Posts Tagged ‘Condemnation’

    

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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It is, perhaps, the coldest day of the winter where I live. -4 degrees and a -20 wind chill. Yet, here I am, warm and content, in my prairie-mission, turn-of-the-century, brick home. Soon I will venture out and make my 40 minute commute where I will bask in the (mostly) delighted, yet trepidation-filled eyes of sixth graders preparing to perform tonight for a judge.

What those students don’t yet realize is that the judge is not on a quest to find and magnify every error no matter how slight or glaring. The judge’s mission is to encourage, to say, “Well done at measure 23!” and “Thank you for playing today!” and “Keep up the great work!”

Oh, there will be some comments that go like this: “Don’t forget to use lots of air!” and “Remember, F# is played with the ring finger.” But that’s a lot different from, “You missed the F#’s throughout this piece! Don’t you know what a key signature is?”

The goal is to let the student know that whatever happens, their performance is appreciated and to encourage them to continue on with even greater effort and determination.

So, today, whatever your Lenten intentions or commitments are, remember to frame your thoughts positively. Live in a spirit of encouragement. Know that your efforts are appreciated and that there is no condemnation from the “Judge.”

It is already finished. Rest. Be content. You are loved so deeply.

Every once in a while I am asked, “Have you found a new church yet?”

To which I always respond, “No, we’re not looking.”

“But you need to be in a church!”
“But you need a church for fellowship!”
“But you need a church to grow and to be held accountable!”
“But you need a church . . . . !”

Now I know there are all kinds of reasons why people think we “should” find a church. And sometimes I’m sure those who ask think that we aren’t looking because we were “so hurt” in the past. But that’s really not it at all.

I usually don’t try to explain because I’m fairly certain the person asking will take offense. “Their” church isn’t like that, after all.

Hmmmm . . . Really?

As a musician, I have been invited into more than 100 churches over the years and there are many more than that within a 50 mile radius of our home. I have not heard of one church that doesn’t have this one “little” issue that keeps us from attending there.

Are you ready? Here goes:

We don’t want to attend a church where there is a “food chain.”

That’s it.

What does that mean? Well . . .

We don’t want to attend a church where people are not quite as acceptable if they weren’t born and raised there or married in.

We don’t want to attend a church where people’s status is determined by their “ability to pay.”

We don’t want to attend a church where politics trump ministry.

We don’t want to attend a church where the pastor is “king” and he surrounds himself with “yes people” – and anyone else with a comment, concern, or suggestion is seen as a “problem” or “trouble maker” or “critical.”

We don’t want to attend a church where only the people at the “top” (whether that’s administrative, political, or social) matter.

We don’t want to attend a church where only the people at the “top” are privy to the financial details of the church.

We don’t want to attend a church that quickly puts new people to work but never invites them into their personal lives.

We don’t want to attend a church that is more concerned with what’s wrong with people than loving them.

I’m sure there are more reasons why we aren’t looking for a church, but I think you get the idea. Every one of those listed above are based on a “food chain” mentality – that some people are “better” than others based on political, social, and financial position. Some people are worth more than others. Some people are more acceptable.

And some people are, as my former pastor told me, “disposable.”

I know not every church is perfect, but any church we attend that has a “food chain” mentality will never fully accept us. So, if you know of one out here in rural south-central/south-east Iowa, let me know.

Has anyone else seen the parallels between Elsa and their own experience with spiritual abuse?

I first saw the movie just days after being tossed out of our church and I sat there in tears and in awe as I watched Elsa make the “mistake” of hurting her sister while she was using her incredible gift to create joy and delight.

She then is shut up, not allowed to use her gift any longer and she is told she cannot tell anyone what is happening to her.

When she finally unleashes what must be years of pent up anguish, the townsfolk and dignitaries are horrified, frightened, and even though she flees the kingdom, they want more than that. They want her killed. Destroyed. Elsa’s absence means the kingdom will remain frozen and struggling to survive.

Elsa’s sister, Anna, has a love interest in the story who appears to be a wonderful, loving, devoted prince, but when Anna is about to die, he reveals his true self by telling the dying Anna that his whole plan was to take over the kingdom.

It’s been almost a year, but as I watched the movie again last night, I was still struck. I had been using my gifts to bless and delight. Somewhere along the way, my efforts for good were seen as threatening and so I was told I could not use them any longer. I was “shut up” – not allowed to tell anyone what they were forcing upon me. And when I finally “let it go” by telling my story, I was banished from the kingdom. And not only banished, but there are many indications that efforts have been made to destroy me – my character – and to treat me as dead by the way that I have been shunned.

The “prince”/pastor whom I thought cared and would care enough to help me, to rescue me, to set everything right, instead has abandoned me – probably thinking that I would “die” and he would be free to rule and reign over the kingdom.

But in the end, love wins. No, I didn’t win the kingdom, as Elsa did. But I won my freedom. I won back my joy. I won my ability to use my gifts again without reservation or worry that by doing so I would risk being judged again.

Yesterday, my son gave me the movie Frozen for Christmas. I watched it for the first time since a year ago last night. Only this time there were no tears. Only enjoyment knowing that in the end, Elsa wins.

“Keep your heart with all diligence . . . ” Prov. 4:23

A big “aha!” moment for me came when I went to a conference based on Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly.

In the book, Brene describes our lives as being lived in an arena. We all live in an arena with people sitting in the seats around us, watching.

What we must determine is who sits where. Who gets to sit in the box seats – the places of honor in our lives? Who gets to sit in the cheap seats?

For too many years, I put the people who supported and cared about me – family, long-term friends, in the cheap seats of my life. My husband, children, parents, siblings, and friends all took a back seat to my time, my thoughts, my activities and my priorities – which were all centered on the church. Initially, in my early years as a Christian, I truly felt God had called me to serve through the church. But from the moment spiritual abuse was introduced into my life, my focus became changing people’s minds, proving my worth, and winning back my dignity.

The pastors, staff, and leadership became my focus. Box seats are places of honor in the arena of our lives and I gave those seats to the people in the church who had determined that I was not good enough.

Can you see how backward that is? Because the people in the seats of honor should be the people who are honorable in our lives. The people who support us and care about us. The people who know us with all of our quirks and flaws and foibles and love us unconditionally. The people who, love us through and in spite of and no matter what.

And the people in the cheap seats? They should be the ones who judge and condemn us. They are the ones who won’t be there for us when the chips are down. They are the ones who hurl shame at us and demand that we measure up and constantly raise the bar to ensure that we never will.

It was in realizing that I had my people-priorities mixed up that I was able to take a huge step toward healing. I realized the church leadership belonged in those cheap seats way high up and at the very back of my arena – where I could barely see them and certainly could not hear their diatribes.

And I could finally see that the honorable people in my life deserved the box seats. Not only because they were loyal and loving, but because the reality is that they aren’t sitting down in my life at all. They are down in the arena with me – living and loving, defending and supporting, with honor and compassion and encouragement and hope. They are the ones who pick me up when I am knocked down and who wrap me in arms of tenderness when I hurt. They are the ones who join me in adventure and struggle and bring delight and joy to my arena – even on the hardest of days.

And so, with this simple word picture of the arena – of putting people in their proper and well-deserved places of either box seats of honor or cheap seats that don’t deserve my attention – I took a giant step toward healing.

Think today about who deserves to be in your box seats. Who has earned the right to sit close, to hear you and to be heard because they have honored you with unconditional love, supported you through tragedy and triumph, and have shared the arena with you as an active participant rather than a judgmental observer?

And those judgmental observers? Those who have criticized and condemned? Those who have proven to be unworthy of a prominent place in your consideration or even your life? Move them to the very back of the arena. Chances are, once they realize that’s where they are because you are no longer listening to them, trying to impress them, working to win them, they will go find another arena and someone else to heckle.

“You are my sister in Christ and will be eternally.”

Thus ended a message I received via Facebook from the “Chief Governance Officer” of the church the day we were tossed out. The words are branded into my brain. They cross my mind several times a week, even ten months later. I wish I could ask this man what being a ‘sister in Christ’ means to him. I wish I could understand how he could send me a message like that and, at the same time, support the way that I was being treated. And had been treated for many years.

The Chief Governance Officer serves as a lay-leader on the Executive Board of the church. He is the top lay-person who serves on the Executive Board. So, this message was sent to me by the highest ranking lay-leader of the congregation.

The Executive Board, according to the church’s website, “serves as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.”

Ambassadors of Jesus. What does that mean? Based on my experience, it appears that an ambassador of Jesus rejects people because they ask for help. It means that Jesus ignores people when they are hurting. It means that the board believes that Jesus tosses people aside and shuns them when people ask Him questions and Jesus finds they are too much of an annoyance. It means that Jesus has no compassion for people when they are robbed of their dignity. And it certainly must mean that Jesus refuses to communicate with those who don’t have the good sense to just go away.

I’m no theologian, but I thought Jesus was about acceptance, not rejection. I thought that Jesus was about relationship, not ostracism. I thought that Jesus was about healing, not hurting. I thought that Jesus was about leaving the ninety-and-nine to find the one who is lost. Where is that ambassador for Jesus? I did not encounter him or her in my former church.

According to their website, the Executive Board’s job description includes the following bullet point statement:

“Praying for congregational pastoral care needs, conflict resolution and restoration.”

My story is most certainly about conflict resolution and restoration. I pleaded for it. I begged the senior pastor to help me, to explain why I was being ostracized and condemned. I prostrated myself for more than a decade. With absolutely no response. Not from the pastor. Not from the Executive Board. No one. Not even this man who declared in his message to me that “You are my sister in Christ and will be eternally.” I cannot help but wonder if their definition of conflict resolution and restoration is different from mine. Because if they used my definition, there would have been conversations about the judgment and condemnation I experienced. There would have been answers to my questions about why I was being treated with disdain and disrespect. There would have been clear and specific steps throughout the process of resolution and restoration.

Instead, I was ignored, avoided, and told I could not be given a reason because there could be “legal ramifications.” Well, I guess there definitely was conflict if there was cause for me to bring about legal ramifications. Conflict that, by it’s very nature, made resolution and restoration seemingly impossible. How can there be resolution and restoration when they can’t be honest because they have broken the law? (Except maybe they should have considered that as an ambassador for Jesus myself, they just might have received grace. Hmmmm . . . )

Another bullet point in the job description:

“Supervising the Senior Pastor for accountability and to ensure the vision and values determined by the Executive Board are carried out.”

I would have assumed that a ‘value determined by the Executive Board’ is to concern themselves with holding the senior pastor accountable for resolving conflict and restoring people – especially when the conflict is with the senior pastor, himself. Yet no one – not the senior pastor, not the Chief Governance Officer – no one made any attempt to resolve or restore this particular “sister in Christ.” How does one hold accountable a person in leadership when those who are charged with holding him or her accountable will not carry out this responsibility?

And what about holding the senior pastor accountable for actions that could lead to “legal ramifications”?

No, rather than adhere to their own job descriptions and be true ambassadors for Jesus, they found it more palatable to toss us out of the church and hope that we don’t pursue those things that would lead to “legal ramifications.”

In the messages that I exchanged with the Chief Governance Officer, he told me, “When I step in it gets more complicated.” So he was unwilling to get involved. As the CGO, it would seem to me that he was obligated to get involved, to “step in.” To “ensure that the vision and values determined by the Executive Board” – like “conflict resolution and restoration; like being an “ambassador for Jesus” in the true sense of the phrase – would be his highest obligation. Yet, he would not. Because “it gets more complicated.”

I can only surmise that getting “more complicated” means that he feared suffering retribution toward himself if he were to “step in.” I wonder how he sleeps at night?

According to an online version of an online magazine (which I cannot share without compromising his identity) the Chief Governance Officer gave some opening remarks at a joint worship service between his denomination and a “sister” denomination. These are the words that he spoke at the service which was held just six months after we were tossed out of the church: “How countercultural is it not to fight but to embrace?” He went on to say that ‘We are to forget what separates us as we are “preoccupied with Jesus together.”‘

And I am left to wonder, what does he think it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ? Does it mean that it’s okay to toss someone out of the church for speaking up about abuses that were taking place? Is it okay to support ostracism? Shunning? Persecution? Is it okay to misrepresent the Jesus for whom you are an ambassador? Is it okay to completely ignore significant points of your job description as CGO and a member of the Executive Board?

As a member of the Executive Board, he is supposed to concern himself with conflict resolution and restoration. He was supposed be an ambassador for Jesus Christ.

Instead, he couldn’t step in – because it would get complicated. But I needn’t worry. I am still his sister in Christ. Eternally.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside the head of a person who is mired in spiritual abuse, this is an example. It is an entry from the journal that I would take to church and write in during services. This entry is from Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2010. I sat in the very back pew and observed the service. I could not participate. As you will see, I was convinced that God had completely rejected me because of the way the leadership had been treating me for about a decade. This journal entry documents the level to which spiritual abuse had taken me. As the leaders and congregation moved through the service, this is what I wrote:

“Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary . . . . ”

I remember when I sang this song with my whole heart. Look at how He (God) has answered this prayer in my life: rejected, unwanted, untrusted, tolerated (out of obligation).

Chuck (the worship leader): “Let go of anything you’ve brought into this place tonight.” Well, Chuck, I didn’t really bring anything because I don’t have anything that anyone wants – especially not God. He continues to make that very, very clear through each day of lack of invitation, of lack of embracing, of lack of repentance & restoration on the part of those who have so intentionally diminished me.

Jonathan: “Offer up silent words of praise to the King.” You are God. You can do anything You like and what You like in my life is to continue to belittle me through those who are called by Your name.

This is what is wrong with the church today. They confess their sins privately to God but don’t confess to those they have harmed. What an important part of scripture that is ignored. How damaging.

But You are God. If You wanted it to be different, wouldn’t You make it so? This is why I am so convinced that You have me exactly where You want me to be and You are content that I stay here.

Jonathan: “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.” It was the Lord’s will to cause ME to suffer and to crush ME.

Jonathan: “By Jesus’ death, your conscience is made clean.”

REALLY????

Your conscience is clean after murdering me? Just because you believe? You have no responsibility to me? Only Jesus? What about the Jesus who supposedly lives in me? In you? Would the Jesus in you be so passe about the damage you did to me while He was dwelling in you?

Jonathan: “Your life reflects the reality of God” (indwelling)

REALLY????

If this is the reality, I’m not sure I want any part of it.

How can I “feel the power of forgiveness” when I am so rejected by those in whom He dwells? I cannot reconcile this dichotomy. How can one be true and not the other?

In some sense, I wonder if I am trapped in a “time loop” of sorts – I’ll be invited when I exhibit healing. But where is healing in not being invited? In continually receiving the message that I am only tolerated – an obligation who can’t take the hint that I am unwanted?

I can’t find this love of God that moves beyond obligation in the pages of books. I have tried. I need to see it and touch it and hear it and test it – over and over and over. I need this love to say, “I am sorry. I didn’t know what I was doing. Please forgive me. Please come and rebuild a relationship with me. Please help me realize this great love of God that should be lived and acted out and shared and trusted.”

So, I sit here and wait – foolishly? And hope – foolishly?

I am nearly dead inside. I at least used to weep over this. Some sorrow. I barely feel anything now. Some sorrow. A tiny bit of hope yet. Not much else. Not even the slightest desire to pray . . . to sing . . .

All I really want is to be held and told, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry this has happened to you.”

I watch people who have crushed me and caused me to suffer with hands raised, exalted to high places – and I wonder, how can they do that? Do they not know? Do they not care?

And then I remember that I don’t matter. I don’t have the right looks, the right figure in my bank account, the right last name. I don’t live in the right neighborhood or in the right kind of house. I don’t drive the right kind of car or wear the right clothes or eat in the right places.

God lives in those who make these things important. God judges me through them. God withholds His grace, His forgiveness, His restoration, His acceptance, His invitation from me.

(As people went forward to take communion, Elliot, the senior pastor, came up behind me.) “Ellen, I just want you to know that I see you and I am praying for you.”

(I write:) Oh, Elliot, surely you are not so unknowing? Surely you know that prayers without action are worthless? Surely you know that I am aware that your words are worthless because you don’t follow through with actions?”

No invitation . . .
No place . . .
No part . . .
No . .