Life Without the Charismatic Celebrity II: Another Story

Many of my posts have been lost due a spamming “attack” a couple years ago. I’ve been able to track some of them down, though. Here are a few from the “lost files”…

I received a very heartfelt and sincere question/comment on my last post. As I wrote back in the comments section, I started to see that what I wanted to say likely wasn’t going to fit for a “normal” comment. Also, it occurred to me that our exchange could turn into something (as the commenter noted below) useful for another blog post about the subject. So, introductions aside, here is what Another Jason (the commenter) wrote, along with my reply below that:

Hey Jason, This is a very interesting post. I’m especially interested in your own personal experiences:

“this is a subject that I take kind of seriously because of the spiritual abuse/manipulation that I’ve experienced at the hands of power-hungry leaders.”

I’ve experienced what I’d estimate as a fairly heavy dose of spiritual abuse. It’s really hurt my spiritual drive, confidence in leadership (that is, both confidence in myself as a leader and confidence in my leaders), and my involvement — tangibly and emotionally– with my community. I love God deeply, but I feel somewhat crippled in these areas. After nearly 14 years, it’s still hard to move forward and be unhindered by these events.

Maybe this is for another post some time in the future — if you so choose — but I am very interested in your experiences and what you’ve done to cope and/or break free from the shackles of your own experiences relating to spiritual abuse.

Hi Another Jason,

Good to know there’s someone else out there donning our name with grace!

Most of what I meant above about “spiritual abuse” had to do with well-intentioned individuals and leaders (both in a local and national settings) who either implied or outright stated that whatever I was doing as a Christian was not enough–that I did not count until I was powerful and famous. They sometimes suggested I was missing “my blessing” or that I didn’t have enough “faith” or that there was “sin” in my life (those being the most common examples of statements pointing toward a particular deficit the culture was either promoting or fixing). Sometimes, however, I think the positive statements were the more damaging ones to my faith in Jesus. I was told to expect “great things,” “anointing,” “popularity,” “influence,” etc. and never given a framework (except for our USAmerican default, consumerism) to interpret this message. I now think the folks who administered these “gifts” were also building an empire (i.e., ministries) at the expense of naive and gullible people.

One time in particular I remember attempting to reach for “my calling” by getting as close as possible to a Famous Worship Leader (FWL) while attending his worship conference in Tennessee (it wasn’t actually his conference, but he was the headlining act, so same thing, right?). Anyway, without any thought about my own integrity or the consequences, I deceived the conference director about a “difficult situation” that really needed a remedy, hoping it would persuade him to introduce me to the FWL and perhaps convince both of them of my “gifting.” Quite easily, he saw right through my lie (as well as generously offered to help me out by giving me his own money) but wouldn’t allow me to access the superstar. I was completely humiliated and ashamed of my intentions. The hours after that conversation were spent in an empty hotel room by myself, filled with doubt, confusion, and fear. I was ashamed to even be seen.

Years later, I can see why I believed it would be necessary for me to see him and become his friend. I thought my identity would be secured within his “popularity” and “influence.” I thought it was necessary for me to become more than I already was. I didn’t perceive myself as someone deserving of much of anything. The Charismatic System I was a part of, though well-intentioned, created certain “celebrity” expectations for myself and others–which were carried out through celebrity music, books, conferences, personalities, programs, etc.–and were marketed/sold as a consumerist identity to well-behaving Christians seven days a week.

My freedom eventually came in the guise of obscurity and “ordinary” friendship. Given my propensity to hype, I didn’t have the time or energy for more spectacular events, singing, and prophecies. I just wanted to believe again. And this faith finally found me as I crawled my way toward a downwardly mobile and small (what some would call “insignificant”) local community. Every time I got too proud, they reeled me in and graciously offered me something better than fame and popularity: a radical friendship rooted in truth and the way of Jesus.

Anyway, that’s my story. What yours?

For all of us sojourners on the way, how has wisdom and friendship been able to find you in spite of the weariness and shame of “spiritual abuse”?