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Welcome to readingremy.com

Glad you stopped by!

I’m a pastor and author, plus I consult in an addiction treatment center where I help people consider how God might join them in their recovery.

My goal is to help people overcome everyday problems in practical ways with God’s help. I purposefully write and speak in a way that makes God approachable and understandable.

I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and “like” my Facebook page in the margin. As my way of saying “thanks,” please download the Kindle version of my book, “Out of Exile” for free right now.

Feel free to send me a question. I promise to read it and reply. Thanks for spending some time on my site!- F. Remy Diederich

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Making Progress on Book About Spiritually Abusive Churches

Here’s a quick update on the new book I’m working on. It’s a book that helps people in spiritually abusive churches identify what’s wrong with their setting and what to do about it.

Four Changes

I’ve invited people to read my first draft and give me their honest feedback. It’s been very helpful, causing me to make the following changes:

  1. Change the name of the book to reflect a primary feeling associated with experiencing spiritual abuse: Broken Trust.
  2. Eliminate half the material I suggested. It didn’t flow with the main purpose of the book, which is to give practical “how-to” steps” for people in spiritually abusive churches.

  3. Soften my approach. I’m a straight shooter and most people appreciate that about my writing. But people who have suffered in spiritually abusive churches have been shot at enough. I need to be more careful with my words with this audience.

  4. Answer more questions. People in spiritually abusive churches are hurt, confused, and often full of guilt. They don’t know what to do. It seems that everything they do is labeled as wrong and incurs the condemnation of many. They want answers, so I included a whole chapter on FAQ’s and gave more detail to many questions I had already answered.

These changes will make the book much more readable and helpful. If you would like to receive advance drafts of the book, email me here and I’ll add you to the e-list.

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Spiritual Abuse: the Fruit of Toxic Faith

I’m in the process of writing a new book that deals with toxic faith and spiritual abuse. It’s become a fascinating project because about ten people are actively working with me, giving me input from their own spiritually abusive history.

One thing that’s become quite clear is the difference between toxic faith and spiritual abuse. They are definitely correlated, but they are distinct from one another.

Toxic Faith vs. Spiritual Abuse

Toxic faith is the soil from which spiritual abuse grows. Without toxic faith there is no spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse functions and is sustained, in both abused and abuser, by distorted thinking about who God is, and how he operates.

Put simply, toxic faith is performance-based thinking, meaning you have to earn the right to be approved and accepted by God. The better you perform, the more God likes you.

That, in a nutshell, is all it takes to completely mess with your mind. It sounds so simple. And, in fact, it sounds so normal. Isn’t that what religion is all about: performing for God? Your value is determined by your church attendance,  giving record, by how much you volunteer, or pray, or read your Bible, as well as by your obedience to church rules.

God keeps a spreadsheet on everyone with a complex algorithm that spits out your standing with God. But you don’t know what that value is. Church leaders have the unique wisdom and power to make that determination. They alone have the insight to know who is on the inside track with God and who is not. The worshipper is kept in suspense, not knowing if they are doing it good enough, dependent on the wise counsel of their leader.

What I’ve described is extreme, but only for making my point. This happens all the time in churches. Many people have outright rejected this kind of religion. They won’t let the church bully or intimidate them. This is why there has been a tremendous falling away from the church, first in Europe, and now in the United States. But others get trapped in abusive situations because of a sincere desire to know God and serve him.

What God Did For Us vs. What We Do For God

In the early church the apostle Paul was constantly waging a battle against purveyors of toxic faith. Paul had a very simple message:

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:10,13

Our confession is based on what God did for us, not what we did for him. Notice the activity of God in Paul’s words here:

You were dead because of your sins … Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. Colossians 2:13,14 (emphasis mine)

We were dead, but God took action. Paul’s point was that God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. We are incapable of saving ourselves. Our job is to believe in the One (Jesus) who rescued us from our broken relationship God. Anything we do for God should come out of gratitude for what he’s done, not out of obligation.

But old habits die hard. Paul lived and preached in a Jewish world. Performance defined the Jewish mindset. Circumcision, Sabbath, and observing the Law were central to honoring God. People were convinced that if you did not abide by this performance framework, you were lost.

As Paul traveled about the world with his message, the Jewish evangelists would follow right behind him with their own message contradicting him.

Distorted Thinking

We get a good glimpse of this tension in the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, a region in modern-day Turkey. He made these accusations to people he had previously won to Christ:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 1:6,7

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 3:1-3

Toxic Faith and the New Believer

Toxic faith has a powerful impact on new believers. They are eager to know God. Their heart is open to learn and quick to obey. They are ready to be conformed into the image of God. The innocence and trust displayed makes it a beautiful time in one’s faith journey.

But that same innocence and trust is spoiled with the introduction of toxic faith. Instead of living a life of devotion out of gratitude for God’s unconditional acceptance, the believer is convinced that a life of devotion is necessary to be accepted by God.

I really don’t think people intend their faith to be toxic, nor do religious leaders conspire to offer a toxic faith. Our problem is we misunderstand the nature of God’s unconditional acceptance and it naturally develops into abusive scenarios.

Slowly and subtly spiritual abuse begins to grow out of our inadequate view of God. People in power begin to use performance-based religion to control their followers “for their own good” because they “know best.” The young believer, not knowing any better, acts against their own instincts in fear of letting God and others down.

Spiritual Abuse: the Fruit of Toxic Faith

A while back I read a story that gave a good example of how toxic thinking led to spiritual abuse.[1] An eight-year-old girl went to take her first communion at church. She had a wheat gluten allergy, so she brought her own rice based communion wafer. But when the church officials heard that she used a rice wafer, they invalidated her communion. You see, they thought that the bread that Jesus used for the first communion was wheat based, so only wheat can be used for communion bread.

The mother of the girl was disgusted, saying, “This is a church rule, not God’s will, and it can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of the people, while staying true to the traditions of our faith…I didn’t know that the divinity of Christ depended on wheat.”

This didn’t need to happen. This devoted family shouldn’t have had to make a choice between worshipping God and the health of their child. But this is a perfect example of how toxic faith naturally leads to abusing people rather than helping people draw closer to God. Thankfully this mother wouldn’t stand for it, but many believers are not that wise. They will conform to the rules to their own detriment, thinking they are showing God true devotion.

Jesus spoke of wolves coming in sheep’s clothing. There is no better disguise for falsehood than the church. That’s why it’s so important that you are careful in what you believe and whom you believe. Toxic faith is fertile soil. Wherever it exists, spiritual abuse is sure to grow.

If you would like to receive drafts of the book I am writing, please email me here and I will add you to the list. Please share this with others who might find it helpful.

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/communion-mom-looks-to-vatican/

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Unmet Expectations: How Should You Respond?

Christmas is over. Was it all you hoped it would be? I’m not just talking about the presents, but the relationships. Did it all work out? How you respond to unmet expectations is really the daily battle of life and it determines your success in life as well.

Hundreds of Expectations

Whether you realize it or not, you face unmet expectations every day, not just the day after Christmas. You have hundreds of expectations for how the day should go, from your alarm clock going off on time, to the weather, to how your boss should treat you, to how your favorite Netflix show should end. It’s endless.

The Emotions of Unmet Expectations

When you meet those expectations, you experience a degree of satisfaction and contentment, even elation. But when they aren’t met you experience these primary emotions:

  1. Anger. You are mad that your expectations weren’t met and start looking to blame someone for it: others, yourself, and sometimes God.
  2. Sadness. You grieve the loss of what didn’t happen.
  3. Fear. You are afraid that your expectation will continue to go unmet.

For the small expectations, these emotions are barely detectable. But they still exist to some degree. The bigger the difference between what you expected and what you got, the greater the emotion.

Responding to Unmet Expectations

Now, there is nothing wrong with these emotions. They are God-given and natural. The problem is what happens after you experience these emotions. How will you respond? Choices must be made and this is where we often go wrong. We let our emotions influence our choices.

Put simply, our choices go in two directions: constructive and destructive. We default to destructive because that’s what feels good in the moment and that’s what people modeled for us most often growing up. We follow one of two paths:

  • Silence. We shut down and isolate from others.
  • Violence. We strike out with our words, actions, or even our fists.

Unfortunately both responses only cause more loss and begin a downward spiral that leads to more emotion and more bad choices.

A better choice is to be constructive. Again there are two paths to go here:

  • Resolution: You seek to meet the unmet expectation either by raising the performance or lowering the expectation.
  • Acceptance: You choose to accept that you can’t meet  your expectations and that life can still go on.

Like I said before, this process is ongoing every day, whether you realize it or not. Your brain is processing losses non-stop, choosing these two pathways and incurring the benefit or curse of your choices. Choose well and you release the weight of your loss. Choose poorly and you add another brick to your backpack.

Inviting God into Your Unmet Expectations

You can’t do much about your emotional response to unmet expectations, but you can do a lot about how you respond to them. This is where God can help. Turn to God with your anger, sadness, or fear and say:

Father, I’m so disappointed in what didn’t happen. But I don’t want my emotions to influence me to do the wrong thing. Help me to think clearly and respond in a constructive way. Give me the wisdom and ability to resolve what went wrong or the grace to accept it and move on.

This is a very practical way to incorporate God into your daily life. Unmet expectations happen all the time, so invite God into those moments. If you do, you’ll find yourself living with a greater sense of peace than you ever have before. You’ll also find that God has become very real in your life as you turn to him on a regular basis.

Here’s to a better 2017. To learn more about overcoming losses you might want to read my books, STUCK, or Return from Exile.

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Free Kindle Books This Week on Amazon.com

As an Amazon seller, I have the right to give away my books for free for five days, once a quarter. Free is fun! Read more below to learn how you can download my free Kindle books this week.

Free Kindle Books: My Gifts to You This Christmas

Starting today, and running through Friday, I’m giving away two of my books on Kindle. Here’s the scoop:

Monday & Tuesday: Return from Exile.free kindle books

I wrote this book to encourage people to not let a setback or failure keep them down for life. There is a way back. I map this out in a forty day spiritual journey.

One person described the book as “a roadmap through the wilderness of loss.”

Another person said that they learned that “our lowest low is the very time that God is making His greatest investment in us.”

DOWNLOAD RETURN FROM EXILE HERE on Monday or Tuesday.

Wednesday – Friday: STUCK…how to overcome angerfree kindle books

Everyone gets angry, every day. We are just very good at hiding it. STUCK will help you to identify your anger, own it, and then release it through the art of forgiveness.

Last week a woman wrote me very excited that only four chapters into the book she learned the key to forgiving her husband. She was so excited about her new freedom that she wrote to tell me and posted an ecstatic review for the book. Very fun.

DOWNLOAD STUCK HERE from Wednesday through Friday.

Your Gift to Me: A Review on Amazon!

If you have read any of my books in the past, or will read the free books offered here, I’d appreciate it if you would take a minute to post a review. It doesn’t have to be long. A brief review is better than no review.

The more reviews a book has, the higher Amazon ranks the book, which means more people see it when they search for a book topic. Every author wants their books to be read. So your review will help make that happen!

Click on one of the links above to leave a review. That would be your Christmas gift to me! Thanks so much. Healing the Hurts of Your Past can be reviewed here.

I hope you will take advantage of these free Kindle books! Please click the Facebook icon below to share it on your Facebook page to let your friends know about the offer too.

Merry Christmas to you. May the powerful love of God surround you this season.

 

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Understanding the Powerless and How to Respond

powerlessI recently wrote about the impact of power in one’s life after reading the book, The Power Paradox. I’m back to reflect on what the book said about what it means to be powerless.

The author says that powerless people are stressed, anxious, and full of shame. Those three things weigh on them every day and put them at a huge disadvantage to the average person. It even makes them more likely to be sick, which only adds to their powerlessness.

To be less powerful is to face greater threats of every kind, especially from people with more power. The powerless, attuned to threats of all kinds, are more likely to experience chronic stress. Dacher Keltner, The Power Paradox:

Hannah: A Picture of Powerlessness

I recently did a study in the book of 1 Samuel, in the Bible. It begins with the story of Hannah. Hannah is the picture of powerlessness, exemplified by her inability to have children. In our culture, many women choose to not have children. But for Hannah, the inability to have children was a badge of shame. She had nothing to offer her community. It evoked pity from her husband and contempt from her husband’s other wife.

The Bible says of Hannah that:

She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”1 Samuel 1:10,11

Hannah was basically saying, God, I’d like some power in my life. I’d like some sense of significance. If you give me a son, I’ll give him back to you to serve as a priest for the rest of his life.

She was offering to give her son up for adoption and let the local priest raise him. Can you imagine praying that? Can you imagine giving up the son you longed to bear?

Maybe we should look past the desperate act to understand the desperate person.

Who prays that kind of prayer? Desperate people pray like that. Hannah was so desperate to have a sense of worth and power…to have a sense of purpose and value…to break free from the oppressive people in her life, that she was willing to give up her son.

Reacting to the Powerless

The unfortunate thing in a case like this is how powerful people react. Powerful people often lack empathy because they can’t understand what it’s like to be powerless and have no control in their life.

I’m sure Hannah’s friends and family said, That’s crazy. What are you doing? Don’t pray that. Your life isn’t so bad. Get over it. Count your blessings. In fact, Hannah’s husband asked the ridiculous question: Aren’t I better than ten sons? …as if she should be happy in life just because he was there to take care of her (along with his other wife.)

Desperate People Do Desperate Things

Powerless people often do desperate things that we don’t understand, and we need to be careful how we respond. For example, maybe a woman quits a job because she is being sexually harassed. She’s desperate. She had to do something, so she just quit. But she didn’t want to tell people the real reason, so people criticize her for ruining her career.

Or maybe a man grows up surrounded by discrimination. He saw his dad passed over for promotions. He saw his mom treated like a servant. He was personally pulled over by the police numerous times without cause.

Over the years his frustration grows. He wants to do something about the injustice. He wants to say something. He’s desperate, and so when he becomes a professional athlete he seizes the moment to make a statement by not standing during the national anthem.

Was it the right thing to do? I don’t know. What IS the right thing to do when you are desperate? People do desperate things that don’t always make sense because they FEEL like they are out of options.

I know there are plenty of people who object to disrespecting the flag and our national anthem. You might be one of them. That’s fine and maybe even good…but is that really the point? Maybe we should look past the desperate act to understand the desperate person.

Empathy for the Powerless

It’s so easy for powerful people to rush to judgment. They can only see an action through their own eyes and if it doesn’t make sense to them, then it’s wrong for everyone else. It’s easy from their position to sit back and say, “I can’t believe they did that. That offends me. I’d never do that.”

Well, that’s because they aren’t powerless. They don’t have their background. They don’t have their level of desperation. Desperate people aren’t always fully rational. They don’t always do what’s right or helpful. It helps to know their story…not to justify their actions but to understand what motivates them.

Maybe instead of criticizing the powerless for their behavior we could try to hear their side of the story. Try to understand them. Try to appreciate their pain and what makes them so desperate. Try to understand what it’s like to feel powerless.

Much conflict comes when the powerful judge the powerless. The powerful come off as self-righteous and the powerless often respond in frustration, not knowing how to break through the insensitivity of the powerful.

The Power Paradox was a good caution to me about this inherent tension. Being a white, Masters educated, male, pastor, with a decent income and intact family puts me in a natural position of power in our culture. I can do many things that others can’t. That’s not something to be proud of. It’s a privilege and a responsibility to use my power well and for the benefit of others. If I lack empathy for the powerless I can easily push them away and lose out on what God might want us to do together.

The Power Paradox wasn’t a perfect book, but the research struck me in a way that made an impact, and for that I’m grateful.

Here’s your reward for reading to the end: My newest book, Return From Exile, is FREE today only on Kindle. Download it here.

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Are You a Victim of Spiritual Abuse?

If you are a victim of spiritual abuse, would you be interested in helping me to write my fifth book? The topic is toxic faith and spiritual abuse. The working title for my new book is: Toxic Faith, Spiritual Abuse…and AMAZING Grace.victim of spiritual abuse

This book is a book that I wish I didn’t need to write. In fact, it’s probably the last thing I WANT to talk about. No one likes to talk about it. But for the sake of Jesus and his church, we have to. 

I blogged about it extensively in the wake of a toxic church imploding two years ago in my area. Those posts have since become my most read posts. That’s sad to me! Really? There’s that much interest?

Of all the posts, the most read post is: How to Confront a Toxic Pastor. So disappointing. But that tells me it’s a huge problem.

I pulled together all those posts along with a sermon series I did on Toxic Faith from Galatians. As I started the drafting process I started to wonder if I had answered all the questions people have. Probably not. 

That’s where you could really help me.

Helping the Victim of Spiritual Abuse

I want to help two primary groups of people:

1. People in a toxic church who are SUPER confused. Why are people so passionate about teaching that makes you so uncomfortable? Why is it wrong to question it? Are you a bad Christian? Are you even saved? Do you really have to work THAT hard for God to love you?

2. People who realize the problem and want to do something about it. The right answer might be to quietly leave. For others it might mean a confrontation, if not a series of confrontations.

My hope is to pull together anywhere from five to fifty people who would read through my original writing and tell me what helps, what doesn’t help, and what’s missing.

I’d like people who are in one of the two groups above so they can give me personal feedback. I came out of a toxic church, but it was years ago now. I may have forgotten some of the pain and some of the issues.

What will you do on this team?

Read my work and write me your thoughts. If you have friends in the group, you might read it together.

My hope is that the group would not only help me (and thereby help my readers) but be a source of healing for people on my team.

Like I said, I’ve been there. I am a victim of spiritual abuse. It caused me to drop out of church for five years. I almost gave up on church altogether. Instead, God used me to start a church! Pretty ironic.

So there it is. If you are interested in being a part of this group, please email me here. 

One qualifier: some people come out of a toxic church both bitter and vindictive. I’m open to their involvement if they can restrain themselves from using the group as a dumping ground for their anger. But I’d love to help them work through that, so I’m happy to include them.

Please share this post with people whom you think might be interested.

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The Power Paradox: Gaining and Losing Power

Power is an interesting study. Reading the book, The Power Paradox, opened my eyes to how power power paradoxand powerlessness play into our lives in dramatic ways. I’ll talk about power in this post and powerlessness in an upcoming post.

Author, Dacher Keltner believes that our culture’s understanding of power came from Machiavelli’s book, The Prince. He says:

The Prince offers a philosophy of power suitable to such violent times, treating power in its purest form as “force and fraud.” We gain and keep such power by committing coercive and unpredictable acts that are impetuous, fierce, and violent.

We hold on to such power by appearing virtuous even though we harbor other intentions. This kind of power quiets (or kills) rivals and critics, inspires allegiances, and mutes the masses. Through coercive force and fraud, we dominate. Dacher Keltner. The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence (p. 20). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This definition relates so closely to what I’ve written in this blog about toxic pastors and what I observed in the recent political campaign. The “force and fraud” isn’t as blatant as in Machiavelli’s era, but is present nonetheless.

This expression of power doesn’t stem from confidence but fear. The Machiavellian leader is afraid they are losing power so they resort to manipulation to grasp power before it slips away.

This grasp might work in the short run but, ironically, it eventually leads to a loss of power…the very thing they feared. People subjected to abusive power will only submit to it for a season before they say, “enough” and revolt (think abusive marriages, churches, bosses, and governments).  The author explains:

People resort to coercive force when their power is actually slipping. In our professional lives, people who endorse Machiavellian strategies to social life— lying, manipulating, and stepping on others to rise in the ranks— actually report experiencing less power and influence than the average person…Today coercive force is a more likely path to powerlessness than to gains in power.  The Power Paradox (p. 21).

The Power Paradox and Gaining Power

So, how does one gain power? Keltner says that power is not gained by grasping it but by receiving it from others. People are eager to give you power in their lives when you show acts of kindness that benefit them. The author says that power:

…is given to us by others rather than grabbed. We gain power by acting in ways that improve the lives of other people in our social networks…Our power is found in simple acts that bind people together and yield the greatest benefits for the group. The difference we make in the world depends …on raising the right question, offering encouragement, connecting people who don’t know one another, suggesting a new idea. Power is surprisingly available in daily acts of social life.   Critical to avoiding the power paradox is recognizing   that enduring power hinges on doing simple things that are good for others. The Power Paradox (p. 35).

Kelner adds by saying:

…we empower others through daily acts of influence: by acknowledging another’s good work, by offering an encouraging phrase or making appreciative eye contact, or by giving others responsibilities, resources, and opportunities. The Power Paradox (p. 38).

The Power Paradox and Losing Power

What I found especially interesting is how people who gain power can easily lose it. While gaining power came from showing kindness, the power they receive often causes them to distance themselves from others, lose empathy, grow selfish, and eventually lose power.

People are eager to give you power in their lives when you show acts of kindness that benefit them.

I saw this played out recently in my study of King David in the Bible. When David was young he fought for the people and they championed him as their king. But once he gained power he grew distant and selfish, choosing to commit adultery and even murder to cover up the adultery. The people took note and when David’s son Absalom offered them his leadership as a viable alternative, their hearts went with him. Power gained and lost. (You can find this story in 1 & 2 Samuel).

Whatever your position of power might be (teacher, pastor, parent, manager, etc.), be aware that your position naturally tempts you to neglect the empathy and kindness that put you in power in the first place. Don’t fall into the trap of coercing people to maintain your power. What got you power (empathy and kindness) will keep you in power.

Check out The Power Paradox here.

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