Monday, January 12, 2015

Is Complaining Really Bad?

One of the things I still struggle with after leaving my old church is when a sermon series starts and you just know that it has nothing to do with trying to teach people or make them consider an issue they hadn't considered in the past. It has to do only with controlling those same people.

Back in my days at my old cult church at least once a year Pastor Pat would return to a single theme: Complaining. Looking back I'm sure it was because the Creek Church was filled with people that whined and complained about many different things to him. Sometimes I was called on the carpet to explain myself to Pat after he'd gotten some odd complaint about me.

I remember one in particular. Shortly after I'd had a complete hysterectomy, very much against the advice of just about everyone in our home Bible study group, I had attended a Saturday night revival service at the Creek. During the course of the evening one of my good friends decided we needed to do a 'fire tunnel' with the mattah sticks I'd made.

Let me back up and explain a few things first.

What's a 'fire tunnel' I hear you say? A 'fire tunnel' was a activity/affectation that several of us had carried away from various conferences, such as from the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship and other places. The theory of the fire tunnel is that it is the people praying lined up in two lines, facing each other, and then another line snaking through the pray-ers. The people praying with touch the prayees on the shoulders, back or head and start praying loudly as the people slowly shuffled down the line. Some Christians think 'fire tunnels' are demonic, I've come to believe it was just another game we were playing with our emotions and the emotions and expectations of others. Not demonic per se, but not worth a plug nickel even thought prayer never hurt a thing.

What's this 'mattah' thing you were using? Basically it's a decorated stick, about six to seven feet tall, decorated with strips of fabric, beads, etching, paints, whatever floated your boat to put upon it. I felt very touched by using a mattah very early on, more than twelve or thirteen years ago. It's something you use in worship, pounding it rhythmically on the ground during worship songs. I still do it sometimes now, even if it's something I very rarely do at my new church. It is just a representation of a staff, rod or ensign. According to teachings the word 'mattah' is used in conjunction with a decorated staff with the tribe's name or insignia on it in the Bible. I don't know, I just know I like decorating them and pounding them on the ground during worship. It's fun.

So where were we? Yes, my friend set up a fire tunnel. Some of us, about six, raised and crossed the mattahs like you might do swords at a West Point wedding and we prayed. Everyone else trooped under the crossed worship sticks while worship team played in the background. It got downright silly, with the laughing, screams of 'More, LORD!' and other charismatic shenanigans we engaged in that night. I used to love those things, now I see them quite differently, like it was some sort of group hysteria that everyone did to feel like they were part of it.

After about a half hour I started feeling weak, like I was going to faint. It had only been a week since my surgery. I'd had a complete hysterectomy, bikini cut, everything removed that might possibly one day be a problem, right down to my appendix. I turned to my old nemesis that I was making a supreme effort to get along with, Tom Smith, and handed him my mattah, going to lay down on the carpet in front of the altar to soak in the worship music.

Next week, oh boy, I was called before the pastor and informed I had screwed up royally, How? By handing off the mattah to Tom Smith, who was not fit to participate in praying for anyone or be any part of ministry at the Creek. People were offended when I did that. I should have only handed the mattah off to another member of the altar ministry.

I tried to explain to the pastor that I really felt strongly that allowing Tom Smith to have a small role like that to bless others wasn't a bad idea. That keeping him perpetually stuck outside of the loop when he wanted to participate wasn't doing him or the church any favors. Surely he would be easier to manage if he felt he had a role in the church? I felt sorry for Tom, because even as Tom had set up a huge computerized sound system involving many hours of work he wasn't allowed to run it. He was not allowed any role in the church other than member. I understood why the pastor had him powerless, but at the same time felt that by keeping Tom from having any role in the church the pastor was making Tom's weirdness and hatred much worse. Better to allow him to run the sound board, keeping him from interfering in the business of other members than to allow him to be at loose ends, ruining things for others.

Needless to say pastor Pat failed to consider my view an we agreed to disagree. I went home, took a pain pill followed by a nap.

The next Sunday we embarked yet again on the subject of complaining. For six weeks. It was not the first time, nor was it the last time a series of sermons was preached on the subject of 'Keep Cheerful & Question Nothing." This time the pastor even went so far as to post a huge sign over the doors of the church leading out into the Sunday School area that read "Fast All Complaining"

So now my new mainstream denomination is doing a series on not complaining, which makes me wonder if this pastor is dealing with a laundry list of the complaining in the church. But I'm fasting this series, not participating and not attending. It's simply too triggering plus I doubt there is anything this pastor could possibly say about complaining I haven't heard, either from the Creek church, or some Christian cultural enforcer like Nancy Campbell of Above Rubies.

Is complaining actually bad in the first place?

Sure, there are those that complain a great deal, but I would categorize what they do not as complaining but more whining. Whining is annoying but it is not essentially harmful.

Complaining is sometimes simply venting and venting can be emotionally healthy, as long as you don't get stuck there.

When something is wrong, no one acknowledges that it is wrong, then those that complain about it are bringing the wrong to light so it can possibly be rectified. Sometime complainers and complaints are the only way to get shit done.

You can always chose not to respond to a complainer or complaint. Criticism is not the end of the world. Sometimes it indicates a different viewpoint that you're never considered. It can spur you to think in a deeper fashion on many subjects.

That's the thing I think that trying to silent a complaint in the church boils down to. They don't want you to think, simply accept whatever leadership tells you. It's about control. There's already way to much controlling behavior in church leadership without trying to squash down any complaints. Please don't tell me not to think or think in a contrary way to the church and to keep my mouth shut.

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The series I wrote for No Longer Quivering about my bete noire, Tom Smith

Part 1 Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | 
Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

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