Archive for February, 2014

“We must take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  Sometimes we must interfere.  When human . . . dignity is in jeopardy . . . sensitivities become irrelevant.  Wherever men and women are persecuted . . . that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”  Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy: Night/Dawn/The Accident

Maybe it’s why I have often run headlong into trouble.

Because I don’t fear doing (or saying) “the right thing.”

Doing “the right thing” is “the right thing” so why should anyone fear doing it or need courage to do it?

I often do “the right thing” and it makes people mad.  Especially when “the right thing” sheds light on “the wrong thing” that needs to be corrected (intention being that it will cause others to do or say “the right thing”).

If you don’t have the courage to do “the right thing,” then you are either doing “the wrong thing” or you are doing nothing – which is, as Elie Wiesel points out, still “the wrong thing.

Take for example, a certain person in my church who wrote a couple of blog posts that were her take on the pastor’s sermon which he preached only two days after we were told to leave the church.  The sermon and the blog are all about extending grace toward the scandalous in our world.  Recognize that there was scandal when Mary, mother of Jesus became pregnant.  Recognize that the woman caught in adultery was scandalous and Jesus admonished the Pharisees that “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

What fascinates me about the sermon is that it speaks so directly to the “scandal” that was taking place at that time – the leadership finding out that I had “told” my life story – which included their part in my spiritual abuse.  Yet, while the pastor preaches about being “scandalous” as Jesus was by hanging out with and being “a friend of sinners,” they have not in any way attempted to reach out to us.

But this was common.  It is the main reason we stayed in the church – because what was being preached and how I was being treated were not the same – and I believed what was being preached.  I believed there is grace and forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.  This is what is taught and I did my best to reconcile it with what was being done to me.

Even now, my heart is in my throat as I think about how much I want his words to be true – that he and other leaders, and my (former) friends would call, email, come knocking on my door.  Because the most scandalous action of all is to reach out to the one who created the scandal.

But my phone is silent. My email is empty.  As is my doorstep.

When I read the blog posts, I replied with: Perhaps the scandal would be in stepping between the men with the stones and the woman caught. That’s where Jesus would be. Of course, referring to my own ostracism.

The blogger replied: “I agree. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ I’m praying for the courage and opportunities to be scandalous.”

And I’m just wondering . . . if you have to have “courage” to speak up (‘Silence in the face of evil is evil itself’) doesn’t that say something about those church leaders – pastors – you need to speak to?  If you are too afraid to do the right thing because you fear someone’s wrath or retribution or, heaven forbid, becoming the problem for pointing out the problem, could it be that the problem is not in saying or doing “the right thing,” but in those whom you fear should you do or say “the right thing”?

You just described what I’ve been through exactly. Thank you.

Abuse: An Assault on God

Posted: February 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

Another excellent post. Thank you.

messytheology

“Why should I care about abuse?” Cain asked God almost the identical question, right after he beat his brother to death. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Genesis 2:7, 15; 4:2, 8

The irony of Cain’s question makes me laugh every time I read it. Had not God just created a magnificent world and placed people in it to tend and “keep” it? Was…

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I haven’t yet publicly posted the last two parts of my story on this blog.  I’m checking my motive before I do that.  Because, while all the names have been changed and only one person that knows me personally is following this blog (and I suspect has shared it with church leadership), I want to be sure that when I post it publicly, it is not to hurt, but to help others to heal.

From the beginning of my story, with that church, that pastor, and other leadership, I know that my motivation was to help.  Without giving it away here, I was involved in a volunteer capacity in which I became intimately aware that the leader was diminishing those who were serving under him.  Because I so wanted this leader to be successful, I began the process of Matthew 18.  I was his “chief volunteer” you might say, working closely with him for several months, so I was comfortable speaking with him about my concerns.  Several times.  Nothing changed. And his behavior continued to create angst amongst the other volunteers.

So, again with the motive of helping him to understand and redirect, I went to leadership.  From there, the situation spiraled out of control.  From there, everyone began saying that I was the problem for pointing out the problem.  And it didn’t make sense to me.  Because in my heart, I knew that my motive was to help.  I wanted this person to be successful.  I wanted the other volunteers to be built up and well-prepared for the ministry in which we were involved.

Instead, I was told that I could no longer serve under that leader.

And as time went on, I was told I could not do lots of other things in the church.  Each time I received these messages, I asked “Why?” and was never given a specific answer.  I would also ask (if I wasn’t told directly) if the senior pastor was aware of this decision.  Always, I was told that he was.  So I would email him and ask, “What have I done?  Why was this happening?  How can you allow this?”  My motive was to follow Matthew 18.  And since the senior pastor was always named, I always went directly to him.

Finally, the day came when I was stopped on the sidewalk on a Sunday morning as hundreds of people were leaving the church, and told that I could not be involved in serving, attending classes, or doing anything except to sit in the services.  As with every other time I was told I “couldn’t,” I asked “Why?”  This assistant pastor refused to tell me citing “legal ramifications.”

From then on, I repeatedly asked the senior pastor, who had again been named in this decision, all of the “Why?” “What have I done?” “How can you preach grace and truth when you know this is happening to me?” questions.

Never a response.

And we all know that no response is a response.

The message I was receiving was that I was the problem and I didn’t deserve so much as a Matthew 18 process. I didn’t deserve to even know what I was accused of.  And I believed it.

I know that might sound crazy to some of you reading this, but when you have been shamed and abused for as long as I was – over 20 years in two different churches – and had heard all of the scripture references that supported being told that I was not even acceptable to God, well, I guess you just have to have been there . . .

Anyway, back to motive.  I know my motive.  My heart has always been to ask for help.  My heart has always been to extend help.  My heart has always been to find healing.  And now, my heart is to share my story so that others who read it might know they are not alone, or might recognize the abuses going on in their own churches – or perhaps that they are perpetrating.  My heart is to offer those who know someone who has been abused direction in how to help them heal.  My heart is to help and to heal.

And I must ask myself, what was the motive of the leadership at the church?  Was there any attempt to help me?  I can’t see it.

Was there any attempt to bring healing to me?  (In my head this is being answered with a whisper) “No.”

Did anything come of the way that I was treated besides deep wounds, shame, and inexplicable pain?  “No.”

If I am wrong, I would really appreciate it if someone would, with the motive of promoting help and healing, help me to understand.

Godly Abusers?

Posted: February 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Excellent.

messytheology

When we were kids we used to talk about the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys were heroes who got everything right; the bad guys were villains who reveled in doing wrong. That simplistic paradigm works in the world of Superman and Inspector Gadget, but when we try to read the Bible that way, it gets really confusing.

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
1 Peter 3:5-6

Sarah was a good guy, right? She was the beautiful, beloved wife of the ultimate hero of faith, Abraham. She herself was the model of submissive faith, held up by…

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I found this post very applicable to my story. Here are the two “apologies” that I received from the senior pastor over the years:
“You were the victim of poor leadership” (no indication of what he was referring to) and an “I’m sorry” when I emailed him about his wife shaming me in front of several people. When I emailed back and asked him what he was “sorry” for, he did not respond.
Finally, we were dismissed from our church when my husband specifically said that they needed to apologize to me. Rather than apologize, we were told to leave. I have never heard a sermon in that church about going to someone and apologizing. Lots of sermons on forgiveness and grace but I don’t recall anything on saying, “I’m sorry.”
I do recall one staff person commenting that they were “trained” to never apologize for their decisions. Perhaps that explains it . . .

Stephen Mattson

Jesus never said “I’m sorry.” Sure, when he was being crucified, he cried out: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (NIV).” But technically he was apologizing on behalf of others and not for a sin he actually committed.

Apologizing is one of the only Christian virtues Jesus didn’t do himself.

Maybe this is why Christians rarely hear sermons or teachings about apologizing to non-Christians. Mainstream Christian culture teaches the opposite: believers are always right. The inner-circle perception is that Christians don’t make mistakes — only non-Christians do.

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Just as in “Frozen,” my “shame” was in being “found out.”

Not that I was really hiding anything.  Because if what happened to me – the condemnation, ostracism, shunning – if all of that was appropriate, then why would it need to be hidden?  The simple fact that I was told from the beginning that I was not to talk about it smacks of “what we are doing here is NOT appropriate.”

Truly the shaming came from the directive that it must be kept a secret.  Because shame is overcome when it is spoken.

So, I spoke.  And suddenly, I wasn’t the one dealing with shame.  The people who had shamed me were.  It was evident in my story that what they had done was wrong and that it was done improperly.  So, once again, I had to be silenced – and shaming fingers had to be pointed at me.

Had anyone come to me and asked what it was all about, they would have known the truth.  They would have seen where the fault truly lay.  So, toss us aside, warn people away from us, and hope to God that they have made a strong enough case that if people do hear the whole story, they won’t believe it.

I have done a lot of work over the past two months.  Those shaming messages that I allowed to pierce my heart, to wound my spirit – I have been doing the hard work of moving out of shame.  While I have been an expert on experiencing shame for more than a decade, and fearing that the sleeping dragon would rear its ugly head at any moment, I have been educating myself on how to banish shame.

Part of that has been to retrain my brain from it’s default mode of “You have to have done something really bad, Ellen, for the church – and God – to not want you” to the reality of what God really has to say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And part of it has been to quiet myself down, look to Jesus, listen closely to the Holy Spirit, and write down what He is saying to me – words of love and grace, comfort and peace, forgiveness and restoration.

And most recently, to reseat those who are in the arena of my life.  Those who once sat in the seats of honor – the ones that I gave credence to because their positions and orations indicated that they deserved my respect, my allegiance, my service, my loyalty  –  they have been moved to the cheap seats – way at the top in the back of my arena.  Those who are not “for” me, those who take what they think they know and use it against me, those who are sitting up in lofty places and saying, “You’re not good enough!” and “Who do you think you are?”  Those who have abandoned me, and shamed me – I will no longer allow them to terrorize me.  They can read my blog.  They can rant and rave about how I am still “talking” and telling on them.  They can point their fingers and try to make me the problem for pointing out the problem.  They can ignore me and avoid me and deny the truth of what was done to me because they can’t admit that it was wrong and deserves an apology.  Don’t worry.  You don’t scare me.  Not anymore.

Instead, those seats are taken by the people who have earned the right to be in my life.  Those who are loyal to me – friends, family, co-workers, community – people who truly know all of me and love me not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am.  The people in the seats of honor in my arena are the people who say, “You messed up?  Yeah, me too.”  And we hug and cry and laugh and move toward each other rather than away from  each other.  These are the people who extend empathy and compassion.  These are the people who deserve to have my loyalty – because they have given me theirs.

Everyone else?

Well . . . the cold never bothered me anyway.