Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Behind the Looking Glass Part II

As I said, I wanted to make this topic more practical (than talking about people who secretly murder people).

I often get myself in trouble when I sound critical of other Christians, because readers mis-interpret my position as me saying that I stand on higher moral ground looking down on the people that I criticize. I want to make it clear that I think these principles apply to all of us Christians. I was one of the worst pretenders for 15 years, and I struggle with it even now. But the story I’m going to tell is about someone else . . . someone I will call “Kate.” It is a true story but that’s not her real name. But for the real Kate, I have the deepest respect. I also sense sadness for her as I do many within Evangelicalism, because they don’t have a safe place to speak about the reality in their lives.

About 10 years ago, I was putting together a reunion of my old ETSU Navigator ministry. I had looked up and made contact with many old Christian friends. In this process there was both a public forum (made up of the collection of old friends that I found) and of course my private e-mails.

One gal I found was Kate. She wasn’t really part of the Navigators in college but a leader in Campus Crusade. She hung out with the Navigator group so I included her in my search.

At the time I made contact with Kate, she was living close to where we went to school. She had the stereotypical “perfect” Christian family. I think she had five kids, home-schooling all of them of course. Several of her kids had won many awards for their musical and athletic abilities. Her husband was an elder of a very large church and had his own men’s ministry. On top of this, Kate was in graduate school and was the founder and leader of a large University ministry.

Once I made contact with Kate, she joined the group forum. She sent some of her “electronic” family newsletters to the whole group about the wonderful things God was doing in and through their family and ministries.

She and I had e-mailed back and forth as we were searching for other individuals, which we wanted to invite to the reunion.

Then one day, completely out of the blue, I got a very strange and disturbing e-mail. She was very emotionally distressed in the e-mail. I could sense that she was weeping as she typed. She told me (and I was still somewhat of a stranger to her as we were never that close in college) that she hated her husband with all of her heart. She wished he were dead. That he was emotionally abusive to her and the kids. That they fought about money all the time. She added that she wasn’t sure she even believed in God anymore because her life was so miserable. The letter was quite long, went into a lot of other details and ended with the emotional issue that she was dealing with . . . should she pray for her husband’s death, or her own.

So this very candid e-mail was a totally different tone than her wonderful newsletters that had gone out. I was literally stunned, not knowing what to say. But with threats of wanting her own death or her husbands . . . I felt like I could not ignore her letter.

To make a long story short, I wrote her back several times about that painful letter . . . but she never acknowledged those e-mails. I was afraid that she wasn’t getting them until I sent her a more formal e-mail about the reunion. She responded to that e-mail immediately, in her typical cheerful tone.

I wrote her another (and last) personal e-mail saying that I was concerned about her and was very willing to be a sounding board . . . and added, “Please let me know how you are doing.”

She never, ever wrote a candid letter again nor did she acknowledge my letters, which I had written in response to her cry for help. I was really puzzled. The only conclusion I could make was that one day she just vented her raw emotions . . . but then, as a Christian, felt so embarrassed about it that she wanted to pretend it had never happened.

So I wonder how many of us Christians go through life skating on the perfect veneer of who we are, while down deep in reality, we are scared, doubtful, angry or sad? But the Church must be a safe place where we can tear down the facades and live in reality without fear of social reprisals.

Kate didn’t come to the reunion and I never heard anything from her again until about a year later. We got (via snail-mail) a family newsletter . . . describing all the wonderful accomplishments of her children, her personal ministry on campus and her darling husband’s wonderful ministry. On the cover of the letter was a photo of her and her family with big, bright smiles.

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