Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse Part V Scene Three

Pete pulls into the driveway of his prairie-style house in his back Jetta. He grabs his bag and walks up to the side, kitchen door. He turns the deadbolt and walks in with a loud squeak of the door. The kitchen light is own as is a distant light reflecting through the darkened living room. “It just me hon,” Pete shouts in the direction of the light, which he is sure coming from the master bedroom.
Angie, his wife, says quietly, “Oh hi. There’s new cookies in the jar.”
Pete drops his bag on the table and pulls the “head” off a large, ceramic cow jar. Inside are a batch of soft raisin oatmeal cookies, his favorite. Angie makes him a fresh batch on Tuesdays and Fridays. He grabs two and pours himself a cup of milk.
The bedroom door is half way closed and he pushes it open with his elbow, the cookies in one hand and the cup in the other. Angie is lying in bed looking like a sleeping beauty, but she is awake, propped up and a book in her hands. The white bedspread is tucked carefully around her, precisely outlining her body. Her long, straight blond hair, having endured her nightly 100 brushings, lays equally divided along each side of her shoulders. She is deeply absorbed in her romance novel.
Pete slips off his shoes and lays on his back beside his wife but above the covers. He sits his cup down on the night stand and grabs the remote. He flips on CNN on the small TV sitting on the dresser.
“Turn it down,” came Angie’s quite request . . . without taking her eyes off her book. Pete quickly complies.
Apparently getting to the end of her chapter, she sticks her finger in the pages and slips off her reading glasses. “Well, how did it go? Were you able to spread your vision?”
Pete dipping a cookie into his milk and looking back up at Piers Morgan and Tom Cruise replies, “Yeah I think so.”
“Well you don’t seem so enthusiastic.”
“I don’t know. I think it went well. I was just a little disappointed in a conversation I just had with Tom, uh Tom Ledbetter.”
“What happened?”
Pete swallows his bite of cookie and washes it down with a drink of milk. “I’m just disappointed that I had just spoken to the group about the need for cohesiveness and I’m walking to the car and Tom comes up and wants to challenge me. That is so frustrating. Not even ten minutes pass and already there's discord.”
“Why is he even an elder anyway? He just doesn't strike me as the leader type nor one of the key men you need.”
He swallowed his last cookie and cleared his throat. He dusted the crumbs off the bedspread provoking a quick frown from Angie. “I think he had a lot of support from his neighbors, you know, those in his cell. I guess he has a following among them. I have the feeling that he is so well liked by them because he’s soft. But, I can’t drop him from the elders’ board without creating a scandal. I just have to run interference to keep his negativity from destroying the dream I’m trying to create.”
Sidebar: Pete and Angie have been married for 14 years. They don’t have any children, although they tried. Angie had two miscarriages and after almost bleeding to death with her second one, they decided never to try and get pregnant again.
They met at Pete’s twin brother, Paul’s, wedding in DC. Paul was serving as an assistant with Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s office when he met his fiancĂ©e, Beth, a student at Georgetown. Angie was Beth’s roommate and bridesmaid. Pete, of course, was his brother’s best man.
Pete was a bit awestruck when he saw Angie for the first time. She reminded him of a grown up Marcia Brady, with her light blue eyes and long, straight blond hair. They went out the night after the wedding, just before Pete flew back to California and continued his studies at Fuller Seminary. They continued their realtionship in a cross county correspondence until they themselves were married a year and half later. Pete really didn't know Angie that well, even on their wedding day.
Angie was the daughter of a full Air Force Colonel. He had been the base commander for Andrews Air Force Base for several years. He started his career as an ace fighter pilot in Vietnam. He ran a rigid household. It was so unyielding that his wife turned to the bottle just to cope. When Angie was only ten, she found herself being forced into the role of house manager . . . keeping everything precise and her mother's alcoholism in the closet. Her father wasn't a habitual wife abuser, but Angie, when she was only six, watched him strike her mother and it terrified her. She never, ever wanted to disappoint her father . . . and fulfilling his perfectionism was a difficult task for anyone, especially for a 10 year old. They actually hosted Vice President Dan Quayle in their house for a week end . . . soon afterwards Angie was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer.
Angie also suffers from an un-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD can be from a factor of nature or nurture, however, in her case it was clearly nurture.
Once they were married, Pete discovered that Angie was a much quieter woman than he had imagined. When he met her at the wedding, she was one of the key Campus Crusade campus leaders at Georgetown and he imagined her to be a real partner in ministry.
However, her OCD and general anxieties became a convenient tool for Pete. It was the cold steel ring in the snout of a bull. It only took a faint tug to direct her in the direction he wanted her to go.
For example, a year earlier Pete was hosting a four day Pastor’s conference at the church. On Saturday morning, as a bonding exercise, one of the members of the church was going to take the men up in a hot air balloon in a sunrise flight. However, once they assembled at the old airfield thirty miles from Kansas City, the pilot quickly realized that the group weighted too much for one trip. He broke it up into two groups one the first group going up and the second one following in the chase truck. Then they landed in a farmer’s field, switch crews and went up again.
They were planning on stopping at a restaurant for lunch but decided to drive straight back to the church since it was already 1 PM. Pete stopped by the grocery store, picked up some hamburger meat and buns and decided to do a quick impromptu barbecue on his back patio.
Angie, however, had no clue that they were coming. It wasn't that the house was a mess. No. As a matter of fact, when the men showed up, she was under her bed, using a steak knife digging waxy dirt from between the boards of their oak floors. She swept under the bed daily. However, she could barely sleep in the bed because she kept waking up thinking of the dirt stuck between the boards just beneath her.
Pete kept the men outside as he fired up the grill. When the burgers were done, he ran into the house to collect the condiments, pickles, mayonnaise, mustard and slices of cheese. Pastor Grant from Springfield asked for ketchup. Pete searched the fridge from top to bottom and couldn't find any. He went into the bedroom and asked Angie, “Hon, where’s the ketchup?”
She crawled from beneath the bed donning her yellow rubber gloves and looked up him above her magnifying reading glasses, “Oh . . . I think we are out.”
“Out? How could we be out of ketchup?”
“I’m really sorry. I’ll run to the store and get some right now if you want.”
“No, just forget it. We don’t have time for that. I’ll just look like a bad host for these very important men.” Then he marched out of the room. But that wasn't the end of it.
That night Pete came home at 10 PM, after his last meeting with the pastors. He looked into the fridge and there were two large bottles of ketchup. He came into the bedroom and seemed irritable. Angie was absorbed in her book. Actually she was watching and listening to Pete’s every move and emotion and had only picked up the book when she heard him walking towards the bedroom.
“It’s too late to get the ketchup. The men are leaving in the morning and you know neither you nor I like it.”
“Pete, I had no clue those men were coming here for lunch. You could have called and I would have had everything they wanted on the table for you.”
“You know, whether you like it or not, you are married to me, a pastor. It is your calling, by this very fact, that you gift is to be hospitality. I was really embarrassed in front of those men today.”
“But Pete, how could I have known that you needed ketchup?”
“I had a wonderful professor at seminary. He told the story how his wife had the gift of hospitality. She didn't have it naturally, but she worked at it. She would study the habits of any guest or even potential guest, and have exactly what they would need in the house. She even ordered a special Earl Gray Tea from on online tea shop because she heard that it was one of the guest’s favorite breakfast tea.”
Angie with tears forming around her light blue eyes, making them look like glazed porcelain, finally spoke, “Pete, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I will try harder. I know that I’m not the wife you deserve or need, but I can do better.”
Pete gave her a little hug, “Thanks. I know that you can do better. But we are on the verge of a very important work of God here, and I just want so much to do His will. It was really important that I showed these men of God that we have our act together.”


Anonymous said...

This could have come out of Scott Peck's book People of the Lie, and if you haven't read it, it's time you did.

It would also fit in with your video cartoon at the bottom of the page about the church exit interview.

I'm staying tuned...

jmj said...

I have read Peck but it has been . . .maybe a couple of decades ago. Maybe I carry some "repressed" memories of the ideas he planted.

I haven't viewed my cartoon in several months. But you're right. I guess some of the same themes are playing out. Maybe the cartoon came a year of two later when Tom finally left and this story is more of the flesh and blood of the events that led up to it. I'm trying to paint several layers of spiritual abuse, back and forth between people and not just one perpetrator.

H. Lee said...

"Pete" sounds about as subtle as a Mac truck skidding downhill! If I'd been Ann, I believe I'd have told him what he could do with the ketchup! If she'd brained him with the cookie jar, no jury *of her peers* would have convicted her!

How's that for deep theology?

jmj said...

H Lee, I have seen Christian men (and pastors )behave that way. If you are outraged, tells me that you really read it.

Eagle said...'s sickening what some people will do, and what they feel they have a license to do from God. It also extends not just to marriage but I recall being on a Crusade retreat once and hearing a discussion about how a girl friend should be treated, and how she should submit to her boyfriend. All following the Biblical model of course ;-)

If you take it a step further...I wonder how many women have been raped by their husbands? How many women have been victims of domestic abuse? And how many times has that been covered up with the guise of "well we were following the Lord".

H. Lee said...

It's also probable that certain personality types are most likely to be attracted to certain religious expressions. Perhaps evangelical preachers tend to be extraverted, not very tuned in to anyone else's feelings, and possibly even narcissistic. To believe that God and you (*only* you!) share the same ideas at all times sounds pretty narcissistic to me. Such people would draw adoring congregations as a flame draws moths.

Definitely I'm not saying that *all* or *only* evangelicals are like this. Far from it! I'm just saying that believing you have a direct link to the mind of God would have to be a very heady thought, and to handle such a belief a person would need to be wise and humble enough to have honest discussions of his "visions" with his fellow believers. I'm sure most preachers, unlike "Pete," will do this.

Anonymous said...

It's also probable that certain personality types are most likely to be attracted to certain religious expressions.

What we're seeing here is two personality types in a destructive synergism. The classic example of this (from the same source that coined the term "mind games") is "Bitch and Nag married to a Drunk and Proud of It" -- her bitching and nagging reinforces and justifies his drinking, his drinking justifies her bitching and nagging, and the two just go synergistic on each other to the bitter end.

Perhaps evangelical preachers tend to be extraverted, not very tuned in to anyone else's feelings, and possibly even narcissistic. To believe that God and you (*only* you!) share the same ideas at all times sounds pretty narcissistic to me. Such people would draw adoring congregations as a flame draws moths.

Ever heard of the word "Fuehrerprinzip"?

And a narcissistic Alpha Male would not only attract, but screen for submissive Omega followers, and do his best to keep them that way. Result: Pointy-haired Boss surrounded only by Yes-Men, just like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi.

Headless Unicorn Guy