Guest Post Wednesday: The Tale of the Backslider and Other Stories

Instead of a guest post this week, here’s a thoughtful essay by Thomas Turner of Everyday Liturgy. Written when he and his wife were expecting their first child, he uses their experience of new-parent ‘hazing’ to question the way the church often does discipleship. This discipleship can easily end up being little more than shallow scare tactics to keep people from sinning, rather than honest relationships geared at cultivating a rich spiritual life. Let Thomas know what you think over on his original post.

Every expecting parent has been through the ringer. We hear so many stories, each competing with one another to make us fear and tremble: more pain, more crying, more screaming, more excrement, more sleepless nights, more sickness, more coughing, more flu, more nervous breakdowns, more insanity, more exasperation beyond all else. There is one thing in common between all these stories: they all end in the following two parenting cliches: “Yet, I wouldn’t trade any of this for the world” or “But, this will be the best time of your life.”

We’ve been through the ringer and come out unscathed, much in thanks to a few rational, knowledgeable, and helpful friends as well as a birthing class. While I am grateful for the comfort I now feel going into parenthood, I am annoyed by what seems to be a pattern of hazing that, while not isolated to the church, is certainly very present within it. It’s hazing through emotional scare tactics, and it happens most often with young adults, newlyweds and expecting parents. Right at the point when a couple is in most need of reassurance, community, and support, they are barraged by their “loving” community with a ritualized cadence of “how your life is now over and gone for ever and you can never go back at all any time so just resign yourself to a life that will never be as good as it was right now, but in the end you’ll think it’s the best and never trade it for the world.” It’s worse for my wife, who has to sit through maternal war stories of labor that lasted for two weeks, unending pain, the loss of all identity and the utter end of life as you know it. That is a very different narrative than the one we learned in our birthing class which is: people have done this for thousands of years, here is all you need to know for the weeks, days, and hours leading up to birth, here are techniques to help you as a couple during labor, and have a positive you-can-do-it attitude. It makes me wonder why not so many in our family and our Christian circles have given us that kind of advice.

Too often we use hazing by scare tactics instead of genuine discipleship. Like scaring new moms instead of coaching them, it’s just easier to scare a bunch of eighth graders with tales of backsliding into meth addiction and uncontrolled prostitution than it is to train them up in the way they should go. Because, you know, training means work for us as the teachers, and it’s a whole lot easier to just tell scary stories and initiate the disciple into fear than it is to coach them through life.

What are the aspects of hazing you have participated in or been presented with in a faith community?

What horror stories are told within the church? How does this affect the faith community?

There is a better way, and that involves the work of discipleship as training. It means we teach other people to run the race with us and not just sit on the sideline scared to death to ever step out on the road with us. Each time we use scare tactics we are hampering someone on their spiritual journey through life, whether it’s with prayer or parenthood. Providentially, we can cure this by taking a holistic view of discipleship. Why can’t more older Christian women come alongside expecting moms and give them sound counsel and advice instead of scaring them and throwing them through the ringer (like they were). It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped, and it can be, but it will require work and a view of discipleship that looks at life within the church community as sacramental from birth to death and looks to disciple with compassion, conviction and community.

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2 comments on “Guest Post Wednesday: The Tale of the Backslider and Other Stories

  1. Elaine says:

    Although I agree with much of what is stated here, I would like to expand the concept. You see, I think all people do this, from childbirth to illnesses. In a way, I think it is a way of identifying with someone. We also relive our own experiences through the new ‘initiate’. We have often heard horror stories about someone whose doctor mistreated a problem, who had such-and-such a response to a medication, etc. It is almost as if we must have a worse story to look important. But the admonition is right-on – we must learn to be listeners and encouragers. I also agree with his comment that few do this because it takes work. And yes – it is worth it all!!! 🙂

    • elizabeth says:

      Good thoughts, Elaine. I think you’re right that it is both a way of identifying with someone and also trying (subconsciously, perhaps) to one-up the other person. I wonder, too, if it’s a way we try to comfort each other (as in, “see, it’s not so bad, it could be worse!), even though it often does just the opposite.

      Thanks for sharing your two cents!

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