Covenant Epistemology


A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 16: The Rat Pack

My Need for Real Community

In those early days of recovery, I went to a lot of meetings. I wanted to get better. I went to AA, NA, as well as my S meetings. When I started going to NA and AA, my sponsor told me, “When you go to an AA meeting if you wad up a piece of paper and throw it, you have a one in four chance of hitting someone that belongs in our fellowship. If you go to an NA meeting, don’t even bother wadding up the paper because no matter where you throw it, you will hit one of us.”

We addicts have a habit of finding escape in new places when we stop using our drug of choice. For many of us in sex recovery, food becomes our new drug of choice. Most of us were already co-morbid work addicts and food provided a modicum of relief. If you are addicted to a substance, sex and food are your next logical stops on the addiction train. That is why in AA you hear about thirteen stepping, and in NA, despite old-timers best efforts, newbies can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. Sex, done properly, releases pleasure hormones that rival the high of drugs and allow recovering addicts moments of escape from the pain they can’t face.

I liked NA better, because, at that time, I could quite easily introduce myself as an addict at an NA meeting, but didn’t know how to present myself at an AA meeting. I wasn’t an alcoholic. This may seem like a small detail, but it isn’t. Many old timers at AA meetings will call addicts on the carpet as AA solely exists for people who struggle with alcohol. I did not want to offend, and I did not want to lie. I didn’t know what to say. We go to meetings to find acceptance and support and when I went to a meeting and didn’t feel wanted or like I belonged it felt counterproductive.

I ended up going to NA’s Late Night recovery because I worked swing shift and it fit into that life. Also, it met every day and was within walking distance of my house. Going to a new fellowship meant that I needed to navigate a whole new set of relationships. Given the sexually predatory nature of an NA meeting, they were not the safest place for me and did cause me to slip in my recovery later on. Now they are the last resort that I only attend if absolutely necessary.

With those relational realities. I needed relational stability. My S fellowship provided that for me. A small group of us began a friendship unlike any other. Those relationships started at the lunchtime meetings that we all frequented. After the meeting, we’d grab coffee or lunch together, talk and laugh. Though we don’t see each other nearly as often, those guys are my best friends. They know me in ways that no one else does. They know my horror. They know my fear. They know my worst secrets. During those formative years, they knew absolutely everything. They were my “Shame-busters.” If I was ashamed of anything, I talked to them about it, making sure that I looked as bad as possible. Typically, they’d laugh at me unless they knew it would hurt. When they laughed, their purpose was for me to join in the laughter. The laughter and the light murdered the shame.

Perhaps we loved each other because our shame was so deep, so inescapable, we knew that only this small group of men understood — no, it was more than that. They experienced shame with us they tasted it with us and carried it with us. And shame shared stops being shame.

Others in the larger fellowship began to refer to us as the Rat Pack. That pack of men is one of the greatest gifts God ever gave me. It wasn’t an exclusive group. Perhaps there were four of us at the center of it all, but others came and went. All were loved. And no shame was too great. Eventually, we formed a formal accountability group facilitated by my sponsor. We’d gather for 90 minutes late every Tuesday night. We’d check in and then see where God led our conversation. Sometimes we’d create a Gestalt exercise. Other times we participated in narrative therapeutic work. There was always honest, hard, and kind accountability. It was this group that changed me more than any other single entity. Members came and left. But all who came were changed as we met in that little room on Tuesday nights.

falling 2These friends taught me to fall into grace — God’s grace and their grace. It was in this community that I discovered my current ecclesiology. It was in this context that I learned what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus rather than a religious Pharisee. It was with and because of these amazing men that God outgrew the Bible, my theology, or the church. It was these guys that helped save me. I love them. They don’t need to read those words to know they are true. When we are together, we are at home and we rest. In many ways, those years were some of the best of my life.

I long for the pastors and missionaries to know that kind of communion — to have the kind of “I-Thou” moments that our rat pack shared daily. The current ecclesiological system makes that nearly impossible. May I be a part of changing that.


A prolegomenon to my understanding of loving people 

Larry Crabb wrote,  Understanding People, that helped me create categories and lenses through which I viewed people early in my ministry life. This post is not a rejection of Crabb’s ideas. Rather, it is an addition to them.

I want to get a tattoo of a “&” somewhere yet to be determined. During one of my first “reading groups” at seminary, I realized that “and” needed to achieve a place of prominence in my thinking as I pondered life. I knew I served the God of “the and,” but didn’t know why it mattered. My philosophy crush, Dr.Esther Meek helped me understand why it’s important to posit that God is “the God of the &,” Nothing has been more life-giving, and door opening for my mind than Dr Meek’s thinking about thought. It shifted, not only my relationship with the written Word of God but the entirety of my relationship with the God who gave the Word to us. Additionally, her epistemology helps me explore souls. Dr. Meek created and then flung doors open so I could explore worlds previously unknown, in ways I never considered; enjoying a growing relational knowledge that morphs when love requires it.

epershandWhile I realize why Crabb’s publishers came up with the title for his book, the idea of “understanding people” is a hindrance to love. If I am merely trying to understand you, I am not free to love you or enter into a relationship with you. Borrowing from Martin Buber, attempting to understand you means that I am objectifying you. Though it may seem like I am straining at gnats. And, I might be doing exactly that, I need to do it because, as a pastor, I objectified people for much too long. This does not mean that I don’t want to have ways to think about people. I need categories and lenses to help me make sense of things and love people, but I will never “master” people, as the term “understanding” suggests.

I am a synthesizer of information and I’ve never synthesized more than during the past three years of study. I told my Psychopathology professor and mentor, Dr. O’Donnell Day — who holds a more detailed blueprint for the human mind in her heart than I could hope to learn in the 25 years of the ministry work life I have left —  that I didn’t understand much of what she taught from September until February in “Psychopathology.” Suddenly, though, the dime dropped, and it started to make sense. My process of “Making sense of it,” is very Meekian and it is still happening.

Dr. O'Donnell Day

Dr. O’Donnell Day

In a phone call with O’Donnell, I stumbled badly while talking about the mind’s structure and how I want to work with it. Shame rose quickly in my breast. What does my mentor think about my inability to think about this after three years of hard work? And so, I sat down with my Evernote and began jotting down thoughts about people, their minds, their brokenness, and healing. Since Evernote is with me on my laptop, and my cell phone, as I have thoughts, I keep adding them. My ideas address not only how a human mind is constructed but also where and how it shifts to embrace unhealthy and damaging patterns, and how I want to work with souls seeking care. That “Evernote” is still in process. As I take in new information, I work to synthesize it, seeing where it fits in the overall picture I am creating. I hope I never quit adding to that sketch. May I never think it complete.

One of the last classes I took at The Seattle School was entitled, “The Battle for Shame.” Dr. Steve Call assigned two books for the class: The Soul of Shame (easily digestible by anyone, whether a psychologist, a student or an interested party) and Understanding and treating chronic shame: A relational/neurobiological approach (a much headier book for practitioners and students of relational psychoanalytic psychotherapy). As I absorbed the latter book, the last two years of training started to fit. Professors who approached counseling from different perspectives, beginning from different positions all of a sudden could peacefully co-exist. Theories began to build on one another rather than competing for neural bandwidth. Though I do not think it was his intent, Dr. Call’s assigned reading was a fitting capstone to three years of grad school.

Reading through the Gospels, I am struck by Jesus use of metaphor to create pictures that people could hold as they considered such issues as The Kingdom of God, grace, faith, money, position in society, and love. As any biblical scholar worth her salt will explain, Jesus’ parables were never meant to be complete theological treatises. Because of this, it ‘s hard to build doctrine around them. We can attempt to stack his pictures, but systematizing the parables is like trying to stack Jenga blocks — eventually they all fall, and they are never stable. The parables are windows that allow Jesus’ listener or reader to catch particular views or perspectives of truth.

I want to communicate like Jesus, creating windows or parables that help people glance behind the curtain of the mind; helping us think and love God, ourselves, and our fellows in new and freeing ways. Because “What we are seeking isn’t insight, but freedom to be different than we were.” (DeYoung, 2015,159).

So in the coming weeks, I’m going to create pictures that point at ideas about how humans might be seen, loved, and changed. I’m intrigued and curious about how we might be different if we allow the Spirit to work through whatever means He chooses. Who knows, it might include a Trinitarian therapist.

For a glimpse of my theoretical orientation click here