Beginnings…the Birth of an Addiction to Self-Reliance

24 04 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.

One of the ways I know I am not yet ready for even the first step of recovery (“STEP 1: Admit that you are powerless over your addiction…that your life has become unmanageable”) is that I am still looking for ways to fix my own addiction.  The “fixer” in me says, “If I can trace my addiction back to its inception and therefore know how it started, then I can stop it.”  Do you see how insidious addiction is?  Even my own attempts to heal myself betray me.  I will never be able to admit that I am powerless over my addiction to self-reliance as long as I keep telling myself that I can fix it!  And so I am asking your indulgence.  Sit back and have yourself a good laugh as I delve into my past to try to figure out where this addiction to self-reliance all started.

For me, I think it started when I was just a child going to Sunday School.  We would bring our offering in these little pink envelopes that the church printed for us.  They had our names on them.  On the front of them, they also had a little checklist of things a “good” Christian does.  I could check off the ones I had done that week.  “Present”, check. “Bible brought”, check.  “Tithe”, check.  “Contact made”…that meant calling or visiting someone and talking about God or Jesus or church or something spiritual…I could almost always think of sometime during the week I had used the word “God” in a sentence, so…check.  And so it began.  I became more interested in fulfilling these outward appearances than with actually growing.  It was like I was interviewing for a job as the perfect model Christian.  And the church rewarded me for it…it actually enabled that dysfunction.  I became more concerned with LOOKING the part of a Christian than actually GROWING as a Christian.  And here is the twist: once outward appearances became the priority, privacy and self-reliance likewise became absolutely critical.  After all, how could I ever look “good” to my church friends if I let them know my flaws and my failures? (And, by the way, the more “perfect” I convinced them I was, the more pressure they felt to portray the same perfection…we actually enabled each other’s addiction).

It is really not hard to see how it began.  It is actually much more difficult to figure out how it must all end…to envision what rock bottom must look like in order for me to admit I have a problem and that I am powerless to overcome it.  Must I become morally bankrupt in order to admit that I need accountability?  Must I find myself friendless and alone in order to come to grips with my need for community?  Oh, I hope not!

I suppose “rock bottom” is that point at which I finally and fully realize that, without Godly friends, I have no chance at all of ever becoming the man God wants me to be.  If the first step is admitting that, then the preparation for the first step somehow involved identifying where it all started.  “Preparation”, check.  Next week…STEP 1.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Addicted to Anonymity

10 04 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

I wonder if we in the American culture have become addicted to anonymity?

Dictionary.com defines addiction like this:

the state of being enslaved to a practice or habit or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

When I think about the community prescribed in God’s Word, particularly in the New Testament church,  I see plenty of problems for our contemporary culture.  We have become a people insistent upon our anonymity.  We value self-sufficiency and independence almost above all things.  We write books about “self-improvement” and “self-made men”.  We idolize individual achievement and we dream about financial independence, and we describe all of this as “the American dream”.  We live in gated communities to keep out the undesirable community.  And we see anyone asking for help as weak and sad.  We have created an entire body of law around the “right to privacy” and we guard our privacy as if it is our most prized possession.  There is no question but that we have, in many ways, worked exactly contrary to the type of interdependence described in the Bible.

But none of that necessarily gets us to “addiction”.  The question is, are we “enslaved” to this need for independence?  Is it psychologically habit-forming?  If we lost it, would we be traumatized?  These are troublesome questions for me.  These are the questions I ask myself as I travel around the country from one church to the next talking about Biblical relationships and New Testament community.  I have to say it…that kind of community is not easy to find, even in the church…maybe especially in the church.

I  believe our culture’s obsession with privacy and independence and anonymity have approached the “addiction” level.  I believe this because we kick and scream anytime we lose those things.  Like an addiction, we actually know that we should be living in community and that we need other people in our lives, but through our actions we choose otherwise.  We choose anonymity, even when we know we should not.  It feels like an addiction to me.  So what about the church?

In the church, we have become so consumer-oriented that we are afraid to create an environment which might actually offend someone’s desire to remain anonymous.  We have done all our marketing homework and we know well what people want and what they do not want.  We aim to give them what they want, because we want to be a “user-friendly” church.  We create huge crowds so that a visitor can come in and, essentially, remain anonymous without being “bothered” by anyone.  What’s worse, we give our own members plenty of leeway to exercise their own desire for independence and privacy and anonymity.  We actually make it possible for people to be “members” without any investment in community or personal accountability at all.  In a sense, we have become “enablers” of our society’s addiction.

There is much to explore on this issue.  But for today, I just want to ask the questions…have we become addicted to anonymity?  And how can the church offer recovery from this addiction?
© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Your Next Step toward Community

31 01 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:13-16

Passages like this one from Pastor James make us squirm.  We see them in scripture and we gloss over them, because they make us uncomfortable.  We honestly do not know what to do with them, because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, they bear almost no resemblance at all to the church with whom we are familiar.

The notion of being so involved in one another’s lives, so intertwined together, that we know each other’s struggles and are fully mobilized to help and to pray…the notion that we would be so interdependent on each other that we would share our deepest fears and our hardest temptations, i.e., that we would actually confess our sins to each other…the notion that we would live our lives fully open and exposed to our Christian community, knowing that it is safe and that they will love and support us even with all our flaws…these notions are all foreign to our culture of self-sufficiency and anonymity.

We have reared at least two adult generations of Christians who consider social interdependence a weakness in an individual.  Saying, “I am hurting and am needing help” is reserved only for the most severe needs.  Daring to share a sin problem with a friend is not only dangerous to us, but is thought by many to be an imposition on that friend.  We build up walls of protection around us and we keep our distance.  We put on shallow, plastic smiles and we act as if everything is fine, when our lives are in fact crumbling to pieces.  In short, we live exactly opposite from the way Christian community is described in scripture.

This is why communities of support groups and recovery groups feel so refreshing to Christians.  This is why prison ministries (where there is no pretense left) and street ministries (where only humility and grace remain) have become shining examples of Christian community, while mainstream congregations often remain graceless and aloof.  And yes, this is why so much scripture about “one another” feels so very foreign to us.

The question, then, for me to ponder as I listen to Pastor James extol the virtues of Christian community is this: what can I do today in my own life to get one step closer to the kind of intimacy James envisioned when he wrote these words?  What is my next step toward community?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com