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Category Archives: Books

This is a category for Books, mainly where I quote excerpts or make comments. Those will become sub-categories eventually.

How Chronic Anxiety derails the church from her purpose

Just read some good stuff in the last few days, and it is so relevant I just had to write it up and share it. In fact, I would say it is essential knowledge for church leaders. If what is described here is active in your congregation, it will help you understand, and both be compassionate and firm with the problem, or even to nudge you to seek help addressing it.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT HOW ANXIETY IMPEDES RELATIONSHIPS IN CHURCHES

and so then interferes with doing God’s work as well.

One of the books I am currently reading explains how a negative emotional dynamic in churches works. It has to do with unhealthy anxiety. Everything I read here fits both my experience and my theories about unresolved trauma in the CRC in Canada. By the way, I will start mentioning that the theory is not a blaming theory, in fact it is quite sympathetic. People at that time did not know what was happening, and they did not know how to deal with it.

By the point in the book these quotes are found, the author has explained there are two kinds of anxiety. Short term, or acute, and chronic, which is always there. Chimes or alarm bells are always going off for the chronically anxious. I will add that they seem to need to be fearful. He has also explained, simplistically put, that there are three areas of brain activity that regulate our behaviour, one is the part we have that is most in common with primitive, reptilian animals, it governs basic functions that keep us alive—survival processes. The next, more advanced part of the brain is the part that deals with playing, nurturing, bonding, and emotional expression –relational processes (my term). The most advanced section of the human brain’s processing centres, consisting of about 85% of the brain matter, deals with analysis, concepts, symbols, reflection, observation and insights. The author refers to it as the “Thinking Cap.” Stress, or anxiety, tends to cut out the second and third level and have the lower one dominate.

In this section the author is talking about Jesus’ parable of the lost son, using the runaway as an example of acute anxiety, and the homeboy as an example of chronic.

Here is the quote:

“Acutely anxious people regain their perspective. There is a return to the Thinking Cap. They have the capacity to control their reactivity. But the chronically anxious have immense difficulty keeping their hands off their own chimes. They are not self-regulating. And they are not imaginative. Note how the father appeals to his oldest son’s thinking capacity: “It is fitting to rejoice and give thanks. After all, my son—your brother—was lost and is found. Son, everything I have is yours.” There is no response.

“Typical of chronically anxious people, the older son resorts to either/or, yes/no, or black/white thinking. It was either “favor me” or “favor your other son;” it was all these years of obedience versus the irresponsible behavior of the other son. Anxiety-driven reactivity inhibits the use of the Thinking Cap. With little capacity for discernment, the chronically anxious reduce everything to all or nothing. Lines are drawn. It is no wonder, then, that they overfocus on others and their weaknesses. They blame or falsely criticize. The older son, for example, diagnoses his brother—reckless, careless, foolish. By overfocusing on the riotous brother, he is no longer responsible for his own reactive position nor responsive to his brother. To the older brother, the trouble is external to himself. Obviously, the brother cannot think systemically. For when you see yourself as part of all relational transactions, you look in both directions. You understand that in emotional systems everything is mutually influenced.

“The parable of Jesus also clues us to another characteristic of chronic anxiety. There is willfulness. “If it’s not done my way, I’ll show you.” Thus the older son refuses to join the festive party. If the chronically anxious cannot diminish or eradicate their pain by blaming, they’ll rid themselves of it nonetheless through other means. “I’ll make you suffer yet.” If differences cannot be tolerated, they are likely to be persecuted.

“It is the chronically anxious individuals in the church family who are apt to conduct a “search and destroy mission.” They will not hesitate to impose their wills on others. They make hostages of their gifts, attendance, and participation. They employ their stewardship as brinkmanship. Their ultimate threat is to run away from home—transferring or terminating their membership if an action is not rescinded, a person is not removed, or a demand is not satisfied. These tactics are effective in church families that place a premium on peace and harmony. They will exchange integrity for tranquillity. They cannot free themselves from the bondage of others.

“Basically, chronically anxious people have a low threshold for pain. This is why they are in the forefront of the effort to secure immediate relief. They hanker for answers and comfort. Threatened, they make demands, spread rumors, exaggerate circumstances, claim injustice-whatever it takes to lessen their anxiety. Governed by instinct rather than insight, they cannot be stopped by reasoning or appeasing. Mistakenly, those who must deal with them think being “nice” to the chronically anxious will earn cooperation in return. Or that being reasonable will get the reactive forces to follow suit. But the reptilian brain does not respond to nice behavior, clear thought, or sugar and roses. Under the siege of the Automatic Pilot, thoughtful and careful approaches are ignored. For this reason, too, difference itself is not the cause of the friction. Differences are problematic in proportion to the automatic processes. With the chronically anxious, the contentious issue is not at the basis of their reactivity. Even if the issue changes, their chimes are still ringing. They keep adding emotional fuel to the fire.”

–Pg 24-25 How your Church Works

“At times a system becomes aware of the anxiety-generating forces, yet refuses to use its strengths and resources to deal with the agitation. Sweeping the anxious reactivity under the rug, the system proceeds as usual. But “benign neglect” only reinforces malignant processes. Moreover, ignoring is as reactive as placating or attacking. VICIOUS CIRCLES CAN ONLY BE DISABLED THROUGH EXPOSURE. They are enabled by secrecy and avoidance.

“The church family’s relationships are no exception to anxiety. It was as true in the early church as it is in the contemporary church.”

–Pg 27 “How your Church Works; Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems” by Peter Steinke

 

 
 

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Rookie Reflections at a crucial point in his work as an STM

I feel almost driven to journal my thoughts and learnings at this point in the process. I identify in myself several reasons to do so:

  • To document for later reflection,
  • to share,
  • to clarify for myself as I write
  • to glorify God in revealing the results that I’ve seen, all of which are the result of God’s authorship in my life and the lives of those affected by – and responding well – the process

I’m a story teller by DNA. That comes easily. (Book: “Know Your Story and Lead with It”). Distilling stories into conclusive propositions, well, that is work. But here goes Part OneIntroducing concepts

Here is a direct link to Part Two: Connecting the Concepts to church life in general

Here is a direct link to Part Three: Crossing Denial

Part Four: Learning to live in the discomfort of the need for Adaptive change, and seeing how change comes already from knowing that. (A short version that gets to the main thing I wanted to document from the outset)

 

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The Voice of Jesus; Discernment, Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit

I am reading through the book with that title slowly these days.

It’s one of those.

It needs slow digestion. Speed dis-serves it.

I found a lot of relevant wisdom in it’s pages so far, but a part of pages 144 and 145 particularly hit home. I have a link to a quoted section at the end of this post.

Gordon Smith, the author, has been using the language of desolation and consolation, taken as Ignatius Loyola first laid them out in Spiritual Exercises. Smith says “desolation is an emotional response to the multiple ways in which we experience a broken world. We usually experience desolation as a negative range of emotions… Sometimes our reactions are self-indulgent… However, our desolation may be a true and authentic response to injustice, disappointment, or loss… An authentic Christian response to the world means that we feel its pain. And sometimes that pain intersects with our lives.”

“In contrast, consolation is our emotional response to a set of circumstances that reflect the power and goodness of God…” (page 139)

Shortly after learning that I came to a part that has a lot of relevance for me where I am in life right now. It has helped me admit to myself that I am “in desolation.” You can read the relevant paragraphs here: The Spirit Guides in times of Choice – chapter 7

 

 

 

 

Back from a time away

I took a few days away to grapple with some things. As seems to be typical, I gained more peripheral clarity than central. I came to three statements that seem to be relevant:

Hold your head up.

Let it come to you. (or “it will come to you”)

You know what you have to do. (the hard thing)

They have meaning for me (does not mean I like them!), and each came in response to a specific seeking. The first was a general “What now?” The second about a more specific “What do I do next (employment-wise)?” The last came when contemplating what has been asked of me by my denomination. I’m not done sorting it all yet.

I wrote a few things recently, and will be slowly posting them. I’ve added a new page to the home page. I’ve called it “Ideas and Dreams.” To reduce clutter I’ve moved the JH Ranch stuff to be a sub-page of the LifeLessons page. Hopefully that did not wreck any links.

I took one book along on my retreat, one a friend had lent me because he felt it might fit my life circumstance. It does. But it is in a writing style that is tough slogging for me as a visual yet cerebral person. It shares some deep and valid and fascinating insight about individual and communal spiritual discernment, and about the role of head and heart in that discernment, but does it without stories, or word pictures, or illustrations, hence my brain tread does not get good traction unless I reread or really really focus. The book is called “The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer, and the Witness of the Spirit” by Gordon Smith. His distilling of commonalities between Ignatius, Wesley and Edwards was very interesting. I’m still only halfway but will finish it because — although hard reading for me — it is very relevant and has much to teach me. It’s sort of like being near Yoda as he is softly whispering the secrets of the force –you know it’s weighty, but you have to strain to catch it.

But while at my place of retreat I picked up a laying-around book called “Catch the Wind; The shape of the church to come-and our place in it” by Charles Ringma. That one really grabbed me and resonated, and I read the whole thing in two sittings. It is quite radical, yet rings true in terms of the questions I’m grappling with — and have for some time — regarding the shape of how we do church, and how to change forms. Here are a few distilled sips:

 

“Change is never only about truth. It is not simply about what is best. It is far more complex than that. It also has to do with politics. And church politics is about power, privilege, status and continuity.

We cannot afford to be naive about the way in which change takes place or is resisted in church. Change should be a matter of moving ourselves and others to live more authentically as God’s people in our world. Instead, it is often a power game, where tradition wins over relevance and where present structures block new possibilities.

“… … … human institutions frequently lose their way. Over time they develop a self-perpetuating life and culture of their own. They develop powerful traditions, hierarchies, experts, resources and legitimacies that are hard to resist and change. More seriously, institutions frequently fail to live out their own stated goals and purposes and fail to serve the very people they were meant to serve. And most disconcertingly, institutions can propagandize their clientèle, controlling their lives at the point of their vulnerability, and thus create dependence.” — 40

 

 

“… An institutional dependence … guarantees immaturity. If I am well socialized into the ethos of the church, this does not necessarily prepare me well for my participation in the world… And, as I believe spirituality is the co-joining of my inner and outer world, it is imperative that my spirituality is formed in both the church as well as in the the world outside the church.” 66 – 67

I hope that gives you an idea of it. I had to leave the book there and did not type many notes. His big themes as alternative directions for church were that individuals need to take more responsibility for their spiritual growth, and that such growth happens in daily living, but he also was very big on church being community more than a place ‘just’ for sacred ceremonies. I hope to get a copy of my own to read more reflectively. He has republished it recently with a more emergent focus, so I’ll get that version. The two books were actually a good blend.