On Breathing, Painting and Sweden
October 12th, 2007 by Sonja

I’ve kept reminding myself to breath these last couple of days. Just breath. Just breath.

Smaug rolled again yesterday and snorted. He did it in the most unlikely of places too. Caught me completely unaware. I hate when that happens. I was happily reading blog posts and sipping my morning coffee. When Googlereader flashed a new post from Bro. M. entitled “Stockholm Syndrome.” “Ohhh … sure to be good,” I thought.  And just clicked on through.

I’d really recommend reading the whole post and comments for yourself. I know I always do that. You’re probably tired of it. I do that for a number of reasons. Primarily, I do it because words are a dicey form of communication. I interpret them slightly differently than you. So, you’ll read that post a little bit differently than I do … because your context is different from mine. Second, I’m sure to have missed some important point or other … so please go point that out to me. I always need the help. I can synopsize here … but you’re really better off reading it for yourself. Especially the comments, which are also good.

I spent the better part of yesterday and now this morning stewing over that post. It hit me hard. I don’t know if it was between the eyes or in the solar plexus. In either case, I spun away dizzy and hurt. Churning and emotionally stunned. It wasn’t that Bro. M. wrote anything particularly hurtful. It was that what he wrote stirred up the waters of a pond I have just recently brought to still. I tried several times throughout the day to write a coherent comment at his place and couldn’t. So, I’m writing here. In between breathing and taping the trim and painting.

Bro. M. likened some of the experiences in church and spiritual abuse to the experience that some kidnap victims have that is known as Stockholm Syndrome. “Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in an abducted hostage, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger (or at least risk) in which the hostage has been placed.”

I’m not certain that I agree with Bro. M. that Stockholm Syndrome adequately describes the effect or the relationship between the parties in the relationship when spiritual abuse or bullying happens. I think that there are some aspects of it that are present. But here is where I think there is a significant difference between victims who are under the influence of Stockholm Syndrome and victims of spiritual abuse. Victims who are influenced by Stockholm Syndrome eventually come to realize that the things that they feared while under the influence of their kidnapper/protagonist were unreal, unreasonable and/or illegitimate fears. They were (in a word) made up, in many cases, by the kidnapper in order to hold sway over the victim.

Victims of spiritual abuse never have that realization. Their worst fears are all realized. They lose. They lose their friends. They lose their spiritual family. They lose their source of spiritual support. They lose everything. I can count on one hand the number of friends I have. One. There is hardly anyone to pray for me and mine in the brick and mortar world. We are alone. And it is lonely here. This walk is painful and dry and hungry. On my good days, I know that God is here. On my bad days (and they are frequent) even God is absent.

In January of 2006 I had a nervous breakdown that involved panic attacks and depression. My panic revolved around an unreasonable fear I had that people (policemen mostly) were going to accuse me of something I hadn’t done and the courts would not believe my testimony or any evidence I gave on my own behalf. I was fortunate to have a good counselor and psychiatrist who working together brought me out of that state in relatively short order. I learned how to deal with those fears and strange thoughts. The brain is an interesting organ. But imagine my dismay when it turned out to be some horrible foreshadowing. In January 2007 the people making the unfounded accusations were not the police, but some of my closest friends and no one would believe my testimony or any of the evidence I gave on my own behalf.

I’m no spring chicken. I’ve been around for a while now. One of the things that I’ve been involved with for a long, long time is the process of peace. Redemption. Reconciliation. Mediation. I first heard about it when I worked with the Neighborhood Justice Project to fulfill my community service requirement in college. This was a group that was devoted to mediating disputes between landlords and tenants in the town where I went to college. I heard about it next when I was interning for Senator Stafford. One of his assistants was involved in an initiative that would eventually become The Network of Peace and Conflict Studies at George Mason University. Both of those examples date back to the very early 1980’s and I could go on. My personal history is rife with such examples. I’m dipping into the deep past to say that I’ve been immersed in the issues of peace, redemption and reconciliation for a very long time and it pre-dates my journey with Jesus by a number of years. I know how to mediate and I know the cost involved in reconciliation. I’ve done both … and it’s painful. It’s hard. I am never good at it. I’m not certain anyone is.

So this morning I read this post at Jonathan Brink’s blog about the Mark Driscoll kerfuffle. I’m going to quote some of what he wrote. Not because I think MD has anything to do with this issue, but because Jonathan said some significant things about the process of reconciliation (or not) and redemption (or not) that we all highjack:

All of this makes me realize there might have been a deeper wisdom to Jesus inviting us to, “Turn the other cheek.” How many times have we read that verse assuming it was only our enemy. Maybe Jesus knew we’d need that verse for our own brothers (and sisters) too, for the one’s that hurt us within the church.

The reality is that my brother is going to miss the mark sometimes. But if I go to him in secret, holding his dignity in love, he’ll know I really am his brother. I can listen to why he thinks this or that and say, “Oh I get it…but have you thought about this.” It’s just between the two of us. Jesus knew that love was the only response that worked. In a mission of restoration and reconciliation, I can’t do that if there are blows thrown.

Maybe Jesus knew that the moment someone strikes us is the moment we are being invited to destroy ourselves by striking back or running away. When someone hit us was actually the most defining moment of our lives. It was in this moment that life was demanding an answer to who we really are. Are we really the children of a living God?

See … going to a brother in secret? Well, one sort of supposes that that conversation is kept in confidence. That is when redemption and reconciliation is possible. On the other hand, sometimes those conversations are used as artillery. When one discovers that the conversations have not been kept in confidence, but have been twisted and maimed; taken out of context and given to others. Then one is stuck between a rock and a hard place. I absolutely loved what Jonathan had to say … it’s beautiful and right and good and true. However, if you find that the brother or sister you’ve gone to is not trustworthy or is not playing the same game that you are. There is nothing else to do, but walk away. There is no reconciliation possible. You may over time forgive that person. But until they are ready to reconcile and play on an even field, redemption of the relationship cannot work.

And so I also found myself at odds with Bill Kinnon (it was a strange day indeed). He riffed on Bro. M.’s post writing about the responsibilities of the congregation under such brutal leadership. He said in part:

But there are congregations throughout the world that are, for want of a better word, stupid. For, as Forrest Gump is wont to say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Rather than exhibiting the power of collective intelligence*, they reflect the swamp of collective stupidity. Their senior pastors operate like potentates with management skills worthy of inclusion in Bob Sutton’s book or possibly one of Robert Hare’s – whilst these so-called leaders are busy self-identifying as Level 5 leaders. Yet the pew people stay loyal followers.

Sorry, Bill, I need to part ways with you on this. I don’t believe in collective stupidity. I do, however, believe in a state of collective fear. Or should I say … pack behavior. We are, after all, dogs. Or, in the words of Handel, sheep. No one wants to be excluded from the pack (herd). May I refer you to my (not so wonderful) post on the topic? The people in a church know exactly what happens to those who step out of line. The leadership make sure of it.

I was emotionally raped in front of my team by my leadership in my own livingroom. They did it on purpose. Guess who are their most ardent followers now? Those who saw up close and personal how savage the leaders could be. They know exactly what will happen if they step out of line. They know exactly when, where and how they will be outcast.

Those things are unspoken in any social construct. Every social entity has a gatekeeper. That gatekeeper lets people in and out. Is the keeper of the pack so to speak. That person is also the keeper of the unwritten and unspoken rules of that social entity. People will go to great lengths to keep that person happy without being aware of what they are doing … without that person even being aware of their own position in the group. People know what they have to do in order to “make” it in a group and so they do those things in order to get along and stay part of the herd. Because the root desire of most people’s heart is to belong. They want to belong to the larger group.

So, I don’t believe it is collective stupidity that drives people to suspend their good judgment in order to continue to belong to unhealthy groups/churches. I don’t believe it is Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t know what it is. I think there are some parts that want to continue doing and being what and where God calls us to be. We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And most of all, nobody wants this … this long walk in a desert. Nobody chooses this. It’s much too hard, too lonely, and people will do almost anything to put it off. I know I did.

13 Responses  
  • Bill Kinnon writes:
    October 12th, 20076:47 pmat

    I thought our agreement was that we would always agree!

    I’m sorry for the pain that you, and I, and so many others have experienced in the Body of Christ. Saying Congregations are Stupid or using the Stockholm Syndrome as a metaphor is a way for people like BroMayn and Moi to try to come to an understanding of how people can blithely stand by when one of their sisters or brothers is being emotionally raped/verbally abused/vilified by people in church leadership.

    I don’t disagree with anything that you’ve written (other than your not agreeing with me, of course) and would suggest it isn’t an either/or but a both/and. There is often collective fear, gatekeepers are alive and well, but intelligent people (in my experience) often turn their brains off when they join a congregation. Actions they wouldn’t abide in “the secular world” are willfully ignored in “the world of the sacred”. And I do agree with Forest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Of course, FG is a fictional character.

  • Sonja writes:
    October 12th, 20077:48 pmat

    Oh … cr@p … I forgot **that** agreement 😉

    You make an excellent point and one that came up in conversation between LightHusband and I … after I posted this. It’s part of the continuing bewilderment that we have. I guess my metaphor, then, is “Pack Behavior.” It fits in my life story better for a whole variety of reasons. But I do understand “Stupid Congregations” and “Stockholm Syndrome” as well.

  • Ross writes:
    October 12th, 20077:56 pmat


    I’m right there with you… Trying to reconcile “how people can blithely stand by” grinds in my head daily, and is the eternal flame that seems to keep my significant anger with my CLB alive. If the church that you poured your life into was, publically, built on familial commiunity and Christian love, yet nobody would go to the mat for you when you and your family were being publicly excised from that same community, how do you reconcile that? Were they afraid of the repercussions? Were they secretly glad to see you go? Were any of your relationships ever true? Or were they fabrications, a veneer that made an oh too perfect community possible? How to move forward… hmmm

    Ross (Husband of Sonja)

  • Bill Kinnon writes:
    October 12th, 200710:10 pmat

    I wish I could answer your questions. Perhaps you represent a messenger of truth to them – and it’s much easier to shoot the messenger than believe the truth.

    We are all wounded, broken and confused…in need of a Savior. Fortunately, we have One. I pray that He help us all extinguish the flames of anger that still burn – or at least use those flames to burn away the dross in our own lives.

    Lord, help me to forgive, as I have been forgiven.

  • Erin writes:
    October 13th, 200712:45 amat

    I sent you an e-mail on this. You’re brave for being so public with your pain, but I felt mine better suited to private.

  • grace writes:
    October 13th, 20072:02 amat

    You are right that reconciliation is not possible under the circumstances. It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that relationships that you had truly invested in were really a facade, simply organizational relationships. The groupthink is a combination of the elements you have already discussed and usually also includes blind obedience and social climbing.

    I posted this poem on my blog 2 years after we left our church. It poured out of the crushing hopelessness I felt at the time. I remember the sometimes suffocating pain of grief and loneliness. I have no pat answers for you. I’ve been trying to decide if sharing it would be helpful to you or not, so if it’s not, please just erase this comment. I just wanted you to know that I understand your pain, and I wish I could make it better.

    A Life Erased

    A life erased
    by whispered lies.

    A history that vanished
    while the future dies,
    A destiny not chosen
    scarred by dreams despised.

    Turning away from hurt
    but finding anger in its place,
    Fleeing from bitterness
    but seeing only vast, empty space.

    Is there no way of escape,
    no way out of this dark night?
    A path of grief and shame,
    no glimpse of hope in sight.

    If no one sees you,
    do you really exist?
    If no one hears you,
    do you have a voice?

    If no one cares,
    does it really matter?
    If no one knows,
    is it even true?

    A life erased,
    by whispered lies.

  • Paul writes:
    October 13th, 20073:57 amat

    oh bum :(

  • Sonja writes:
    October 13th, 20078:56 amat

    Grace, the poem is beautiful. I just wish I had a better word for it. Thank you.

  • Patrick writes:
    October 13th, 200711:04 amat

    “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

    I read your post and I can’t help think that you’ve gained an insight into Jesus’ trial. Gone beyond the polysyllabic words that make for doctrinal arguments.

    What did Jesus feel when Judas kissed him? What was it like standing in the room with the priests and high priests being accused in front of his one time followers? Passed around to Pilate to Herod and back, making the news of the city. His friends abandoning, denying him. Jesus who had done no wrong, ever, condemned, insulted, beaten, humiliated, naked before the city, reduced to nothingness before everyone.

    I suspect you could give a very insightful look into Jesus’ heart, the one that was crying out in agony in Gethsemane in anticipation.

    He, of course, said those famous words on the cross, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” not long before crying out his godforsakenness.

    But the ultimate reconciliation, I think, wasn’t just about Jesus’ openness. It was also about the response to him after and later. Peter repented, and was restored.

    Which says to me that all we can do is our part. Somehow letting go and remaining open. In case the other side too decides to reconcile and find their freedom from their assault. You have the chance to be free. It sounds like those in your past might not, and are going to be shackled in ministry and in spirituality unless they too let go and seek your reconciliation.

    Which brings a person from anger to pity. The desert is lonely, but there’s freedom. And sometimes ravens come with sustenance (1 Kings 17). 😀

    Much better than being in the prison of self-satisfied religiosity. Because it might be lonely. But there’s hope. Hope for when we see Jesus, who understands and was there in that living room with you, recognizing the faces of his own accusers.

  • Sonja writes:
    October 13th, 200712:04 pmat

    Wow … thank you, Patrick. That’s a powerful bit of writing and I will cherish it along with Grace’s poem. There is healing balm in both.

  • Ken writes:
    October 18th, 20073:15 pmat

    I think there can be a middle ground between blithely standing by or jumping into the fray and taking sides. For me, I often see brokenness and mistakes from both sides of a conflict. I actually think it is possible to (try to) support all parties involved and pray for peace and healing. Typically I don’t run from a fight, but I get confused when I don’t see a clear enemy, just lots of hurt and misunderstanding. In situations where you love and care for both person(s) in a conflict, you are left rather helpless (the emotions remind me of how I felt when my parents fought as a child, if that is not too strange of a comparison…).

  • Ross writes:
    October 18th, 20079:24 pmat

    “I get confused when I don’t see a clear enemy, just lots of hurt and misunderstanding”

    I can see that Ken. Sorry to put you (and others) in my crosshairs like that… that wasn’t fair.

  • Calacirian » Pushing My Own Envelope (part 1 in a series) writes:
    December 30th, 200710:44 amat

    […] while ago my friend Mr. Bill and I publicly revealed that we have an agreement. We’ve agreed to always agree. When we don’t agree, well, we’ll disagree to […]

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