Archives For control

Mandy and I have been watching the Egyptian political crisis with extraordinary interest. Her name is printed on a plane ticket scheduled to leave all too shortly for this volatile area of the world, where military tanks roam the streets like minivans as protesters violently clash with the Mubarak regime.

Surreal.

When I think of Egypt, my mind effortlessly conjures up images of camels, pyramids, and Yule Brenner. But my wife is (was?) heading there to encounter the effects of extreme poverty. To work with people who have literally built a community among the city trash dumps. (This story may help you re-frame the romanticism and understand a small piece of the unrest).

Now it appears the only Egyptian flights any Americans will be taking are out of the country. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Admittedly, I probably understand as much about the Egyptian political environment as I do about fixing my furnace, and the last thing we need is another ignorant American spouting his opinions about a global crisis he only thinks he understands.

But something hit me square in the face as I watch this unfold. Something that hits close to home. In me.

Control, fear, and manipulation won’t work forever.

Yet our human nature is to control. To demand our way. To gain power and then preserve it. To manipulate the behavior of others from the outside-in.

We see it in governments. In businesses. In churches. In families. In every kind of human interaction.

What we’re watching unfold in Egypt is ugly. It makes us angry. And rightly so. But at its root is something that resides in us all. A sinful desire to hold all the marbles.

Which is probably why Jesus’ example is all the more mind blowing. That the Son of God, at the pinnacle of His earthly influence, would give up His power. Lay down His life. Relinquish control. In fact, it was in letting go of Himself that He actually changed the world forever.

Maybe Mubarak should learn a little something from Jesus.

Maybe I should, too.

When I was a kid I was terrified to go to sleep at night. The blue-green light of my clock radio cast just enough eerie shadows on the walls to bring my vivid imagination to life.

(You remember that rash outbreak of Russian thugs that broke into the bedrooms of 10 year old suburban kids back in the mid-80’s, right? Stupid Cold War.)

So I developed a little habit.

Every night I situated the blankets and pillows on my bed in such a way that my face was securely insulated in its own private hideout. An impenetrable fortress of cotton sheets and down stuffing with just enough opening for my nostrils to suck in the cool night air. No malcontent Soviets were breaking through this blockade.

As irrational as it was, somehow it made me feel…

…safe.

Fast forward a quarter century.

Just last night, I awoke submerged in a hideout of bed linens like Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve. Flashback to 1986! And even though I’m old enough to know KGB spies aren’t repelling down our aluminum siding to steal my Facebook login, it reawakened that childhood sense of covering and security I felt being buried beneath a layer of blankets and pillows.

Ridiculous right?

No one really believes that a few thin layers of bedding would act as valid protection from Kremlin assassins. But my little self-made fictional fortress helped me create the illusion (at least in my mind).

I’m still really good at building “hideouts.”

Controlling environments.

Avoiding conflicts.

Sidestepping uncomfortable conversations.

Pushing off the difficult decisions.

(FYI: “I’m praying about it” is always a good one if you’re looking for a “spiritual sounding” cover up).

And just like my pointless shelter of pillows and blankets, these “strongholds” are just false illusions of security.

Every time I hole up in my own man-made sentinel, I trade in the opportunity to be truly hidden away I choose self-protection over God’s protection. What an absurd exchange.  After all, do I really need protecting if I’m not even out there where it’s actually dangerous?

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17:8)

But getting there requires the courage to throw off the covers and risk the threat of those imaginary Russian spies. Let’s face it, sometimes it feels riskier to trade in our fake protection for the real thing. We run from harmless shadows instead of finding true refuge in the shadow of the Almighty.

Maybe it’s time to come out from under the covers?

I’ve noticed an interesting, little phenomenon through the last year of consistent blogging:  people respond when I post my thoughts on the dysfunction, systematization, or abuses of the organized Church (and when I use words like “suck” in my blog titles).

That’s not difficult to unwind.

The Church is often deserving of criticism. And those of us longing to emerge from a predominantly cultural acceptance of Christ into a more vital, life-breathing relationship with Him, have had to take a long and honest look at what we’ve truly embraced.

We’ve had to point at it.  Name it.  Call it what it was. And often times distance ourselves from it.

It’s true.  The Church can be:

hypocritical

manipulative

money-hungry

behavior driven

backward

controlling

institutional

stale

abusive

self-serving

self-righteous

(fill in your favorite missing adjective)

And I don’t think pointing at the truth is unwarranted.

The Old Testament prophets violently confronted poor spiritual leadership.  Jesus Himself had more than passive insults to throw at the religious hierarchy of His day.

But it’s so easy to chuck stones at the institution. To critique the caricature.  To cynically slam the fundamentalist control-mongers.

(and let’s be honest, it’s a lot of fun, too)

It’s much scarier to take a hard look at ourselves.

Here’s the deal:  I am the church. And so are you if you claim to follow Jesus Christ.  So perhaps we should focus first on embracing our personal responsibility to the Kingdom rather than just gleefully pointing at the Emperor with his pants around his ankles.  Maybe we should repent of our own dysfunction, hypocrisy, and control issues. Remove the “plank” from our eye so we can see clearly to help The Church at large.

Let’s continue to wrestle. To challenge.  To embrace the tension.  To call the spades what they are.  (I plan on it).

Let’s just always be willing to start with the me before we take on the we.

Sometimes I Make Crap Up

Erik Cooper —  April 14, 2010 — 1 Comment

My four-year old son loves to create random rules.

We can’t just throw a ball.  Every catch has to have a point value (usually starting at gazillion).

We can’t just shoot baskets.  All missed shots must be swallowed in a bubbling pool of hot lava.

There’s no such thing as enjoying a leisurely bike ride.  The first to the park gets top dibs at the ice cream truck.

You never just eat the cereal.  Ingesting three Lucky Charms marshmallows of the same color in a row makes you the big fat loser.

Rules. Random rules.

These rules give him structure.  A way to wrap his mind around a mindless activity, or to add the thrill of competition to a mundane task.

It’s cute and imaginative.

And…

It’s manipulative and controlling (a subtle way for an ambitious four-year-old to begin his hostile takeover of the free world).

Rules aren’t necessarily bad.  They bring order to chaos (ask any 2nd grade teacher or mother of three).  Clarity from ambiguity.  Solid form to the otherwise incomprehensible .  But when that Incomprehensible happens to be the Creator of the Universe, our desperate need for clarity, form, and order can lead us to create some things we may regret later.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel just couldn’t seem to get a comfort level with God’s revelation.  So over the centuries, they added hundreds of their own rules and interpretations to the commands God had already personally revealed.  Rules that, perhaps initially, were just an innocent attempt to paint a clearer picture.

But over time, these rules became a means of control. Manipulation.  Comparison.  Condescension.  Arrogance.  Instead of clarifying, they actually expanded the cavernous divide between God and man.

And we do the exact same thing today. Sometimes without even realizing it.

As we grapple with understanding a God so far beyond our comprehension, we turn the “Who” that God is into a “what” that we can quantify.  The Creator who longs to know us intimately becomes a religious game to be won or lost.  And slowly but surely, the God of the Universe transforms into a list of obligations, rituals, and expectations that manipulate our lives from the outside in.  When all along Jesus is waiting to transform us from the inside out.

Don’t eat those three green marshmallows!

And we sort of like it that way. It gives us a strange sense of comfort.  Control.  A way to make sense of life’s chaos.

All it’s missing is…

Life.

What crap do you make up to try and make sense of God? Maybe it’s time to drop the rules and find some Real Life.

“This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; This time I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts.  I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people.  They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons.  They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great.”

I’m honored to participate in the “blog tour” for Mark Batterson’s new book, PRIMAL.  My review of his challenging new book is below.  Check it out (the post and the book).

As far as I know, there is no such thing as “C.A.” (Churchies Anonymous), but maybe there should be. There are undoubtedly a lot of you like me who were raised in the subculture of the Western Evangelical American Church.  You know, that subtle, religious dance, where Christianity is defined by a set of behavioral standards and consistent Sunday attendance.

And while I really do cherish the way I was raised, I often wonder how much of my understanding of God was shaped merely by a set of cultural norms rather than a true and personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Many days I feel like I’m still waking up.

Thatprimal‘s why I love Mark Batterson’s new book PRIMAL: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity. This book takes dead aim at humanity’s uncanny ability to over-complicate God. To trade in the freedom of Christ for the layers of religiosity He actually came to unravel, all in our vain attempts to find Him in the first place.  In PRIMAL, Mark gets back to the simple essence of what it means to love God.

Mark is a “churchie” like me.  Raised in it, married into it, studied it, built it.  But he’s a church “insider” that’s not satisfied with simply preserving the status quo. Mark’s not afraid of the hard questions, yet he asks them with such dignity and class you feel like he’s giving you a high five while he’s really kicking your butt. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“The temptation is to ask this question: what’s wrong with this generation? But that is the wrong question. The right question is this: what’s wrong with the church?

“As we grow in our love relationship with God, we begin to empathize with God.  We feel what He feels.

“It seems to me that we have spiritualized the American Dream or materialized the gospel.”

“When we lose our sense of wonder, what we really lose is our soul.  Our lack of wonder is really a lack of love.

“I’m afraid we’ve unintentionally fostered a subtle form of spiritual codependency in our churches.  It’ is easy to let others take responsibility for what should be our responsibility.”

“Too many of us try to understand truth in the static state.  We want to understand it without doing anything about it, but it doesn’t work that way. You want to understand it?  Then obey it.”

“The truth is that most of us are already educated way beyond the level of our obedience.  We learn more and do less, thinking all the while that we’re growing spiritually.

“Which do you love more: your dream or God?

“This book is an invitation to be part of something that is bigger than you, more important than you, and longer lasting than you.  It’s an invitation to be part of the next reformation.

PRIMAL reads quickly and is compiled in powerful, poignant, yet small, almost blog-like chunks. In fact, this book really seems to be further development of many of Mark’s posts from the last few years.  It reflects an honest passion for Christ beyond just being a church leader (as well as an obvious fascination for scientific thought and studies).

I highly recommend it as a first read for 2010. It’s a great book for anyone, but it found a special connection with me as a church “insider” constantly looking to escape the complicated layers that religious culture has quietly coated me with over the years.  If you want something real, search for something primal.

Check it out. Let me know what you think.