Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Surviving Conferences and Surviving Church

I was thrilled to see many survivors from Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) make it to the International Cultic Studies Association meeting in Washington, DC last month. I can barely believe that a whole months has elapsed. Of course, I planned to write several posts about it, but I've yet to produce a single one. I've done some networking and have so many people with whom to follow up regarding so many different issues and topics.

By now, I'd hoped to blog about a wonderful acquaintance I made at the meeting – a retired vicar named Stephen Parsons who hosts a blog called Surviving Church. He traveled all of the way across the pond to attend. Apart from seeing former SGM members attend, I think that meeting Stephen was the high point of the meeting for me. He presented a session about the research of Philip Zimbardo and how it applies to the phenomenon of spiritual abuse and of cults. He also expresses an interest in the concept that Zimbardo hints about – that perhaps the position of the modern minister creates a potential for narcissism.

I'm waiting for the book that he authored to arrive, and I wonder if it's on a very slow boat somewhere, traversing the mighty Atlantic pond. In Ungodly Fear, Stephen explores the accounts of several different spiritually abused persons, ultimately encouraging the worthy pursuit of healthy Christianity and a healthy, rewarding church experience.

In our discussions, his great compassion for those who suffered in Evangelical or Fundamentalist pseudo-Christian or Bible-based groups shined through for me. He marveled at the resilience of those who told their accounts of their journeys, treating everyone as a precious and remarkable soul to be celebrated. I'm surprised, though, that we didn't get around to discussing Richard Swinburne and the social versus the antisocial view of the Trinity. I'm putting that on my list for the next time that I see him.

Several times and for several reasons, in talking with him, I thought of an old short story by John Steinbeck entitled, The Chrysanthemums. (I never liked his novels very well, but it has been at least a quarter of a century since I read one of them. Perhaps my perspective would be different now?)

The story tells of a day in the life of Eliza Allen, a gifted gardener who lives in the Salinas Valley. Steinbeck (who grew up in the California town) portrays her as an unsung, would-be heroine, but she never finds the chance to realize it. People almost recognize how exceptional she is, but there seems to be little opportunity for any real expression of their admiration, if they even stop to take time to notice. I've always admired her as a character, for she knows in her own heart that she is valuable and capable and strong. She is also vulnerable and hopeful, and she takes risks to reach out to others, even when they are just using her or taking her for granted.

I keep musing about writing a sequel to Steinbeck's story, continuing the story of Eliza. In contrast to the others she meets in the first installment, I would love to try my hand at a new short story about her. A year later in Salinas, on a cool December morning, I hope to write about her meeting with a retired vicar on his journey. The difference between him and others she's met before in Steinbeck's story? This vicar recognizes her value and beauty and strength. He makes good on his word to her, and he blesses her. For a brief moment in her life, she is seen, noted for who she is, and is rewarded with kindness.

I felt all inspired about this creative writing project, but life has become busy. In the interim, I invite you to read more at Stephen Parson's blog, Surviving Church.

To my conservative American friends, note that some of his views are not fundamentalist ones. In fact, somehow we ended up discussing Jonah, the Great Whale, and Nineveh. Stephen expressed his view that the writing was just a bit of good storytelling. He seemed surprised and perhaps pleasantly amused (with an attitude of the utmost respect) that I believe that there was and is a Jonah of old. I look forward to talking with him.

When we both get to heaven, I expect that we will find out then whose opinion was most accurate. I look forward to a meeting of the three of us one day. If my belief was the misguided one, we'll have a good laugh. If I arrive there before Stephen and am correct, I'm going to see if I be there to greet him in glory along with Jonah to make the introduction.

Thanks for your indulgence, all of those who read this and think that there's just a Flying Spaghetti Monster in my flights of fancy. As my author friend Jocelyn Andersen puts it, I'm a “pan-millennialist.” I'm waiting to see how it all pans out, just like I'm waiting to meet Jonah.