Archive for June, 2015

    

After two summers of beating back drought, watering constantly with the hope that my flower-laden yard would just hang on, this year, we are praying for the rain to abate for a few days.  Yet, as I look out my kitchen window and see the lushness of what the rain has coaxed out of what used to be struggling-to-survive flowers, shrubs, and trees, I am reminded of the lushness in my soul.

After over a decade of drought – of daily tears, barely hanging on to faith and hope – struggling to survive, begging for an end to the judgment and condemnation that seared my heart, the day finally came when the skies opened up and rained down freedom from the tyranny of spiritual abuse on my weary soul.  Today, my whole being thrives – my heart, soul, mind, and body.  

I am convinced that during those years of spirtual abuse, the spiritual impairment was instrumental in physical maladies that manifested in my body – arthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain.  And though I still suffer from these physical side-effects of spiritual abuse, I am experiencing incredible improvements.  My blood pressure is running in the 100/60 range; blood sugar averages 96; arthritis pain (I have extreme joint damage in my right hand from osteoarthritis) is less than it has been in many years, and my weight is down 13 pounds.  

I no longer live with the daily stress of wondering what I did to deserve the judgment and ostracism and when more will come my way.  I no longer weep on a daily basis from the pain of being convinced that neither God nor the church (leadership) found me acceptable.  In fact, I smile and shake my head in wonderment that were they to have had the chance, I would still be living under such tyranny.  I smile and shake my head when I think about how they could never be honest and tell me what I did to “deserve” it – because I didn’t deserve it.  For them to be honest, to tell me the truth, would require that they admit that they were wrong.  That what they did was completely against what they claim to believe.  That these “works” of their “faith” indicate that their “faith” is tenuous, at best.

For while I am aware that none of us are perfect, I am also convinced that, as Christians, when we recognize that we have behaved grievously, we should be quick to make amends – to confess our sin not only to God, but to the one we have wronged (which is akin to confessing to God, isn’t it, since the Holy Spirit dwells within us?).  For years, I apologized profusely – even after we were tossed out of the church.  I have no disquiet in my being that I have not done all that I can to remedy any wrongs I have committed.  Yet not one attempt has been made on the part of anyone in the church to approach me with any level of remorse.  

I say this not to express grievance toward them, but rather, pity.  Compassion, I think, is a byproduct of healing, and I sense a high level of compassion for those who abused me.  Lush.  Full.  Abounding.  Like my yard.

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I am a teacher.  Of 6th graders.  Music.  I often say that I teach so that I can rest up from my summer.  I’ve been on summer break for 10 days and I’m ready for some rest.  Taking care of an acre of yard, flower and vegetable gardens, various repairs that a 112-year-old house needs, and watching my 8-month-old granddaughter a couple of days a week keeps me on the run.  I’m also committed to helping both my son’s with their home projects – flower beds, flooring, new basement steps, refinishing woodwork.  Yeah.  Busy.  So not writing much lately.  

But here’s what I am thinking:

1.  I don’t trust these apologies we have been reading about.  Because I know about damage control.  Because they didn’t come until the damage was significant.  Because these guys who tell the rest of us how bad and wrong we are can’t manage to get it right sooner.  Yeah, yeah, we’re all imperfect.  But as a teacher, when I make a mistake in front of my students – and I make plenty – I immediately admit it, apologize, and correct myself.  “Oops, guys!  I just lied.  That’s not what I should have said/done/given-you-for-a-grade.  Here.  This is what I should have done/said/given you.  I apologize.  I wasn’t thinking.  It was my fault.”

Sixth graders are pretty quick to point out faults.  And to forgive.  Especially if you are real enough to be honest.  They want honesty more than perfection.  They trust people who tell them the truth.  I have this nasty habit of always telling the truth.  I would trust apologies if they were told early on.  Before anyone else had a chance to comment.  To judge.  To force the offender into it.

2.  We are not animals.  Yeah, yeah, I know that scientifically, we are classified as animals, but aren’t we more than that?  We should be thinking, self-regulating, beings.  I’m to the point that I don’t want to be identified as a Christian.  Because so many Christians – especially “leaders” – are more interested in being animals – giving in to whatever they want to blame for their molestations, rapes, abuses.  I get that Christians are “no better than anyone else,” that we are all sinners, but seriously?  Hardly a day goes by that some so-called “Christian” leader is in the news for acting on their “baser” instincts.  The first pastor who was spiritually abusive toward me had affairs with women he was counseling.  The month before the church discovered his affair, was right about the time President Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky debacle came to light and the pastor had preached about what an aweful person Bill Clinton was.  One month later, the pastor’s latest affair came to light.  Seriously?  And that’s pretty mild compared to the stuff we hear about these days.  Come on, fellas!  I’m starting to wonder why you don’t practice what you preach?  If your penis offends you – cut it off!

3.  Some days I get really tired of all of the Christians who go on rants about every latest thing to come down the pike.  Every one of these bloggers writes about every scandal – with outrage.  Blog after blog after blog.  Yip, yip, yip.  And they link to one anothers blogs posts about it.  So we can read about it over and over and over again.  I guess I don’t have a great need to repeat what everybody else already knows.  And people who follow one of those blogs probably follow pretty much all of them.  Yeah, I’m one of them.  I follow a bunch.  But I’m getting tired of all of them saying the same thing.  Maybe other people like to read repeatedly.  I’m weary of it.

4.  Christianity needs a new name.  Saying you’re a Christian these days equates us with haters, bigots, pedophiles, molesters, rapists, liars, being unethical, etc.  So does believer and Jesus follower.  We need a name that tells folks that we are people of compassion, grace, love, generosity, etc. – that we are living out this faith that we profess.  That the “something different” they see in us is trustworthy.

5.  I don’t even have words yet to describe how I feel about people who have been so hurt, damaged, abused, in churches and by so-called Christians that they are vehemently anti-Christian.  The closest I can come is frustrated, sad, disappointed (in those who treated people in such a way that they have become anti), angry, resigned, disgusted.  I read what these people have to say about Christians and the church and I am often surprised at the level of malevolence and enmity they have toward the idea of Christianity and Jesus.  And, though I have suffered deeply from spiritual abuse, I am still taken aback that Christians and the church could so venomously treat people that they have such deep malice toward everything associated with Christianity and the church and Jesus.  I get that they would question why God would allow those who spiritually abuse to inflict so much damage.  What I don’t get is that they are so adamant about speaking toward those who believe as though they all are on a par with those who abused them – when I know there are many of us who are the kind of believer they just might find are what they thought Christianity should really be about.

Now, I’ve gone on far too long because my to-do list is long and staring me in the face.  Today it includes, planting, digging, spraying, mulching, cooking, laundry, and then doing it all again tonight at my son and daughter-in-law’s home.  Followed by my granddaughter coming for a sleep-over and spending the next two days with me.  Just the thought makes me smile.  

Before we left our church, I would hear comments about other people who were no longer attending there:

“She’s trouble!  Stay away from her!”

“He was bitter because things didn’t go his way.”

“She left because she wasn’t going to be allowed to be in charge of the ministry she pioneered here.”

“They weren’t good enough to be on the worship team here, so they went to the new church plant.”

Always, the people who left were painted as bitter, angry, hurt, upset, unhappy, and, well, wrong.  No one ever said, “Wow, he has so much energy and is such a great asset to the ministry here!  We need to go after him and make sure there isn’t something we can do to encourage him to stay and use his gifts and ideas here.”

And yet, when I think about those people, they were integral in the ministry of the church – right up until the moment they weren’t anymore.  

There was the woman – a teacher in the local school district – who volunteered in the church cafe on a regular basis.

There was the custodian who, before he was hired, was instrumental in manning and maintaining the sound system.  And his wife who was immersed in children’s ministry activities.

And the woman who pioneered the “creative worship” (worship dance) in the church – a ministry that floundered and died soon after she was told she could no longer participate and subsequently left for a church that would allow her to use her very unique gifting.

And the couple who regularly ran the technology for the projections during the worship services.  They played in a country/blue grass band and traveled around the area performing.  But they weren’t good enough for leading worship  in the church.

I can only imagine some of the things that have been said about my husband and I since leaving our church.  He volunteered in children’s ministry for years and volunteered in the cafe from it’s inception – probably ten years or more.  And we both invested thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours caring for a large area of the landscape.  And I, early on, gave many hours to the worship ministry – until I was told I could no longer participate.  And the last couple of years we were at the church, I taught adult classes.

When I think about it, we were all – my husband and I and all of the people mentioned above – highly involved, giving the church our time, money, energy, experience, and physical labor over and above many of the other people in our circle of “friends.”  Some of us, the church had invested in with training, seminars, trips to conferences, etc.  Yet, we all became refugees – having to leave the church we called “home” because we couldn’t continue to stay in a place that was spiritually stifling.  

Because, the way that we are all wired is to believe that our faith is synonymous with our actions.  Worship dance was an action that demonstrated Kyra’s faith (names have been changed).  Though the country/blue grass musicians served in other capacities, their heart was in leading worship.  The custodian and his wife were servant-hearted.  The teacher discovered that her communications with the pastor were not confidential.  

And for my husband and me, we just wanted an apology for all of the years that I was told I couldn’t serve and was refused an explanation.  We stuck around all of those years – over a decade – believing that all could be fixed, especially if we continued to demonstrate dedication and devotion to the church and leadership.

Unfortunately, as Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope have written about in their book, Church Refugees, many people are just like us – leaving churches because they aren’t allowed to function within their giftings, to use their passions and talents within the church.  The political landscape simply doesn’t make room for the church to function as the church was meant to be.  In our situations, pedigree, income, neighborhood, social status, giving ability, etc., all played in to who made it onto boards and committees and staff and who had the final say on whether or not people were valuable enough to support or allow to serve.

And so, people like us move on.  Some to new churches where they may or may not find the kind of acceptance and support they need to be spiritually vibrant.  Many, like us, step away from the institutional church altogether and choose, instead, to develop a community of friends and comrades who do what the church has not been able to do:  love, support, encourage, accept, build up, and join together in serving our fellow man in ways that God has called us to – ways that the church would not condone or allow.