Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 23, 2011

Maybe I’ve been Success Gospeled

Friends who come to town every now and then were just here in the onesy version. Good to get together for dinner and all that with friends you’ve known a long time.

And yet there’s also a sense that for all the talk, there’s almost no real conversation. Maybe I’m just a hermit, but it seems conversation ought to leave me a little more satisfied. Hearing all the “stuff”, all the “who”, and all the… glitter of a busy life is just not filling. I never got the sense that all this stuff wasn’t covering up something that was missing. And it’s like that old parlor trick of hiding something in plain view.

Mostly with friends and or family, we all know what it is that we’ve hidden. Only we’ve made a joint decision not to talk about it. Here, it’s different. Here, we’re clueness what we’re not talking about. I mean the blue streak of “stuff” does make it hard to pause the “in-go” long enough to sort, filter and notice the difference between where we’re full and where we’re empty. It’s there. It’s just hard to get a pause without spilling something somewhere.

Understand that these folks are extremely nice people. Never once did I get the impression that there was any implication that there was something wrong with “me” or “us” for not following suit. Never once did I get the impression of judgment, or inadequacy or incompleteness being conveyed. Easy enough to do inadvertantly. I think I would have felt uncomfortable, and I never did.

But I do feel something’s missing. And I wonder if it’s comfort within their own skins, or that somehow I’ve left them uncomfortable with me… and so disinclined to talk as real people do talk to each other. There are distinct possibilities here. Always been a touch of this due to a parent who wanted his child (my buddy) to be so much more that they didn’t mind being overbearing and saying things of this nature in front of his friends. But we thought this was all in the past. There are signs that it’s not… like living so much in their children’s lives that it would seem suffocating to me if my parents had done the same. But I know this is much more common these days anyway. Yet all of us have some sense where we are uncomfortable with ourselves… sometimes just in specific places or with specific people, so I’m just not sure that this is fair or “it”.

I am sure that there is something I’m missing. And the obvious thing is that there is something wrong with me. Duh. That’s why we’re in the Hospital, right? No, I’m not healthy. Yes, this walks up to the line and looks at judgment. More sensitive types might say I’m judging. True… probably. And yet I try to find whether I haven’t already been judged, missed the point entirely, or whether hoping for and looking for the best in this isn’t something different? “Yeah right”.

But I woke up this morning wondering simply, “Maybe I’ve just been Success Gospelled?” Yes, I know they’re into “praise” music and some sort of evangelical mega church thing. They know I’m into this way-back creaky Orthodox Church thing… but we try to appreciate the differences rather than dwell on them… at least I think we do. But I’m unfamiliar enough with this whole Success Gospel that I wonder whether in fact I missed the entire context of the conversation. I think perhaps I did. I mean, all this stuff, all these good things, all these powerful and wonderful people… all these are blessings from God and a testament to their faith as they have it. I can’t argue with that. They are blessings and a testament to a good and loving God indeed. But what I guess I missed is the emphasis that this is indeed a deep offering of the depth of their faith and testament to their love of God. All this stuff they do. Yes, they are good people and do many good things for others… no question there. I’ve said that, yes I know. But it is hard to convey that I really do mean these are good people… they are.

And yet I wonder what happens and how they manage when things don’t all go so swimmingly? What of when we suffer? What then? What of the other quiet lives that may seem less outwardly blessed… but in fact may have depth, love, and meaning… depths beyond the great deep, beyond the mystery, and beyond our knowing. What then? Is it like… where’s the beef? or is the whole of it confused? Is it more that these things come from the Other Guy… not from God… ’cause he’s more like the fix-up go-to-guy we turn to when we’re busted… but Mr. Fun… hey… bring it on, but hold the bill? Anesthesia… sweet anesthesia!

And yet maybe they have something going: They live their faith in an unselfconscious way, and it absorbs every part of them. I think that’s a wonderful thing! Yet I find it more difficult… a struggle… a literal arm wrestle both to live something of it for myself, and to try to not let it turn me into some sort of monster, some Hydra, some Grendel or Jeckyl-and-Hyde. Once asked whether my faith was works righteousness or faith based by these guys… I demurred and said Orthodox were very into the Bible but held there was a balance of faith and works rather than a separation. Missed that one, too, I suspect. “Works” usually means liturgies, prayers, rituals and all the “stuff” we do. Oh… that…yeah, I guess I’m into it. So I guess I’ve fallen off the wagon there. And yet I wonder as I write this whether in fact it’s not the ex-protestant in me that looks at this possibility and wonders, “Maybe my discomfort with the Success Gospel is my old self looking under every rock to find some sort of works righteousness in the other guy… and maybe I’m not managing to change so much as learn new language?”

Not saying that every quack begats a duck… but I am wondering. Gee… maybe that means I get to go live in a swamp and get my arm ripped off. Yipes! Probably so. I’ll be needing anesthesia then, you can bet!


  1. Just last night hubby and I were out with friends. One friend asked “What has been Spiritually important to you lately?” He’s one of those Churchless Christians we hear about (may even have gone over to Agnostic by now too).I thought it was a good question and not nearly as invasive as some of the others I’ve been asked previously, such as “what is the Lord doing in your life these days?”

    And I know what you mean about some dissatisfaction with certain conversations. I have af riend who is steep into the prosperity Gospel movement. It’s exhausting to listen to her – and quite disheartening…. but I’m happy for her that her life is so–so—together…and so absent of struggles and sorrow. But, yeah, I don’t really feel that I know her anymore.

    • Those are hard questions and I’d have to have a lot more history with someone… someone from my parish looking to really understand… before I’d know how to begin to answer.
      Especially, “What’s the Lord doing in your life these day?” Hmmmm, “Shaking his head and sayin’ stuff like, ‘What a stiff-necked SOB this one is.’ 😉 ” I mean… what else can you say?

      • I know! I hate those kind of questions. They’re a bit like a “Gotcha!” question. Because truly, when someone asked me “what is the Lord doing in your life” what I would think was “Nothin'”. Because they always wanted big and flashy. Not, “I’m saying my prayers, reading the Bible and going to church.”

  2. Yup. I have evangelical friends who put up a good “God has blessed me” front and I don’t think it is a concious evangelism technique, it is definitely part of the culture and I believe they don’t really know how else to act around other people who are “Christian”. It is a pretty narcissistic way to live actually. I think that is what really turns me off in those conversations.

    • I’d agree it’s not a conscious evangelism technique. But I do wonder if it’s how some talk “in the club”. Could have been a lot more narcissistic than it was (I got the minimal treatment… I think my wife got the full dose). Hers was enough to send a text plea for mercy….”come home ASAP so we can make it an EARLY dinner”… if you know what I mean.

      In the scheme of things? Minor stuff. Thinking more about it, I’d wonder that the Mary vs Martha thing that seems more benign to us today because “everybody keeps house” and “everybody wants to be a good host/hostess”… that we don’t really understand is that the context is really lost to us in our days. And perhaps the real context is precisely… not that anything is wrong per se, but that they’re missing the point of the visit: Communion. For all that we’re going through that’s the same, for all the places that we’ve been to together, we’re not relating them the same… or even talking about them one-to-one. Somehow, there’s a “miss” where the relationship of presenting a good face misses the one thing needful…. the one thing real. And I don’t know how to describe it… because it’s a sense of the other person. So it’s funny that sometimes you get a sense of greater authenticity, honesty, integrity, and goodness from folks who aren’t (and may not be) christian at all than from some who seem to wear it like a charm bracelet. Both can be good and Godly people… but something about the latter… just leaves me puzzled.

  3. You’ve seen this, no?

    Speaking Christianese.

  4. You’ve seen this, no?

    Speaking Christianese.

    • Ryan / Raphael: Yeah thanks! Forgot about it, but it’s pretty decent, huh?

  5. We must try think the best of people. I find it all too easy to take their worst, compare it to my best and run with it.

    • Robert: That’s right. As I wrote, they’re good people. I think they even have one thing that most of us Orthodox would love to have – and they have this in their faith consciousness… and that is full integration of everything in their life into their faith. It’s all one. And it all comes from God. Seems as though it’s missing something to me, but one thing they definitely have that I do not is this sense of full integration. That’s the good. You’d love to fill in the gaps… and then they’d have the whole thing. I have no idea how you do that, and am simply unequipped. Another defect on my part.

      Truth is, a saint would know what to do or to say to fill the gap. I don’t, and not only that… I haven’t the street cred or holiness that whatever I did say would make a difference. Ergo…. so there you are. They’re this way and it is judgment on my head where it belongs not on theirs. But thinking “the best” of them doesn’t change them; nor do I think it lessens the judgment of me… though I might prefer to pretend to think so. I just don’t think that Pollyanish thinking the best of folks gives us a “bye” and we can move up to the next level. I think it’s harder than that. I fail at the basic level… clearly. But at the higher level, even more so. But FWIW, I’m quite sure by not picking up on the obvious messages, from the other perspective, I’ve missed the mark there as well. Therefore, any “word” I might suggest is unlikely to pass the smell test and make a difference filling in these gaps.

      All the same, as a real world “miss”, this is still very much a minor-league “error” in the baseball sense. Runner gets on base. Not the big whup of all runners clearing home. Just a single. And yet you notice it, and it is painful. It’s a sense of distance… of failed communion. And it’s far from a sense of condemnation. I don’t feel that. More akin to what I understand of Ancient Israel’s understanding of wandering off… like two ships that once sailed together now separating. If you stay together, you’re one of the same fleet, one of the Tribe of Israel. If you wander off, you give up your status in Israel. Thus as the Prodigal isn’t condemned by any means (though he heaps that upon himself later by riotous living), but he does cease to be a member of the nation, and he loses his inheritance. So it is a break in the communion, there is no longer a common sense of a shared inheritance, and the Promise is no longer his as well. My guess would be that this is that sort of thing on a vastly lesser level, but still there. My role? The story makes it clear what it’s supposed to be. Fixable? Sure…. on the part of both us. Maybe one day….we’ll get there.

      Thanks for forcing me to think it through a bit more!

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