‘I just want to believe’, she said. The group went quiet. ‘Believe what’, I asked. ‘That the organisation will live up to its values’. There it was laid bare. The human desire for organisations to fix the world. To be flag carriers for justice, to right the wrongs, to care for the weak and broken hearted and, to make life fair.
At the time I was exploring the fracas surrounding Hillsong Church in Australia. Complaints about manipulation, control, and abuse in a church of mostly young people, rocking to the Hillsong sound, ecstatic about Jesus, finding ways to change and grow, delighting in spirit.
Hillsong is a mega church in the Pentecostal tradition, reckoned to be the fastest growing religion in the world with about 600 million followers so far. Elle Hardy, author of Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity is taking over the world, notes that by 2032 in Brazil, once considered the most Catholic nation on earth, Pentecostals will outnumber Catholics. Quite the transformation.
Believing you have found the truth is energising. Even more so when you think this new truth will relieve your suffering, help you prosper, and mean you can change the world for good. The people in the ancient Pentecost story might have felt something similar when flames appeared on their heads and they began to speak in unfamiliar languages, hard on the heels of a tragic time in their lives.
Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul offers caution. He argues that spirit is the part of us that wants to transcend, wants more and to move into a better world. Handled well, it can help move mountains. Given free rein, this extraverted side can escalate until you feel as though you’re flying high, perhaps beyond reason. Falls are common.
Whereas soul, says Moore, is a deeper dimension of existence that lies somewhere between understanding and the unconscious. To do with genuineness and depth, revealed through attachment, love and community. Known by absence as much as by presence and when not cared for, obsession, violence and loss of meaning appear.
Humans need both spirit and soul to live as embodied beings in a fragmented and unpredictable world. But soul will only be revealed when spirit is tethered, part of the growth down, rather than up. The result is wisdom and a secure inner source of authority.
Managing this balancing act and our relationship with the organisations we must all contend with is challenging. In part, because large organisations, whether government, business, or the church tend to be idealistic and lean towards spirit. They’re about growing, gaining, fixing, resolving, achieving, and overall, figuring out how to keep themselves afloat. Achievement mode can prevail, sometimes causing an inner dislocation from self.
Things become more complicated in religious organisations when shared ideals are not realised or worse, trampled on for what looks like personal gain. There can be a sense of betrayal, grief, and loss. The desire for rebalancing organisational and personal values can mean enormous energy goes into righting the wrongs so that failures never happen again. There’s value in that but a brief historical glance shows that problems will reoccur.
Waking up to the realities of organisational life offers choices. Do I invest heavily in institutions, in this case the church, or is my energy better spent on soul work. Growing down my spiritual awakening so that it can take root and then help others do something similar. After all, Pentecost was experienced by individuals, not an organisation. Whatever your choice, it’s a delicate balancing act, which will be slightly different for everyone.
Also published in Kotahi Ano Pastor’s Desk, 3 June 2022