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Friday, May 23, 2014

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

A few days back, I found this article, and thought it raised some interesting points-
Here's how the author defines PTCS-
PTCS presents as a severe, negative — almost allergic — reaction to inflexible doctrine, outright abuse of spiritual power, dogma and (often) praise bands and preachers. Internal symptoms include but are not limited to: withdrawal from all things religious, failure to believe in anything, depression, anxiety, anger, grief, loss of identity, despair, moral confusion, and, most notably, the loss of desire/inability to darken the door of a place of worship.
I have not read her book or explored her writings other than this, but I can say this: she describes something I have seen in lots of 12 Step meetings, and I have seen Orthodox go through this as well.  No, we are not immune to whackos in cassocks, just because the odds of having a dysfunctional person in authority increase in direct proportion to increases in the overall community.  More people, more crazies.
The problem for us Orthodox is that we look so different, and act so different, that newcomers often can't tell the difference between 'different' and 'loony.'  They meet a priest, he tells them "This is the Orthodox Way!" and that's the end of discussion.  Take it or leave it.
The problem is that if you sign up for the loony version, eventually you get the symptoms described above.  That's because we are not really designed for abuse.  It wears us down, and wears us out.
12 Step meetings are full of people who became addicts in some part because they came into contact with religious insanity and it drove them from God.  Some of these folks will sit in meetings and praise God there, but will not darken the door of a church because those wounds are still painful and unhealed.
Meanwhile, we as Orthodox make sure our churches are all about 'our people.'  How are we serving 'our people'?  Are 'our people' satisfied, or is there more we can do for us?
It is maddening because it is a complex process to 'domesticate' the practices of our faith when they come from such different places.  I still think we are generations away from really having an 'American Orthodoxy,' which is right around the time we will be asking a lot of other questions in the traditional lands as well.  The whole world is changing.
But, here in the US, it is important for newcomers to know that there are places where you can fall into abuse, no matter where you go.  Look for symptoms:
1) Slickness (a presentation that is a little too under-control)
2) Condemnation (the urge to condemn 'the world' or some bogeyman)
3) Territoriality (don't go anywhere else!)
4) Peculiarity (only this parish has the real thing and does it right)
5) Certainty (there is always a right answer, and you'd better find it quick)
6) Pride (aren't we wonderful? you can be, too, if you join us!)
7) Anxiety (for heaven's sake, don't break the rules!)
Yes, there are others, but I think you get the point.  Abusers abuse through control, and these are the ways that control is exercise.  First, you have to buy the snake oil.  But, once you've bought it, it only takes a few minutes before you are part of the Borg and trying to sell it to your newly-creeped-out friends.  Don't worry... the reason that they are creeped out is that they are not part of the elect and are damned anyhow.
What does health look like?
1) Awkward (jolly but clumsy... not out to impress)
2) Sorrowful (real sorrow that people are harming themselves, and hoping they will stop)
3) Free (go and see...)
4) Communality (we do things pretty much like our brethren, and this is what was handed down to us all)
5) Honesty (some things I just don't know, and other things I don't do well)
6) Humility (yeah, others are doing it better, but we try anyhow)
7) Peace (you know what that is, don't you?)
A parish does not have to be perfect, it just has to be control-freak-free.  otherwise, the pressure of having to meet the ever escalating expectations of the control-meister will eventually lead to PTCS.  Yes, I have seen it happen.  I get phone calls and emails from people 'exiting' their unhealthy communities.  If they ask for help, they get it and, amazingly, many find that they don't have to leave the Church to finally find peace.  They just need to find a healthier parish.
If you are the one with the PTCS, you don't have to suffer with it.  There are plenty of healthy communities that have balanced, loving clergy and faithful.  You may, at first, be struck by the fact that they are not super-attentive to newcomers, but that can be a good sing.  Nobody is out to reprogram you there!
But, do get help.  Do not let another person's insecurities keep you away from your God.


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