Thursday, July 28, 2011

Outside the Box of Sanity

This is an obvious turn from my discussion about a Men's Retreat.  What brought this topic to my thinking was an episode of 20/20 last week. It followed the lives of three families whose daughters suffered from the dreadful disease of schizophrenia.

The outward manifestation of this disease is truly horrible and a loving parent's worst nightmare.  You can see how hard they fought against the disease, hospitalization after hospitalization, piles of drugs . . .and still, the demons could not be slayed or even tamed.

I can also see why many more conservative (and uninformed) evangelicals would assume that these really are demons and what the child really needs is an exorcist. If only it could be that simple.  But it does beg the question of why would God allow such a horrible condition on such an innocent child?

Of course it must come back to the fall. We are full of imperfections and some of those are in the genetic fabric of the brain. While some of the mutations may result in things like, personality disorders, higher or lower intelligence, seizures, tendency towards depression . . . or schizophrenia.  The child is an innocent victim as well as the whole family. One little girl had attempted to kill her normal sister . . . yet she loves that sister. It is a nightmare. Those families were exhausted and had done every thing they humanly could do to stop it. Some of the marriages were coming apart at the seams because the mom and dad were physically spent.  These people were heroes in my book.

I've seen schizophrenia play out in an evangelical church setting three times that I can think of. Once in Marquette, Michigan and twice in my previous church on our island.  In all three cases I had an court-side seat because I was an elder.  In all three cases, the response of the leadership was the same . . . demons.  The last time I was involved with a schizophrenic in the Christian setting was in my previous church.  A man went nuts in the service and began screaming profanities.  The only one other person recognized it as schizophrenia and that was a friend who was paramedic.  Everyone wants the simplistic answer of casting out the demons and seeing the person become totally normal in an instance.  I also see this as part of the problem of dualism. When you believe that the only important realm is the spiritual, then someone screaming profanities in the middle of a church service must be a spiritual problem . . . it can't be a brain problem . . . or can it?

I want to move the discussion to the more typical experience of most Christians.

Mental illness of course can come in a variety of unrelated forms.  Most of us, or maybe all of us, suffer from some form of mental illness at times.  The severity of these illnesses vary along a spectrum as well.  On one end they are very much under our control. In the middle of the spectrum it is still possible to treat the mental illness with behavior and cognitive work and/or medications but, as you approach the bad end, the mental illness falls more and more outside the box of our control.  Those who end up there are typically abandoned by the Church because the Church likes to make the assumption that all of our behavior, like screaming profanities at invisible monsters in the middle of the church service, is a moral problem . . . personal sin of some sorts. Seeing the victim as an innocent sufferer doesn't fit in our paradigm. But it should if we really understood the consequences of the fall. So, in some mental heath issues, we are on the back of a wild horse but we do have the reins in our hands and can exert some influence on the course of the runaway.  However, in some disorders you have one foot in the stirrup and are being dragged with virtually no control. The little girls in the 20/20 story, as well as their families, are being dragged . . . almost to an emotional oblivion.

I will make this a bit personal.  In my life I have a moderate level of anxiety which is garden variety.  In that situation I'm in the saddle and the reins are in my hands and I can take actions, re-frame thoughts, pray and over time see a difference.

I also had one bout of clinical depression which started when we had a missionary experience failure (about 21 years ago) and it lasted three years. While in the beginning I was being dragged, I eventually was able to get back in the saddle and wrestle the beast . . . not quite into submission but to a fragile control.

However, I also went through an experience 15 years ago that was very traumatic.  I don't want to talk about the specifics here but just as an observer. The best way you could describe it--in mental health terms--was PTSD.  Now, the good news it that I'm much better now with some echos of worsening anxiety every since.

But here is my point. I was overwhelmed at the time with the new notion that what was happening in my brain, in response to the trauma, was completely out of my control. I had one foot in the stirrup and was being dragged through hell.  I fought the horrible and extreme anxiety (constant terror) with all my heart. I honestly, for the first time in my life, prayed without ceasing.  I had continuing flashbacks and intrusive thoughts which I had absolutely no control over. I felt totally mentally ill. Each time a flash of the memory came into my mind it was a terrible and very real jolt as if I had been hit with a cattle prod. This happened very 2-3 minutes all day long, and all night (with no sleep for days).  I am a very rational person and not a big believer in tissue paper miracles or demons behind each bush, but I was begging for the demons to removed from me and that's how scared I was. It was a 1-2 year nightmare . . . then slowly the majority of the symptoms improved. But I've never been the same. Something concrete changed in my brain . . . I assume, forever.

So, I'm reflecting on the intrusive mental illnesses and how we as Christians view them.  I know that when my body was "possessed" by the extreme . . . I guess I would call it constant terror . . . it was in control and I had none.

But how do we as Christians handle this in others?  In my old evangelical paradigm, we always made the sufferer responsible. That made sense to us. We were good and strong Christians because of our hard work and obedience to God. Those who heard voices . . . well they must have done something terribly wrong, or, because they are weak (morally) they were possessed by demons.

I just think what what would happen if anyone of those families on 20/20 attended one of our churches?  Now, I know that there churches and Christian people who would accept them, love them, and not see the parents as failures of the James Dobson School of Perfect Parenting, but giants and heroes.  I know that there are good Christian people out there who would take the healthy sisters for the weekend to give them a break from the chaos, and some brave ones who would even take the schizophrenic child for a week so the parents could come up for air.

But I remember sitting in a elder's board meeting at my church in Marquette after a different man with a thought disorder yelled out profanities in the previous Sunday's morning worship.  One of the members, a surgeon who should of known better, said the most ridiculous thing.  "I have a bad feeling about Jack (the screamer).  There's a dark spirit about him and I sense something satanic."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Observations from a Men's Retreat Part II

This first issue is where I think I stood alone in the men's group the most. It is regarding the belief that the predominate way that we know that God is there and how he directs us day to day is via tissue paper miracles.  What I mean by tissue paper is that they are so very frail that any rational, outside observer would instantly see that it is just wishful thinking.

During the men's retreat we had several testimonies.  In practically everyone, the almighty God who created the 14 billion light light diameter universe proved that he was there through things like a homeless man being on the street begging, then two hours later he wasn't there, proving he was an angel.  Sometimes it is a rainbow that intersects with a tree that had two long limbs at the top, making it look vaguely like a cross.  But most of the tissue paper miracles had to do with the autonomic nervous, endocrine or limbic systems.  Over and over I hear that God spoke to someone very loudly and clearly because they felt this warmth in their bellies, or euphoria or a chill that goes up their spines.  The great problem I have with this is that I've heard the same type of testimonies from Muslims, Buddhists, various cults have the most profound experiences plus many other types of people including schizophrenics to say the least.

So, in these situations, when I hear someone saying that God spoke to them in a profound way through a strange odor that they smelled in the woods . . . and they just knew it was the very personal smell of God (actually heard this at the men's retreat) and based on that smell they made a major decision in their lives, I am profoundly skeptical.  But every single time I raise questions about it, I am looked at like I really am Judas . . . the great betrayer of the faith.  Denise always gets frustrated when I question these miracles and she asks me, "Who are you to judge?"

But this is where I say that I'm more fundamental than the most severe fundamentalist.  I believe that we should stick to the Bible much more than we do.  How does this apply in this situation, where most evangelicals would see me as less Biblical?  It is because the miracles, attested to in scripture were NOT on tissue paper (or burnt toast). They were seas dividing in two, or a person blind from birth seeing, or someone dead coming a live, or someone speaking a language fluently who had never, ever studied it or even have used Rosetta Stone.

Also, I am more of a fundamentalist because I don't see in scripture the mandate that we should completely trust those funny feelings, or the shady things we see floating softly behind the holes in the fabric of reality.  Where people bend spoons with their minds, or a breeze is felt on the neck in a darken house, or the ray of the sun shines through the clouds forming a Chi Ro symbol . . . so you completely change the religion of an empire. I see scripture telling us that we can't trust our senses. Our hearts (or psyches) are more deceitful than anything else in the universe and can not be trusted at all.

I still give the men's retreat a 70%, but of the 30% that I criticize, this area was where I stand the most alone.

To question these things as being God's celestial cell phone calling us, is to offend almost every Christian. Whom am I to question that God spoke to them through their goldfish's moving lips?  Who am I to question the healings of their colds, four days in, but just before they went to the Christian concert?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

An Observation from a Men's Retreat

I am often accused of being an Eeyore . . . you know, looking at the negative side.  Maybe I am, but, there is so much negative within the Evangelical movement there is certainly a lot to not be happy about. Secondly, those who accuse me of being an Eeyore are usually Evangelicals and it is part of that subculture that you are never to be negative (or critical).  That's why I think they are so vulnerable to getting things wrong . . . the lack of critical thinking. I call it the Pollyanna syndrome. I actually watched about 30 minutes of Pollyanna on the Hallmark channel (where else) a few weeks ago. After watching her as a kid, she was presented as a heroine to emulate.  Now, she (the character of course not Halley Mills) appears to be a bit emotionally unstable.

But with that said, as I look at my men's retreat, I will put some angel wings on my Eeyore.  Over all, I will say that the men's retreat was 70% positive.  It was better than I had feared but there were still issues I will talk about later.

This men's retreat was different than many of the ones I've attended in the past due to one major issues and that was a higher appreciation of the intellect.  In this group of 25 men, I think there were three PhD s, one MD, and ten with masters degrees. Of the remaining ones, four were engineers.  Now I know this sounds arrogant and high brow but that is not the way I mean it.  It has more to do with attitude than raw IQ or level of education.

One of the brightest people I know is my friend . . . (did I say "friend"?) . . . Bob.  Bob is a good friend (which I forgot in my last post about not having any friends) but he lives in Italy for 8 months out of the year and I don't get to see him. But Bob doesn't have any advanced degrees.  He spent his life as a fisherman.  But, he has a very high value on knowledge and reads nonstop. He also speaks four languages fluently and knows much about a wide range of topics from current ideals about behavioral science to sub-atomic physics and etc. Bob is also a Christian and the only other man on my island that I can have the same conversations as I do here (save my own kids).

This is in contrast to the last group of men I was in Bible study with (at my old church) where the men believed that Satan's great tool in our society was the university.  They, like I use to do, avoided all "non Christian" books. They believe all scientists are in some grand conspiracy to make our babies atheists. Their scientific knowledge comes from the likes of Ken Ham and other pastors who are self-proclaimed science experts. Their psychological understanding comes from people like Bill Gothard and Dr. Laura.

I will also say that there was a higher level of candidness at this men's retreat than I expected.  I will confess that I didn't just sit in silence but pushed the envelop of honesty by questioning, out loud, things that seemed to be disingenuous. Lastly, I think I got to know many of the men much better and that was my real goal.

Now Eeyore takes off his wings and halo.

There is still part of the men's retreat that disturbs me and a piece of that uneasiness has to do with the profound conformity of the perspectives of the American brand of evangelicalism.  What I mean is, here I am in a church that is far different than my last church, yet I hear the same cliches, the same (extra-Biblical) views on all matters of life.  It is surprisingly homogeneous.

Having had the opportunity to live and travel around the world, I see the exact same views (and once again, this has nothing to do with the simple, black and white of scripture, but a cultural belief system) wherever the Christians have the fingerprints of American Evangelicals on them. For example, I saw the same in a French, Dutch, Pakistani and Egypt evangelical church congregations . . . which were planted by Americans after the Second Great Awakening. Those churches in those countries, which do not have American roots, do not share the views. I make that latter point (about being after the Second Great Awakening) because I did visit an old Presbyterian congregation in Egypt which has its roots in the American Presbyterian Church prior to the Methodist circuit riders and Scofield Bible toting pastors took over the pulpits of America, creating this modern culture of Evangelicalism.  That church too did not share these same political belief systems.

Then, without question, those church traditions which never shared a common trunk with American Evangelicalism had profound differences in these cultural views. Here I'm talking about Palestinian Orthodox (whom I stayed with briefly), Egyptian Coptic and of course Catholics. But if the Catholics have had revival, which started in Evangelicalism, then of course these cultural beliefs do creep in.

I'm going to next express my concerns about this cultural issue and then, if I have time . . . meaning that I'm not feeling like I'm boring you to death . . . I will describe what those beliefs are. But simply the problem I have with the Evangelical cultural beliefs is that they do not recognize them as a product of culture.  The Evangelicals build their wall of universal, Biblical truth, outside these cultural beliefs, thus enclosing them and making them equal with true Biblical truths such as God is there, and He created the universe. That's the real problem.

If, in humility, they recognized that their view that Israel (the nation) was created by God in 1948 to usher in the last days was a cultural belief rather than a clear-cut Biblical mandate . . . that would be different. The Palestinian Orthodox have radically different views of the creation of the nation of Israel, not as God's gift to the world but some of the worst part of the curse of the fall. But you have to read these beliefs within their personal experiences.  If we stuck to the pure Biblical truths (which are few and simple) then the churches throughout the world would truly  have a common ground.

So, in one last illustration and I will have to save the specifics of this men's retreat for next time because I see your eyes glossing over, I will point out why this universal evangelical concerns me.

When we first moved to Cairo in 1988 and my tongue was still fine-tuned to the American cuisine, I learned a difficult lesson.  Egypt, at that time (which is very different today as I visited there three years ago) had no variety, especially when it came to nontraditional foods.  I visited the little market about 2 miles from our house and the only cereal they had was Cornflakes. That's it. They didn't even have Oatmeal.  The ONLY soda they had was Pepsi.  They had only one brand of milk sold in a liter box.  So, I started to take the buses to other parts of Cairo to shop.  Every store I went in had the exact same arrangement. One spot on the shelf was set aside for Cornflakes and their one spot for Pepsi.  All the other foods were exactly the same.  Even the Egyptian-made foods were exactly the same in all stores.  This was so profound that when we got back to the states and friends took us to a huge American Supermarket for the first time, Denise literally had an emotional breakdown and we have to leave. The choices were overwhelming. Rather than one chunk of cheese, in the same wrapping in every store, there were 200 choices in cheeses alone.

So, when I go to a men's retreat in a very different church but I hear the same cliches and beliefs (again nothing to do with the Bible, type of beliefs) I feel disappointed.

But in closing this segment, I will restate that it was over all a positive experience and I'm glad I went.

I will do one more posting about those beliefs and attitudes that I wish I could make fluid (I respect you if think Obama is a madman but also respect you if you think he is a saint, knowing that neither view is "God's view" but your own, personal one). But when I attempted to oppose them I could see in the response of some of the men, that I was opposing God Himself. The socialization process is as profound as in middle or high school where there was intense pressure to dink your first beer or loose your virginity.  It is the same social mechanics and I just wished the Evangelicals would recognize that it human nature . . . and not the "Word from the Lord."  That's why, when my the pastor of my old church said that he was "anal" about  making that church Biblical, I knew that he was anal about putting up the walls of God's certainty, around and enclosing his personal views and manipulative behaviors. Who can resist anything, with a clear conscience, if you believe the thing you are resisting is from God.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Men's Retreat

Okay, I know I will eventually ask myself . . . "Self . . . what were you thinking!?"  However, as I set here typing at Starbucks in Bellingham, I'm on my way to a men's retreat.  Actually, if I type long enough I will be late for it.  But I just got off work and I must unwind from a very stressful day before I make an appearance and put on my smile.

Do you sense that I have a great trepidation about this?  

On my drive over from my office I was thinking about it. How long has it been since I've been at a Christian men's retreat?  I think the last one was one I organized.  It was a series of men's retreats that I put together in Michigan's snowy upper peninsula. The first two years were a blast. About 16 of men skied for about 10 miles to a remote cabin for two nights.  The first year was just for fun. The second year (after getting to know the men a bit better) I decided to take it to the next level.  On the second night of that week end, around the fire, I took our conversation down from the 3-4th stories (of pretend) down to the ground floor . . . speaking very honestly.  The next year, only four of the guys showed up.  As soon as we skied in and three of them recognized that they would be imprisoned (by a impending blizzard) with me for the week end, they packed up their stuff and skied back out. After all, I was the one who got them to talk about porn and marital issues the last time we were there.  The retreat died after that and I'm sure it died because I was so candid that second year.  I think I was naive 15 years ago when this happened. All of those men were very spiritual and leaders in the church.  I had assumed that they would all want to talk openly about problems in our marriages and such personal issues . . .but I was dead wrong.

The next time I was with a group of men was ten years ago.  It was under a very different pretense. It was simply a bunch of crazy snowmobile guys, who happened to go to the same church, who invited me for trip to Yellowstone. They gave me a 4-hour notice for a 24 hour drive.  I went. We didn't talk about so-called spiritual things at all.  It was a blast! I would love to do something like that again.

But this is different. This is clearly billed as a "Christian Men's Retreat."  It is sponsored by my new church. While my new church has such a cross section that you can find all types among the congregation (even those more "liberal" than myself), there are still plenty of evangelicals. Actually, at this point of time in history, in the US, the Evangelicals have somewhat written the playbook for how men suppose to relate in a "spiritual" context, especially at a men's retreat.  I know the script well.  I'm sure I've attended at least 40 men's retreats during my discipleship years.

Why am I going?  I'm going because I really don't know how I could be more friend-less than I am right now. So, I'm doing it to try and create some friendships with men in my new church. Sure, I have the people that I work with as friends. I actually do see the majority of my 2,000 patients as friends.  I feel close to my children and my wife. But that's it. Zipo . . . there's no one else. 

I had a group of men friends, but when I left my evangelical church, I had to give them all up . . . not by my choice. Actually, one of them still speaks to me. But it is hard for us to do things together anymore because I know he seriously opposes my decision to leave his church and he has voiced how angry he was at me, until he was able to forgive me.  But it is awkward. You know, me the bad guy, the fallen away, the one who sinned against his church . . . by having the audacity to leave. 

So what do I fear?  Thinking of the answer is not easy. Even once I have a mental handle on it, it is still hard to churn the fluid thoughts into chunky words.  But here goes.

I fear a moral dilemma.  I have my heart set on telling the truth.  I  feel strongly this way because I want to be truthful for my own psyche's sake and because I do believe that we serve a God of truth and that He wants us to live in true reality.  For 25 years, I went to Men's retreats when I knew that it would all be a show. Each one of us would find humble verbiage to express our great accomplishments.  "I am so grateful to the Lord for how he has used me, a simple earthen vessel, to bring the gospel to this area of town."  It is a charade. 

So, I think . . . how do I bare the spiritual talk?  I am committed to not lying anymore. I will not claim miracles where I know in my heart there were none. I will not speak of how God has said such and such to me. So, in my usual form, I will sit silently . . . until inevitability some man will start to assume that I "don't know Jesus."  I hate so much to be in those situations. Either lie, and fake it for Jesus, like the rest are doing, or be yourself and have the assumptions that you don't know Jesus.  

Having talked to my wife, it appears that women's retreats aren't like this.

Well, I've looked at the clock and if I leave now, I will arrive just as it starts. But in the back of my mind I hope to corner some man who I can talk to quietly and find a shared interest. Kayaking, hiking, rock climbing . . . something that we could do together . . . just for fun. Sure, I would love to talk about spiritual things, but like I do here . . . very raw and in complete candor.  Maybe by Sunday, I will be happy I went . . .  maybe I will prove my anxieties as superfluous. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Manuscript Link Fixed . . . I Think

It was brought to my attention that the manuscript link, to the right, was broken. I think I've fixed it . . . hint.

A Party in the House

Have you ever had a huge crowd of unexpected guests show up at your house?

Yesterday morning, I got up and happened to check my blog site. Something mysterious was going on. My typical daily visits of 60-70 was well over a thousand . . . and I hadn't even had my morning coffee yet. It didn't take me long to trace the bread crumbs back to Imonk's house.

I'm glad they showed up and walked though my house, picking up stuff and looking at it. However, I do feel a little embarrassed as I hadn't cleaned or put out any food.

I went back over my spiritual abuse story and proofed it for the first time last night. I usually typed each section with one hand on a micro laptop (not much bigger than a smart phone) while standing in line at Starbucks on my way to work. But the guests have now mostly left and it is too late to clean house now, or to retype my stories.

I was hoping one of them would have stumbled onto my book manuscript and given me some ideas, but that link apparently doesn't work either.

But it was nice to have guest anyway. Thanks Mike.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Life Without Purpose . . . Possibly a Good Thing?

I spent the past week end hanging out with a bunch (maybe 200) of 20-30 year olds who would be classified (sociologically) as "Hipsters." Now the reason I was with them, wasn't some old man trying to reconnect with his lost youth, but the fact it was a music festival and one of my sons was playing in two different bands.

As I watched the people, listened to them talk, and listened to the lyrics I had an overwhelming feeling that they had no specific purpose in life and would find it amusing that I would mention that fact. Now the old Evangelical Mike would feel sad for them at this point. But the new (but old) mike sees it two ways.

There is a bit of loss that I must grieve. Just like any post-modern society, you feel a loss when people don't have a purpose because they simply have given up. Many of them feel that there is no way we can understand why we are here, so why bother trying. It is the loss of hope and and it is a kind of despair that we should cry about.

But there are also lessons to be learned from them.

I spent a good 25 years deep in the Evangelical movement. During the first 15 years I was in a hard-core discipleship center and we held the following beliefs:

1) God's only purpose of this planet is a place where people can be saved for Heaven.
2) God's only purpose for the church is the Great Commission.
3) God's only purpose for the individual is to find that very precise place in the machinery of the Great Commission where they fit. Actually where they were designed for. We believed that we were predestined to fulfill a very specific place.

During my formative years as a disciple, my number one commission (as I was taught) was to find out what my "calling" was. I eventually became 100% convinced that God had created me, allowed me to be born on this earth with a singularity of purpose . . . to win Muslims to Christ.

I became convinced of this through a chain of several superstitious events. First, I signed up to go to Nepal on a summer missions program (in 1982) but was reassigned to go to Oman. I went. I fell in love with the people, the culture and my wife who was there as well.

As I was putting the pieces together, I remembered a couple other things, which were early in my life, that were proof that God wanted me to give the rest of my life for this purpose. First, the one "love-a-bye" that my mother first sung to me (when I was two and still remember it well) was about riding a camel. Secondly, when I was a child, we had a tapestry in our living room of a caravan stopping at an oasis. That was the only proof I needed. From the day I was born, God had only one purpose for my existence.

So, jumping ahead, one of the reasons that my failure on the mission field in the Middle East was so devastating, was the fact that my entire identity and purpose for living had been tied up in it. I think it is the same reason that a good friend of mine, out of the same discipleship center, has become catatonic now that he has "failed" as a missionary to China. He has sat in a same chair for the past three years, since returning.

But now Solomon is my hero. I follow his seeking to find his purpose in so many things. He finally reaches the conclusion that the good things of life aren't fitting like a key in a very finely tooled lock or cog in well oiled (and predestined) machine. But Solomon (remember the wises person that ever lived) concludes, or begs the question, that sipping coffee down at the coffee shop and having a conversation about boats, or wearing your Walkman and laying on a hammock and listening to good music, or sitting in a hot tub drinking a beer and looking up a the blue sky is the substances of a good life. Are these the things that we were made for? Possibly. So the Hipsters have part of it right, even if the reason they got to this point was their loss of hope and the possibly of knowing why about anything.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The End Game

(The painting is titled "End-Game")

Days of confusion melted into months of apathy. Tom met with Luke only once. The awkwardness was insurmountable from both directions and they just never attempted to connect again. At first Tom was under an illusion that maybe he could jump through a few hoops and life could be restored to normalcy . . . but it never happened. Sandy kept referring to his state as depression or even oppression but Tom felt it was neither. It was a penetrating and suffocating numbness.

Tom slowly drifted back from his pew near the front of the sanctuary to the middle, to the back row and finally started missing church altogether. Sandy was deeply concerned about his turning away from the Lord. But she thought the disagreement with Pete was just a symptom of his falling away, not the cause there of. But as a consolation to her, Tom learned to smile well. Like a hard shell around a soft, melted chocolate, his smiles protected his toxic numbness. Sandy loved tranquility and smiles. The conflict with Pete, in her eyes was over and that’s all that really mattered.

Tom would still visit Son Bucks with his sons before the service on Sunday mornings. Rarely anyone spoke to him. The word was quickly leaked that Tom was under church discipline, however, he couldn't talk about it to set the record straight. He had received a letter from Pete, the final communiqué.

Dear Tom,

The board of elders has met and we exhort you with one voice to abstain from talking about your situation with anyone. For the sake of the precious blood of Jesus and His Church, whom he loves and for which he died, please remain silent. To speak about the private matters of the discipline of this board will be sin against this elder board and this church.

Sincerely, and in the powerful love of Christ,

Pastor Pete

So Tom didn't speak. However, various rumors floated through the congregation. One rumor was that Tom had embezzled offering money. The elders did take turns counting the money and during Tom’s month someone noticed that it was a very low month for offerings. But if the congregation had known the real truth, the vast majority would have sided with Tom. They weren't bad people but uninformed and confused by the silence. Silence is a wonderful tool in the hands of a perpetrator . . . silence, smiling and tranquility.

It wasn't as if Tom hadn’t contemplated going public with his complaint. There was one congregational meeting in October. Tom came and watched. He came so close to standing and speaking but he knew that Pete would out-gun him. Pete was a very spiritual man and would be listened to with a passionate ear. To fight it harder would tear the church apart and after all of that, Pete would still prevail and Tom knew he would have gained nothing.

As Tom drifted in slow motion from the front to the middle and to the rear, the church also drifted from Pete vision to Pete vision. The America’s Heartland Revival mantra became a call to increase the size of the church. A well-paid Christian Church-growth consulting group came in and looked over their situation. They determined that since 75% of the pews are taken and 65% of the parking lot used up, then the church would stop growing. So they had one choice . . . to build. An architectural drawing of a 5,000 seat auditorium was hung in the vestibule. It was expandable to 10 K. The Christian consulting company also built new churches.

Pete also got a vision of this church taking the gospel to the world and started an aggressive missions agenda. A tithing program kicked in where each family met with the church’s financial/spiritual adviser. After all, not tithing was a sin issue not a budget issue. Sandy signed the tithe pledge card.

Then Tom fell off the back pew into outer space. It was a place where there was no grid or gravitational orientation. No north or south. He had gone to church his entire life so he was in a whole new, unexplored world without steps or handles or tug of the campus needle.

The habit soon became for Tom to drop Sandy and the boys off at church and he would drive down to the coffee shop to wait for them. The boys always begged to go with him but Sandy said absolutely not.

At the coffee shop, Tom became immersed in a childhood obsession . . . Science Fiction. He started reading the old classics at first, mostly penned by Jules Verne. It was his escape from the strange and unexplainable to the strange but explained.

One Sunday morning he was seated in a soft over-stuffed leather chair deeply entrenched in a trip to the moon when a familiar voice asked, “May I join you?”

Tom looked up. To his surprise it was Jeremy standing with familiar face which was donning a new beard and holding a cup of frothy cappuccino. “Sure! What are you doing here?”

“I usually come here before church and today in the stead. I noticed that you hadn’t been at church lately and I think about you all the time.”

“You do?”

“Sure I do. I saw how that son of a bitch railroaded you out of the church because you were gravel in the path of his steamroller.”

Tom felt very uneasy talking about the situation. “Uh . . . I don’t know if I would say that.”

“Hey, I walked the plank just like you did . . . with a sword in my back. As they say, scripture is the sword of the Lord.”

“Really? You walked?”

“You haven’t see me preach in a while have you?”

“I hadn't really noticed to tell you the truth. I was coming and going . . . but not noticing anything. I know I hadn't seen you around church as much as before.”

Jeremy takes a seat and opens up his laptop. He takes a drink of his coffee and milk foam clings to his beard. “Can I tell you my story?”

“Sure Jeremy.” Tom folds down the corner of his book’s page and lays it on the table. He puts his hands behind his head and sinks down in the chair with full eye contact like he is ready to listen.”

“Well, the pastor spoiled a trip that Ann and I had to the Caribbean . . . did you know about that?”

“Not really,” Tom said shaking his head to the negative.

“Well he did. That really made Ann very angry. She was never into the church game. At point she wanted me to leave. So, I started looking. It becomes a real catch 22 for a youth pastor. I couldn’t look for a new job with Pete’s blessing. I know if I told him I was leaving, it would have to be on his terms. But you can’t get a job in an evangelical church without your present pastor’s blessing. It is part of the scheme of authority. The potential employer church would want your senior pastor’s blessing even if he were an asshole. They don’t believe in the asshole paradigm. “ Jeremy chuckles.

Tom smiles with a genuine smile.

“So, I started looking for a position with a more, what Pete would say, liberal church. I really needed a job because, we just found out that Ann is pregnant and we need insurance. I think Pete saw the writing on the wall and like I said, if I left he wanted me to be fired rather than walking away.” Jeremy takes another sip of his coffee and the foam drips from his chin and he wipes it off with his sleeve.

“So what happened?”

“Pete started to look into my computer at night. He figured out my password to get on, I’m not sure how. He was looking to see if I was looking for a new job.”

“Did he find out you were?”

“Yeah, he did . . . and more. You see, he studied my browsing history every night for weeks and one night he found out that I had visited a bad site.”

Tom looks confused, “You mean another church’s site?”

Jeremy laughs. “I wish. No . . . to be honest, a naked women site. It isn’t something I’m proud of. I think I had only visited one of those sites once or twice in my life. It was stupid, but I was checking BBC for news of back home . . . you know, Kenya. Then an ad for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition popped up. I guess you can say I was intrigued . . . or it caught my fancy if you know what I mean. Well, one thing led to another and I was on a nude site. The whole episode lasted about 15 minutes. I felt terrible about it. I confessed it to God and asked for forgiveness. However, this was pure gold to Pete. The next thing I know is that he hauls my ass in front of the whole elder’s board. It was terrible. They came up with a complicated plan to punish me. Pete declared that I have a porn addiction, which I do not, and that this has to be taken very seriously. He made it out that it was destroying my marriage and it was Satan’s foothold in the church because I had opened the door to the power of filth coming right into the church itself. He blamed all the church’s failings on the power of Satan being released by my PC, due to my bad behavior. I had a feeling I was listening to one of the Ghost Buster dudes.”

Tom smiled. “Did he tell Ann?”

“Oh, I told Ann. I told her as soon as Pete knew because I knew he would. Ann laughed about it. At worst she thought it was a little juvenile. But Ann is from a different, you might say, more normal world.”

Tom asked, “So what happened next?”

“Of course I was removed from ministry. My computer was taken away. I was required to only minister to the young men of the church. Now that was awkward. Can you imagine how hard it was for me to invite boys only to functions and then have Ann do things with the girls. Pete tried his best to paint me as a pervert or pedophile and destroy me. It became unbearable. I had a 90 day paid leave until I had finished intense counseling. My pay check just ended. I’ve about given up on finding a church to minister in. I’m sure Pete will tell them I’m a pervert.”

“So Jeremy, what on earth are you going to do?”

“Ann never liked the idea of me being a youth pastor. She wants me to go back to school and get my teaching certificate. I’m seriously thinking about it.”

“I’m so sorry Jeremy.”

“Oh, don’t be. I think you are who we need to worry about. You see Tom, I learned a long time ago that church is a game. Growing up as a missionary kid you really are thrown in the middle of the game. But I also learned early on not to mix God up with the game. He is there. He is good and He doesn't have a game piece. So for me, playing the church game and relating to God never got mixed up together.”

“Really. I've never looked at it that way. I feel sleazy like God is very disappointed in me. I know that Sandy is.”

“Sandy is a muthalleen.”

“A what?”

Jeremy smiles and shakes his head. “Well it is a long story. But a muthalleen is a word used in the Kenyan bush for people who believe in shadows. I think its root is in Arabic. It must have been passed down from Sudan and Ethiopia.”

“Shadows? I’m not sure I follow.”

“In the Riff Valley bush, up until present times, there was no TV or other entertainment so story telling was key. They would build a big campfire and sit and tell stories. Then sometimes, like a crude movie, they would stoke the fire up, the people would gather to one side and face away from the fire. The actors would be behind the people, you know, between them and the fire. So the actors would cast shadows of giants out in the distance. That was the movie, the giant, 15 foot tall, shadows fighting and dancing. But a few of the people would believe that the shadows of the giants were real. So they called these superstitious people, the muthalleen.”

“I’m still not sure I follow.”

“People like Pete and Sandy are muthalleen. They believe in the myth of the giants. From what I've heard you say, Sandy believes her folks were spiritual giants and she wishes you were. I bet they were normal messed up people like all of us, but who projected these giant shadows. Pete tries his best to cast giant shadows and he even believes that they are real . . . but he is broken like all of us. He has poor Angie under his thumb. Ann wants to kidnap her and take her away to a safe place where she can bloom.” Jeremy refocuses on his cappuccino and finishes it off while Tom is reflective.

Finally Tom mumbles, “muthalleen?”

Jeremy looks up from his laptop and says, "Did you ever hear of Imonk?"


footnote: Once again I apologize for any typos. I typed fast and didn't have time to proof-read yet. Feel free to point them out to me. I'm also sorry this story became so long and I hope it wasn't a negative thing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Part XII - The Betrayal . . . but Who Betrayed Who?

Tom made additional attempts to contact his fellow elders, but then he just let it rest. It was really eerie. His e-mails endured without a reply, his phone messages went unheeded. These men had been some of his best friends at the church. He felt like he was staring in a science fiction movie, where some alien invaders had suddenly rendered him totally invisible or his body’s matter replaced with antimatter. Little did he know that Pastor Pete had told the other elders that Tom was, “under church discipline” and they were to strictly follow the Biblical principles of “not even eating with him,” which Pete expanded into having no contact whatsoever.

He didn’t talk about it to Sandy or anyone. Then, just like the fulfillment of a strange premonition, during dinner on Monday night Sandy gave him the dreaded news. She said in a nonchalant way, but it was so deliberately indifferent, that it just didn’t feel right.

“Oh Tom, the Pastor wants you to come to the church tonight at seven.”

“With such sudden notice, what if that doesn’t work for me?”

“I think he said the meeting was mandatory.”

“Tom finished his dinner in silence and made his way, with a spirit of great dread, up the long hill, through town, and out to the church. It was five till seven but Pete’s black Jetta was sitting in the “Pastor’s” private parking spot. Just next to his car was Luke Nelson’s red Volvo. Luke was the acting chair of the board of elders. The awful dismay intensified. The last time he felt this way was when the middle school principal left a message with his teacher that he needed to report to the office. It was no coincidence that it was on the day that he had gotten into his first fist-fight. It was on the bus on the way to school after a kid was making fun of the fact his dad had just left them. But that was thirty years earlier.

Tom walked into the pastor’s office quietly. Pete and Luke were in deep conversation. Pete was sitting on the front of his desk, facing the open door but looking down at Luke, sitting in a chair with his back to the door. Neither saw Tom come in. Pete was in mid-sentence, “You learn as a pastor that you nip these things in the bud or it becomes like a cancer that seriously compromises what God is trying to do.” Tom could see the back of Luke’s head nodding in the affirmative.

About that time, Tom caught Pete’s eye.

Pete had a charm that was unique. Despite the very awkward circumstances he was able to quickly give a warm and gentle smile towards Tom. “Hey Tom. I’m so glad you’re here.” He reached out and shook Tom’s hand with a tight grip and swaying the hands side to side, like he was his best friend while Tom’s arm was completely limp.

Pete didn’t realize that during the whole commute to the church, Tom was contemplating dong a 180 and just not showing up. The thing that prevented him from doing so was the fear that his no-show would be used against him. If he showed, even though he didn’t like this “mandate,” he at least could state his case. But Tom was a shy man. He didn’t like confrontations at all and lost sleep over each one. He was always overridden with guilt. But he too was a man of logic and it was his logic that had driven him to raise concerns while no elder had.

“So what’s going on Pete? I have a feeling that I’m getting canned tonight.”

“Tom, you know we love you very much.” Tom didn't flinch but felt like the bull being told how much he is loved . . . by the matador.

“The elders and I met last week and we discussed your situation. We all feel that we are on the verge of God doing a great work here and it seems that you’re not on the same page with us. I had a bad feeling about this. It was like we have been given this commission by God, yet there is something that is holding us back. God then spoke to me very clearly through this passage in Titus 3:10 and 11:"

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Tom just sat in silence. He felt so angry, yet he knew that if he showed his anger, it would only confirm what Pete was saying. Pete, on the other hand, was a master of his own emotions. Even as he read this bizarre (bizarre as it related to this situation) and condemning passage, he did it in a way that he seemed like he was Tom’s best friend . . . and he was doing all of this to serve Tom. Luke, on the other hand, wore his un-comfortableness on his shirt sleeves, not even making eye contact with Tom the entire evening.

“How on earth do you put me in that classification as having sinned against this church, being warned and not heeding? I've done nothing against you or your church! I was only raising concerns as my position of being a responsible elder.”

Pete flashes his big, warm smile again, “Tom, you know Pastor Dr. Glen Brothers, who has the huge church in Minneapolis. He has written a fantastic book called, “Shadowlands.” In that book he describes people in the life of the church that seem so much like gentle sheep. They are kind, sweet and well liked. Yet, they are placed within the church by Satan as gravel in the gears of doing God’s will.”

“Are you suggesting . . .” (Pete cuts him off).

“Just listen to me. Brothers says that these people are the greatest hindrances to God doing great works through our churches. He also points out that these people, who live in the shadows, are usually out of touch with their impact or how they are being used as an instrument of Satan. Many of them, such as yourself, feel that they have good intentions. But Brothers makes it clear that these shadow-land people must be dealt with firmly. There is great hope that you can become aware of these issues in your life, get some help, be trained and become a key player again.”

Tom knew by this point that the battle was over. He looked at Luke for support . . . but Luke had already gone over to the dark side, the Pete side. Tom felt like he was completely alone, bivouacked on the far side of the moon. All was lost. It seemed like he was in a movie, but a movie where he didn't know or even understand the script. It was a horror movie, in a foreign language.

Still with his friendly smile and even reaching over and putting his hand on Tom’s shoulder, Pete continued. “Tom, we all love you and I know that you feel angry about these things, but the power of Christ can change us. I know that Sandy is also very concerned about you and loves you very much. She knows that anger had been consuming you. “

Pete paused for a moment. He continued smiling. However, in the deep, dark places of Pete’s soul, the window of silence was supposed to be the place where Tom’s rage rushes to the surface, just like Jeremy’s did after the intentional elbow to the nose, and Tom would start screaming. The screaming, in contrast to Pete’s soft, “loving” demeanor, would confirm Tom’s guilt, at least in Luke’s eyes. But Tom didn't take the bait. Not that he was so wise, but because he was too bewildered to talk.

Pete pushed ahead. “The elders and I have talked. We would like to remove you from church ministry for a season. This means you stepping down from your role as elder. Also, it appears that God is not blessing your cell group as you told me that several couples are pulling out. Therefore we are going to combine your cell with Luke’s and your couples will attend his. You are welcome to attend but realizing you will have no leadership role. The last part is that we want you to be discipled by Luke. During my sessions with him, I will give Luke guidance. But, like Dr. Brothers suggested, we want you to work through a program to help you get in touch with your dark side. Only when you know your sin, can you repent.”

Tom’s spiritual life, like the bull under the influence of the Matador’s saber, fell to its knees, then face down on the cold dirt of the earth . . . the fire went completely out. Tom’s soul was dead. He felt a haunting separation from his friends, his church and his wife. Oddly, the only glimmer of comfort he found, like one blade of green grass in the middle of the Sahara, was a peace directly from God Himself.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse Part XI-In Bed with the Devil

Tom sneaks into the silent bedroom at 10:30. Sandy is sleeping so deeply that she is snoring. Tom slips off his shoes, his clothes, brushes his teeth and slides carefully between the covers.

"Hi sweetie," whispers Sandy in her sleepy voice.

"Oh hi. I tried not to wake you."

"How's the meeting?"

"I'd rather not talk about it tonight."

Then Sandy sat straight up in bed and spoke in a very awake voice, "Please don't tell me you had another fight with the pastor?"

"Gees, Sandy, I want more than anything than to fight with him. I really hate it. However, I just had some questions after our meeting and yeah, I think it did turn into a fight."

She flops back down hard enough to bounce Tom a few inches. They laid in the darkened silence for a while.

"Sandy, I don't know what to say. I respect the man. He has a lot of gifts, but I don't feel comfortable in how he is leading the church. We, the elders, are suppose to be giving oversight, yet Pete shows up with these overpowering agendas at each meeting an no one questions him."

"But you."

"But me, that's right."

"So you are the only one who is trying to throw water on him?"

"It so seems."

"Tom, maybe there is a message in that. If you are the only one who feels hesitant, then maybe you are the one in the wrong. Really, isn't this just about your ego and getting your way? I don't think you ever did like authority."

This time Tom sits up in bed, "Now, what the hell does that suppose to mean?"

"I just know I grew up to respect the church . . . "

Tom cuts her off in not quite a scream, but some emotion in his voice, "Don't bring your folks into this. This isn't about them. I bet I respect the Church more than anyone you know so that is why I feel uncomfortable when new programs our mandated by one man and no one challenges it."

Sandy prided herself in never showing emotion but still you can sense some. "Tom!" Then she quietened herself down and tried to start again, "Tom, just think about it. I really think that Pete has been anointed by God for something special. My dad use to . . . I mean, there is a saying that when God puts his finger on a man, the best thing is to get out of his way."

"It isn't just the issue of getting out of his way, what I mean is just being passive. He wants all the elders to meet for an hour every morning, meet with him each Saturday, lead our cell groups precisely as he dictates, turn in homework to him each week and the list goes on and on."

Sandy pretended to fall back asleep so Tom continues, "And how do you know that God's finger isn't on me?"


"I said, how do you know that I'm not the one whose God's finger is on?"

With a light, but painful (in Tom's eyes) chuckle Sandy mumbled, "Oh please. Sounds like you have a touch of delusions of grandeur."

Tom laid quietly for the rest of the night . . . but he didn't sleep. Not one wink. Sandy though, drifted off into her somnolent world, where the men wore white, rode gilded horses and slayed dragons of worldliness.

That night, and for the subsequent days, Tom entered a phase of self-doubt, severe loneliness and even a more severe depression. With two sons, who he knew looked up him, he didn't want to die, just felt like the world would have been better off if he had never existed. He was quite and closed up the well to his soul.

It was almost a week later that he ran into the Thompsons at Safeway. They had been one of the original members of the cell group that Tom led. After a few funny comments about what was in each other's carts, Bud asked, "So, is there something that we need to be reading in preparation for the cell group? I mean, I've looked at several books on raising teens but I wasn't sure if you had just one book you've picked out or not."

Tom had a sad puppy look on his face. He rubbed his face with his hands trying to create a positive feeling where there was none, "Well, we're not going to be discussing parenting teens this fall. Pastor Pete has a new vision for the direction this church should be going in. You're hear more about it later. But we will be spending time discussing his sermons each week."

Bud had a big frown. "You must be joking. I can't stand his sermons even on Sunday morning anymore. There is no way that I'm going to spend each Thursday rehashing them. Tom, I really disappointed in you for agreeing to this."

"Join the crowd."

"What crowd?"

"The Tom is a jerk crowd . . . oh, never mind. I really did try to argue the point of letting us do what everyone wanted, but the pastor is quite set."

"I'm telling you one thing, if you expect us to dissect Pete's sermons every Thursday night, then we certainly won't be there and I'm quite sure the Pullman's and Ways won't be there either. So it looks like it will just be you, Sandy and if you are lucky, one more couple."

Tom left the store with this strange amalgam of feeling more depressed, more guilt, yet some vindication. Later that night the feelings of vindication had matured enough that he shot off an e-mail to the pastor, which would be the first time they had communicated since their argument. "Pastor, I spoke to the Jan and Bud Thompson at Safeway today. They are quite sure that they are not coming to the cell group anymore, nor the Ways or Pullmans, unless we focus on parenting teens. I was thinking, why don't we do half and half. We would start the evening with your sermon work book and end with a parenting discussion. I think it would be really important to keep the group together. What do you think?"

Tom didn't hear back, not that night, not the next day, nor the next and so on.

There was compete silence until Tom happened to drive by the church on his way home from work a week later. He saw a cluster of cars and didn't think much of it. Then, once he was a mile beyond the church, realized that those cars looked like those of the other elders. He circled around through the Quick Mart parking lot and went back. He pulled over on the shoulder in front of the church as people were coming out. It was the other elders. What were they doing here? Tom searched his mind for some meeting that he had forgotten about, but nothing came up. Then one by one the cars pulled out and drove past him. One by one, like a slow motion movie, he saw the faces of his fellow elders glance at him, then quickly turn their eyes back to the road. Only in the last car did he get a smile. It was Larry pulling out in his little golf cart-sized Smart car.

Tom felt very confused. When he got home, not really wanting to bring up church business again, he asked Sandy, "Was there an elder's meeting at church tonight?"

"Hmm. I'm not sure. I think I heard Pete on the phone talking to someone about a meeting."

"Was I not invited?"

"He never mentioned anything to me about it so I don't know."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse X

Tom came through the door from the office, at the normal time, 5:30. What wasn't typical was the fact that Sandy had dinner on the table.

He walked into the kitchen and gave her a peck on the cheek, "What's up. Are you going somewhere?"

"No. You are."

"I am?"

"Yes Tom, there's an emergency meeting of the board of elders at 6:30."

"Did Pete call?"

"Oh . . .no, he told me at church today. I think he called the other elders but asked me to pass it on to you."

The emergency meeting wasn't that unusual so Tom and Sandy sat down to eat. The boys were still at summer basketball practice . . . usually getting home at six, the expected time for dinner.

Tom made quick work of pork chops and broccoli, took one of famous power naps, was up and out the door to church arriving about 20 til seven. He didn't rush because Pete always came 15 minutes late.

He walked into the pastor's office and the other six elders were there drinking coffee and chit-chatting. Jeremy was sitting in the corner downing a Mountain Dew. He looked sweaty like he just came off the tennis court, which he probably had. He didn't make all the elder's meetings but his presence didn't surprise anyone. Tom didn't have time to say a word before the pastor came through the door. He had his typical beaming smile, "Good afternoon men. How's everyone tonight?"

There was a corporate mumbling of "fine" "good" or "great."

"I'm sorry to call you out on such short notice however, there's a lot to talk about. Our big fall kick off is just two weeks away and I wanted to build on our last meeting with some final details."

He opened up his briefcase and took out six packets of papers, each consisting of about 75 pages and started passing them around. "Here is our cell group syllabus for the fall. I have my sermons all planned out for the quarter so I created a lesson plan based on each sermon. Each lesson has seven dynamic questions for taking the sermon further. I would like for all of you to stick to this closely, then turn in each week, then about every other week we will meet and talk about them."

Tom's heart really started to sink. He was still hoping to start with the sermon review and quickly turn his cell group's discussion into a discussion about raising teens. Now this was so structured that it would be very difficult to waiver. He asked, "So pastor, do you really want us to follow this verbatim?"

He was a little surprised by Pete's cold look and sarcastic chuckle, "Yes Tom. That's why I've spent about 40 hours developing these packets."

Before anyone else had a word to say the pastor opened them in prayer. It was very intense, as most of his were. He was thanking God for choosing CBC to change the entire world and how humble he felt to lead that charge.

Then Pete looked over the group as he sat on the front of his desk. Oddly, Tom noticed that Jeremy seemed to be engrossed in a graphic novel, having put the syllabus under his chair.

"Men, I don't know if you've had any thoughts about what I said two weeks ago. But God has really been ministering to me in a very powerful way. I can say that I've never heard God speaking to me as clearly and loudly as He is right now. We all need to fasten our seat belts and hold on, God is preparing to do something here that this generation has never seen. All of us, I hope, are going to be part of that great work.

I was reading from Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship this morning and this quote seem to fit into what God is telling me,

Suffering then is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master… That is why Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true Church… If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow Him. But if we lose our lives in His service and carry out cross, we shall find our lives again in the fellowship of the cross with Christ. The opposite of discipleship is to be ashamed of Christ and His cross and all the offense which the cross brings in its train.

So, I feel that I've failed you these few years as your pastor. I want to ask for your forgiveness and ask you to recommit yourselves to my leadership. We are called to sacrifice, which I haven't been doing nor asking you to. But that is all about to change.

I'm setting up a discipleship program. This is really neat how God works in the way He reaches the world. Jesus gave us the example of how He trained the three, they trained the other eight, who then in turn trained the multitudes."

Jim McLean seemed a little puzzled and asked, "So what are you saying?"

"I'm saying what God has said to me . . . His heart speaking to mine. We need to set up a true discipleship program. I'm going to disciple this group. I want you guys to pick out about two or three men in your cell and disciple them. In turn those two or three men, about this time next year, will be in the position to disciple the masses. In about three years, as I look down the road, CBC will be in the position, a church of true, Bonhoeffer-type men of God, poised to change this country from the liberal path it's on."

Tom was feeling overwhelmed as Pete added a few more caveats to his big plan. All the elders will meet with the pastor each morning at 6 Am for prayer. They will have a Bible study together each Saturday morning as well as lead their own cell groups on Thursday nights, plus, the pastor wanted them each to spend one hour a week with each of their cell group disciples.

It was 9 PM and no one had gotten a word in side ways except to ask Pete for further explanations. Jeremy abruptly stood up and announced that he had to get home because Ann had text-ed that she needed him. As he said goodbye and walked out the door, Pete said, "Excuse me just a minute," and he raced out the door behind Jeremy. The men sat in silence as they heard a loud discussion coming from somewhere far away.

Finally Tom spoke, "Wow. Pete's asking for a lot of time commitment here."

Jim looked at him, and rather than agreeing, as Tom expected, said, "I think we have a special pastor here. We've never had a man with so much zeal for God. I know I for one am going to make Pete's vision a priority for my own life. After all he is my pastor."

To Tom's surprise, now that Jeremy was gone, all the men, but himself, seemed to be on the same page as Jim.

Pete returned and wrapped up the marathon meeting at 10 PM with the same amount of energy he had stared with. As they were walking out Tom asked Pete if he could have a word with him.

"What do you want?" Pete said in an surprisingly stern voice. "Are you going to try and derail God's will for this church again."

"Pete, I simply had some questions for you, and I need a few clarifications."

"Don't tell me that you still want to be the focus of your cell group."

"I never said that. Actually what I was saying two weeks ago was that I wanted the people to be the focus and the concerns they were dealing with on a daily basis. But that's not what I want to ask about tonight."

Another sarcastic smile came to Pete's face. "Fire away," but then he started collecting his papers off his desk like he was only half way listening to Tom.

"Pete, you are asking for about a twelve-hour a week time commitment from each of us for your plan. That just seems like a lot and I'm not sure that this is how we should be spending our time. The other thing, why do you see yourself has the one to disciple each of our elders."

"So you want to pour water on the fire that God is building here. There is always one, you know, the disciples had Judas."

Tom started looking really angry, "Pete, now stop with the name calling. Last time you called me Satan and tonight it is Judas. I just have some logical questions."

Pete grabbed on the choice of words, "Logic. That's the problem. We don't serve a logical God, we serve a God of power that defiles logic."

"Here is one point that I want to make. You feel that you must disciple us. Look at Larry. Here is a senior saint who spent forty years on the mission field in the jungles of Brazil. I know that he is slightly demented now that he is in his mid eighties, but do you really think he needs to be discipled by a man half his age and a quarter of his experiences? And, doesn't this church's charter say that it is the elders that should be overseers to the pastor, not the other way around?"

"Tom, I don't see Larry in here complaining. He seemed to have his heart in tune with what God is doing."

"Pete! For one he is so hard of hearing that he probably only heard 10% of what you were saying. Secondly, he is such a sweet man that he never objects to anything."

"Tom, God is doing a great work here. As Jesus said, either you are with him or against him."

"But you are Pete saying these things . . . not Jesus."

"Maybe Jesus is saying them, but you are so Tom-focused, that you are not hearing him. You and Jeremy, both seem to have no interest in what God wants to do in this ministry. You need to think deep and hard. If you don't want to make the commitment, then maybe we can find someone who can. We need an elder who has the respect of his pastor and his people and I'm not sure you have either. I'm not sure you even have your own wife's respect."

While Pete always showed a strong confidence and was able to manage his emotions carefully, Tom could not. His face became red in . . . lets call a spade a spade . . . rage. "Pete, now what the hell that suppose to mean?"

"Can you abstain from using such language in this sanctuary? I can tell that Sandy doesn't have the spiritual respect for you that a elder's wife should."

"Pete, if you really want to go there at this late hour we will. You're right, I don't think Sandy respects me. I don't measure up to her very fundamentalist parents. It is that simple."

"I'm afraid I will have to disagree with you. Respect is something we earn by our character."

"And Angie respects you I guess?"

Pete acts very surprised at the question. "Of course she does. I don't appreciate your mean-spirited attitude."

"Didn't you just make the same statement about my wife about ten seconds ago?"

Pete chuckles, "Totally different questions. I asked an honest question, and you confirmed the answer I had feared. You then turn around and pose the same question to me, not an honest question, but a vicious question that came out of your anger. Of course you know that Angie respects me and no one doubts that. If anything, I have to rebuke her at times for worshiping the ground I walk on."

Now Tom is smiling. "Really. Well she must be one lucky woman . . . or maybe you don't really know her so well after all.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Subtle Spiritual Abuse IX As Jeremy's Ministry Petered Out

Pete won the battle as Jeremy stayed and preached at the funeral, with a lot of grace I may add. However, clearly the war was lost. After they had to give up their trip to the Caribbean, Ann was really, really pissed . . . her words not mine. After all, she had never drank from the Evangelicalism cool aid bowl. She voiced her raw anger easily . . . at least within the confines of their home. "Pete is such a jerk. Any of the elders could have led that funereal! Just as easily, any of the elders could have led one marriage enrichment workshop for the pastor so he could have done it." Pete wasn't wise enough to realize that when you loose a man's woman . . . you loose the man. Well not in all cases.

Jeremy actually tried to defend Pete, at least to his wife. "Annie, you know that Pete has a great zeal for this ministry and I think he can't see past that. His passion is to serve God to the bitter end. You know he really believed that this choice was in tune with God's will."

"Really? I think I know the man better than you do. He can't stand to see you steal any of his attention and it had nothing to do with God's so-called will."

Jeremy carried an authentic brand of humility, the type that is easily bred in the red-clay roads and corrugated metal huts of Kenya. The thoughts of Pete, the superman of ministry, being jealous of him, just didn't make any sense.

But Ann was even cold towards Angie, and that wasn't fair. Angie had nothing to do with it and in fact had a lot more common with the youth pastor and his wife than her own husband.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Footnote to the Narrative

While I'm telling this story of how spiritual abuse can play out in our churches, I have the sense that some would think that this fictional narrative is far-fetched.

However, one of the things I'm doing is using real-life events, although stitched together in fictional characters. All the events did not happen to one group of people like it is in this story.

For example, the basketball court scene played out just as I described between my senior pastor and his assistant pastor during in the 1980s. The issues were the same. The senior pastor was the model I'm drawing from to paint Pete. They were very similar. The assistant pastor never lived in Kenya, but there was a lot of jealously from the senior pastor. Then the incident occurred on the basketball court and their hatred quickly came to the surface.

In a different church, a youth pastor of mine, did have a free trip that he had been dreaming of for months. Then, simply in spite, the senior pastor assigned him to do a funereal to ruin his trip (but in that case the pastor had no obligations, just did it in spite). That pastor though was a very, very "spiritual" man. If you know my story, this was the pastor who I told I was very depressed . . . then he immediately walked up to the pulpit and told the crowd how sick he was of hearing Christians say they were depressed.

So, this story is based in reality, so I don't really thing it is far-fetched.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse Part VIII - Jeremy Junket

No one at CBC had a clue that there was animosity between Jeremy and Pete until that infamous night at the open gym. Pete elbowed (Jeremy claims with intent) the youth pastor's nose. He fell to the floor holding his bloody face, then, like he was possessed by someone other than his own soul, he took two hard swings at Pete, landing one on his chin. More alarming than that was that he called Pete a "Arrogant son of a bitch."

The other men of the church stepped in rather quickly and separated the two. Otherwise they remained speechless. How do you instruct your instructors in a situation like that? If it had been two teens, then a stern lecture about getting along in God's kingdom would have been automatic.

But there was tension that had built between the two like the geological stress along the margins of a tectonic plate fissure deep beneath the Pacific. Jeremy had been elbowed many times and never had an out-bust like that before. Pete was laughing in the locker room about Jeremy had always been a little hot-headed and that he needed to get that under control if he was ever going to succeed with kids or be a real minister.

While Pete was always in control, Jeremy was a free spirit. Some of that had to do with growing up in Kenya. Most of it had to do with growing up in a Christian boarding school from age six where kids, in some ways, raised each other. While there was no question about his sincerity of faith, it was inevitable that as a MK (missionary kid) he learned the game of Christianity at an early age. He knew what to say, when he didn't mean a word of it. He knew how to behave around fellow believers, even if did the opposite when he was with others.

He was never coerced into the ministry, as if he resented it (or at least he didn't resent it until he was thirty), however, he felt it in a deep place that it was his destiny. When he could barely talk his parents made it clear to him that God would prefer if he became a missionary, if not that, a pastor.

But he felt comfortable living in a dichotomy . . . playing the game . . . and not. The chasm between the two sides opened up when he was only twelve. His best friend at the Rift Valley Baptist school was a fellow MK, Rebecca. One bright and sunny day as they were walking in the fields looking for quartz she said, "Can I tell you a secret?" He didn't know what to say. He felt strange enough having a girl as a best friend, let alone knowing her girlish secrets.

"Uh . . .sure. What is it."

"Mr Roberts forces me to play dirty with him." She tried her best to muster up the courage to say it in a nonchalant way, like she was tough and it didn't bother her. But the tears couldn't keep a secret and they rolled down her rosy cheeks anyway.

Jeremy was dumbfounded. He didn't say anything at first. But his maturity was beyond his years and he knew to never say anything about it would be devastating to Becky.

"Mr. Roberts your dorm father?"


"I thought he was a Christian . . . what do you mean play dirty?"

"You know what I mean."

And he did. They never said anything else about it but Jeremy's world was turned on its head. If Mr. Roberts had been a bad missionary, troublemaker, bad singer, messy dresser . . . it might have made sense. But he was the perfect missionary. He was full of life, leading the bonfire singing on Friday nights with great animation and always taking of his faith in God. He also had a perfect missionary wife. How many times did he hear his own dorm parents say how wonderful the Roberts were.

Nothing ever made sense to him again. He had totally believed in the fairy tale before this, but never again. He hated Mr. Roberts. He even imagined how he, just a boy, could orchestrate his "accidental" death, like putting a cobra in his sleeping bag on their camp outs. The sad thing for Jeremy was that he never felt comfortable around Rebecca anymore. He could tell that his quietness hurt her but he didn't know what to do with the emotions of it. Eventually they just stopped being friends. It wasn't until graduation day six years later that Rebecca said something about it. He was saying goodbye and that he would miss her. She, with those same tears, said she had missed him for a long time already.

But Jeremy felt comfortable leaving Kenya and going to Bible school in the states. He fit in very easily where, besides being a garden variety phony, there were plenty of complete phonies to compare himself to and make himself feel better. At least he did have sincere desires to serve God.

The tension at CBC seemed to start around the time that Jeremy started preaching from the pulpit. No one was observant enough to have marked this moment as the watershed . . . but it certainly was.

While Pete was a noted speaker in his twenties, his voice had gone sour a bit by the time he had hit 40. If there was a problem, it was over organization. Each of his sermons, although still delivered with that same confidence that he had as a youth speaker up and down the West coast, was so deliberate, so structured, that he started loosing people. Each sermon had a starting verse, three main points, a summary and a closing verse. His outlines were precise like if they were drawn up by an engineer.

Jeremy, on the other hand, did no prep at all. This terrified Pete at first, and he told Jeremy that he was just lazy. But when the congregation started responded more favorably to Jeremy's ad lib sermons (always accented with a mesmerizing childhood story), Pete's blood flowed green. He would have stopped Jeremy's journeys to the pulpit if the Church tradition had not mandated that the youth pastor preach one Sunday each quarter.

So by the end of their second year together, the tension had built to the point that an intentional elbow (but cloaked as an accident) was all it took for Jeremy to throw the punches.

After that day, in the deep caverns of Pete's soul, he felt determined to spoil Jeremy's success. The fact that he could provoke him so easily on the basketball court was the man's Achilles heel or kryptonite. Deep in those dark places, the senior pastor plotted to bring Jeremy's bad side to the forefront.

Jeremy and Ann were well liked by the teens and their parents and the church in general. Both of them had contagious laughs, which brought life to any situation. The Morrison brought them a fantastic gift one Sunday morning. They had won a Caribbean cruise on a radio call-in contest. They really had no desire to go so they gave it to Jeremy and Ann. The young couple had not taken any trips since their honeymoon to Texas' Red-neck's Rivera three years earlier.

A couple of days before the trip Pete strolled into Jeremy's office. "Hey Jer. You know that Mrs. Clark passed away on Wednesday night."

"Of course, I was at the nursing home the night she died."

"That's right. Anyway, they are waiting until her grand children all get in before we have the funeral so it's going to be delayed until Saturday."

Jeremy didn't even look up from his computer screen, "Yeah."

"Well, you know that I'm helping to lead the KC marriage enrichment weekend and I will be gone all day Saturday."


"I hate to break it to you, Jer, but you are going to have to do this funeral. Mrs Clark was a key member of this church for thirty years. It would be insulting to the entire family if one of our pastors didn't do the service."

Jeremy looks up. "It certainly won't be me."

"I really don't think there is much of a choice."

"Pete, you know that Ann and I have been dreaming of this trip for months. We bought the plane tickets ourselves and they are non-refundable. There is no way I'm telling Ann that we are not going now."

Pete has this contorted laugh and frown. "So, the Lord dies on the cross for us, and one of his servants can't give up a self-centered cruise for Him."

"Nor can his servant give up a marriage retreat for Him!"

Pete gives a loud one breath laugh, "Oh good heavens. Jeremy there is no comparison between doing God's work in helping people to enrich their marriage and a Carnal [sic] Cruise! I am your boss, and I am telling you that you must be here and help this poor suffering family say goodbye to their dear grandmother. This great saint needs more respect than to have her pastor dong the limbo on the deck of a party ship!"

Jeremy jumps up throwing his pen across the room and intentionally slamming his shoulder into Pete on the way out the door.