, have some sort of restlessness stirring inside. That’s what makes them write. But still, I recoiled from the flashbacks his words evoked in me. What an idiot, I thought. I mean, why would you go around admonishing someone like that? Someone you don’t even know? And all from reading one blog. I have six years’ worth of blog posts out there. Six years of production, from every imaginable emotional place. You can check a few of them out. Get a sense of who I am before you come at me like that. Yet here he was, judging me from his contrived reaction to one measly little blog. I wasn’t just irritated. I was enraged.

I could have ignored him. I should have ignored him. But I didn’t. But I did hold back. Spoke lightly. You should have sent the rah, rah email, I told him. I don’t like conflict. I spoke from where I was, in the blog. Spoke my heart. That’s how I try to write. I write from where I am, as I am. And I sent it off. Surely he would understand that, not that I owed him any explanation. But we’d communicated some now, and I figured I’d try. I was extremely naive. Now he had me where he wanted me. Got me to respond to his accusations. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen a real adult bully working at his craft. He was fixing to change all that for me. And his next “measured response” came slithering in a few days later. It was much darker.

He could see his accusations were right, from my response. That’s what he said. And he admonished me again, just like the first time. He had me trapped, he figured. Like he’s probably trapped a lot of hapless people before, in his walk through life. He had the perfect formula, to bully people. I accuse you. You don’t respond like I think you should. That makes you guilty. Because your response makes you guilty. Just think about that for a moment. Maybe you know people like that. It’s maddening, is what it is. Just maddening. And I got mad. But still, I kept my response calm. Tried to shake him off, more or less politely.

Look, I wrote back. I didn’t mind writing back and forth a few times. But we have veered off into unproductive territory, here. I don’t like tar babies. I wish you well. In other words, just go away and leave me alone, was what I was telling him. And I would have been very happy, had he just done that. But that “bully” blood was wakened and throbbing strong in him. And he felt led to respond. Again. The same tired old line. Every time, he mentioned it at least twice. He could tell he was right, because of how I responded to him. He could tell. Just bring it all to Jesus, that prison in your head. And that thing you’re not willing to confront. Bring that, too. He’ll set you free from it all. Jesus saves.

And I lashed back. You are a tar baby. It’s hopeless, to try to correspond with you. It’s just entanglement. And back he came again. Same old song, same old verse. You’re guilty because of your response to what I’m saying, that’s pretty clear. And more rote admonitions about Jesus, and how He can unlock that prison in my head, if I’d only let Him. All right, I thought. It’s been a while since I’ve done this. Flamer Bob was the last one. It’s time to block you, buddy. But not before telling you what I really think. I wrote him back in what I like to think was a controlled rage. Maybe it wasn’t so controlled. I rebuked him. Called him what he was. A spiritual bully. It won’t work against me, so quit trying. I shudder to think how many weaker souls you have wounded along the way with your incessant judgmental braying. I come from a place where people did that as I was growing up. And instantly recognized you as a bully. I rebuke you and your methods. Repent while you can. I doubt that any of his victims had ever done that before. Bristled like that, and hit right back. Oh, well. Always a first time for everything, I guess.

And then I blocked him. I may hear from him again someday. Not saying I won’t. Maybe after he reads this, because it’s a pretty sure bet that he’s lurking out there, reading my posts. But it’ll be from a different email address if I do.

And I’ve thought about it all a lot. How it happened, and why I reacted so virulently to his attack. It’s never fun to be accused like that. I don’t know why anyone would even want to do such a thing. But this far out from it, I’ll give the guy this much. I don’t know his heart. Just like he doesn’t know mine. I figure he actually thought he was doing the right thing. Witnessing for Jesus. Problem is, you can’t force such things on people with accusations, as you would in a court of law. It just doesn’t work, and it never has worked. It doesn’t matter how carefully you couch those accusations with claims of concern and “Christian love.” It’s not Christian love. I come from a world where actions like his were all too common. Where you didn’t have a voice. And where you had to take it, when someone came at you like that. Because your response made you guilty, if you didn’t. I’m fine-tuned to that kind of thing. Hyper-sensitive. And my natural visceral reaction just wipes out any chance of real communication. I recoil, and anything constructive that might actually get said gets lost because I don’t hear it. It just is what it is. It’s who I am.

I’ll stand by what I said and what I did, though. How are you supposed to respond, when people come at you, all accusing like that? When they speak the language of a “concerned Christian?” Spout all the rote words, through every step of that tired old formula. How do you respond? You can’t, not on their playing field. Not unless you have a little discernment of your own. And it’s hard, to have the strength to stand up to a spiritual bully. It really is, when you’re trapped in that hopeless place. And I’m talking now to those who are trapped and being bullied, in whatever religious setting. I know where you are, how it feels. I’m right in there, with you. Talking face to face. I know the hopelessness of it all. I know how tough it is, to be trapped in a world where you don’t have the strength to break free. Because it’s just too impossibly hard. And how they accuse you, your inquisitors, using your natural reactions and emotions as weapons to prove your guilt and break your spirit. I know all this stuff. I was there, that’s where I come from. And I took a little flashback trip to that world, just now.

And if you hear nothing else I say on this post, please hear this. You don’t have to take it, you don’t have to accept the heavy burden of those accusations. Not from anyone who would inflict guilt and impose rules as measures to define the condition of your heart. That’s not who Jesus was when He walked the earth. It’s nowhere even close. And that’s not who Jesus is now. He never was about rules and guilt. He always was about embracing flawed people like you and me. The wounded, the rejected, the oppressed, the accused, the condemned, the hopeless. He always was about love and forgiveness. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from or where you’ve been. He will always meet you where you are, as you are. And He will always set you free to live.

For me, I guess, the bottom line of my little tale is this. There are a whole lot of ways for people to come at you with “spiritual” accusations, then turn on you and use your response as proof of your guilt. From openly hostile confrontation to smarmy “admonitions,” all the way across the spectrum to subtle mind games and not-so-subtle judgment. It’s all bullying. It’s all manipulation. It’s emotional abuse in the name of the One they claim to know and serve. It’s so damaging. And it’s so wrong. I reject it. I rebuke it. And I will cut off anyone who persists in doing that to me at any level.

Because I will walk free. And I will live free. You can, too.