Back in April 2012 I wrote a blog post that was dedicated to an old friend of mine who, at that time, I had not communicated with for several years. That post was titled, “You Think About That.” My friend is a former pastor of many years, a professor emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, a radio broadcaster, and founder of Key Life Network. He is also the author of numerous books, of which I wrote a blog post on August 5, 2012, on his last book published titled, “Three Free Sins.”
Well, he’s been at it again. . . . His name is Dr. Steve Brown (but don’t call him doctor; call him Steve), and his latest book it titled, “Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart.” Sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It is quite a delightful book. Here is one of the many endorsements on his book:
“Talk about crafty. Under the guise of exploring that scariest of topics, human motivation, Steve Brown has hidden a remarkably wide-ranging, uncommonly funny, and psychologically penetrating masterclass of practical theology. What’s more, he’s jam-packed it with the kind of stories you can only accumulate from a lifetime of full-blooded ministry, rooting the Good News right where it belongs–behind the masks we all wear. Here’s a not-so-hidden, kicker-free agenda for anyone interested in understanding themselves, loving other people, or knowing God. Digest this book, post-haste.”
~David Zahl, Editor, “The Mockingbird Blog”; author of “A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock n Roll” (2014).
Yep, we all wear masks . . . every single one of us. And we all have hidden agendas, too. In the “Introduction” to the book on page 2, Steve writes:
Dr. House (of television fame) often says, “Everybody lies.” That may be truer than any of us would like to admit. But when one gets as old as I am, one lies less and, more important for the purpose of this book, one doesn’t feel as constrained to wear so many masks. It may or may not be true that everybody lies, but everybody wears a mask, everybody has an agenda, and almost everybody you know is different than you think. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 2.)
In Chapter 1 titled “Halloween Horror,” Steve defines four questions (listed on page 6) as a starting point:
- What is a hidden agenda and why is it hidden?
- What are masks and why do we wear them?
- How do those masks and agendas hurt us and those we love?
- Why are we so afraid that people will discover our agendas and look behind our masks?
Before I go any further, you have to read the book to get the full impact, the humor, and the years of experience in dealing with others including himself to really appreciate what this book is truly offering to the reader. There is no way I can do justice to it in a blog post. For the purposes of this post, I will give a very brief description of how Steve defines hidden agendas and the masks we wear (re: the first two questions above). He goes much further with each by giving personal examples from his lifetime of experiences. So let’s start with the first question:
What is a hidden agenda and why it is hidden?
An “agenda” is a plan designed to accomplish, change, fix, destroy, remedy, reward, punish, promote, or hinder. In other words, an agenda is what we do to get from where we are to where we want to be–from here to there. Further, a hidden agenda is either hidden intentionally to accomplish what we desire, or hidden unintentionally because we don’t even know we have an agenda in the first place. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 8.)
And here’s the second question:
What are masks and why do we wear them?
Masks are designed to hide, conceal, or disguise the reality behind them. In other words, the masks are created to further an agenda. Like any agenda, the masks are sometimes intentional, but more often than not, the wearers are unaware of their masks.
Someone has said that the definition of “diplomacy” is saying “Nice dog . . . nice dog” until you get a stick. The “nice dog” part is the mask. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 10.)
In Chapter 2, “Ugly in a Nudist Colony” (you need to read the intro paragraph to understand the title–and I’m not going to give it away in this blog post, either), Steve, who is Presbyterian, describes a time a number of years ago when he was attending presbytery (e.g., a group of church pastors and leaders who live in a defined geographical area) where some of the younger leaders announced they were pretty much done with the meetings that were so “boring, anal, and so often ‘the noise of solemn assemblies'” (quote source page 24). One of the young leaders announced, “We need each other, and from now on, we are going to be different. We’re going to devote presbytery meetings to caring for and loving each other instead of just church business. And this morning we are going to begin by confession our sins to one another. I’ll start.” Here’s the rest of the story:
Then to the shock and surprise of everybody there, that leader confessed a very embarrassing and particularly humiliating sin to the presbytery. “Now,” he said, “it’s your turn.”
There was a long pause and then, to my surprise, members of the presbytery stood up and one by one confessed their sins. Those weren’t the “deep and dark” sins over which Christians crucify other Christians, but is was a good and freeing beginning.
I [Steve] was sitting in the back of the auditorium when all of this happened. As the confession progressed, I noticed that the presbytery members kept turning around and looking at me. I had been a seminary professor to many of them and it was apparent to me that they could hardly wait to get some dirt on the old guy.
So finally I stood up. It grew so quiet that you could hear a flea burp. In my kind and pastoral way I said, “Are you crazy?” I’m not confession my sins to this bunch. You aren’t safe! So forget it.” Then I sat down, only to quickly stand back up again and say, “Well, I suppose that is a sort of confession.”
Everybody laughed because we all knew that, while confession was good for the soul and good for the church, inappropriate confession was quite dangerous.
We live in a time when secrets are hard to keep. With social media, cameras on every corner, YouTube, email hackers, and viral tweets, town gossips have pretty much been put out of business–or maybe now they have a much bigger platform. If you don’t want everyone to know what you say, write, and do, don’t say it, don’t write it, and don’t do it. It will come back to bite you. Just ask those whose lives were destroyed by an online revelation, a Google search, or a camera about which they were unaware.
Until the church, the world, and our communities become safe places, a wise man or woman will be careful about an inappropriate authenticity that is more akin to stripping than honesty. So before we “get down” to our discussion of masks and how they hurt us and those we love, let me remind you of some things that are very important. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” pp. 25-26.)
Now if you think I’m going to give you the rest, you’re crazy . . . buy the book!!!
This post would be hopelessly long if I gave you snippets from each of the fourteen chapters. I wish I could, but it’s all in the book. Okay, okay—here are two more examples. . . .
In a section titled, “What is Really Important,” in Chapter 6 titled, “Dead Men (and Women) Do Tell Tales,” Steve writes:
Do you remember the story Jesus told about the farmer whose farm was incredibly successful (Luke 12)? The farmer was smoking a cigar on the back porch and planning how to deal with his new found wealth. He was going to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, and then he was going to kick back and enjoy his retirement. He fantasized about booze, parties and fun. God said to the man, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).
It is said that after the North had taken Richmond during the Civil War, there were literally wagonloads of Confederate money hauled away. Some of the soldiers who had become bored with it all got together and played a poker game. They played the game with worthless Confederate money, often playing for thousands of dollars a hand. What was important about their poker game? Nothing. Nothing at all.
In our culture we are playing, as it were, a lot of poker games with phony, worthless money. Mark Twain once told a group of wealthy business people that they would one day meet someone who didn’t have a dime yet was happy. “Then,” he said, “You’ll know that you’ve paid too much for your whistle.”
The world lies to us all the time. I actually believed the commercial pushing the hair growth product. They lied. So did those who said that fame, money, and being more religious would make everything okay. I’ve had a modicum of all three and those folks lied to me, too. I thought that if I ate properly, exercised regularly, and stayed away from products bad for my body, I would live a long and healthy life. Instead, I found out that I was just like a ship going down with nothing to throw overboard. They lied. And it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me. In that reminder, I was able to “consider myself dead.”
All of my life I wanted to be a mega-church pastor. I always served relatively small churches until eventually God told me I didn’t have to be a pastor anymore. Not too long ago a member of the pulpit committee of a very large church asked me to consider becoming their pastor. I told him he was crazy, but he said, “Steve, at least pray about it.” I did.
“Lord,” I prayed, “you know I’ve always wanted that kind of church. Think of the impact I could make for you and the lives I could touch…to say nothing of the money I could make. I would tithe that money and you would get far more then you’re getting from me now.”
At that moment, God took the blinders off and reminded me of that day in my study when my life came apart. He showed me a picture of angry Christians at a congregational meeting. He showed me the graves beside which I wept and the suicides I had cleaned up. He reminded me of the sleepless night when a drunk called at 3 o’clock in the morning and the times I stayed up worrying about the direction of the church.
I wrote the man on the pulpit committee. “I did as you requested,” I wrote in handwriting so shaky I could hardly read it. “I prayed and God said I was crazy to even pray about it. I will, however, be praying for you guys as you seek the right pastor for your church.”
The reminder was from the Holy Spirit. When he reminded me about the importance (or lack of it) of serving a mega-church, I repented (i.e., agreed with God) and it was a part of the process of considering myself dead.
Considering yourself dead is also to discover . . .
What Is Going to Last
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus . . . and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:13-15). In other words, a lot of things aren’t going to last, but Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever [Hebrews 13:8], and when you die only that will remain. In the great love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13), Paul wrote that three things would last–faith, hope, and love–and then he pointed out that love was the greatest of the three. Not only that, Paul wrote his friends in Philippi that the Holy Spirit would remind them of what will last and what won’t. I have a friend who says that everybody ought to be a part of something that will last longer then they do. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” pp. 83-86.)
The last snippet will come from Chapter 12 titled, “A New Kind of Family.” Steve writes:
Jesus said that we should be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) In chapter 2 [you’ll need to get the book!] I quote my late mentor when he said that the inappropriate and reckless ripping off of a mask was the kiss of death for friendship. He’s right. In fact, let me suggest that you read that second chapter again and remember what I taught you. You have to be very careful to whom and in front of whom you take off your mask, as well as the timing of that removal. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If we’re willing to reveal who we are in the little pieces and to admit our hidden agendas in small places, it will become addictive. And it will become contagious.
I have a friend, a famous pastor (you would know his name) who was disgraced, with a great number of people bearing witness to the way they were shamed and demeaned by him. I’ve stayed in touch with him even though some friends have told me I shouldn’t. At any rate, one friend told me that he was glad I was and then said, “What he really needs is someone to hug him.” In order to do that, I have to be real to him about who I am. I hate that but I’ve been watching and waiting, and this just came along.
We’ve all heard a lot about “creating opportunities” to be witnesses for Christ. Forget it. You don’t have to create opportunities. Just walk around in your new shoes and try to be sensitive to the opportunities God has given you to be real, to cut slack, and to set aside your hidden agendas. The people you touch will amaze you.
Just don’t duck. (Quote source: “Hidden Agendas,” page 177.)
There are a total of fourteen chapters in the book, and at the end of each chapter Steve gives us several questions to digest regarding the chapter’s topic, which makes the book an excellent source for individual or group study. The many stories in his book are captivating, as is his sense of humor. It is, in fact . . .
Vintage Steve Brown . . .
And I can guarantee . . .
You will not be disappointed. . . .
Ordering information (Available May 16, 2016–it can be pre-ordered now if you’re reading this post before that date):
YouTube Video: “True Colors” (1986) by Cyndi Lauper: