Sunday reflections

1. Feelings — owning vs. observing.

My friend was telling me how her therapist says instead of owning your feelings, i.e., “I’m depressed,” it’s more helpful to observe your feelings, i.e., “I am noticing depression.” It’s an interesting distinction. It reminds me of mindfulness, one of the core tenets of DBT — when you can step back enough to observe things (including internal things like feelings), identify them, without judging them, the more you can be wise when it comes time to act and evaluate. Without the observation step, you’re more likely to act and evaluate impulsively — according to emotional mind OR rational mind, neither of which is inherently wise.

On the other hand, I think the common psychological advice to own your feelings is in opposition to something else. It is better to own your feelings than to deny, try to transcend, ignore, or suppress them, or project them onto other people, God, or circumstances. Owning your feelings is about recognizing that feelings themselves are neutral, without moral content, and that they’re valid even when they’re out of proportion or irrational. (You can act wisely when your feelings are out of proportion or irrational, but you can’t change or control the feelings themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with the feelings themselves — the problem that makes them out of proportion or irrational is something deeper than the feelings themselves.) It’s okay to have feelings. It’s okay to feel them. In fact, having and feeling them is much healthier than the denying, trying to transcend, etc.

2. Babies and bathwater.

a. In the sermon today at the church we were visiting, the pastor talked about how people seek medication when the real problem is sin — and medication can’t really solve the problem of sin. He also talked about how biblically wrong it is for counselors to tell people they need to forgive themselves — because only God can forgive sins.

I know that there are people who seek medication to cover up or avoid dealing with unpleasant realities, without seeking to identify and work through the root issues. But one of the most important things I learned in therapy is that not all problems are spiritual problems. Some mental health issues are medical, and some are psychosocial. Even those of us who have had our sin problem solved at the Cross might have medical or psychological issues that require something more than the Cross for treatment. I am sure this pastor is aware of that, and didn’t intend to say that it’s sinful or impossible for Christians to have mental health issues, and yet I wish he’d clarified his statement.

As for forgiving yourself — well, in a sense I get that. We can’t actually atone for our own sins. I think the idea is really about not holding on to guilt and shame that is either false (there’s a lot of false guilt in the mental health world) or has already been taken care of at the Cross. If God is for us, who can be against us? In this sense, forgiving yourself is really about fully accepting God’s forgiveness. But I can see that the phrase could be misleading.

b. The pastor and his wife invited us to lunch after church, which was a good opportunity for us to ask questions. At one point we were discussing our views of Scripture.

We believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, sufficiently clear in matters related to salvation, and without error in matters related to salvation. We also believe that the humanness of the writers shows in many places, that not every action recorded is approved by God or held up as an example to imitate, that there are many genres that need to be interpreted appropriately (poetry vs. history, for example), and that there are errors resulting from translation and copying, though far fewer than from comparable or more recent works such as Homer or Shakespeare.

We believe that our faith stands or falls on the question of whether Jesus Christ is a historical figure who truly died and rose again, but we are less certain about the historicity of other parts of the Bible. Jesus and Paul both talk about Adam, for example, but do they speak of him as a historical person, or as a legendary representative? If the latter, does that really necessarily mean that the doctrine of total depravity and / or original sin is lost? What about Job — Noah — the Tower of Babel?

We believe that the New Perspective on Paul has raised some important questions and ideas, particularly about what the Judaism of Jesus’ day was really like, and especially the place of grace and works and faith in that Judaism. We’re not entirely convinced that N. T. Wright (our main source on NPP, and only via a few books) is entirely right about it all, but again it’s been interesting, challenging, and helpful to read him.

I think we scared the pastor a little bit. I think he names the baby and the bathwater a little differently than we do.

3. The stated meetings of the church.

The two churches we’ve been visiting both have traditions of a morning AND an evening service, and today’s one also has a Wednesday night prayer meeting. Their constitution lists several expectations of a church member, including that members are urged to attend all the stated meetings of the church.

I wanted to know how big a deal it would be. Mark’s work doesn’t allow much time for three trips a week that involve a 40-minute drive each way. We’re also not convinced that multiple church services each week is really that much more wonderful than one, nor that one is necessarily merely a bare minimum. The pastor did say that they understand the work and time issue, but that the meetings serve different purposes and it isn’t appropriate to choose which ones to attend based on which purposes we like best. I don’t think we’re thinking merely about convenience or likes and dislikes… I do miss being in a small group, where there was time for fellowship, study, and prayer in ways that don’t usually happen at the Sunday worship service. If there were a Wednesday night small group at this church, made up of those folks who also commute from Plymouth, I would be interested in attending that.

What I’m especially bummed about is that communion is offered only once a month, and only at the evening service. If we choose this church, we’d likely skip the morning service that day and go to the evening service in order to participate in communion.

(That is, if our edgy views on Scripture and the like don’t exclude us from the Table.)

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2 thoughts on “Sunday reflections

  1. Too bad you aren’t in a more cosmopolitan area. It seems like you guys have more nuanced thinking than most people in general and most evangelical pastors, in particular. Therefore, it will not be easy to find a place that can feed you to the extent you like. The “must attend every service” sounds so legalistic. I’d take a good pastoral pastor, someone who can just love the congregants, over the rules — or even the best theology — any day (and that last point, about theology, is a hard one for me, but I could really use the pastoring part).

  2. Yeah. Have I mentioned this is a few months into our *third* year living here? For most of this time we attended a Church of Christ church, very small, which closed a few months ago.

    This pastor today did not say “must attend every service” quite that strongly. The other things in the constitution about members are phrased “Members are expected to…,” but this one says “Members are urged to…,” and the pastor pointed out that this is a concession, understanding that not everyone has time to be present at all the meetings, and understanding the importance of family time. He did, however, talk about a family that is unable to attend Wednesday and Sunday nights during the school year when the husband’s workload is too heavy, but that they come to those meetings in the summer, and how that “shows” the pastor that it’s not about convenience or mere like or dislike.

    It’s hard — you need to have such conversations and ask such questions, but people (unintentionally, unconsciously) don’t always talk and answer the way they really live. We’ll continue to visit both and keep talking.

    How we miss our Ithaca church! How grateful we are that our pastor there continues to be available to us when we need a good solid crunchy shepherding session.

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