Finding Other Voices

So here’s what happened. We’ll start last Thursday. Last Thursday evening, I led a Bible Study, the first in a six-session series on the book of Revelation. Afterward, I felt guilty, and I wrote a blog post about it. In that post, I shared how terrible I felt, and how much I had done wrong. Before publishing it, I questioned whether I should share this, knowing that a number of people in my church read my blog. I did publish it. Over the next few days, I received a lot of feedback about this post, mostly (though not all) from church members who were actually at the Bible study. And the unanimous response from them was this: “Stop beating yourself up.” Some people followed this up with particular ways they found the Bible study helpful; some referred to my comments about the Rapture, saying that they found that especially helpful. I didn’t write the post as a way to fish for compliments, or as a way to get some feedback on the Bible Study, but that’s what happened.

So here’s what happened. Let’s tell this story in a different way. We’ll start fifteen years ago, in 2003. I was 27, the Director of Christian Education at a church in Bucks County. One of my roles at the church was to lead Bible studies, and I decided to do one on the Book of Revelation. I created the Bible study myself, led it, and it went pretty well. Fifteen years later, in the spring of 2018, I was finishing up a Bible study on Mark, and I asked the group if they would like to study Revelation next. They seemed very interested. I knew that I’d written that study back in 2003, and I figured I could pull it out of the files, dust it off, improve it a bit, and lead it again. I intended to work on it over the summer, but this summer got much busier than I expected, and it just didn’t happen. By the time I finally got to it, I discovered that it needed an awful lot more work than I thought. Apparently I had a lot of it in my head back then, and my lesson plans were rather sparse and cryptic, even to me. I would have to spend some serious time reworking it. But then three funerals happened within a two week period, and that time just wasn’t there. I was able to quickly read through The Rapture Exposed, a book that shows just how dangerous “rapture theology” is, and how it really isn’t supported by scripture, and that just got me worked up. I became convinced that I needed to throw this out there at the beginning, just lay my cards on the table. I didn’t feel fully prepared for this course, but I figured it would be alright. On Thursday night, there was a great turnout, about twenty people. Among them were several from other churches, and it became clear that they had a more conservative bent to their understanding of scripture. I became concerned how they might hear my words that night, especially as I planned to share a much more “liberal theology” than they may have been used to. I followed my lesson plan as written, and I felt more and more uncomfortable as I went through. I kept thinking that the visitors were just being polite by not walking out.

And then the Dark Voice kicked in. The Dark Voice is the name I have given to one way my depression manifests itself. The Dark Voice is a side of my personality that is critical of me, critical of everything I do, critical of everything I am, and shares that critique in very nasty ways. He’s sort of like a demon that possesses me; but unlike a demon, he is me, so he has complete access to all my memories, all my knowledge, all my mental skills. And he was on fire Thursday night. He told me: Look what you did. You created a nightmare for those guests. You offended them, you hurt them, you told them they were stupid. Some pastor you are. You are so sure that your theology is right, and instead of trying to show them God’s grace, you told them that anybody who doesn’t believe the way you do is stupid. Well done. You’re no better than you were fifteen years ago. The same arrogant child. The same thoughtless jerk. You haven’t changed. You can’t change. You’ll never change. You blew it. And now you have five more weeks to just blow it again. Well done, Michael. I’m so proud of you for being such a worthless failure. Bravo.

Yeah, the Dark Voice? He’s such a friendly guy. Sometimes I am able to fight against him, and sometimes I am not. Thursday night, I gave in. I listened to him, and I felt horrible. But then over the next few days, I listened to other voices. I heard all the people telling me how the Bible Study went from their perspective. And I believe them right now. The Dark Voice has one message, and he is very biased. I believe the people who were there, who are far less biased than El Darko.

And here’s the thing: what if I could switch the order? What if I could hear the voices of real people before giving into El Darko? What if, instead of waiting for people to respond to my pained venting, I could actually ask one or two of them what they thought? What if I had grabbed somebody on the way out that evening, and said, “Hey, I feel a little weird about tonight. I’d like your honest feedback: how do you think it went?” Or what if I could have sent an email out that evening instead of that blog post? How might that have gone differently? Maybe the best thing I can try to say to the Dark Voice is this: “Okay. I hear your perspective. You might be right, but I just don’t know. Let me try to get some other opinions.”

Yes, Mr. Voice, I have changed. There is no way I would have thought in those terms fifteen years ago. Hurrah!

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