well, just one in particular, at this time.
when they were newly married, my parents attended big church in Pueblo that tended to suck various parts of my family back in at various times in our lives (such as qualifies as a big church in Pueblo. maybe it should be “really old church in Pueblo”). It was at one of its larger time periods, so there was a fairly large young marrieds’ class with all the drama of a high school (similar to college classes at Bible-college towns). My parents being the authentic and jovial people that they are did not fit in with he various cliques/gossip hubs that are the mainstay of such settings. Also to note at this time, my dad was a bit more bulky than he currently is, and was in more more usable configuration rather than the current storage functionality (he looked like Superman).
One of the other couples came to a class function with her having a very black eye. the story shared was that she had fallen at the store and hit in on the handle of a shopping cart. My dad, being his jesting self and having a sometimes dry sense of humor, grabbed the other (rather smallish) gentleman by the arm and said in a serious voice something along the lines of “If you beat your wife again, then you are going to have to answer to me.” There was dead silence in the room for a few moments, then the conversation slowly started up again. One of the women came up and mentioned to my mom how she was surprised that someone actually came up and said something to this couple and hopefully it would help to stop the abuse.
In a similar way, I have caught myself in similar situations the middle of different groups. Much more often than I am probably aware, I will think there are some currents flowing, but the undercurrents are totally different.
What makes this interesting is with my training in counseling coupled with my uncanny ability to break things down to an obnoxiously meticulous level, I am usually fairly adept with seeing what is going on. I guess I bring in my dad’s optimism and unawareness at times in the hope that what I view is the best in people, instead of my realism at seeing people as entirely prideful, self-serving, and generally sinful, as we actually are. Most of the time, this occurs when we are working toward a mutual cause, typically something that if it does not honor God directly, it is at least helping people, usually teens.
This has occurred way more times than I would like to count. In the worst instances, it usually brings down someone else in the process and is usually from one of the least expected sources. The worst experiences have been since going to college and being more involved in ministry. I had one instance that occurred relatively recently that reminded me of another that was much more complex and should have been obvious. Here is the more interesting one (it is a bit long, but it was a complicated situation):
There was a group of us who had been assembled to start a ministry with a unique flair. It was not something that had been entirely unsuccessful other places, but was unique in the fact that it was intended that way from the beginning. And it was unheard of by the people who were helping us. Our team consisted of several different people with different backgrounds that fit together very well for the overall picture, but had not worked in that exact context before. the key was that each person was committed to the big picture idea while being flexible to work it how needed to fit the situation as it developed. As the team was being assembled, more and more of the structure was designed to fit around the abilities of different parts of the team.
We did not have quite as much planned out as we could, largely because it would be difficult to do so extensively until we saw how things were going. We did a few test runs, refining as we went. We even went to an example of what we were going to be doing, although what we observed was only temporary in nature and much more limited in scope than what we would do. We thought that we were bringing everyone together based on this core idea. When we tried to take off, there were suddenly huge rifts springing up in our team. The first try was borderline disastrous. Not that what happened was entirely different than what we were shooting for, but it was not exactly what everyone expected. So we decided to back off a bit.
There was nothing wrong with what we wanted to do, just a few problems in our team with how to do some things, as well as huge communication issues. We started to meet as a team in a regular, formal setting to work through these issues. The meetings went on for a while, progressively getting longer and more intense, until ultimately causing a huge rift in the team. Some members went one way, another large group went another, and some just faded out.
During this time, from team assembly to explosion, it had progressively appeared to me that although one person had came up with the concept and assembled the team, this person was a bit off in some key areas for this to work. I was skeptical at times that it would come together. A lot of the things I did were not exactly what I would choose and a bit out there (to me), but the big picture was good, and after the difficulties, we were working through some details. One younger team member in particular had problems with a lot of what was going on, particularly with the idea person. This younger member was the first to split off, for seemingly irreconcilable differences (we should have seen this coming, since he was “offended” by the temporary example we had visited). This was a hard hit, since this person had been there the longest. Right after this, the rest of the split occurred. I had no idea that it was heading that direction. I thought we could work it out since the problems were mostly communication based.
After things calmed down, more of what really happened came out to the light of day. One of team had been a snake. The bad part was that he had been a snake before, but those who assembled the team firmly believed that we should give second chances, just like God does with us. Of course, not all were aware of this, since it can negatively affect how others will treat them. So the snake had been working on a few people in very subtle ways, which I was not aware of at the time, but realized later on after seeing how he had tried to trap me as well.
The snake would criticize some of the more unusual things we were doing at different times to different people in a very quite and subtle way, almost questioning the wisdom of what was going on, while leading his hearers to think that these ideas came from the leader. This would build doubt among the team as to what we were doing. He would not say these things in front of the leader, but just quietly in a “let’s not make waves, but I am not sure about getting into this too far” way of speech. He caught young member early on slowly began to pull him away from the goal. He may have even became less subtle once he had snared people. he tried to pull me in a few times, but because of my commitment to what we were doing, and more importantly God’s grace, I was not snared. What made this most interesting was that most of the unusual ideas we had came from the snake! Toward the end, he would outright tell different people entirely different stories and then say something totally different in public, although generic enough to fit the different lies and half-truths he had told.
So after the explosion died down, the team went its different ways. some faded out. some tried a less creative way of doing things with the snake, but it fizzled out in short order. Some of us, largely due to personal stubbornness, continued on with the plan. It was not as good as it could have been. It was not as easy as it should have been. We went through a few more interesting experiences before we got it closer to what it should have been to begin with. It was never quite what was intended, but still something that uniquely honored God.
I still wonder about young member. This person was very gifted and very much wanted to serve God. When leaving, we were wished the best and given “irreconcilable theological/philosophical differences” as the core reason for the departure (similar to leaving a church b/c it isn’t “deep” enough). What is sad is that there was not any difference worth noting in the theological/philosophical realm, just the practical side of how it worked out. Form and function had been confused, and probably would not have, had there not been a subtle hiss pushing in guiding in different directions.
When we last spoke, shortly after the split, things were cool between us, but even after trying to mend what had happen, our project was so tainted that there was no way it would even come close to being considered again by young member. What makes it more sad is that there was a huge opportunity with us. We had a need for those skills to be used. Anywhere else would probably not invite young member to the team because of a combination of lack of experience and most leaders do not free the team to use their skills so openly.
I still feel bad that I was not able to see it then. I am not sure if it would have been well received had I noticed and pointed it out. I tried to point it out later, but even after all snake had put young member through when they attempted their own thing and it failed miserably, young member was so wrapped around snake’s finger that there was no way young member could see what happened. Young member had been ripped out of a place of potential thriving and dropped, alone, in the desert. And snake was still loved for it and the leader, who had give young member more opportunity than he deserved, was not quite hated, but received an attitude of “I hope what you do accomplishes your goal, but can neither be a part of it or support it.” I still hope the effects are not long term in the sense that he was able to pick up the pieces and will be able to and has been able to accomplish amazing things for God.