Over the last week I’ve been reading some extraordinary writing about transformation and the Landmark Forum. A couple of the things I read were about religion. Now, I’m not particularly religious and the Landmark Forum isn’t particularly about religion, but I’ve noticed that people deal with whatever is important to them when they take a Landmark program. I’ve been very moved by these writings–Here’s one of them; I’ll get the other up later this week when I have time.
Peeling the Layers
I remember the first time I met Dean; he had just given a powerful sermon that had hit me between the eyes as if he was talking directly to me. I had just returned to church after a period of indecision having gone through an unfortunate divorce 12 years earlier and raising the children alone from the ages of 10 and 12. I had never lost my faith in God, but I had lost my connection to the faith community. I was raised by a Lutheran father who told us as kids that religion was a private issue (either because he did not know how to defend it or it was a justification for spending every Sunday morning playing golf) Either way, I never felt a sense of responsibility to attend church. That does not mean I didn’t pray and have my conversations with God – That never changed. But when it came to having a connection with the community that was something I never felt a sense of comfort.
Dean was not one of those television evangelist types at all. He was just always very prepared with a smooth delivery that gave you a sense that this was a man truly in tune with our Maker. He was a master of the stage as he challenged each of us to think about our faith and to be more diligent in our relationship with Christ. He reeked of confidence in a way that did not offend you but made you respect him for where he was in his walk with the Lord. For the first time in my life, I not only felt an obligation to attend every Sunday but I looked forward to it. But then something changed.
Aside from my father’s view of attending church, when I did venture out and attend various services with friends and their families from time to time, it seemed that there was always that person or two that seemed to make it their mission to smother you with religion. I always felt a sense of guilt as these people, rather than trying to get to know you, would immediately either try to convert you or in some way make you feel bad about your self as if the only reason you were coming to church that Sunday was because you were in need of forgiveness.
Dean did not do that. In fact, there was warmth to the congregation and confidence that was above smothering as opposed to creating a comfortable environment that naturally made you feel welcome and not necessarily new – Almost as if returning home after a long trip.
But over time, there was a certain message that was being directed to the congregation that did not make sense. There was this challenge at the end of each sermon to get right with God and clean up your house. Each week it got more and more intense to the point to where the whole congregation was feeling guilt. I remember a well used statement from my father growing up as a child: “He who speaks loudest most likely carries the most guilt.” Dad knew that when he broke up a disagreement between my brother and my self that it was the one that started defending himself the loudest that usually was at fault. That has always stuck with me and so with this challenge from Dean which got more and more pronounced and intense, it raised the question, “who is Dean actually talking to?”
Years ago I attended a weekend seminar in Phoenix called the Landmark Forum. It was actually one of the most interesting experiences I had ever gone through. My reason for attending was that I had never dealt with my divorce having turned my attention to raising the children. This was a forum to get in touch with one’s issues and try to deal with them straight up. There were people with drug issues, abuse issues, abandonment issues and so on. And people from all walks of life. And in that three day session, you saw unbelievable transformations where people went from cavalier to a total break down to finally a rebuilding of persons to a calm confidence. One of the most striking transformations came from a local business owner that was in the trucking industry. He and his wife stood up in front of everyone in the beginning with almost a smugness in their attitude because of their success. Their clothing and jewelry alone spoke of their wealth and if that did not tell the story they sure did. Most people in the room were wondering why this couple was even there. They seemed so confident and had just about every material thing one could ask for. “Where was the fit?”
But as the weekend unfolded, we all began to see the layers being peeled off of the “trucking couple” and before we knew it there they were in tears sobbing as two abused children beaten relentlessly throughout their childhood. Their success was fueled by revenge, distrust, anger and hatred. And for the first time in their lives, they were letting the world in to see their pain and it was liberating for them and every other person sitting in that room.
As Dean continued to drive his new point across to the congregation many more within the pews were beginning to ask the same question. After a while, it almost became offensive because it started to bring back that “guilt” feeling from trying to attend different churches as a child and over time I, for one, started missing Sunday services. Finally I didn’t attend at all, not because I didn’t want to but because I didn’t like the feeling of guilt. I had even expressed my feelings directly to Dean and others but to no avail.
Several months later, it was announced that Dean had resigned as Pastor. This master of the stage who was so prepared and so eloquently delivered his message…this man with such a command of the congregation that seemed so in tune with our Maker…was having an affair with another member of the church. His calling for “getting right” was a message that was directed to him that seemed to just pass through his lips. (pause) Or did it?
This past weekend, Dean attempted suicide. I am not inside of this broken man and so I Dean’t know what he is truly thinking. But I still remember the man I first met that was “talking directly to me” that seemed to be in such command of the Word and now this. If only we could peel off the layers and get to the real man.