Addicted to Anonymity

10 04 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

I wonder if we in the American culture have become addicted to anonymity?

Dictionary.com defines addiction like this:

the state of being enslaved to a practice or habit or something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

When I think about the community prescribed in God’s Word, particularly in the New Testament church,  I see plenty of problems for our contemporary culture.  We have become a people insistent upon our anonymity.  We value self-sufficiency and independence almost above all things.  We write books about “self-improvement” and “self-made men”.  We idolize individual achievement and we dream about financial independence, and we describe all of this as “the American dream”.  We live in gated communities to keep out the undesirable community.  And we see anyone asking for help as weak and sad.  We have created an entire body of law around the “right to privacy” and we guard our privacy as if it is our most prized possession.  There is no question but that we have, in many ways, worked exactly contrary to the type of interdependence described in the Bible.

But none of that necessarily gets us to “addiction”.  The question is, are we “enslaved” to this need for independence?  Is it psychologically habit-forming?  If we lost it, would we be traumatized?  These are troublesome questions for me.  These are the questions I ask myself as I travel around the country from one church to the next talking about Biblical relationships and New Testament community.  I have to say it…that kind of community is not easy to find, even in the church…maybe especially in the church.

I  believe our culture’s obsession with privacy and independence and anonymity have approached the “addiction” level.  I believe this because we kick and scream anytime we lose those things.  Like an addiction, we actually know that we should be living in community and that we need other people in our lives, but through our actions we choose otherwise.  We choose anonymity, even when we know we should not.  It feels like an addiction to me.  So what about the church?

In the church, we have become so consumer-oriented that we are afraid to create an environment which might actually offend someone’s desire to remain anonymous.  We have done all our marketing homework and we know well what people want and what they do not want.  We aim to give them what they want, because we want to be a “user-friendly” church.  We create huge crowds so that a visitor can come in and, essentially, remain anonymous without being “bothered” by anyone.  What’s worse, we give our own members plenty of leeway to exercise their own desire for independence and privacy and anonymity.  We actually make it possible for people to be “members” without any investment in community or personal accountability at all.  In a sense, we have become “enablers” of our society’s addiction.

There is much to explore on this issue.  But for today, I just want to ask the questions…have we become addicted to anonymity?  And how can the church offer recovery from this addiction?
© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Finding Focus in a Church’s Grief

10 01 2012

Tuesday Re-mix - 

“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1

I have been blessed with only a limited amount of genuine grieving in my life.  Frankly, I’ve done a whole lot more consoling of others than I have needed consoling myself.  But you don’t have to be an expert on grief to know that it has a profound effect on our ability to see truth.  In fact, a part of the healing process is learning to look through the pain to some larger truth which, difficult as it may be to grasp in spite of the pain, still has a way of guiding us.

But did you know that the grief process is not reserved only for individuals?  Churches grieve also.  They grieve the loss of a much-loved leader, the loss of a ministry or program, the loss of a “way of doing things”, the loss of unity…all of these can cause a type of grieving process for a church.  And like the grieving process for an individual, a church’s grief can be unpredictable and unrelenting.  It can last a few days or a few years, perhaps even an entire generation.  It can cause the church to do and say things it doesn’t mean to do and say.  But most of all, just like the grief process for anyone else, it is painful…unbearably so.

Moreover, grief has a way of disorienting us, both as individuals and as congregations.  It turns up into down and right into left.  It leaves us not even knowing which way to look for direction.  It is chaotic and complex and confounding.

So, it is in the pain of real grief where we are often left with little orientation other than to fall back onto whatever “safe harbor” we have established ahead of time.  For me, that would be God’s Word.  Whether in my individual grief or in my corporate grief, I have already long since decided where I will turn.  I have placed my most childlike faith in God’s Word, so that, even through the unspeakable pain of emptiness and loss, I can at least find some general sense of my bearings.

Of course, hearing the truth–perhaps even knowing the truth–does not take the pain away.  It does not bypass the grief process.  We must still go through all the pain which grief brings, for however long the process may be for us.  But fixing our eyes on eternal truth at least serves to give us direction, it reminds us to breathe, and then to breathe again.  It walks before us every day of the journey, calling us one more step forward…not around the grief, but through it.

It gives us the only thing we can trust during the otherwise mixed-up season of emptiness and loss.  There is nothing else trustworthy, nothing else which is not capable of leading us astray.  We must fix our eyes on Jesus and cling to His Word…and crawl forward, and then do it again.  And at some point a long way down that road, clarity begins to come again.  And though the loss is still there and has carved out a new normal for us, we still have the one thing worth holding onto through it all…God’s love.  And isn’t that exactly what your church needs most?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




The Way Back to Relationship

26 07 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  Luke 15:11-12

There are three main characters in Jesus’ story of the prodigal in Luke 15: the father, the younger son and the older son.  Each of them represent a different perspective on bad behavior, and I suspect each of us can relate best to each of them at different times of our lives.  Sometimes we are the one betrayed (like the father), sometimes we are the rebellious one (the younger son) and sometimes we are the one crying out for justice (the older son).  But in every case, Jesus told the story to demonstrate one simple truth: the way back to a right relationship.  And that, it seems to me, can be the most confusing path of all.  I am so glad for what Jesus’ story shows us about how to return to a right relationship, once we have determined to do so.

Seasons of Rebellion. We all have some connection to the prodigal himself, because we have all made decisions which we knew (even at the time we made them) were disobedient to God.  We knew His desire for us and we simply went in a different direction.  It was (and is) rebellion, plain and simple.  Sometimes it is a short season followed by an immediate “what was I thinking?” head-slap.  But sometimes it is a prolonged season when we withhold from His Lordship some particular slice of our life which we just are not willing to submit to Him.  Either way, it is rebellion.  And the way back from any rebellion is, quite simply, confession.  You will not find a more perfect confession in all of scripture than Jesus’ prodigal character’s confession to his father…acknowledgment of the scope of the sin and complete acceptance of the consequences.  From your own season of rebellion, once you have determined to find your way back to a right relationship, the pathway is clear: confession.

Seasons of Betrayal. Fewer of us have experienced this season than the season of rebellion, but it is common nonetheless.  We sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice for someone we love, we become transparent and vulnerable to them, we let them into our secret soft places of the heart…and they betray us.  In those seasons, we relate to the father of the prodigal.  And then there is a season of suffering.  We grieve the loss of a love relationship with that person.  We experience a whole host of feelings for that person and about that person, ranging from hate to anger to pity to a deep longing to restore a relationship and then back again.  It is an emotionally chaotic time, wrought with backbreaking twists and turns.  And the father in Jesus’ story eventually gets to forgiveness.  In our season of betrayal, there is suffering and there is unspeakable pain, but in the end, if we determine that the relationship is something we desperately want, Jesus gives us the way back: forgiveness.

Seasons of Injustice. We all experience feelings of injustice from time to time.  But then there are moments or seasons of the kind of profound unfairness that leaves an emotional mark on us.  There are those times when, after all our sacrifices and rule-keeping and doing things the “right” way, some other lazy, rule-breaking rebel is rewarded far beyond anything we have ever experienced ourselves.  These are the times when bad things happen to good people and when amazing, terrific things happen to truly bad people.  We just look on with disgust and begin to wonder whether God is really God at all.  In Jesus’ story, it is the older brother who experiences the “injustice”.  And Jesus demonstrates that the older brother’s way back into a right relationship with his family is to let go of his demand for justice and to pursue his own level of forgiveness.  In our season of injustice, we often must choose what is more important to us: the relationship or justice.  And when we choose the relationship, the way back is to let go of our demand for justice.

Maybe you can relate to each of these characters.  Maybe there is one in particular with whom you best relate right now, because you are in such a “season”.  Jesus’ point is pretty simple, actually.  There is a way back.  You need only make the decision to choose it.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com







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