Friday, January 23, 2009

A Story About Don

I have two points to make in this posting. But before I dive into Don’s story, I have to preface with a clarification. So, in an odd way, I will make my points . . . then tell the story.

Any time we write (including all of us) we may or may not communicate what we were thinking we were communicating. Of course our own personal experiences determine the connotations that we get from the written words. Like everyone, I know that my written words are often misunderstood. For example, when I posted my thoughts about the Palestinian people in a medical blog, someone right away accused me of being anti-Semite and/or Pro Al Qaeda. Holy cow! Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no political agenda except that all people are created in God’s image and deserve respect. That’s all I was trying to say.

The story about Don is in the “Christians behaving badly” genre. When I’ve tried to tell these stories before, some readers quickly interpret what I’m saying as a gossipy, “Look how bad this Christian is . . . I’m so much better.” Indeed, when I shared Don’s story with a mutual friend, (who knew both Don and me during our Evangelical days) that was his take. Good grief. That is almost the 180 degree opposite of the point I’m trying to make.

Here’s the point that I’m trying to make. Don, is not that much different from any of us. It is a failure of how we practice Christianity that leads us to believe that we can “grow” or mature, to a point that sin no longer has much of an influence on us. To keep up this façade, we all (and I mean ALL) pretend that we are much better than we really are.

While pretending that we are godly creates a warm and fuzzy feeling in the Christian world, and church lobbies, the harm is that the hidden reality goes unchecked. Christians begin to hide their ids (borrowing from Freud) in their closets and there they can grow and multiply into monsters.

I’ve tried very hard to swim against this tide and I often find myself in trouble. As some well-meaning Christian told me once, “You should be past that by now.” Or another one, “When you say those things, you come across as an immature Christian.”

What am I saying that brings such a response? I will say things like, my wife and I had a disagreement (wouldn’t even call it a fight). The response I get from my Evangelical friends? It is like we are the only couple within all of Christendom that isn’t perfect. So rather than the other person opening up and sharing the same failures, they hand me an invitation to a Christian “Marriage Enrichment” seminar. Or, they have this horrible look on their face like Denise and I are near divorce. No Christian would say something about a disagreement unless their marriage was horrible, right? Good grief again.

With that said, I will tell Don’s story. But I believe, that if Don had lived in a Christian world where perfection was not expected, where it was safe to talk about the secret temptations in the closet, I don’t he would have ever ended up where he did.

Oh, yeah, my second point. As I discuss Don’s case (the term we use in the medical world) I also want to point out that there is something amiss in our concepts of godliness or people so-called “controlled by the Spirit.”

I think I heard about Don before I ever met him because his dynamic reputation was bigger than life. He was a dynamic youth group leader in our area. I became a Christian my senior year of high school and began to associate with other Christians students, some of which attended the church where Don was a youth pastor.

The first time I met Don in person was when I started to date Sharon, a Christian girl that attend his church. She invited me to her youth group meetings. Once I met Don, I attended every week for the following year.

I remember that first evening that I met Don. He was playing a guitar and singing with a wonderful, Don McLean-type of voice. In between he had the quick-witted joking of a Robin Williams. Then he led us in a Bible study, being one of the most incredible Bible teachers (for a youth audience) that I had ever heard. I can still remember that very first Bible study. It was about the woman at the well. He told it in such a funny way like, “The disciples ran into to town to get burgers while Jesus stayed behind to take a leak.”

I can’t remember if Don told his testimony to the whole group, or privately to me as I do remember us talking out in the parking lot of the church alone. He described this amazing story of how he was very involved in the drug culture. Then, like this miracle, a voice told him (while he was on some drug, LSD I think) to turn on the TV. There was Billy Graham giving a message. Then, like a miracle, he sobered up and listened to every word. At the end, he prayed and received Christ. I think it was even a little more dramatic than that, like he had to wrestle with visible demons or something.

I, however, stood listening with my mouth gapped wide open in pure amazement. Over the subsequent weeks and years, I got to know Don even better. The next year I graduated from high school and started to attend nearby East Tennessee State University. There, Don was an upper classman and the student president of Campus Crusade for Christ. He has so much charisma and confidence that all of us Christian (men at least) wanted to emulate him. He was also the most “spiritual” person I had ever met. He seemed to never sin and was constantly bubbling over with the Holy Spirit. Every time you ran into him on campus, he had another amazing miracle that had happened to him. There were amazing healings, people coming to the Lord through him left and right.

I worked with Don on a big project to bring in Josh McDowel, a famous Campus Crusade speaker and author. Josh was so personally impressed with Don that he invited Don to become part of his ministry team that was traveling around the world. Don turned him down.

The fist time I ever consider a chink in his armor was when Don was a senior, or perhaps he had graduated and was taking graduate courses. He was also working as the dorm director of Taylor Hall, an old dorm that has been torn down since. My friend Ken, was a resident in that dorm.

In those days, there was only one phone on each floor, and it was a pay-phone. One Sunday the pay phone rang and my friend Ken answered it. On the other end was a girl and she was looking for Don. I can’t remember if she was just a girl he had met in a bar, or an actual hooker. But she described to Ken how Don had taken her to a motel, they had sex and then he abandoned her. If she was a hooker, she was complaining that she didn’t get paid. But the story is fuzzy.

When Ken told me the story, I was in disbelief. I think I, being the good Evangelical that I was, stuffed it and continued pretending that the Emperor was wearing cloths and my Christian hero was still flawless.

The next time I saw Don, was my senior year. He had moved away a year or two before. I was walking across campus and saw him walking toward the administration building. I ran to meet him. He seemed very different. We had always, “talked about the Lord,” which meant we talked about something we perceived as, or embellished as miracles. Sometimes we talked about more proofs that the end times were near. He had his same big, bright smile, but he didn’t respond. Then he said something about he had forgotten that Jesus supposed to be coming back then he rolled his eyes and said he had to go.

Sometimes, when I’m bored and have a computer in front of me, I do a “where are they now” search on Google. For some odd reason Don Crumley came to mind last week and I did a search. I found the link that I have on this posting. I felt really sad, but I wasn’t sure it was him. I mean the age fit. Even the location of Wise, VA fit. I couldn’t tell from the photo because it’s been 30 years and the photo is of a heavier Don. So I sent the photo to Ken, who lived on the same floor in Taylor Hall with Don. He confirmed that it was Don and he had heard that Don was in some kind of trouble.

You hear stories surfacing like this all the time, but really is just the tip of the iceberg. My concept of a dream church is where we realize that we are all imperfect. That we accept each other as we are, expecting flaws, not hiding them. Yet, a place where we are very encouraging to each other and stand beside each other in fighting the monsters that live deep within our souls. If you read the link, Don has been arrested, awaiting trial, for several accounts of child porn. I know disgusting, but Don seemed to have been a decent man at one time (unles it was all an act), I just wish we could have helped him deal with his demons then.

1 comment:

steve martin said...

Great post.

We often think more highly of our church leaders than we ought.

That is why the preaching of the law ought not to be in a manner to make us better...but rather to kill us off. (like the sermon on the mount)

It ought be unmitigated and hard, so that no one is left standing afterwards but Christ Jesus and Him alone.

The pastor ought be the first one to admit that he is not up to it, either.


Great blog. I'll be back.

- Steve Martin San Clemente, CA