A conversation with Eric M. Pazdziora
Welcome to the concluding segment of our discussion about music, fantasy, and spiritual healing. Read along as we explore the ways these could all connect, and take an improbable glimpse at what might not be the future.
PARADOXES: You also do a lot of writing on spiritual abuse. Why is this an interest to you, and what are you hoping to accomplish through your writings on the subject?
ERIC PAZDZIORA: I see the writings on spiritual abuse—even though those get slightly more attention than the others—[as part of my] writings on what I describe as ‘unsystematic theology’. Taking those things which we all learned in Sunday School, but looking at them in a way that suddenly makes them visible from a different side, or visible with a different implication than we’ve become accustomed to.
Specifically on spiritual abuse—I think it’s significant because a whole lot of people are going through it. A whole lot of people—especially in our culture today, in the modern American church—are accepting this as the way it naturally is. This is the way Christianity is supposed to cause us to respond to people. Which will either drive them away from the faith completely, or that will turn them into an abuser or a victim themselves.
This was brought to my attention a couple years ago by a blogger who identifies as Mrs. Darcy_Mrs. Darcy_Mrs. Darcy. Or, as I refer to her for brevity, Mrs. D3. I visited her blog one day, and saw that she was talking about spiritual abuse. And I thought, what’s that? I read all her posts and thought, she’s describing, absolutely detail for detail, point for point, everything that I went through in several churches or ministries. She doesn’t know who I am, she doesn’t know who these ministries are, and she’s able to describe them perfectly. Because there is this general pattern of what a spiritual abuser will do, the doctrines that they’ll twist, the ways that they will manipulate people and beat people down emotionally or spiritually. Through dialoguing with her over the course of a year, and the other commenters on her blog, I found so much freedom and encouragement.
I have a tag on my blog that says, ‘Jesus isn’t like that.’ And I think that sums the whole thing up really in four words. Yes, here’s this thing that’s being presented to you as the message of Jesus. No, that’s not what Jesus is like. And what I want to do, now that I’ve been blogging on the subject lately myself, is help other people find that. Really, it’s not so much bashing people who are awful abusers. In my process of healing, I’ve gone past that stage of looking back and criticizing, instead of being able to forgive those people and move on.
What I want to be able to do is going back to the idea of unsystematic theology. Here’s what you’ve been told Jesus was like. But was he really like that? Was that really what the Bible says he’s like? Or is there something a whole lot bigger, and wilder, and more beautiful than you’ve imagined before?
In many ways—I’m not sure if this is just us as humans or us as American—we really like to put things into little tidy packages. Here is the musician. You can know he’s a musician because he has a black and white suit. You pound your hands politely together when he’s done. And then here’s the message of Jesus. You know it’s the message of Jesus because it’s done in the church. And here are the three points you’ve always gotten from this passage of Scripture. It becomes very easy to handle, very comfortable, very natural, just fed on from one generation to the next.
When you actually go back to the words of Scripture, to the understanding of human nature, finding the way we really relate to one another, finding the grace that’s there, finding the forgiveness that’s there by G-d’s grace, and realizing how this works, it’s taking something out of the box and looking at it for what it is, rather than what we expect it to be. And that then becomes a cliché itself, and you have to step out of that cliché and look at it from another angle.
It’s really a matter of me personally wanting to encourage people any way I can. But also spiritually being able to look past the accretions that have built up on this message of Jesus, of the gospel, and being able to see the actual heart of it. Which is very much like the music and the fairytales—it’s about wonder.
John Newton expressed it extremely well in the song that everybody loves: ‘Amazing Grace’. And Philip Yancey came along a couple hundred years later and wrote the book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? Which expressed it very nicely. He takes it out of the context of our evangelical faith words, and [asks], what does it really mean to love your enemies, forgive the people who mistreated you? These are mind-blowing concepts when you think about them.
What I hate so much about spiritual abuse, and why I think it should be very actively resisted and awareness raised—to the point I would say nobody should be in ministry unless they know what spiritual abuse is and how to identify it, and how to counsel the victims, and make sure it doesn’t creep into their ministry as well.
But, why it’s so important—and I’ll say another thing before I say why it’s so important. You look at what Jesus did when he came into the world. There was everything your modern church folks would object to in Jesus’ world. There was entertainment that glorified gratuitous violence. There was political corruption. There was homosexuality. There was infanticide. There were armed insurgents trying to overthrow the government. All of this. Here comes Jesus, G-d Himself in human form, and vents the brunt of his moral outrage on one specific class of people. And that one specific class of people was upstanding religious people, who had good biblical theology and lived moral lives.
You put that in context, you realize the one thing that gets under G-d’s skin—bad analogy, but the one thing that bothers G-d more than anything else is this spiritual abuse. Why? Because these religious leaders, these particular Pharisees—not necessarily all Pharisees, but the ones Jesus was railing against—were making the religious life all about laws and rules, making the religious life all about you being good enough, making the religious life all about winning their approval and making sure you weren’t doing the bad thing. And Jesus went off on them like you wouldn’t believe. I mean, he makes Richard Dawkins look like an amateur when he’s talking about religious hypocrites. The reason is, all these religious things, especially the abusive ones, keep us from seeing what Jesus is really like, keep us from seeing what G-d is really like. And anything we can do to take that away is a good thing.
I’ve found often in my dialogues with atheists—and I have a post all about this on my blog as well, extremely long one, that I address this point by point—they’re objecting to something that’s absolutely right to object to. I couldn’t agree more it should be objected to and abandoned and rejected as a lie. The only difference between yourself and myself is that you think this is Christianity, and I don’t. And if I thought that was Christianity, I would reject it too. But I think Christianity is something more about what Jesus said and did than about what these religious people happen to have said and done.
How do you see music and fantasy as playing a role in healing from spiritual abuse?
Music and fantasy are extremely fundamental to us as humans. Any culture in the world has music, and any culture in the world has stories—your mythology, your folktales, your fairytales. That’s common to every single culture in the world, even though from an evolutionary perspective there’s no survival advantage they give us. It’s one of those things like C. S. Lewis said of friendship, that it doesn’t help us survive, but it makes surviving worth the effort. Music speaks to us extremely directly. It speaks to us on a fundamental level of who we are. It speaks in an unequivocally authentic, genuine sense to our emotions. And it allows us to express things we can’t even express in words.
I talk to so many people as a church musician, and even just as a concert musician, who have had their deepest spiritual experiences in connection with music. Whether that’s through hearing Rachmaninoff in a concert hall, or an old hymn that their grandmother sang, and one day they went to church and heard it again, and realized what it was actually talking about. Where music works, why it works, we don’t know, but we do know that it does speak extremely directly to everything that G-d has made us to be.
Stories allow us to look at ourselves from outside ourselves. This is another thing—it could be humans in general, it could just be the humans we know—we have an extremely hard time doing. But if you’re to look at the actions of a character in a story and how they respond to a situation, you can say, ‘Hmm, that’s something similar in my life. Maybe not the particular circumstances of walking in an enchanted forest and finding a golden apple, but I remember once walking in the forest and feeling it was enchanted, and feeling that the apple could have been made of gold, it just didn’t have to be.’
The role this plays in healing, I think, is first of all allowing us to get out of ourselves, but secondly allowing us to find ourselves. And by allowing us to see what we are, and seeing the experiences we’ve gone through, enabling us to forgive, and enabling us to see what grace is. Grace for ourselves, grace for the people who hurt us, grace for the people who are being hurt. Music, I think, expresses grace on a more fundamental level than most other forms of art. There’s grace in all art, of course—in literature, in movies, in dance, in opera, in everything. But the healing process is finding grace, and seeing what grace is. And anything that will help get us to that, will help us to heal.
I’m going to end with a ten dollar question, or I guess a ten year question. Where do you see yourself in ten years, and how do you hope to get there?
If I could see myself in ten years, I would ask what the winning lottery tickets number were, and invest very comfortably, and be independently wealthy, and live off the proceedings!
That’s one of the questions I’ve never really known the answer to. We can’t see the future even if we want to. A plan that looks great to us this year might turn out to be totally wrong the next year.
In some ways, I want to keep on doing what I’m doing already, and just do a lot more of it. And try to get a lot more people to hear it. I’d like to get a lot more music, a lot more writing. I’d like to do a lot more concerts and compositions and performances.
In some ways I try to live like a story. When people find out what’s going to happen next in a movie, they say, ‘Oh, the movie’s been spoiled for me.’ Well, if I knew what was going to happen next in my life, maybe it would be spoiled for me, I don’t know. It’s, in another way, very analogous to music, because in music you only hear one little note at a time. It’s only by putting those notes together that you get the effect of the piece as a whole. But you can’t listen to the whole piece at once, you can only listen to that one moment.
That’s probably why I don’t have an answer to what the big picture of my life is going to look like. I’m more interested in the little picture of it.
Are there any interesting promotional bits in the little picture that you’d like to talk about?
Promotional bits in the little picture—oh boy! I have an album that I’ve recorded last year. It’s been somewhat delayed, but it will hopefully will be ready within the next couple months. It’s a recording of my worship songs and new settings of old hymns, all on the subject of grace, of the new creation that we are in Christ. If anyone is interested in that, the link will be up on my website, ericpazdziora.com.
Also, I just had my first piece of music published this past month by Alliance Press. It’s a comic song, an arrangement for men’s choir of an Irish folk ballad, ‘Mick McGuire’.
And if anyone needs any original music for anything, I’m very happy to oblige.
Well, thank you for taking to the time to talk to Paradoxes.
Well, my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity. Thanks for not asking me where I get my ideas.
To read the rest of the conversation:
Eric Pazdziora has worked as a composer, a writer, a pianist, a singer, a copyeditor, a worship leader, an accompanist, an arranger, an orchestrator, a conductor, a tutor, a blogger, a software tester, an audio engineer, a voice actor, a street preacher, and a circus clown. In his spare time, he reads a lot and makes really bad puns. His wife is much better looking.