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Monday, October 24, 2016

Dangerous Self-Deceptions in Salvation Army Officers

Several years ago, a wise old Sergeant Major at our corps (which is something like a Deacon at the local church in other denominations) sat down with me to give me the benefit of his long experience and his advice for being an effective officer (pastor) in The Salvation Army.

He said, “Captain,” (This was before I was promoted to Major, you see…) He said, “Captain, in my experience there are lots of ways that a corps officer can go wrong and screw things up at the corps.  But the most common sorts of failure all involve self-deception.”

“Self-deception? How so?” I asked.

“Well, an officer can convince him or herself that they are or that the corps is richer than it is, and spend money too freely and recklessly.”

“Agreed,” I said. “It is easy to run a corps into debt.”

“Another way the officer can screw up is to imagine that he or she is more skilled or talented than they are in reality. They imagine themselves to be great musicians or very great preachers. God save us from those vocal solos and sermons.”

He laughed and I laughed with him, but only briefly. “Are you speaking about me?” The sergeant major laughed again. “No. not yet. But I’ll let you know if your ego begins to outrun your abilities.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said with a slightly sarcastic tone, but with complete sincerity.  “Are there other dangerous self-deceptions in the officers that you’ve known?”

“One more,” he told me. “And it may be the most common and the most dangerous.”

“Tell me.”

“The most common are those who imagine themselves to be morally better – those who have convinced themselves that they are superior in virtue and holiness.”

“Yes,” I said without laughter now.

(Confession time: this story is adapted from a Socratic conversation in Plato’s Philebus.

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