the flogging machine

batmegaphonepeopletape recorder

a friend emailed me yesterday and told me she had been hanging out in the flogging machine.  in my earlier post i referred to it, but  i realized that my friends from the refuge and some others may know what i am talking about but others might not have any idea what it means.  i did recently have someone ask “do you mean a fogging machine?”  and i’m like, “no, those are in concerts (and sometimes churches).”

here’s the definition of flogging:  to beat with a whip, stick, etc. especially as a punishment

a flogging machine is the place i go in my head to beat myself up after i do or say something that makes me feel uncomfortable, when i make a mistake (for me, mistake-size doesn’t necessarily matter), when someone gives me negative feedback, when i have a conflict, or sense disapproval.   whenever these things happen, my first  inclination is to go into the flogging machine and waste some time in there for a little while.  here’s what my flogging machine consists of:

a bat – to beat myself up with. i always say my right arm has a huge Popeye muscle.

a megaphone – it’s loud in there, the voices aren’t quiet, more like blasting.

all of the people who have said negative things about me in the past (or at least i think they have)–it’s kind of a combobulation (not sure if that’s a word?) of voices i’ve heard–past relationships, condemning people, people who have been mad at me or didn’t like me.

a tape recorder – the conversation, the voices in my head, keep getting played over and over again, kind of like torture.   rewind. play.  rewind. play. rewind. play. 

special earplugs – these earplugs tune out anything good. in these moments, no positive voices come to mind. i can only hear the bad. 

i think we can all agree, the flogging machine is a nasty place to stay.  it certainly isn’t God’s heart for us, and it’s not good for our souls, our minds.  it is an energy drainer. 

here’s what i’m finding:  i am staying in the flogging machine less and less and less.  the time keeps getting shorter that i will waste my time in there and i am finding that very healing.  who knows, maybe there will be a time it will be completely destroyed, demolished (i’m not betting on it) but i can cut down its use.  i told my friend yesterday:  step out of the flogging machine and into the arms of good friends and safe community who love you and will remind you of the real truth about you.    romans 8:1 are not trite words.   we are screw ups, we make mistakes, we don’t hit it right, we say and do stupid things, and we wish there was a rewind button on a lot of the things in our lives so we could re-do it better.  this is why i am still a Christ follower.  i need Jesus’ grace, mercy, hope, redemption, healing, love.   it’s so hard for me to take it in faster, quicker, but that’s what i long for.  

sometimes when i leave the refuge my friend mike texts me “don’t go into the flogging machine tonight” and it always  makes me smile and remember…dammit, life’s to short to hang out there for long. 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Thanks for posting this, Kathy. I was going to try to sum it up, but this is better.

    It’s encouraging to me that you are finding freedom from this.

  • Let me be one of the other voices and say that this metaphor is brilliant.

  • Kathy ~ Thank you for your refreshing honesty. May we each become the opposite of the flogging machine, people who are full of grace and peace and who bestow it to others!

  • great metaphor about our self-loathing and tendencies for self-rejection and all that fun stuff. I’m spending wayyyyy less time in the flogging machine than I used to.

    Ya know, religion is just one great big flogging machine, isn’t it?

  • I followed the link from Erin’s site…I love this post.
    Thanks for putting words to it..the flogging machine. I’ve spent most of my life in it, but now God is helping me to stay out…..alot of the time. Still find myself in there sometimes…
    Don’t you find that there are issues that get you in quicker? I do. Certain things still set me off so fast…
    Just wanted to say Hi, since we met at the Off-the-Map conference. I was with Erin the whole time…
    You were one of the people I wished I could have visited with over coffee…

  • Hey, Kathy. Came over from Erin’s place. Yes, I’m in the flogging machine less and less, too. It is a pointless place, isn’t it. (Actually,I was quite horrified to find out how much my ego was caught up in the whole flogging machine thang – I’d beat myself up because I wanted to be perfect and strong and better than anyone else just so I could have power over them – I hate to admit that, but there it is, and the Christian culture encourages that kind of competition; how strange is that?

    Glad to hear you and Erin and lots of others are removing ourselves from the place that God never asks us to go to. I think when you start realising that he NEVER treats us in that way.

    Still, having said all this, I still do venture into that stoopid machine at times 🙂

  • erin – i am encouraged, too, that the more open we are about our tendency to “go in there” the more likely it is that some of our friends will yank us out!

    jonathan – you are always so encouraging, thanks

    glenn – yep, let’s be the other voice, the louder one, the stronger one, that one that gets through with grace, peace, hope

    pam – that is why i believe in fighting for safe community, because the church was certainly never supposed to be about flogging…

    che – thanks for stopping by! yeah, i wish we could have actually had a conversation at off the map. maybe another time? it was so great being with erin and pam in portland with no time or people constraints. i also really agree with you, there are certain people/things that are certain triggers and send me there faster.

    sue – glad you came by the blog. there’s one thing that is so clear–i can be so self-absorbed! and that is what the flogging machine really fosters. i always say the years i have lost in my life focusing in on myself in my head! anyway, glad that the distance is getting shorter…

  • Yes, I had a flogging machine installed early in my childhood. There have been time when I got healthier and the power was dialed back on the machine. I seemed to be more peaceful in general back then. The key for me seemed to be:
    1. a willingness to face the Truth in my life.
    2. a willingness to embrace pain.
    3. a sense that God was active in my life.
    4. a determination to surrender my life to Him.
    5. meds

    That was then. This is now. I used to say that a lot to try to combat the machine. But I say it now because the power on the machine has been dialed up again, God feels distant, I deal with pain poorly, I don’t even think about surrendering anything to Him (because He doesn’t seem to be around) and if it weren’t for the meds . . .

    Anyway, you’ve described the flogging machine phenomenon perfectly!

    BTW, I came here from Erin’s blog.

  • See the power of the “blogging machine” to counteract the flogging machine? Here’s what occurred to me. You get to get all that stuff out and it loses some of its power. We get to identify with what you say. It helps us and then we affirm you. We all get to connect a little bit and put it further in its place by our not isolating so much. Hooray! Of course we could do this in person in community, too, but it might be more embarrassing. But hey, we’re working on that, too.

  • I really love Jennifer’s comment about the blogging machine. I think that being part of a healthy, loving community is one powerful antidote to the power of the flogging machine. We get to experience alternate perceptions of the world, and especially alternate perceptions of who we are.

  • gary, thanks so much for your honesty!! so many times i don’t “feel God” either, i’m like “where in the hell are you? i am trying to find your peace, hope, something….” and it’s just not there. but people, for me, so many times pick up the slack. real true face to face conversations. or lovely online conversations where we just feel less alone in our crazy thoughts and self-condemnation. sometimes it’s my only hope…thanks so much for sharing. i love the blogging machine thought, too. it has been one of the most encouraging things to me these past 2 years, people out here sharing their journies…

    jenny, as gary said, i love the blogging machine, too! so good….

  • hey kath, i first heard of the flogging machine on a radio show in the early sixties. the character, farley mc clute, would go into the state of the art, world famous flogging machine and turn it on. all you heard was the sound of someone getting pummeled and farley crying out in pain. i, always, thought it was funny, when i heard it. little did i realize, then, that i was farley and that i had spent most of my life in that damned machine. with the love from you and others in my life i’m starting to see:
    1. God doesn’t want me in there.
    2. my friends don’t think i deserve to be in there.
    3. the devil is thrilled to death when i go in there.
    i’m going to try hard to listen to the fisrt two voices in my life and try to, at least, limit my time in the dreaded flogging machine.

  • It was fun rereading this blog. I do think we r making progress on staying out of that nasty machine. It might not b demolished, but the last time I was in there I noticed some dust & cobwebs on it. 🙂

  • Came back to re-read this, and so helpful. Sometimes it feels like the flogging machine has a creepy monster hand ready to grab as soon as there is some traction to leave. Noticing better response time, though, in leaving it’s chambers. Grateful, too, that we are not left to combat it all alone. 🙂


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