"Jesus cautioned them, saying, 'Watch out -- beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.' " -- Mark 8:15
"Jesus... looked up to heaven and said, '... I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.' " -- John 17:1,15
THE REFLECTION FOR TODAY'S READING (Mark 8:14-21) in the Singaporean Jesuit Prayer site reads, "Leaven (yeast) was a piece of fermented dough kept from the previous baking. Fermentation was identified with putrefaction. So to the Jews, 'leaven' is a symbol of evil. Jesus warned His disciples not to be influenced and corrupted by the evil that was in the Pharisees and in Herod.
"In our daily living are we affected by the 'evil' (corruption, gossips, etc.) that is around us? Do we participate or do we challenge such deeds with the Truth of our Christian faith?"
LAST YEAR, WHILE DISCUSSING with several friends separately on different occasions, i learnt that at one time or other, they or someone they knew had been hurt by Christians at the workplace or in church. Having had similar experiences, i thought about this for some time. Later, did a Google search on "when church hurts", found a few useful articles on the Web (such as When Church Hurts by Jeremy Walden and How to Keep From Getting Hurt in a Church by Dr. Dale A. Robbins), and forwarded them to my friends via email.
A few days ago, had a most interesting conversation with two new Catholic friends. Along the way, learnt that one of them had not been attending mass for over a year because he was disgusted with the hypocrisy that he saw in the people at his parish. He's now thinking of exploring Buddhism or Hinduism -- quite a dramatic detour for someone who had been active in church ministry and even once contemplated becoming a priest.
i could understand his feelings partially because that's how i used to feel (and occasionally may still feel so) about some people i know at church too. However, whenever i complained about them to my SD, he would wisely and gently ask me after a few moments had passed, "How's your daily examen of conscience?" i would then look a little sheepish because my natural resistance to practising daily examen (around seven to ten minutes at the end of each day) had been great. Even these days, it doesn't come easy. Didn't put two and two together until a few months later.
Reading today's reading and reflection reminds me of the story of the self-righteous Pharisee and what Gloria Hutchinson wrote in Six Ways To Pray From Six Great Saints:
"The evil one knows you well; his temptations are tailored to your spiritual infirmities... To sour love within your family or among your friends, he magnifies the faults of others while blinding you to your own shortcomings. He insinuates destructive intentions where there is only forgetfulness or lack of understanding. He amplifies harmless personal habits into intolerable distractions. He brews anger and impatience by stirring up your feelings of insecurity, resentment, possessiveness. He fathers the communication gap between you and others."
To paraphrase her, "Can we withstand these subtle attacks alone? Can we unaided, avoid falling into the pit?"
"Wake up, and pray that you may not be subjected to the trial." -- Luke 22:46
"We really must pray that our Father will deliver us from these and all the snares that lie in wait for those who are not vigilant. And pray that no trial may ever separate us from Jesus."
Mother Teresa probably summed it best in these words from her book No Greater Love: "If you judge people, you have no time to love them. ... Do not be surprised or become preoccupied at each other's failure; rather see and find the good in each other, for each of us is created in the image of God. Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but those who are trying to become saints. Therefore, let us be extremely patient with each other's faults and failures."
In the Don't Place An Absolute Trust In People section of his article, How to Keep From Getting Hurt in a Church, Dr. Dale A. Robbins wrote:
"Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD." -- Jeremiah 17:5
[Hey! This happened to be last Sunday's reading.]
"Come to terms with the fact that everyone is human and will fail you at some time or another. Even the pastor will make mistakes. The only one you can trust entirely without fail is God.
"Realizing that any human can fall short, the degree of trust we place in people must be limited and will depend on their track record. The more we get to know a person's character and the history of their behavior, we'll be able to determine how trustworthy they are. This is one of the reasons why the scriptures tell us to get to know our pastors and spiritual leaders -- so from their godly lifestyle, we'll be able to trust their leadership. "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you." (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
"There's a difference between 'love' and 'trust'. It's possible to love and forgive someone, without placing an absolute trust in them. To illustrate this, let's say there's a school bus driver who has a drinking problem. One day while transporting a load of children he becomes intoxicated, wrecks the bus and kills all the children. As the lone survivor of the crash, he turns to the church to seek God's forgiveness for this horrible act of irresponsibility. If he repents of his sin, will God forgive him? Absolutely. Should the church love and forgive this person? Of course. And what if he would then like to volunteer to drive the church bus for us? Do we trust him? Absolutely not! It would be unthinkable to put a person in the driver's seat who has shown such recent negligence. Certainly, we love and forgive him, but because of this manís poor track record, we could not risk the lives of our passengers. Over a long period of sobriety and safe driving, this person may be able to prove that he is again reliable, capable of being trusted as a bus driver.
"Remember that love and forgiveness is granted unconditionally, but trust must be 'earned'. Trust is the acquired confidence in a person's actions. We certainly can, and should trust persons who show trustworthy behavior, but because all men have the potential for failure, we should never put an infallible sense of trust in anyone but God."
In When Church Hurts, Jeremy Walden wrote (adapted):
"If you have been in church very long, you have been hurt by its people, its leaders, and/or by its teachings. I've been part of seven congregations and have been hurt by every one of them. Have you? Because church is made up of "people made from dirt", you will be hurt. What will you do with that hurt?
"Henri Nouwen says, 'Perhaps the main task of the minister is to prevent people for suffering for the wrong reasons.' Are you hurting for the right reasons? Here are a few of the 'right' reasons:
- you are not cared for (Ezekiel 34)
- the lost is not searched for (Ezekiel 34)
- church is legalistic (Matthew 23)
- you are labeled and dismissed (Mark 9)
- church is fighting (1 Corinthians 1)
- sin is ignored (1 Corinthians 5)
- church has wrong emphasis (Matthew 21)
- church is lukewarm (Revelations 3)
"God hurts when these things occur. You have EVERY right to be hurt. What do you do with these 'right' hurts? What did God do? God fought for things to change. What will you do?
"Are you hurting for the wrong reasons? Is it possible you have set yourself up to be hurt? Many of the disappointments and frustrations we have with church are because of unrealistic and unreasonable expectations. Here are a few examples of how we set ourselves up to be hurt:
- Expect all your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs to met.
- Expect everyone to know you.
- Expect church to be done the way it's always been done.
- Expect your church to be just like your home church, a big church in Nashville, or even your church 10 years ago.
- Expect to receive preferential treatment.
- Expect things to be done YOUR way.
"Be honest. Haven't we all been hurt by one of those ways? It's okay to have expectations -- even high expectations. However, we will only be hurt or hurt others by having unrealistic expectations.
"Church can hurt really bad. Some decide to stay and help change things. Some decide to leave for a healthier church family. Whatever you decide, you are going to hurt. How are you going to deal with it? Here are a few suggestions:
- Seek God for comfort. (1 Peter 5) Rest in God's arms. He wants to heal the hurt.
- Pray. (James 5) God wants you to tell Him about it. Ask for His help.
- Forgive. (Colossians 3) Let it go.
- Reconcile. (Matthew 18) Go straight to the person who hurt you. Don't go to everyone else and gossip.
- Be teachable. You may be wrong. Listen. don't take everything personally. A person can disagree with you and still love you. He/she may not be trying to hurt you. Distinguish between personality and issue.
- Think positively. Everything is not horrible and terrible. Even in some of the worse churches, there are positive people and positive things going on. Think on those things.
"God is always faithful in healing our hurts. God too is often hurt by church. He understands."
(See also The Problem of Pain and The Problem of Pain II.)