Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spitting Out Bones

This post is general in nature, not aimed at any particular person, or any particular comment here or that I've seen on other sites dealing with fundamentalism and spiritual abuse. It's aimed at a general idea, mindset, and approach to various fundamentalist teachings. That idea and approach?...

"Just eat the meat and spit out the bones."

Unhealthy. Unhealthy. Unhealthy.

First, to borrow and paraphrase a couple of ideas from two friends and regular contributors here...

via Darcy...Just imagine a batch of brownies with pieces of dog crap in them. Would you eat the brownies and spit out the dog crap?

via Jim...If you're regularly spitting out bones, it's time for a new butcher.

This idea of "eating the meat and spitting out the bones" has been on my mind a good bit lately, and I'd like to share a few of my own thoughts about it - and why I think it's a sign and symptom (in general, not specific, terms) of a potentially deeper spiritual sickness and unhealthy spiritual, and emotional, condition and environment. Addiction comes to mind.

A while back I wrote about Imbibling (inspired by another comment Jim K made elsewhere - he's a sharp guy). Religious addiction. Religioholism. I think it comes into play when you consider the meat/bones scenario.

Consider the concept this way: In ANY other area of life, if you continually had to sift through the product and throw away defective items, you'd radically and drastically shift your approach to that area of your life. For instance (the butcher analogy) - if your ground beef left you continually sifting for and spitting out bones, I promise you, I guarantee you, you'd stop buying the particular brand, or stop buying from the particular butcher responsible, even if the beef, apart from the bones, had a wonderful flavor and texture. You'd make the switch without giving it a second thought, concerned not only for yourself, but if you were/are responsible for others, for the sake of THEIR health. If you shopped for Levi's, and, no matter how good their jeans looked on you in the dressing room, when you got home you discovered that for every good pair, another was poorly made, terribly made, and had to be thrown away, I again promise and guarantee you that you'd switch to another brand. Your financial resources would have to be shielded from the waste. If you took a certain brand of vitamin, and it alternated between days of making you feel incredible and days of making your skin turn green and your hair fall out, again, I make a promise and guarantee that you'd change brands, no matter how incredible the incredible days were. To get extreme in the example, let's say you have a doctor who prescribed, even pioneered, the treatment that cured your cancer and saved your life, then, on your next visit to have your runny nose tended to, he/she prescribed drinking a combination of gasoline, cyanide, and Tang. Would you stick with him/her? Would you just spit out the bone? Or would you recognize his or her irresponsible, and dangerous, practice of medicine and find a new doctor?

If you belong to the Christian faith, there's no question that your spiritual health is paramount (not to in any way discount the importance of other areas of life). So why, on the most important issue of all, do you so willingly wade through the useless and damaging elements to maybe, MAYBE, glean a small nugget of something useful? This question isn't for children being forced by parents to sit under any particular teachings. They don't have a choice, but, that should make this question all that much more important for their parents to answer.

I think the answer is religious addiction, and all of its associated guilts and pressures, stemming from sometimes lifelong indoctrination. I think many see the problems, very clearly, with the teaching they subject themselves, and their families, too, but guilt, and the indoctrinated fear of leaving the fundamentalist teachings entirely equating to leaving the Christian faith, keeps dragging them back in for another mouthful of bones and bone fragments. It's a cycle of religious addiction stemming from prolonged religious abuse. It's very unhealthy.

It's reminiscent of battered women who develop grossly, and dangerously, unhealthy attachments to their abusers. "Yeah, I know, but you don't know his heart like I do!" - when you can clearly see his "heart" in the form of the bruises all over her. Reminds me, in a way, of how my ex was with her father...freely admitting to his many deficiencies and wrongs as a father and a man, until, YOU dared point out those deficiencies or make note of her irrational view of him. Challenge was met with unstable, irrational resistance.

But, consider the things fundamentalism requires of you. It refuses to share your heart or your mind. It must OWN you. It demands that you keep accepting, and returning to, terrible things (look at Piper's view of spousal abuse - look at Driscoll's rationalization of why Ted Haggard faltered - look at what the P/QF paradigm requires of a women's heart, health, and womb - look at the concept of submitting to, and giving responsibility for your life, to someone over you...surrendering your God-given right to critically think for yourself and ACT upon those thoughts). You should feel no guilt, no shame, in washing your hands of it and walking away from it...yet, you do feel that guilt and shame, and it keeps drawing you back for more bones.

When something is consistently faulty, unhealthy, and damaging, yet a person keeps coming back to it, it speaks to something generally deeper, and I can't help but believe there's no question about that. Like the alcoholic who knows drinking is killing him, but at the same time can't put down his bottle and walk away from it, taking comfort in the false sense of security and peace that another drag from the bottle will bring - with little regard for what it does to those around him, the religioholic and Imbibler just HAS to take another drag from that bible (as presented in dangerous teachings), because it satisfies the hole that guilt creates, brings a faux peace, even though they know the bones are there - and with little regard for how those bones will impact the spiritual health of those around them.

I feel my statements should be qualified by my pointing out that I'm not a professional anything other than musician, but I hope that if you see signs of the above in yourself, you'll seek out competent, professional counseling - and not Christian counseling (let that come when the emotional issues resulting from fundamentalist religious abuses are dealt with - Christian counseling may just feed the addiction if it's the FIRST course of action). 

A healthy spiritual diet should reject ANY meal that has as much bone as meat, but sometimes we need to tend to the emotional damage of poor diets past to be able to see as much. I'd hope that all in the faith can come to the place where they eat, in abundance, the freedom of Christ, and recognize and reject the guilt of commandments of men before ever placing them in their mouths and having to spit them out.

No fundamentalist mindset is worth an allegiance that exposes you to a steady diet of bones and fragments. Leaving it absolutely ISN'T leaving Christ - where our allegiance, if we claim Him, needs to be.


  1. This so reminds me of my dad. That is literally one of his favorite sayings... eat the meat, etc. I should print this article for him...wonder what he would do!!

  2. Last weekend (true story) we went out to breakfast and ordered pastries. The pastry was light and fluffy and sweet and only had a little tiny speck of mold inside it.

    Should I have (A) demanded my money back and given them a very bad review, or (B) just eaten the pastry and spit out the mold, resisting the temptation to slander them and create divisiveness, knowing that there's no such thing as a perfect restaurant, and that it's wicked to be rebellious against the authority of the restaurant manager, and that speaking ill of them may cast a bad reflection on the entire restaurant industry?

    If you answered B, congratulations, you're probably a spiritual abuser! And a fool. And have food poisoning.

  3. Indeed...Beware the leaven of the Pharisees. Just one speck...Reminds me to always examine myself, too. Great point, Eric.

    And Ruthie, while I don't necessarily recommend you do that, I admit my sizable curiosity at the response it would generate. It'd be interesting, I'm sure.

  4. Heh. I would have chosen "C." Give the benefit of the doubt that this might be a one-time problem with one pastry, send it back for a new one, and check that one very carefully before eating it. And if the second one had mold, I'd get my money back and never return.

    My own church leaders occasionally preach sermons that have one minor point I consider mistaken. I'm not going to reject my church because it isn't perfect. But neither would I stay in a church where the "minor point" was a dangerous, harmful doctrine, and this was an ongoing/recurring problem.

    (If I encounter a speck of mold on my food at home, I do cut away the offending spot and eat the rest. We aren't rich, and food is expensive. But I hold a restaurant to a higher standard because I don't know where their food has been. I know the history of what's in my own fridge, so my tolerance is higher. I also tend -- amazing, I know-- to be more tolerant of my own annoying habits and irritating sins than I am of other people's. *grin*)

  5. A former pastor use to quote the meat/bones analogy from the pulpit on a regular basis. Drove me crazy.

    One day I realized-- we aren't talking solids, we're talking liquids and his doctrine is poison. One drop of poison in a glass of water taints the entire glass.

    Yeah, sometimes a church/pastor spouts off some nonsense we don't agree with. Fine-- spit in out, agree to disagree, move on. But sometimes these teachings are vile and poisonous. In that case you'd better pour out the entire mess and warn your friends while you're at it :)

  6. Of course, we could also point out the obvious difference between food you don't like and food that's inedible or poisonous. Some people just don't like meat, which is fine, but bones are inedible and can do severe damage to your innards if you so much as bite on one the wrong way.

    (I'm thinking of course of times in my own church when my pastor preaches on a certain doctrinal position I don't entirely agree with, but that I don't think really counts as false or harmful or non-Christian teaching. I tune out those bits and stay happy. It would be another matter entirely, though, if he started preaching "Beat your kids to death to break their wills!" or "Dominate your sons and daughters!")

    @Kristen, really I didn't put up too much of a stink about the mold, but it did completely spoil our appetites. You're quite right that it's one thing to see a speck of mold on your own bagel and decide to eat it anyway, knowing what you're getting into, and it's another thing entirely to find it in a pastry shop. There's probably a metaphor there too somewhere, but I can't quite place it.

  7. Oh yes, I've heard this one many times. "Eat the fish and spit out the bones." Sorry, but some fish is ALL bones and not meant for consumption.

    Unfortunately, so many stuck in this pattern of religious addiction are so in denial of the bones.

  8. I think religious addicts, imbiblers, et cetera, are a classic example of works-based faith. They keep going back, subjecting themselves to more bones, because it's in the ACTION itself - going to a specific church, to a specific bible study group, to associate with a specific group of people, to sit under a specific mentality of teaching, being "faithful" to those things - where they put their faith for salvation. I think THAT is what keeps drawing them back. I think THAT is the common denominator in the cycle of abuse. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's where the math ends up for me.

    It's a form of apostasy all its own.

  9. Wow, Lewis, that is so astute.

    One Sunday morning I was worshiping God from my heart as I got ready to go to church. I wound up falling to my knees in prayer. I was so full of joy and peace. It was a beautiful time of communion with God.

    My fundamentalist MK husband walked by, glaring at me. I was making him late for church!

    He totally despised me in that moment and honestly felt completely superior to me in every way. It was going to church that was the important thing, not the reality of a person's heart before God.

    Thankfully he would not do that today, and is ashamed of that moment which he also remembers. May God forgive his parents for the lifetime of poisonous meat they fed their children. It honestly doesn't help any that "they meant well". Grrr.

  10. I'm trying to understand Lewis because I've dealt with this my whole life, and not just with fundy-ism. I've never found boneless meat. EVER. I'd have to walk away from church in order to eat boneless meat, or become vegetarian.

    There is no perfect church, ministry, or Christians. To me filtering is a unending way of life, we are like the kidneys and liver of the world.

    I don't like it, ideally I would have someone serve me something that was perfect every time but I don't know where to find it, except with Jesus.

    Trust me I'm tired of boney meat, I'm tired of filtering, and I'm sick of imperfect people injecting their agendas into anything that was authored by "God" but it's like you can't have God without the faulty people.

    I can identify with going to a church that is really bad where you are getting 90% bone meal with your meat. In that case you leave and dust off the bone meal off your feet!

    I can also identify with going to a church that is semi bad where you are tolerating more than you should. Say 50% bone meal - it's a Sunday hit or miss special.

    But what about the churches with 10% bone meal or 5% bone meal, that occasional Sunday where the false teaching is obvious only to you.

    Heath inspectors typically end up home churching or worse burning out and leaving church all together. (I've been here too).

  11. I've never heard this analogy before (I wasn't raised in those circles). I can't believe how stupid it is! Both the literal and spiritual meanings of this are STOOPID. What a great way to choke to death. Thanks, but I like to make sure there are no bones in my meat BEFORE I put it in my mouth.

  12. Addy...You make a great point, and I liken it to this blog and those who read here - If only people who agree with everything I have to say were to read here, I might be the only one reading here, and even I don't agree with myself all the time ;)

    I think we all have personal spiritual boundaries and filters that it's wise to use. For me, it would be an over-emphasis on authority teachings, and teachings that dwell TOO much on "proper theology and doctrine" on non-essentials. Any group or teacher getting into those areas, particularly (and probably a few others, like a deemphasis on Christian love), or any teacher using the bible as a rigid rule book rather than a supplement to nourish and grow those in the faith...those things would be too much bone for me - and for me to keep going back and subjecting myself to those themes just in the hope of finding something worthwhile amongst the refuse, to me, that would signal the point of addiction, or at least of something unhealthy within me.

    I currently don't attend a local church. Too much bone and rabid fundamentalism, even if the people are well meaning, and a predominance of churches in this area, of ALL denominations, who spend 90 minutes every Sunday worshipping the KJV rather than Christ - even if the people are otherwise well meaning and intentioned. If I have to spend most of the time in the worship service or messages cringing...big red flag and time for me to leave if I can't contribute something meaningful and positive to a difficult equation. The curse of living out in the boonies, I suppose.

    Ultimately, like you and Eric pointed out, anyone looking for the "perfect church" will be sorely disappointed - and, being that none of us are perfect people, we really don't have the right to expect perfection in a group setting, or perhaps I should say, it's illogical for us to expect it.

    Also, ANY church that deemphasizes the gospel of Christ, even if that's only the 1% tangible bone meal, I'd RUN from it, because in THAT case, that 1% of leaven WILL contaminate the entire loaf.

  13. Thanks for clarifying that.

    I guess there are so many brands of spiritual kryptonite after a while I get tired and want just vegetables and water, or to sleep outside under the stars.

    The other catch all phrase when you stop spitting bones out of your meat is "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

    Me and the baby are outside and the bathwater got us really wet!

  14. Addy -- What helps me personally is to draw a distinction between the nonexistent "perfect church" and a healthy church. I'm currently very fortunate to have a church that's full of actual love and Gospel-centered leadership, and for that I'm more than willing to overlook a few doctrinal points where Christians can agree to disagree. But (as Lewis says), if one of those few doctrines was "Beat your children into submission to break their wills because they have to treat you like you're God," that would be another matter entirely. That's intrinsically unhealthy, no matter who says it.

    The problem here is that "Eat the meat" etc. is used not to mean "Exercise discernment rather than blindly swallowing dogma" (as we'd assume it means, and which is wise) but "Please ignore the fact that our dogma is intrinsically destructive, by looking to the completely irrelevant fact that everybody makes mistakes!"

  15. I guess I am lucky to have grown up in a pretty sound church, very loving and caring. Not that it doesn't have its own issues, it certainly does, such as my pastor is totally uninterested in outreach. Not that he doesn't want to see people saved, but that he doesn't want to be the one to do it... or it could be all the influence of his wife, who is VERY against outreach.

    But overall there aren't false teachings, just not enough emphasis (in my opinion) on certain things, like outreach and ministries to the people of the church.

    This phrase/teaching totally bugs me... I mean, when someone says "but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater/eat the meat, spit out the bones"... how do they not know I'm already doing that? :-P I listen to so-and-so's teaching and decide to throw out the bones, whether it be part of it, or the whole thing. :-P

  16. Hey Eric, that's also good insight. I always assumed "eat the meat and spit out the bones" meant exercising spiritual discernment and being a Berean about the scriptures.

  17. Good distinction, Eric. I think the difference between "perfect" and "healthy," using the metaphors we were using earlier, would be like the difference between cutting a speck of mold off a pastry and eating it anyway, and drinking a glass of water with a drop of strychnine in it. The difference is how destructive the bad element is, and how thoroughly it permeates the entire structure of the church's teachings.

  18. Does anyone know the origin of that quote? It just sounds so...American. Where we DO throw out the bones as nothing. But people who enjoy traditional cuisines will take those bones, and cook them for half a day or 24 hours and create a delicious broth that's even more nourishing for the body. But I'm trying to come up with some way that making broth from the bones can be analogous to Lew's note, but I got nothing.

    I feel the same way, though. Specifically with regards to the Pearl's, why should I read their marital and discipline books for their small "pearls" of wisdom when their overall "wisdom" is poisonous? Why make myself vulnerable like that?

  19. How much is too much bone? For me, I can not go to a church that supports the wars of the state and encourages its young men to be hired assassins for Uncle Sam in the name of God. Jesus' statement "my kingdom is not of this world" is ample evidence that the world's system can not do the will of the kingdom of God. For me, it would have to be a church that is demilitarized or at least, military neutral. Also, no politics in the pulpit or exalting the Republican party as being synonymous with Christian. I would have to be part of a fellowship that bases its political and military views on the kingdom principles of Jesus.

  20. Run, your views do make it difficult to find a church. I recently investigated Quakerism...the original principles and find it closest to what I can live with now. They were guided by the Holy Spirit first, and the bible second. They had no paid ministers. Some folk were recognized as having a gift of ministry but were not required to speak with any frequency nor was speaking denied those (men or women) who felt they had something to share. There were elders but they were unpaid also (and could be male or female). They shared your views per the military. They had peculiar dress at the time, as well as language (thee and thou) for reasons that made sense in their culture.. Sadly, there are not really any or very many of this type of Quakers today. Quakers have gone quite liberal or mainstream evangelical for the most part. When I say liberal, I mean they don't always subcribe to the gospel. They are more unitarian in their theology unless they are the evangelical sorts. There is a group that is trying to revive the original practices that are pertinent but it is a very, very small group. (I love that they believe we can each hear from the Holy Spirit adequately for our instruction, etc. and that we don't have to have others lead us in worship, in sermons, in live.) It is true that they believe the sacraments of baptism and communion to be spiritual rather than physical, but that isn't problematic to me having read their explanations. Again, you have to go back several hundred years for the most part to find the purer strands of their faith and practice (with a couple of exceptions.) Theirs-in the original form-is the simplest, least cluttered with traditions of men, Christian practice I have encountered or read about. They gathered together, no agenda except to wait on the Holy Spirit for leading and guidance, and only spoke or sang or shared or prayed as they felt led.

    Not sure quite why I ranted here except that I, too, don't go to a church any longer and am on the lookout longingly but until then, worship on my own. Going it alone is not ideal, but what has to be for now. I live near a very biggish city and haven't found a church that doesn't have a wearisome amount of static in its practice and preaching. I may just be setting the bar too high or being too picky about the size and amount of bone, but coming out of sour, sour fundamentalism has done that for me for now.

  21. @Anonymous,

    In my opinion, it is difficult indeed to find a gathering that has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a corporate entity and express Christ as head of the body. It's downright depressing at times and very difficult to mentally process the truth of this.

  22. Run of the Mill, I can entirely understand you not supporting America's current wars- I am ambivalent towards them at best. But I feel that calling our soldiers and marines "hired assassins for Uncle Sam" goes a little far. Criticize the government all you want (and I may join in with you), but, please, lay off the individual soldiers. As much as religion and nationalism are sometimes unfavorably blended, it is still no sin to lay down your life for your country.

  23. I know this is an older post but am going to comment anyway. My wife and I do not go to "church" (building on the corner). We have found that living our life in Jesus with those around us who Father wants us to interact with is amazingly freeing. We listen to a podcast of conversations of two former pastors who went through the same thing. Lewis and all those who read here may enjoy some of these conversations. I am in no way related to this podcast but only share because we enjoy it. Forgive me if I'm not supposed to put links on here.

  24. I Thessalonians 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. So when you come up with a better saying than eat the meat and spit up the bones then I will use that, but until that happens I will stick to what I use now. Man's wisdom is foolish. I prefer to eat the meat and spit out the bones at the same time have the Holy Ghost teach me and make me understand what is truth and what is not. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: Proverbs 6:23 And prove all things.

  25. P.S. I do understand were he is coming from thought.

  26. In a spiritual culture where the fish meat is nearly always mixed with bones, you can either "eat the fish and spit out the bones" or you can starve. Until Christ Himself comes back and personally delivers the "pure meat", I think the best we can do is continually push for a better bone-separation technology (spiritually-speaking).

    Coming from one who's journey for pure meat/fish has pushed him too far into isolation...and away from some of God's joy found in fellowship with people who are growing, by grace

    1. Stop eating meat that's full of bones. Simple solution. Or, stop settling for a spiritual culture that provides bones. Feed yourself. Don't rely exclusively on others.