arts & creativity, church, ministry

Recovering from Spiritual Abuse: “We’re Listening”

Alternative title for this post: “That Awkward Moment When You Ask A Minister If You Can Please Use A Bad Word In Church” 


A few days ago, I got to share a bit of writing at an event called “8 Minutes Max,” an open forum at Church of the Incarnation which encouraged writers, artists, and musicians to share their work for 8 minutes max.

While considering participating in this, I emailed the event coordinator, a minister at the church, to ask: “Is it OK if I share a story that mentions self-injury and maybe uses a bad word just once? There’s redemption too, I promise!”

The reply: “Sounds like a fascinating story. I look forward to hearing it.”

Not “watch what you say, young lady” (heard that one before). Not “please edit your life before sharing it with us.”Incarnation 8 Minutes Max

So, I got to stand at the front of a chapel and tell 50+ mostly-churchgoing people about a time when “I sure as hell did not want to go to church” (a direct quote from the story shared).

The story shared wasn’t about spiritual abuse at all. But that doesn’t matter. The sheer act of story-sharing in a spiritual community — no matter what subject matter or artistic medium we use — can help with spiritual abuse recovery.

How so?

It was the Church saying: I’m sorry I silenced you, scared you, judged you, nearly drove you away. You’re a part of the body of Christ, so your voice is valuable. We’re listening. 

The specific church that hurt me several years ago never apologized. But somehow vicarious apologies work. I don’t know the psychology of it, but perhaps in any discipline ministers, therapists, doctors, or whoever can potentially say “I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience with a minister/therapist/doctor. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’ll never be perfect, but it can be worth it. Let me show you.” And, in time, even people once hurt can receive that vicarious apology.

I do hope that churches and ministries will increasingly hold or at least endorse Open Mic Nights, artists’ meetups, blogs, and other conversations that foster creative expression. We never know what profound ripple-effects God’s  Spirit might have in store for artist or audience.

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