Sunday, April 26, 2009

Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapgoating and Misconduct in Churches -- A Review

The Universality of the Experience

of Spiritual Abuse

I highly recommend Margaret Jones’ “Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches” for those who are working through a spiritual abuse experience as they sort out and sort through the good and the bad that the process brings. The author carries us into her world and with her through the personal aspects of spiritual abuse, taking us into those aspects of her life that were touched by church bullying and all those aspects of her life that likely paved the way for it. I appreciate the readability of the book but also how she introduces her professional perspective in a way that will not intimidate the layperson because the presentation is so honest. I enjoyed that little glimpse into how a mental health professional approached the experience, communicating to the reader that we are all souls that are vulnerable to manipulation and disappointment whenever we pursue idealistic ends. Neither professional expertise in human behavior nor the principles of the Bible itself can protect us from the cruel aspects of human politics, something we always risk when we cooperate in a community.

As is true of all of these types of personal accounts with psychological manipulation in religious systems, I found myself meditating on how alike we all are as human beings. We basically all desire love, acceptance and transcendence, yet we all experience the fear of taking risks. Doing right often requires a risk, and regretfully, even religious leaders can shrink back from the challenge. I drew much encouragement from the honest moments of choice narrated in the book that are so much a part of walking through the spiritual abuse experience, providing a glimpse into the struggle of deciding to follow what is healthy rather than the path of least resistance. Too many books gloss over the moments of struggle of choice between doing what is healthy and good as opposed to the familiar paths that provide us the opportunity to escape our pain. Some of us drink, some of quit trying, and some of us go fishing to escape the pain of facing our fears and our risk of further rejection for making the mature choices needful for our healing. The author takes us right into many of those painful and critical moments along with her, part of what makes this book so helpful.

We look to religion – that something idealistic and greater than ourselves – in order to make us better people as individuals and to find a sense of community wherein we can contribute with other like-minded people who want to do what we can to make the world a little better. We expect a higher standard and ethical code within those idealistic systems, as well we should. It continues to amaze me how common the experience of disappointment, scapegoating and what is often akin to schoolyard bullying proves to be for the survivor when religious people and systems fall short of that reasonable and high expectation. (Some people never mature beyond the schoolyard playground, a realization that the idealistic and innocent person often fails to recognize until they’ve walked through this disappointment as an adult.) I am amazed that Dr. Jones echoes the common words and expressions that I have heard from others and voiced myself – statements and feelings that must be unique to the experience of “suffering wounds in the house of one’s friends.” Though it may be a right of passage into wisdom, perseverance, and religious maturity as a person of faith, I’m continually amazed at the commonality of the process of the realization of that disappointment. And it is inspiring to see the “Maggie” that the reader comes to know realize some sweet victory and validation, too, giving hope to those who also identify with her struggle and pain.

Sometimes I do not know if this is a result of my own similar experiences rising to the surface, as I felt what I might describe as a sigh of exasperation that prompted me to set the book aside for more than a week before I was able to finish it. I share the experience of childhood sexual abuse and some past struggles of self-destructive behavior that are similar to those described by the author, though these very vivid glimpses into experiences that are carved into her life are not the aspects of the book that I found to be heavy. I felt avoidance and a resistance of the “next shoe dropping” that I anticipated as I read, but this is also a very real part of the PTSD and pessimism that accompany spiritual abuse. The details of the book become a little messy in my mind, calling for my short break from the book, but I also know well how such details become a very real part of the messy experience of traversing this church abuse territory. My own life lacked momentum in the midst of the pressures of my own similar experience, and I would have loved to have laid them down for a respite, too, just as I laid down the book. Perhaps the detail presents an aspect of “pushing and powering through” spiritual abuse to get equity out of the pain might be otherwise unavoidable when writing such an account? In any case, I had to put the book down for a breather and break, but I found that finishing the book was well worth the effort of picking it back up. Ultimately, this adds to the honesty of the account.

I strongly recommend this book for the spiritually abused but also for clergy who might need a broader perspective of this topic from a new vantage. As the author takes us into the process of finding meaning in her disappointment, she looks to the literature on bullying. She points out that when a bully pressures a victim, too often the bystanders say and do nothing to support the victim, perpetuating the bad situation. Studies show that one vocal bystander can often put an end to the situation or can provide enough validation for the victim so that the whole situation can result in a far more favorable outcome for all involved. I found myself thinking of Dr. Zimbardo’s “everyday hero” concept as describes in his book, The Lucifer Effect and Everyday Hero Project effort. Systems can loose balance and promote silence, and we must look to develop our good characters and willingness to be those everyday heroes who will stand up against injustice. “Not of My Making” is such a book that encourages and reminds us that we are all people with the same basic aspirations, pains and fears in life. That should encourage us to all take the deep breath, braving the often unknown pressures from the crowd and the status quo, in order to make a difference for what is good and right.

There are no innocent bystanders in spiritual abuse, and the whole of the group suffers whenever bullying, scapegoating and misconduct takes place in our churches. We just don’t always see the wounds.

My only other note: Be forewarned of some objectionable language noted on page 200, 254, and 317 that occurs as part of the narrative.

Stop by here at the Under Much Grace Blog on May 4th

for a cyber chat with

Dr. Margaret Jones,

the author of "Not Of My Making"

to learn more about the book and about her experience with the

"Matthew 18 Process."

(I will open up moderated comments for the day! Please come by and participate.)