Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dirty Little Secrets

The other day, I was surfing the TV and landed on VH1, where they were actually doing a video countdown (I hadn't seen VH1 or MTV do videos in forever). The video was by The All-American Rejects for their song, "Dirty Little Secrets." The video showed post-cards that people had created, which disclosed various kinds of secrets, some profoundly broken, others awfully superficial.

When I got to the seminary today, a colleague was telling me about an article that he read on his way back from California about this website, PostSecret.com. When I went to the website, I found the same type of thing--and apparently, the song was inspired by this website. The simple premise of the website is this: people share their deep secrets by creating postcards as a type of art, but also as a means of finding healing and hope. The website is tied in with the Hope Line, a 800 number that helps people struggling with suicidal feelings. According to the count meter, over 25 million people have vist the PostSecret website.

I had several reactions to all this. First, I was so thankful that somewhere, in God's common grace, people are feeling free to reveal some of their brokenness so that they can finding help, hope, and healing.

Another thought I had was this: if you were to allow church members to do this, creating postcards about their "dirty little secrets" and sending them to a place where they can maintain their anonymity, what kinds of issues would be revealed? I suspect that the brokenness displayed on the website would not be that radically different from what one would discover in the church.

Which raises another question--how in the world do ministers and counselors surface these issues so that the healing of God's grace in the Gospel might come to bear on people's secrets? For all our talk about authenicity, I wonder if we could really handle some of these issues; it would simply be overwhelming for human beings. And yet, it would not be overwhelming for God--so how do we get people together with God in such a way that they might know God's grace?

This leads to another thought: why do most of our churches preach and minister in such a way that these issues are never surfaced? Why does most preaching fail to address our dark emotions, our dirty secrets? Why do our illustrations of "sin" and "brokenness" always seem so lame and unreal (cheating on income taxes; driving faster than speed limit; etc. Please. These are peccadillos, not the sins with which most people really wrestle). Why do most of our people feel utterly unsafe to bring these secrets to the light? How does that change?

Finally, how in the world has the church utterly missed this phenomenon? I read a number of blogs and websites, as well as regular news outlets, and I had never heard of this, until I saw the AAR video. What other major cultural phenomenons are we missing where people are expressing their deepest heart issues and the church is simply ignorant?

9 comments:

Tom said...

Sean,
There is a dearth of accountability, especially among the clergy. There is no real freedom to be real with one another. Why? A greater scarcity of trust. So the dirty little secrets go unresolved and many clergy lose their families and their churches as a fallout when their sin is exposed.

Chris Harper said...

Yes, I was thinking along the same lines as Tom. I'm wondering how all this applies to a presbytery context. It seems that few have the kind of trust-confidence relationships with one-another to really have the kind of dialogue which is meaningful.

Patrick Miller said...

Sean,

Very thought provoking. Thanks for this post. I try to stay up to date with the cultural manistream and in various degrees swim in it, and I had not heard of this site either. It is spawning an idea for creating just such a forum for the people who attend our church, many of them college students who would never divulge the dark thoughts and emotions that they doubtless deal with.

Have you considered a similar approach that would allow anonymous disclosure that was responded to with God's wisdom? One in which hopefully anonyminity would lead to eventual open discipleship? If so, I'd be very interested in those type of ideas.

Could I quote this post in our upcoming newsletter? I'd be interested in the response to it?

Patrick Miller
Covenant Presbyterian (PCA)

Sean Lucas said...

Sure, Patrick. Feel free to use this in your church newsletter.

I think anonymity would work to surface the issue, but part of the healing that comes is from meeting with someone face to face and finding grace (which may involve hard truth) in that other person. The real question is how to create the level of trust that would allow these things to surface.

Sean Lucas said...

Tom and Chris--you both raise great points. I hadn't even thought about these contexts (i.e. the pastoral ones) for this post.

Chris is right--it would be best if these things could be surfaced in a presbytery relationship. Unfortunately, I don't think we meet often enough to forge the trusting relationships that would allow issues to surface. Also, there is too much "cost" involved if secrets are divulged (which is what the All American Rejects song talks about).

Perhaps part of the answer is to encourage pastors to engage semi-regularly with a counselor who can help them surface these issues. I think another part is to train seminarians in such a way that they place as much emphasis upon emotional health as doctrinal precision or preaching skills. In this regard, Peter Scazzero's The Emotionally Healthy Church should be required reading for pastors.

Bryan Stalcup said...

sean,

maybe in diagnosing the issue, you've also determined the cure. if we don't meet often enough to forge the trusting relationships that would allow issues to surface, maybe we should look at who is the Lord of our time? why are counselors (the care of souls is a pastoral duty, find the office of counselor in scripture) called on to fill this need? shouldn't a body of equal elders (pastors/overseers/bishops, pick your synonym) be a model of community to the church, sharing life as they labor together, with accountability as a natural consequence of their closeness and love, instead of a forced, unnatural, even commercial transaction with a "counselor" who is not part of their labor and walk?

Acts 2
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

note the daily aspect of fellowship and fruit.

perhaps the answer is to return to a scriptural basis for spiritual ministry, instead of turning to psychology (paganism repackaged) for answers? those who minister are still brothers in christ and rather than maintaining a professional distance from the people of God, they should walk in close communion not just with other leaders but with the flock as well, practicing and teaching hospitality (that is a requirement for pastors/elders/overseers/bishops, is it not?) and encouraging the flock to test all things against scripture and to hold their leaders accountable as being a servant of all, not lording their position and role.

http://www.psychoheresy-aware.org/radicalbk.html is a good starting point for exploring this.

Sean Lucas said...

Hi, Bryan: Thanks for your thoughts. I don't know that I said anything about psychology when I suggested that minister might do well to work with a counselor. After all, I have quite a few friends in the nouthetic counseling world who would bristle at having their position typified as "paganism repacked."

That being said, you are right to suggest that ideally, ministers should and ought to provide some sort of "accountability" for each other, a safe place to talk about these issues. And maybe in some churches, where there are multiple staff members, or presbyteries that happens. I hope so.

In those cases where it doesn't happen, there needs to be other places to surface some of these issues. And perhaps a relationship with a solid Christian counselor is the place to start.

Patrick said...

Sean,

Thanks for letting me reprint your blog entry. It's stimulating some good thought for some of us at CPC. Thanks also for the Scazzero recommendation. Providentially timed and being used as a source of healing.

This issue of emotional health is not one I find a lot of colleagues discussing, explicitly or implicitly. Is it a topic that gets a good deal of attention at Covenant (M.Div./D.Min)?

Sean Lucas said...

Patrick: I'm glad that you are finding it useful in your ministry. I'm planning on using the blog/video in a seminar I am doing in a couple of weeks at the Augusta Conference at FPC, Augusta, Ga.

Dan Zink, one of our counseling profs, is the one who recommended the Scazzero book to the faculty; he uses it in a course. I read it and have used it with our staff at church (where I am the interim pastor).

I think we talk more about these types of issues at Covenant than at the other seminaries where I have worked. It flows out of our mission statement; we train church leaders to "walk with God." Part of that means dealing with one's own brokenness in God's presence, receiving God's comfort, and then using that comfort in the lives of others (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). sml