So, if you’ve read my story, you know that the final exchange between my husband and Ethan, the senior pastor’s brother, indicated that my emails were the problem that got me ostracized and not allowed to serve in the church.

I have been taking some time to read through a few of my emails and I will let you be the judge.  Am I such a horrible person that these messages would result the judgment, ostracism, and shunning that I experienced?

Email #1 

Hi Elliot,

Thank you for checking in on me Maundy Thursday.  I don’t have any ready answers to the “How are you really?” type of questions.  So many things swirled through my head in those couple of seconds before you moved on – and none of it new.  I’m pretty sure you didn’t like it the first, or second, or 200th time I tried to explain it to you, so I am trying to be smarter about what I say now.

Where you are concerned, mostly I wonder, how much and what exactly can I say to someone who isn’t comfortable having a conversation alone with me?  I feel so stupid because I can’t figure that out. (I’m still reeling from that revelation last October – I had no idea.)

I know that I am stuck and I can’t move on just by reading a book that says what I hope to hear.  I need to see it, and hear it, and touch it, and live it.  Forthrightly and in no uncertain terms.  From the places where God dwells.

Either he’s silent or I am too deaf to hear.

Either way, I am dying.

Ellen

Email #2

Elliot,

This is not what I plan to share with you if we are able to talk sometime, but it is something that I want you to know.  I apologize for the length. Please wait to read it when you have time to read carefully.  Ellen

When it comes to pastors, I don’t know what “normal” is . . . 

I wasn’t raised in church.

I was raised on bar stools.  And at pool tables.  Breathing second hand smoke.  I was never enticed by alcohol or cigarettes.  They were always available.  No mystery there.

I was raised in poverty.  Poverty has its own unique culture.  People who come from cultural poverty are story-tellers.  They value authenticity in others and display it freely in themselves.  Their deepest concern is knowing who they can trust no matter what.  Eat at the home of someone from generational poverty and they will ask, “Did you get enough?” Folks who grew up middle-class will ask, “Did you like it?” Wealth: “How does it look?”  We who come from poverty have a hard time understanding why appearance or even quality are so important.

I was raised a boy.  My only sister was the oldest – too many years older to ever be close.  She “got” to help our mother in the house.  I was happy to be outside with my step-father and brothers fixing fence, bailing hay, changing oil and spark plugs, playing football and baseball and basketball.  I was so strong that when I went off to college, I took up weight lifting.  It’s what my brothers and I had done together.  It’s what my new college friends and I did together.  It’s where I was comfortable . . . with my friends . . . the guys.

Though I didn’t think about it much through high school and college, as a young mother, I realized that I quickly grew weary of other women.  I was never interested in discussing recipes or diapers or the latest sale at J. C. Penney.  I never liked shopping or cooking or playing with dolls.  Girls were just too prissy and they read about teen heart-throbs and romance.  I grew up reading “Tom Sawyer,” “My Side of the Mountain,” “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “In Cold Blood,” “and “Nicolas and Alexandra.”  I hated “girl” books.

I was raised to think.  My step-father was great at helping us think through everything.  If we responded to anything with, “Well, I think . . . ” he would yell, “Don’t THINK! KNOW!” We were taught to question.  To challenge.  To be able to defend every position or decision we ever made.  Even if we were right, he would challenge us and force us to defend ourselves.

I didn’t grow up in church.

Jonah, Adam and Eve, Noah, Jericho, David and Goliath, Moses . . . I didn’t know anything about any of them that weekend in January, 1979.  I was so . . . blank . . . raw . . . 

My first pastor was Rev. Dr. Mike Abel.  He was so . . . kind. And smart.  His doctorate was in the book of John.  He was used to teaching children – children who knew all the Sunday school stories and knew all the pat Sunday School answers.  I didn’t know anything.  He would ask my thoughts on a particular passage of scripture and I would give what I am sure were some unique responses.  Sometimes he would chuckle at my interpretations.  Mostly though, we would talk, and talk, and talk about what it all meant and what we were supposed to do with it.  Pastor Abel treated me with dignity and respect no matter how many questions I had or how challenging they were to his theology.  He was my first exposure to a Christ-like father-figure.

Every year the church that I attended in college would get a vicar – a third year seminarian who was required to do a year-long internship in a church.  Steve Zimmerman, Charles Nelson, Stephen Kingman, Larry Geering, and John Pepper were the vicars during my undergrad and graduate school years.  Except for Steve (who was the vicar the year I was saved), I lived with every one of them. (We had a campus ministry house and the guys lived in the basement and the girls lived on the 2nd floor.  The 1st floor – kitchen, living room – were the common areas where the campus ministry events took place.) Every year, I developed a very deep, personal relationship with each of those vicars as well as several of the guys who lived at the house or were involved in the campus ministry.  it was easy for me – I was just so comfortable with guys . . . and I had so many questions and scriptures and books to sort through.

Bob Shepherd, who went on to train with New Tribes and for a time was a pastor, and I are still great friends.  I was the one all of these guys would seek out to practice their sermons on.  I was the one who would have clandestine meetings with them at Country Kitchen at midnight when they wanted to get away from the constant student attention at the house.  I was the one who picked their brains about what the bible really says and what it really means and how we were to live that out.  Bob once told me that I “don’t think like a girl” which is why he loved talking with me.

After leaving grad school, John Pepper and I remained very close friends for several years.  He finished seminary and was called to a church in Wayne, Nebraska.  I became a band director and moved to Harlan, Iowa – only a couple of hours from Wayne.  We spent at least one day of nearly every weekend together – just talking Jesus, studying scripture, reading books and discussing them, making commitments to seek to be more like Jesus, holding one another accountable.  John and I were, in many ways, spiritual soul mates.  We were one another’s best friends, biggest fans, greatest champions, strongest encouragers, and if either of us needed a kick-in-the-pants (which was pretty often) we could depend on the other to offer it swiftly and decisively.  John was my Jesus-with-skin-on.  He loved me through, and in spite of, and no matter what.  And I loved him the same.

When I started teaching with Morris (my husband), he and John met and Morris mistakenly thought we were dating.  I laughed when Morris told me that John treated me poorly as a “girlfriend.”  Once he found out the nature of our friendship, I believe Morris was quite surprised to learn that two unrelated people of the opposite sex could be such good friends.  And while John and I have lost touch due to time, distance, and circumstance, Morris was recently very supportive of John and I renewing our friendship when he contacted me via Facebook.  (Don’tknow if that’s going to happen, but I have Morris’s permission and blessing.)

I didn’t grow up in church.

My early “formative years” as a Christian were in college.  I had no idea how unique those years and experiences were until I left there.  I discovered early on when I moved to Harlan, Iowa in 1983, that not all Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches are charismatic.  So, while I lived there, I attended a non-denominational charismatic church.  Marvin Kooper was the pastor. He and I became fast friends and I spent many hours in his home with him and his wife – talking about theology and faith and worship.  It was during this time that I also started dating Morris and got to know the pastor of the church he attended.  He and his wife became wonderful friends to both of us and when they answered a call to a church in Missouri, we became close friends with the next fellow to pastor that church and his wife.

For years, every pastor-type I knew became a wonderful friend with whom I could be authentic – outrageous even – and we would share so much of our lives and hearts with one another.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe all of those early relationships were with people who knew my heart and I knew theirs and even if I didn’t say it just right or even if I was struggling to be what I supposed to be, they extended lots of grace because they knew my heart.  We enjoyed the giving and receiving of love and discipline and grace.

Then came the “dark years.” I don’t even want to go there.  Forgetfulness is a true gift of God and I have forgotten more than I can remember . . . 

I didn’t grow up in church so when it comes to pastors, I don’t know what “normal” is.  I have lived two extremes – one of intimacy with pastors who were brothers and fathers and best friends and confidantes.  The other of fear and shame, blame and persecution.

I didn’t grow up in church.

So I don’t understand much about politics or position or measuring up.  I don’t know how to keep quiet when I know I have so much to learn. I don’t know how to keep quiet when I have so many questions about what I see and read and live.  And I don’t want to get stuck on pat answers. I’m guessing I’m over 300 emails by now.  Three hundred plus times that I have handed you my heart – all of it – good, bad, indifferent, – nothing held back.

In November of 2008, you used a big word – “transference” – to describe how you thought I saw you.  And you are right.  But you are wrong, too.

Almost one year later, in October of 2009, you told me that I don’t trust you and that you don’t trust me.  And I’m sure you were right – at least in saying that you don’t trust me.  But you were wrong, too.

Because I saw you as a Pastor Abel or Steve Zimmerman, or Charles Nelson, or Larry Geering, or Bob Shepherd, or Marvin Kooper, or – and especially – John Pepper.  For years I have handed you my heart, believing that it was safe.  Hoping that you were someone who, no matter what I was struggling with at the moment, would see my heart and be my champion.  As a person who grew up in the culture of poverty, my faith in your trustworthiness was the most valuable treasure I could give you.  Had I thought you might remotely resemble anything else, I would not have been able to do so.

When it comes to pastors, I don’t know what “normal” is.  But I believe I know your heart and I trust you with mine.

Please know that.

Ellen

Email #3

Not many people call you “Pastor King.”

“Pastor King thinks you are poison.”

. . . poison . . . 

Such a strong statement.  Such a strong word. I don’t know if it is your word or her interpretation, but it’s what she believes from what she knows.  

Every time I think about it I just feel sick . . . appropriately, I suppose.

That statement explains so much.  Mostly, it explains why you dodged the question I posed to you last fall.  The question was, “What have I done that is so heinous that I can’t do anything here?”

Your response was, “What is it that you want to do?”

Now I know it isn’t about what I have DONE, it’s about what I AM.

Now I know why you said you don’t trust me.  Now I know why you won’t talk to me alone – if at all.

I wish I knew how to change your mind but I don’t think I have any control over that.  The only thing I have control over is what I can do that will ease your concern and this is to honor your repeated request.

I have just one request and I hope you are charitable enough to continue to honor it:

Please don’t judge my family based on what you think of me.

Ellen

I actually got a response from that email which included information about his vacation, a book, and then the following:

“I have NEVER used the words you write in your email.  Why do you attribute things to me that I have neither thought or said? This is why I get ‘stuck’ with you.”

Email #4 is my reply:

Elliot,

Welcome back – I thought you were going to be gone through mid-August so this is a nice surprise.  

This is where the email should stop, I suppose, because you are not hearing me . . . 

But, just let me remind you that “I” didn’t attribute this statement to you – I was quoting a person in leadership, a teacher/elder/consistory member.  Being in this kind of position, I assume they know you and are much more privy to your mind and heart than I.  The real question, then, is “Why do people in leadership and on staff at (church) continue to, over the years, feel it is their obligation to let me know just how utterly unacceptable I am?”  And, “Why are they so willing to attach your name to these declarations?” Does making it sound like it comes from you give it more weight?  Do they believe somehow that they are doing the right thing by being your mouthpiece, and assuming that which isn’t true?

I don’t know . . . I guess I have to admit that, in the infamous words of my colleague, Deanne Klark, “Shit flows down hill and you are at the top of the help” as senior pastor, so when these people represent you or speak for you or the “church,” I have not found it a big jump to believe you are involved or that they are truly and accurately representing you.  I apologize.  Next time it happens, I will drag them kicking and screaming with me and I will beat down your door and demand to know the truth.

Elliot, I have been so beaten down, and I know you don’t get that . . . you have no idea . . . 

Be that as it may, this is what I need you to hear:  My first concern is that I not be a concern – for you or anyone else.  Thankfully, I am no longer in a state of mind where I need to prove myself to anyone.  I know who I really am.  But, if my presence is a concern for anyone, if they choose to see me as a destructive person, I’m not sure what else I can do . . . .

Ellen

Email #5 – a follow-up email to the one above:

Elliot,

I know you hate long emails, but given that the alternative is to schedule an appointment that probably wouldn’t take place for several weeks, if at all . . . 

Since you asked this question, I am believing that you truly want an answer and I can’t do that in a sound bite.  At this point, after all of this time, and with all of the people mentioned below no longer a part of (the church), I know it comes down to “he said, she said,” but I also know you can go back to your file of emails and find enough corroborating information there to substantiate what I am about to tell you, so, here goes:

“Why do you attribute things to me that I have never thought or said?” (This was your question.)

When I was about 10 years old, my mother and my step father were fighting.  He was a gambler and a drinker and often a womanizer.  My mother had reason to believe he had once again overstepped his bounds with another woman.  He eventually yelled the question at her: “Why do you think I did it?!?!”  My 16 year old sister was in the room with us and my mom responded, “Gidget knows why – tell him!”  My sister then said, “Because it’s happened so many times before.”

The short answer to your question is the same: “Because it’s happened so many times before.”  You see, Elliot, over the years, many people have told me that you were on board with what they were sent to tell me.  I’ll list a few of the conversations.  Some threw your name in on their own.  Others, I would ask something like, “Does Elliot know about this conversation?” or “Is Elliot aware that you are telling me this?” Every time, they affirmed in one way or another that you were aware, were in agreement, etc.  I would then email you and express my chagrine, my confusion, my hurt, my exasperation, my heart.  Rarely would you respond.  Where I come from, that’s called “tacit agreement.”  Here’s just a sampling:

Connie in her phone call to me in which I was told I could not attend a final Spiritual Gifts class where they would tell us what our gifts are and how they could be used in the church – because I “was not going to be involved in music at (church) for a very long time.”

Sybil when she informed me that I was not to be put on a ballot after completing the leadership class.

Darin when he told me that I was no longer to be involved in anything at (church).  This was when I finally had the courage to ask “Why?” and he said he was not at liberty to say.  When I told him that was not what my Bible says in Matthew 18, he said that he would have to check with Jonathan and you to see if he could share that information.  He promised to get back to me.  He never did.

Denise.  As you know, Denise and I had many conversations and exchanged many emails over the years, and many times she would refer to you. In our final conversation on a Monday morning early in January of 2009, we were watching the staff get coffee and prepare to go into a meeting.  This is the conversation in which she told me then that I would “never” be allowed to do anything at (church); that she, having been in high positions in the church knew why, but couldn’t tell me.  Throughout my relationship with Denise, I was repeatedly given the impression that you were definitely aware of and involved in the decision to ostracize me.  She also often questioned why I would stay in a place that had placed a “red letter” on me.  I still have some of those emails and to that one, part of my response was:

What I find most fascinating about wearing the red letter as you so aptly called it, is that people are so quick to conclude that expressing a concern and/or taking a stand is an indication that a person is disagreeable or a downright trouble maker.  I have searched my heart on this many times and don’t believe that it has ever been my intention to be either of those things or any other negative label I have found pinned to my chest.  Most of the labels are in fact placed on me by people who don’t know me in a personal way and never took the time to personally speak with me in such a way as to discover the intent of my heart.

Denise made the comment at the end of our visit on that day in January that she would most assuredly be questioned by you with regard to our conversation since you had seen us talking together and that she was very saddened that, essentially, my fate was sealed. (This is a paraphrase – I don’t remember her exact words.)

Do I need to go on, Elliot?  Every time I was told these things, I would email you about it.  You should know by now that I’m willing to go directly to the person with whom I share a concern – I have shared very little of these events with anyone outside of Morris and because your name was brought into it, because you are the senior pastor, I have brought my concerns directly to you for years in the only timely way available to me – email.  Most of the time you ignored me or, at best, have declared that you “don’t make all the decisions around here.”

So, to once again have someone turn to me in the middle of a conversation about the Journey to Wholeness conference – a story which is never complete without acknowledging that I was in a very dark place going in to it – and to have them turn to me at that point and say, “Pastor King thinks you are poison” simply is not out of the realm of possibility given what I have been told about your positions/opinions in the past.

You said in your email that you “have neither thought or said” those things.  And Elliot, when you tell me something like that, I believe you.  I am very relieved to hear it from you directly  – how I wish you would have said it long, long ago!  But, these assumptions that other people are making and attributing to you came from somewhere and your name was attached to them.  Am I wrong in questioning it?  Am I wrong in coming directly to you when your name is invoked?  Am I the person you should be “stuck” about when I’m just the messenger?  Am I the problem because I pointed out the problem?

As I looked again at that emails I sent to Denise way back in January of 2005, here is more of what I had to say:

As I re-read your email, it occurred to me that perhaps you think I am “unhappy” with (the church) and should consider leaving. I guess this is what makes me different from other people.  When I state an opinion or express a concern, I don’t see that as a negative or an expression of “unhappiness” so much as a request for clarification. “The devil is in the details” and often, all I want is to understand what has led to the decision or position.  Even if I don’t agree or would rather it be my way, most of the time I am supportive.  And even if I am not, I don’t think that is grounds for division or separation or for being labeled.  I don’t understand when people think that differing opinions automatically means that we can’t be or are not unified.  In many ways, unity is staying friends despite our differences.

Too often, people assume that I am taking SIDES when, in fact, I am seeking clarification so that I can support the STAND.  I’m sure that the person of whom I spoke earlier believes that I have taken an adversarial position against him because I have expressed disagreement or asked for clarification (which I never receive) when, in fact, I am his champion.  I think he is brilliant, gifted, anointed, and Spirit-led and I never speak of him in a negative light . . . Even the fact that he is not “for” me and never will be is not something I see as negative, but  more as a misunderstanding.  I am completely “for” him and what he is doing.  I don’t always understand so I have questioned and expressed concern.  And I have been awarded with many labels and red letters.  I can only assume that he does not see me as I truly am. But i will continue to be his champion even though he will never be mine. . . 

I think people often misunderstand or misrepresent what the Bible has to say about unity.  Often, unity is defined as pretending to get along or acting like we agree when we don’t.  That is not Biblical unity.  It is a counterfeit.  In this system, the peace of Matt. 5:9, Phil. 2:2, and Eph. 4:3 is false and hypocritical.  This is the “Peace, peace where there is no peace of Jeremiah.

I think that true Biblical unity comes when peace is made when there is no peace – when concerns are addressed and questions are answered instead of being ignored or used as grounds to label people as troublemakers.  As they say, peace comes through TRUTH, not TRUCE. Sharing concerns in an environment of safety and oftentimes, simply being helped to understand the “why” of a decision or position or situation is all that is necessary to “maintain” peace (which is actually the true scriptural interpretation).  When questions and concerns are ignored or labeled as divisive, etc., the assumption is that something inappropriate is taking place. You don’t hide what’s appropriate.

None of this should have been allowed to fester this long, Elliot.  I don’t understand how you can fault me for questioning these things over the years, or for questioning this now, for bringing my concerns to your attention, for asking for explanations or answers or just someone to be FOR me rather than against me.  Or for sharing my heart with you.  It seems that I am the only one who has ever tried to “fix” it.  I’m the one who always asks, who wants to work it out, who wants to know what I can do to make it all okay.  The fact that you answered my email and asked this question tells me that, just maybe, you would like that, as well.

And I have finally figured out “why” I am so tenacious:  Because I believe what my Bible says.  I believe how it’s supposed to be even though it rarely is.  I believe we can be different, the exception, the rare ones. I believe. I believe. I believe.

Ellen

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