Who has the Power to Make The Call
The beginning of the end of my life as a pastor came shortly after June of 2009. I was serving as an assistant pastor in a church full of people I love dearly to this day. However, I was about to see behind a large dark curtain. The charismatic lead pastor was the most narcissistic person I had ever met up until that point in my life. He was dishonest, manipulative, and had turned over his staff 5 times in 6 years. After witnessing lies to the congregation and personal friends I was planning my exit. I had planned to do so quietly, but prominent board members wanted to know why. And so I clearly spelled it out for them. And it turned out, I would be one of many who had done so throughout the years. So things changed right?
When I watched the board of directors (elders) allow him to continue to lead after knowing he had been dishonest and manipulative it made me ask, “Do we go to church or a club?” A church is carefully structured based on biblical principles and teachings. There are very clear and strict guidelines for who is deemed worthy to serve as a leader of the congregation. And I can assure you that being manipulative, dishonest, and abusive of staff is frowned upon by the good Lord of the Bible. A club is a place where people show up to simply be served, and have a good time. Had I been naïve? Was I missing something? Was I the problem?
I came to the conclusion (maybe not a correct one but it was my conclusion) that a significant number of people don’t care or even know if the church is biblically structured. And they easily wave off the pastors immorality, because he has been there for them at a time when they needed him.
My highly offensive point is this, as long as people are getting what they want from the leader and the church then they let a lot of things slide. And what they do want is great music, an awesome place for their kids to hangout, a message that encourages them, a place to see their friends, and someone to marry and bury them.
In more and more churches across America the lead pastor isn’t really a “pastor.” He sure as hell isn’t a shepherd tending to and loving on the flock. He is a personality. A motivational speaker who occasionally uses scripture to make a point. Yes, he or she is both entrepreneur and entertainer. Much like lets say, a radio personality?
Over time I would completely turn away from God, the Bible, and the church. I wasn’t angry. It wasn’t because of the pastor of disaster. I just didn’t believe in any of it anymore. I figured if I was going to be an entertainer or CEO of Jesus Inc. then I might as well be on the radio. So I shut the door on God, the church, and scripture. And that didn’t work for me.
After three years I missed Jesus. I missed feeling connected to an energy I describe as God. I found myself in a dark place, and didn’t know how to escape. I felt like I had been duped, and all that I held sacred was actually a scam. God, the Bible and the Church had been my life, and now I didn’t believe in any of it. I had never felt so alone.
I don’t know exactly when it occurred, but one day The Light came on. I realized two things: One, maybe the pastor of disaster’s disciples were on to something. Maybe the church should just be a club of sorts. An all inclusive club sounded good. Two, I had made a horrible mistake. A mistake that maybe many of you reading this have made. I had allowed the fundamentalist to highjack Jesus, God, and scripture. I had bought into their arrogance that they had it all figured out. In fact, we’ve all heard them say that they…they know the only way for you and I to get connected to God. And how sad it is that because of them…millions of people have been lead to believe that God is only for the chosen frozen.
Lastly, my experience in 2009 taught me to look at my own issues. My own levels of narcissism, and to dive deep into what I had said I believed most of my life. It was in the darkness that I would eventually be enlightened. And the new message in my heart is to introduce you to a new way of thinking about God, the bible, and da club. I’ll explain what I mean in the next blog post, “Jesus, Women, & The Gays.”
So there I was on my first day of seminary, and little did I know a professor was about to ruin my day, and challenge my faith! The students surrounding me didn’t look like you may picture in your mind. It was really like any other college class with the exception of most of the students not being hungover. We were Baptist preacher boys…if you wanted to party and have some fun then you should’ve become a Methodist…or a Presbyterian if you had the money! Some of the students did look exhausted from working the 3 a.m. shift at Fedex or UPS, but other than that we were a good looking bunch, and very eager to change the world for Jesus! And to do that we’d need to know “His word.”
I use the phrase “His word” to refer to the Bible, but it was more often called “The Word.” We were challenged to leave the campus and preach The Word! The seminary there in Fort Worth was one of the groups who had declared the Bible to be inerrant. Now, don’t let that little word slide by, because it has a very powerful meaning. If you Google it (like any good student) then you’ll find it means, “incapable of being wrong.” Meaning, in case you missed it, INCAPABLE OF BEING WRONG. Another very weird way of saying it is, “The Bible is God-breathed.”
I come from the south where most of us had 17 Bibles, and if you were a real Christian you had one on your coffee table. In fact, it was actually larger than the coffee table! I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but looking back it was sort of like having a magic book in the house. I’ve always enjoyed reading the stories of the Bible even though I know how they end. I’ve read the story of David and Goliath 1,000 times as if maybe one day it changes, and little David gets his ass kicked. The Bible is full of magical stories that are both beautiful and tragic. There are both poems of love and despair. There is a beautiful story of a garden and creation, but you’ll also find mass genocide. I find the Bible to be both inspirational and controversial, but is it inerrant? At that moment, I was all in and then “Dr. Killjoy” shows up.
I was in my very first day of classes and the teacher said this about the Word, “You’ll notice some of the sentences are in italics which means they changed the words during translation.” Now, please don’t start messaging me to explain that process in detail. I understand why it was done, how it was done, and (thanks to Dr. Killjoy) when it was done. None of that mattered to me at the moment. I was having a small meltdown.
I don’t know how I thought the Bible had been put together, but what I began to learn disturbed me. I didn’t realize some creative freedom had been given to a group of men who decided what would be The Word. Maybe I had pictured Jesus and his sandal wearing gang writing everything down nice and neat, and then hiring a publisher! So this news about a group of men getting together in 200 A.D. to decide what was from God and the fate of the Christian faith was a little disturbing!
I had been raised in a world where the Bible was not distinguishable from God. I was told in the beginning was The Word (Jesus) and The Word was with God, and The Word was GOD. So if I had an issue with the words then I had a problem with The Word. I was up Jesus Freak Creek without a paddle. In my mind, if I didn’t think the Bible was inerrant and dictated to the saints by God then I wasn’t a believer.
After class I practically ran to the prayer room on campus. They had shown it to us during orientation, and since we had about 3,000 students I had assumed it would be one of the busiest rooms on campus. So when I walked in I was shocked to find that I had the entire place to myself!
I dropped down on my knees, and began to beg God to help me better understand. I wanted Him to reveal that the Bible was straight from His lips to the Apostle Paul’s pen. It would not be my last trip to the prayer room over the next couple of years, and yes…I was always alone. I don’t say that to appear super spiritual. It was quite the opposite. I was in there begging for God to remove the doubts. I say it because looking back I now realize it was the beginning of my BFO! It was the beginning of me one day waking up to a blinding flash of the obvious! More about that in my next post, but lets wrap-up this part of my journey.
During my time as a pastor I began to see somethings that made me realize I might be in the wrong position and place. I definitely wasn’t a Baptist, and I was beginning to realize what being a Senior Pastor entailed. So I was going to move off to Washington and become an assistant pastor in a larger church, and be a cohost on Fitz in the Morning. And that decision would be the beginning of what felt like roller coaster at Six Flags Over Jesus.
We’ll discuss that in the next post, “Jesus Inc.” If you missed pt1 of my journey you can click here and catch up.
It was the early 2000s and my very first day of seminary, and not just any seminary. I was at one of the largest, and most respected Southern Baptist Seminaries in the world. And before class I took a 5 mile run around campus. When I returned I realized that I had worn a hat, which had the word “Budweiser” on it. I literally felt some anxiety, because I knew that would be frowned upon by my Baptist brethren, and thus threw it in the trash. I was all in and had signed a form which said I wouldn’t drink, cuss, chew or run with those who do! I would soon realize that many of the students (who also signed the morality clause) did not follow it, but more about that later.
I was married with two children at the time, and had given up a radio gig in Miami that paid me more than I was worth to work a 6 hour shift, and then go to the beach each day. I can’t believe my marriage lasted as long as it did after moving her to an apartment on campus…an apartment that was so close to a railroad track that I could high five the conductor on his fly by. But both she and I thought the good Lord had called us to this place and time. We believed we were right where He wanted us.
The journey first began when the planes hit the twin towers on 9/11. I will never forget (as many of you) how helpless and hopeless things felt at that moment. I wanted to do something to help! After the attack I believed that our world would never be the same, and people needed two things. One, they would need people with counseling experience, which I had due to my masters in clinical psychology. Two, they would need God, and I was raised in a Christian home, loved Jesus, loved people, and was ready to sign up before being drafted.
So there I was in seminary, which reminded me so much of my Christian School days growing up in West Virginia. I wasn’t raised Southern Baptist. Hell no, they were too liberal! So we were Independent Baptist, and I was sent to a Christian School, which viewed Bob Jones University as the Harvard for Jesus folks. I kid you not, I had a music teacher who told us that there was proof that rock music would turn you gay. According to “Mr. Music” someone had placed two male rats in a cage, and repeatedly played rock music. Well, it wasn’t long until “Bert & Ernie” started seeing each other in a whole new way! I quickly looked over at my friend Todd who I knew loved the devil’s music! He didn’t seem gay, but maybe the Joan Jett poster, his amazing basketball skills, and the cute girlfriend were just a cover? He eventually got married to a beautiful lady so maybe he just didn’t listen long enough.
So, I was headed to my first class of seminary where the professor would say something that felt like the equivalent of a 10 pound bowling ball being dropped on my lap. And it would lead me to run…run across campus to the prayer room where I found something very strange. When I opened the door (at one of the largest seminaries in the world) it was empty. There was not a soul (no pun intended).
To be continued!!! I will soon let you know what the professor said that would haunt me for years.
Three years ago I had lost a job, was on my way to divorce, and my father died. A well meaning friend looked at me and said, “I don’t know how you get out of bed in the morning!” I can remember thinking, “Do I have a choice?”
Well apparently my shit cycle runs in threes because I recently went through a very “low” time in my life again. Wait, I’m trying to shine a turd…I”m still going through it, but doing much better. And I was talking to my therapist and told him that I feel as though I’m a weak man. Regardless of my own training as a therapist and a pastor…I have the same thoughts and issues as everyone else. And to struggle with heartache, and depression just makes me feel weak. I wanted to know why I can’t just move on and be more positive!
My therapist asked me something I’ll never forget, “Do you still get out of bed every morning and move forward?” Again, “Do I really have a choice?” He let me know that I absolutely have a choice, and every morning I was choosing to get my ass out of bed. I never thought of it that way. When Alexa starts sounding that alarm in the morning (I’ll be honest with you) I wake up and think, “I can’t do this again. I can’t go on the radio and be fun, funny, and goofy today. I can’t listen to 100 straight country songs that make me remember why I’m hurting. Hell, I am a country song!” Many of you know what I’m saying, when we are struggling emotionally…we would prefer to sleep it off, but I don’t and neither do you, we put our feet on the ground and move forward.
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, heartache, grief, or all of the above…it doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human! We all go through difficult times, and it doesn’t make us weak. In fact, if we wake up each morning, get our ass out of bed, and move forward…we are showing an incredible level of strength. We are saying, “I’m going to win this battle!” We aren’t giving in to it…we are giving it hell!
May you continue to get up every morning and push forward, because not only are you showing strength…you are building it. Resist the voice of the enemy that says, “You’re weak!” You are a bad ass who is growing stronger each day! This too will pass, and you will be stronger and ready to thrive in 2020.
Tony Russell, The Pastor of Disaster
Women have friends. Seriously, they have close friends. They even travel together! Did you hear me guys? They literally call each other up and plan vacations, nights out together, and concerts. We don’t do that! We did when we were younger, but somewhere along the line we just resorted to calling each other a few times a year and calling it a friendship.
Over the last few years of dating I have been amazed at how many friends women have and how much time they spend together. Look at their Instagram pages…there are tons of awesome vacation pictures of them together. First, let me say that I believe this is a sign of a healthy person. The women I’ve met that go from relationship to relationship (much like guys) are not healthy. In fact, if a woman doesn’t have her little estrogen small group then you may want to move on, but I have no research to back that up.
What saddens me is that many of these women have found that men can’t be depended on but their friends are solid as a rock! Men come and go, but they can depend on their friends. However, I’m not going to dive into judging my own kind…it’s just an observation. I simply want to point out to men that we need to follow their lead.
I have to be honest and say that while I have some amazing friends that I love like brothers, and want to talk to them occasionally…I really don’t want to vacation with them. Honestly, I don’t really even want to have dinner with them. I’m not sure why, but if I’m going to go to dinner, a movie, Las Vegas, or anywhere in the world…I prefer the company of a woman. Especially that woman who is like a best friend. I just love the way they smell, their smooth skin, and I can go on and on. There is NOTHING better than having all of that in the opposite sex, but I digress and I show the weakness in my foundation.
Before you and I can be in a healthy relationship with the opposite sex I believe we have to first be good with ourselves. And yes I hate this crap, but the truth is…we need to learn to date ourselves, love ourselves, and enjoy the company of friends, before we are ready to move on to dating. I don’t have research to back this up other than three years of dating. The women I’ve found who are healthy aren’t going from one relationship to another. They have healthy friendships, they are independent, and while you get the feeling they want you…they don’t have to have you. Why? Because they have learned to love their self, their friends, and they are likely a mom first and foremost. Meaning, you aren’t going to meet their kids until month 6 of dating.
I know this will feel weird for many of us dudes, but we need to learn to first be alone. I’m working on that and not happy with it at all! We also need to build or rekindle friendships. And here is something to think about, how about JUST friendships with women? Yes, just make friends with a woman and don’t try to date or anything else! This is something new to me. In the last few months I’ve established and fostered healthy friendships with women. What a gift! They teach me so much about…guess who…women!
So let’s wrap this blog up since I’m writing it from happy hour on a Wednesday night. Ladies, keep your friendships. Men, build deeper friendships. Men and women, learn to love each other and offer one another both a deep friendship and true intimacy.
I love ya,
Tony, The Pastor of Disaster
You know how people say, “You shouldn’t talk about politics and religion?” I think that is ridiculous! So, today we talk about religion and how it plays into our foundation for life and love. More specifically, what happens to our foundation when we get to that point that we think, “Either God isn’t there or He is deaf?”
I don’t know about you, but it pisses me off when it seems as though God has left the building. Seriously, before going to bed on Sunday night I got on my knees beside of my bed and said, “Seriously God…what are we doing here? Because I’m not feeling you, hearing you, seeing you, and I’m tired of the pain!” Guess what He said? Not a damn thing! Guess what changed in my life? Not a damn thing! Well, I was able to go to sleep thanks to having a half a Xanax left. So I guess He could get credit for that? So, “Thank you Jesus for the highly addictive benzo I have left from the last breakup, and forgive me for chasing it with red wine which we know helped you pull of the first miracle. Amen.”
So what do we do next? For those of us who believe or want to believe in God what do we do when He seems distant? Well, you are going to want to throat punch me for this, but that is when faith truly comes into play. For me, faith is when we keep following God, loving God, and praying even when He seems to have disappeared. Remember my motto, do as I say and not as I’ve done. Because there have been too many times in my life that I’ve given up on God. And without exception I’ve regretted it. And that brings me to making a point that will make you roll your eyes. Ready? God never leaves you. See, look at your doubting ass rolling your eyes. I really don’t blame you, but stay with me.
One of my favorite passages from scripture is Psalms 34:18. Please know I’m not making a joke when I say that the writer of Psalms (King David…the guy who kicked Goliath’s ass) was bipolar. We never hear from his psychiatrist, but that dude was so impulsive and hit such deep depressions that he had to be struggling with bipolar disorder. He knew triumph and he knew tragedy like no man on earth and in his greatest pain he said, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”
I will turn 50 something years-old on January 3rd. I put the date so you’ll be reminded to venmo me money. And I also tell you that so you know that I’ve had my share of “crushed” moments in life. The last 90 days could easily make it into the Tony Russell Got His Ass Kicked & Crushed Hall of Fame. And guess what I now know as I look back on those moments? There was Jesus (see video below)!
I know that many of you reading this are hurting and I want you to know that God is near. He is near to those who are “crushed in spirit.” He is near to those who are broke, busted, and disgusted. Trust me, I know you are having trouble believing that right now, but keep reaching up. And most importantly, don’t give up on Him or YOU! This is a time of year where many people decide they’d be better off cashing in all the chips. Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem. God has a plan, it isn’t OUR plan, it isn’t in our time, and quite frankly He is slow as hell, but stay with me and let’s ride this out.
Again, please know that I feel some of your pain. I know what it is like to wake up and wish it was time to go to bed. I know what it is like to have your heart “crushed” and wish you could suddenly get amnesia. I know what it is like to hear, “I don’t think I ever really loved you.” I know what it is like to feel like you’ve lost everything. I know what it is like to wish you could just go back and right your wrongs. I know what it is like to have such a deep heartache that it seriously feels as though your body hurts! And I also know what it is like when God finally delivers! Stay with me, stay with God, and get ready for 2020!
I love you,
Tony Russell, The Pastor of Disaster
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We are continuing to talk about building a strong foundation for our lives and more specifically our relationships. In the previous blog posts we talked a lot about how our past failed relationships can damage our foundation for future relationships. We have to move things like control, mistrust, and being permissive out of our foundations. Today let’s look at something that I’ve heard a lot about from the walking wounded…those who were hurt badly and have a fractured foundation.
The one diagnosis I hear many folks give their ex is narcissist. I am thankful I have never been in a romantic relationship with a narcissist, but I have had working relationships with many. And for a lack of a better phrase, it is a beating! Before we go any further let’s list out the symptoms of someone with a narcissistic personality disorder (from Mayo Clinic):
- Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
- Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerate achievements and talents
- Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
- Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
- Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
- Take advantage of others to get what they want
- Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Be envious of others and believe others envy them
- Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
- Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office
At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
- Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
- Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
- React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
- Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
- Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
- Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
- Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation
Now, many of you read through that and said, “Yep, that was my ex” but remember this blog isn’t here to help your ex. We can’t control their behavior, but we can control our own. Well on second thought, you can send them the link to the blog, but as you can see from the above symptomology they will lash out and possibly say you are the one with the problem!
So the questions you and I need to ask ourselves today is one, are we narcissistic? Two, if not then why have we found ourselves attracted to those who are narcissistic? The first question is difficult because most narcissistic people don’t see it in their own behavior. So you may need to ask a close friend and hold your breath. If so, that is a major crack in your relational foundation and it must be repaired for you to have healthy relationships. And you’ll need professional help.
The second question has an easy answer. You likely fall for the narcissist because in the beginning they are “large and in charge.” They are charismatic, funny, often times successful, charming, and know how to win friends and influence people. It isn’t until you get close to them that you realize they are quite frankly jerks! And they use people up very quickly. When you are no longer useful to them or making them look good then they will move on. They crush everyone in their path.
If you find yourself continually falling for this personality type you need to repair your foundation. My guess is that you are drawn to their power. They are often times (as earlier stated) in positions of power and some folks find that intoxicating. Look at that word intoxicating again. Can you find a word in there that describes how the relationship with a narcissist eventually turns out? TOXIC! When we find people intoxicating we need to take a step back and ask why. We need to make sure that our level of inferiority isn’t being lifted by their overwhelming sense of superiority. Does that make sense?
If you are a person who feels you lack power or a prominent position in life then you may be drawn to attach yourself to those who do. It will cause you to ignore their red flags because again, you are drawn to their power, which gives you a false sense of power for yourself. We see it all the time in politics and the entertainment business. When we seek to gain power by being in a relationship with someone then there is a crack in our foundation.
So let’s end with a special message to those of you who have been hurt by the narcissist. You have been lead to believe that the relationship failed because of you. You have been lead to believe that you are the one who needs help, and they likely even said you were crazy. Sweet man or lady, you have been manipulated. You have been mislead on nearly every relational level.
The narcissist can truly be evil in how they handle others. You will walk away feeling as though you failed when in reality you were being abused. And if they were really good at being bad…you even believe you deserved to be abused! Yes, you may have even said, “I just pushed him/her too far!” Listen, you are one of God’s beautiful children, and you were created not to pursue those with power, but to realize the greatest power of all lives within you. You don’t need someone to empower you. You need someone to love and adore you.
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