holding on to the dream

there is a state-wide meeting at our denominational headquarters this week.  i haven’t been able to make it to one of the meetings and, frankly, i’m not heart-broken over it.  i love my colleagues and relish the opportunity to see them, but these meetings have become just too awkward for me.  one of the reasons is that i’ve adopted a liberating ritual that seems to be off-putting to my peers.  when someone asks the question, “how’s your church doing?” (an exceedingly common occurrence at these confabulations), the customary response is to stand up straight, puff out ones chest, paste on a smile, and say “great!” like tony the tiger.  i, however,  have transgressed convention.  i have resolved to tell the truth.

it feels great to me.  everyone else seems to have a problem with it.

when one of the brethren asks, “how’s your church doin’, randy?”  i usually say, “not very well.”  or if i know the person well or am feeling especially naughty, i’ll say, “it sucks.”  i might be overstating slightly, but the reactions i get are priceless and vary wildly.  after a pregnant pause (which is typical…i’ve found that candor catches preachers off guard), some grin, slap me on the back, and say, “no, really…” or “you’re such a kidder.”  others are quite taken back.  i get the sense that their first impulse is to clasp my head in their hands and begin casting out devils.  i’ve had a couple look at the floor and say, “yeah, man, i know what you mean.”

imagine my relief when i saw the article in the new issue of time entitled, “Yes, I Suck: Self-Help Through Negative Thinking.”   this article, written by john cloud, suggests that norman vincent peale was all wet.

A study just published in the journal Psychological Science says trying to get people to think more positively can actually have the opposite effect: it can simply highlight how unhappy they are.

The study’s authors, Joanne Wood and John Lee of the University of Waterloo and Elaine Perunovic of the University of New Brunswick, begin with a common-sense proposition: when people hear something they don’t believe, they are not only often skeptical but adhere even more strongly to their original position. A great deal of psychological research has shown this, but you need look no further than any late-night bar debate you’ve had with friends: when someone asserts that Sarah Palin is brilliant, or that the Yankees are the best team in baseball, or that Michael Jackson was not a freak, others not only argue the opposing position, but do so with more conviction than they actually hold. We are an argumentative species.

And so we constantly argue with ourselves. Many of us are reluctant to revise our self-judgment, especially for the better. In 1994, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a paper showing that when people get feedback that they believe is overly positive, they actually feel worse, not better. If you try to tell your dim friend that he has the potential of an Einstein, he won’t think he’s any smarter; he will probably just disbelieve your contradictory theory, hew more closely to his own self-assessment and, in the end, feel even dumber. In one fascinating 1990s experiment demonstrating this effect — called cognitive dissonance in official terms — a team including psychologist Joel Cooper of Princeton asked participants to write hard-hearted essays opposing funding for the disabled. When these participants were later told they were compassionate, they felt even worse about what they had written.

now i know why my colleagues panic when they get anything other than a glowing report: they need people to help them prop up their optimistic delusion.  and they’re afraid i might be telling the truth.

let me say that i am not unhappy.  i am doing god’s will and i am quite content (after all, i own a harley).  but i think it’s hilarious that people are actually offended when i suggest i am something less than overwhelmingly successful.  rather than admit that my church is not growing and that, in fact, we are smaller than we were last year, it’s better for everyone concerned if i lie.  and when i cheerfully own my situation, people get offended.  the state of denial is a warm, comfortable place in which to live. 

by the way, how’s your church doing?

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3 thoughts on “holding on to the dream

  1. The truth is liberating…sometimes. Sometimes painful.

    What you are asking them though is the same as if you asked the waiter at your restaurant, ” Who is the food?” “It reaks. I would stay away from all the fish and anything that isn’t deep fried.”

    Point being, most of them can’t afford to tell the truth. They don’t have a backup plan. They don’t have a way to deal with the truth. For most american preachers, their product (cool preaching) is all they have. Take that away, and all I have is a big mortgage.

  2. David is right liberating/ painful.
    We have turned everything on it’s head. Here are just a few examples.

    We are told not to “judge” but the Bible teaches to go to a brother who sins, Bible says we can see their fruits, and that we can tell weather or not the are followers of Christ by their love they show one another. How do we do these things if we do not take in facts and weigh them and make a judgment with the help of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand when we’re “judged” or called out we get offended when we really should be eternally grateful weather their intentions were self serving or not because it’s about eradicating sin from our lives to be more like Christ. In addition our being offended is wrong as our identity should be in Christ rather than other people’s opinions.

    We’ve stripped kindness of it real meaning.
    Kindness can be painful. Two of the kindest thing I’ve ever seen God do was the pastor I believe lived in Colorado caught in an alternative life style… what mercy God showed him in effort to bring him back. Painful?? Yes but kind in deed. The other is Jim Baker of the PTL scandal. I heard part of a letter or book he had written from prison read on the radio the other day which included this quote…
    “The more I studied the Bible, however, I had to admit that the prosperity message did not line up with the tenor of Scripture. My heart was crushed to think that I led so many people astray. I was appalled that I could have been so wrong, and I was deeply grateful that God had not struck me dead as a false prophet![”
    I do not keep up with Bakker but if this holds true today that is GREAT! Again it is terribly painful but tremendously kind of God to tear him down and place him in prison.

    We have it in our heads we are to be healed of everything we pray for… what about when they came to Jesus mockingly and asked who sinned this man or his parents? Jesus said neither! His illness was for the glory of God to be shown. Who are we to say God does not draw usand others near and show his glory through an illness we may never be healed from until we are with him?

    With everything else on it’s head why not the “correct” answer of how’s our church doing being on its head as always having to be growing in membership number and starting a new building project? What’s wrong with God’s tearing us down as a congregation to nothing to reveal himself.

    If our identity is in Christ, as it should be, we would happily accept correction/judgment of our peers and the above mentioned kindness no matter how hard it was. We would blindly accept our illness or the situation when our prayers remain unanswered the way we want them answered. When we turn things up on it’s head we are really trading in our identity in Christ for an identity based on other people’s views.

  3. That’s really good Jason. Discipline isn’t a negative word and it isn’t always something that is exacted upon us. It’s something we should be doing to ourselves all along and we wouldn’t be in the messes we’re in. It’s one of the best things God can do for us as individuals, churches and society at large. I think most of us would agree it’s probably a key ingredient missing just about everywhere these days, including the church. It’s not a bad word and it’s not a negative thing. It’s all for our good. Discipline and goodness/kindness should be synonyms, but we’ve come to think that they are antonyms. (Hebrews 12)

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