Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

It was over Sunday brunch that our weekend guests brought it up.  This deeply committed Christian couple who trained in missions, worked in Christian publishing, and he being and award-winning author of Christian books, she having been an administrative assistant for a mega-church pastor at one time, sat at our dining room table and very casually mentioned that they had not been attending church for several months.

After attending and serving in a church for over fifteen years, they finally realized that though they appreciated the pastor, the sermons, the ministry focus, they had not developed any real relationships in the church.  They only saw people at the church when they were there on Sunday mornings and, though they had attempted to develop relationships with people over the years by inviting them to dinner or to join a bible study, nothing ever came of it.

Commuting to this church was a 30 minute drive, but they had determined it was worth it.  Though they had also attended other churches over the past 40 years – when she was working as an administrative assistant at another church, they felt they should attend there, for example – they always gravitated back to this church.  But after realizing that they weren’t developing any “real” relationships, they decided it might be time to look for something closer to home.

Not that the church didn’t try.  They had attempted to create small groups based on location, based on interests, based on a number of things, but as our friends acknowledged, it is nearly impossible to force relationships to develop simply by putting people together on occasion.

They started considering churches in their area and he even visited a small church within a few blocks of their home.  He experienced that uncomfortable “stranger in our midst” feeling as he sat amongst people whom he had never seen before in his life.  The sermon was “fine” – nothing astounding but nothing to complain about – but it was obviously a church of “older” people who were comfortable with their group and weren’t all that interested in adding to it.

They would truly love to find a church where they can become integrated in community with other people beyond sitting in a pew and listening to a sermon, throwing a few bucks in the offering plate, and being pressed into over-commitments.  They are leery of churches in which there is a power-family that runs everything by threat of withdrawing their financial support or of churches in which the pastor and his hand-picked leadership have total control, doesn’t reveal their financials, and isn’t interested in developing personal relationships with anyone beyond their inner circle.

I suspect that these friends of ours are well on their way to becoming “nones.”  Because all of the things that they want in a church are nearly impossible to find these days.  Good, solid, teaching and preaching.  People who welcome, accept, and befriend one another both inside and outside of the church.  People who are equal in the sight of God and man regardless of their standing financially, socially, or politically.

It’s just too bad that we live six hours away because we are looking for the same thing and were it not for distance, we could be part of the community for which they are searching.   Because, what they have not been able to find, we have not been able to find either.  Is there anyone out there in our neck of the woods who is looking for these same things?  If there are, I would so love to find them.

_____  Argue.

_____  Beg.

_____  Blame yourself.

_____  Attempt to force communication.

_____  Apologize even though you can’t figure out what you did wrong.

_____  Internalize the projections of negative messages.

_____  Show the person who is giving you the silent treatment that it is bothering you.

 

Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

I found this list today  http://echorecovery.blogspot.com/2014/01/getting-silent-treatment-from-narcissist.html in the list of how to respond to those who give you the silent treatment.  Only before each item, it said “Do not.”

Of course, as I read through the list, I realized that I had repeatedly done each and every thing that I was not supposed to do.  For years.  And years.  And years.

The article, if you haven’t clicked on the link yet and read it yourself, is about those who give you the Silent Treatment.  Or Cold Shoulder.  Or Shun.  Or Exile.  Or Banish.  Or Ostracize.  And it is a metaphor for Death.  Because you are being treated as though you don’t exist.  I have often said that I was ostracized so that I would leave the church – so that I would no longer “exist” there.  The silent treatment is defined as “the act of ignoring or excluding a person or group by another person or group.”

Which describes what happened to me rather succinctly.

The word I have used most in telling my story is “ostracism,” so I will stick with that.  And this article reinforces all that happened in my spiritually abusive experience with a senior pastor who refused to respond to my begging, arguing, blaming of myself, attempts to force communication, etc.   Here is a synopsis of what I found:

Ostracism is used to control, punish, test boundaries, and avoid accountability, unpleasant issues, and responsibility toward a victim because said victim has done something the perpetrator does not like.  It includes blocking, stalling, stonewalling, and intentionally resisting communication and resolution.  It leaves the victim feeling abandoned, worthless, and without merit.  And while it is often defined as refusing to communicate, as I would often remind my former pastor, no communication is definitely a form of communication.  To not communicate expresses contempt, a lack of empathy, hostility, remorselessness, callousness, and passive-aggression.

In my case, as far as I can tell (because I have never directly been told) ostracism was the result in that I first pointed out a problem, and then I expressed dismay at the way I became the problem for pointing out the problem.  When the ostracism started and as it snowballed, I continued to ask, argue, beg, apologize, etc., which only brought on deeper and deeper levels of ostracism until, ultimately, we were tossed out of the church.

The results of being ostracized include:

* Being resented by the perpetrator.  He resented me because I kept asking what was going on – what I had done wrong.  He expected me to just “know” – or to read his mind.

*The victim (me) resented being made to suffer ostracism without being told what I had done wrong.  I’m sure this resentment showed through over the years as I continued to beg and argue to be told what I had done wrong and how un-Christian it was for him to allow me to be treated this way.

*Ostracism makes sure that resolution will not occur – how can you resolve a problem if you can’t talk about it?  Years of being ignored and avoided . . .

*Creates a cycle of the same issue arising because it has not been resolved.  Did I mention begging?  Arguing?  Confessing anything and everything I could think of – to the point of giving more reason for being ostracized?

*Anger and frustration are elevated.  Only proving that I was deserving of the ostracism.

*Kills the relationship.  Yep.

Ostracism robs people of their humanity in that it denies them belonging, value, and meaningfulness, and the ability to express their point of view.  It makes us feel that we are invisible, unwanted, unneeded, unworthy, unwelcome, unnecessary.

Interestingly, the abuser often turns the tables on the victim by claiming victimhood themselves.  They vilify the victim and incite others to abuse them by proxy.  This is why the pastor himself never personally spoke to me when I was told I was not to be involved in the church other than warming a pew.  He always had others carry the messages to me.  It is also why any attempts on my part to clear the air or to be understood by others in the group (church) were met with the proxy feigning confusion, misunderstanding, and an inability to see or acknowledge the true problem.  And, once we were tossed out of the church, and damage control was enforced, no one in the church ever contacted us to see how we were doing, what our side of the story might be, or what they might do to help.

There was a time when I would have read an article like this with deep shame.  Why did I grovel?  Why didn’t I just walk away and shake the dust from my feet?  But today, I know that I was operating from a belief that these were good people and I just hadn’t found the right words to get through to them.  Today, I’m not so naive.  Today, I know that people can be very intentional in their abusive behavior and I am not responsible for their choices.

If you have been the victim of ostracism, shunning, exile, banishment, the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, being ignored or excluded – all in the name of Jesus – please know that you are not responsible for others’ bad behavior.  You are loved.  You are valued.  You are worth far better than they were able to give.

 

 

 

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.

My first blog was “findingellen” and it was birthed as I was living through the hell of spiritual abuse and trying to make sense out of what was happening.  Anyone who has been through spiritual abuse knows that it just doesn’t make sense.  Well, it does, but in a way that you can’t or don’t want to consider.  Spiritual abuse victims tend to be very committed to their faith and have the (mistaken) notion that those in authority, leadership, and the pastorate, are even more committed than they are.  Findingellen was where I first told my story as part of the process of realizing that I was and had been abused for a very long time.  My spiritual “leaders” had treated me in such a way for so long that I was absolutely convinced that God had no interest in me, that no matter how hard I tried, I just simply wasn’t acceptable to the church and, therefore, to God.

The culmination of that blog and the leadership’s reaction to it, was being told that we were not to return to the church.  No meeting.  No conversation.  No communication beyond that.

Which is exactly what I needed.

That cutting of all ties was the beginning of my road to healing.  And my road back to who I really am – to finding Ellen.

Today, I realized that I am someone the people – and especially the leaders – of my former church would never have liked.  And perhaps that’s why I was never acceptable in the first place.  Because I wasn’t the kind of person they find acceptable.  No matter how hard I tried.  And that isn’t just because I am not afraid to speak up, ask questions, point out problems, don’t live in the right neighborhood, work in the right place, make the right amount of money – or more, have the right last name, etc.

Today, I realized that I am no longer ashamed of my name, my family of origin, my background, my income, my appearance, or my past.  Today, I realized that I am proud to come from a red-neck, blue-collar, hard-working genealogy.  I am proud to have factory working siblings.  I am proud to teach in a school in a town that is struggling with poverty and cultural adversity diversity. And I am proud to be myself.

I am more myself today than I have been in a very long time.  How do I know this?  Because when I went out for my morning walk, I took my Glock.

You see, I come from a smoking, drinking, gun-carrying, bar frequenting, poker-playing swear-like-a-sailor-and-not-even-realize-it family.  Now, I have no plans to take up smoking or bar frequenting, but I’ve always been a mean poker player and I love a glass of wine a few nights a week.  And I’m known to spew an occasional “Oh, sh**!” but I would never, ever, ever swear in front of my mother, God rest her soul.

But, a few weeks back, when I was out on my morning walk, I decided it was time to make good use of my concealed carry permit that I got just because I believe in our 2nd Amendment rights.  You see, I live in a very rural area.  The nearest neighbors are a quarter-mile away and they are gone to town to work every day.  The next nearest neighbors are at least a mile.  Ours is a well-traveled road and we have a big brick, century-old home that sits close to the road.  Lots of people stop in to our place to ask for directions.

So, there I was, out for my walk, and this red Chevy pick-up comes along.  He drove past me about 150 feet and then slowed way down and stayed in front of me for several minutes.  Then, he drove on down to the corner near my house and turned north.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Until he turned around and headed back toward me.  I pulled my phone out and dialed my husband, who was working 25 miles away, and told him I was a little wigged out by the guy in the pick-up because he was coming back and driving real slow.  The guy drove past me again and I could see that he had on a camo hat.  He went on down the road and pulled in to a field driveway.  And turned around to come back.

Right then, a retired man from about a mile away come driving up and I waved him down, got off the phone with my husband and said,  “Thank God you showed up! “Do you know this guy that’s coming in the red Chevy pick-up?”

Now, please understand that this retired farmer has lived in this neighborhood his entire life and knows virtually everyone.  “No, I’ve never seen that pick-up before,” he said.  The red pick-up went by two more times while I was talking to the neighbor, so we both got a fairly good look at him, but neither of us thought to get his plate number.  Finally, other vehicles started coming along and I let the neighbor go on his way, called my husband at work again, and talked to him until I made it home about five minutes later.

About thirty minutes later, the retired farmer’s wife called and told me they had checked with several people in the neighborhood and no one knew of anyone in the area with a pick-up like that and if I saw him again, to try to get his plate number.

I found out a couple of days later that what that driver of the Chevy pick-up was doing is called an “interview.”  They check you out to see how vulnerable you are for whatever it is that they have in mind.

Six months ago, I would never have considered carrying a gun for self-defense.  Good Christians don’t do that and my church-mates would have been horrified.  Horrified.

Now, I carry it with confidence.  I have it at the ready throughout the day.  My brothers, my nephews, my step-father are all ecstatic.  This is where I am from and this is what we do.  Even my son boasts to his co-workers, “Yeah, my mom’s packing’!”

I think all mom’s get a lump in their throat when their children boast about them, don’t they?

I find it fascinating whenever I come across another list of traits of abusive churches or, perhaps better said, abusive church leadership.  Today, I found a list I had not seen before and, as always, as I read each of the characteristics, I was able to identify specific anecdotes from my previous church that fit the descriptors.  I believe this list is derived from Ronald Enroth’s book, “Recovering From Churches that Abuse.”

#1a) The leadership does not welcome questions, advice, or dialogue from those outside the inner-circle.

  • Since I was not part of the inner circle when I raised my concerns regarding the worship leader, I had immediately broken this cardinal rule.  When I was attacked for raising concerns, I began asking for an apology and questioned the pastor regarding his position on how I was treated and the decision of the personnel committee who had berated me.  

#1b) People who break the status quo and question earn negative labels.  They are often accused of causing disunity and being rebellious.

  • Though I begged to be told what I was being accused of, I was never told, though I know there were others who were completely aware of the labels I had been given.  One former leader told me that she was well-aware but that she could never tell me and that I would never be allowed to serve in the church again.

#2) The pastor has complete control and though there is an appearance of a governing board, it is a hand-selected group of “yes” men.

  • The governing board consists of the senior pastor, the business manager, the senior pastor’s brother, and a couple of close friends – at least one who has been close since childhood.
  • While the elders and deacons number in the 50-60 range, last I knew, they are not at all involved in the governing of the church and are given little to no information regarding the decision-making or inner-workings of the organization.

#3) Members who are singled out for guilt and blame suffer in their confidence as beloved children of God.

  • I was convinced that because the church did not find me acceptable, God also did not find me acceptable.  When I communicated this to the senior pastor, he cemented my thinking by ignoring my pleas for help and encouragement.

#4) Families suffer.

  • The leadership determined that parents and their pre-teen and teenage children had no need to attend services or worship together.  In fact, there was a time when pre-teens and teenagers were discouraged from attending church during the morning worship services, but to only attend the youth services that were held in the evenings.  

#5) Public image is paramount.

  • When we first met the pastor, he encouraged us to go elsewhere simply because the church was being seen as a “sheep-stealer” since so many people were coming there from other churches in the community.  It was more important to the pastor that this viewpoint be dispelled than ministering to us.
  • The church often spoke of offering help and resources to other churches in the area specifically to attempt to win their good graces.  We have heard of several times when churches approached them to take them up on this offer and were subsequently turned away.
  • On a more personal note, the leadership encouraged people to be transparent in revealing their brokenness, yet when I was broken by leadership in the church, they were affronted that I was transparent in sharing my story.  They were more concerned with their reputation than with healing the profuse bleeding of the wounds they had caused me.

#6) Member burnout.

  • I spoke several times with a custodian of the church regarding the difficulty the church has in getting people to volunteer.  He was very vocal in expressing his chagrin that so few are willing to serve and those who do have so much expected of them that they eventually quit entirely.
  • My husband and I logged over 420 volunteer hours in 2012.  That’s the equivalent of almost 11 weeks of full-time work.  When we announced that we were taking a break during the months surrounding our son’s wedding, we were shunned by church staff who oversaw one of the areas in which we volunteered, so we decided to remove ourselves from that particular ministry completely.  It was only a couple of months later that we were told not to return to the church, so apparently our value had declined with our volunteerism.

There are many other bullet points out there that are helpful in determining if your church/leadership is spiritually abusive.  These are just the ones I came across today that fit my particular situation.  If they have struck a chord with you, please leave a comment.  I hope to compile a comprehensive list that can be expanded and your contributions are most welcome.

I first met Sally and her husband when we took a class together at the church.  I liked her straightforward, brashness in declaring her beliefs even though I knew she was coming on much too strong for many of the timid-of-faith-profession attendees who made up a majority of the class and the church-at-large.  The class in which we were instructed to write our story down and share it with a small group in the class – Sally was in that class and was in the small group of women that heard my story when I told it the first time.  So, when she called me a while back to tell me that she and her husband had left the church, she was already aware of the spiritual abuse to which I had been subjected, but she didn’t know that we had been tossed out of the church.  Such it is in a big church.  People often don’t realize you’re gone.

As Sally and I talked on the phone, she shared with me how her story had progressed since we had shared them in the small group.  She told me that she had been treated much like me – essentially being told that she couldn’t do things in the church. Ethan, the pastor’s brother, had been short with her on a number of occasions, essentially letting her know that she was not acceptable.  She had not been told that she couldn’t attend classes, so she had signed up for a class on prayer.  The teacher, a very close friend of the senior pastor’s wife, berated her in front of the entire class on the first day – simply for coming a few minutes late because the room assignment had been changed. After the second class meeting, Sally quit going because the teacher was so hateful not just toward her, but toward everyone.

Sally decided, instead, to take part in a class that required that each person have a mentor.  Because she was going to a prayer meeting led by the senior pastor’s wife, she decided to ask her if she would be a mentor for the 10-week class.  After prayer meeting one Tuesday morning, Sally asked to speak privately to the pastor’s wife and began to explain her need for a mentor.  The pastor’s wife threw her hands out in front of her, turning them rapidly back and forth as though to ward off an offending attacker and yelling, “NO!  NO! I WILL NOT! I WON’T DO THAT!”  She went on to tell Sally that she (Sally) needed to find someone within her own circle of society to partner with – giving Sally the definite message that she (Sally) was not on the same level of the food chain as she (the pastor’s wife).

I must admit, I felt relief that someone else had an encounter with Elliot’s wife so similar to mine.  To discover that I am not the only one who suffered under one of her tirades is a strong indication that she has a tendency to treat others with such disrespect and disdain – it wasn’t just me.

Though Sally and her husband continued to attend the church for a while after that encounter, and after some time was even asked to teach a class, she carried with her the burden of knowing that she was a “lesser-than” in the eyes of the church leadership.

Fortunately for Sally, she and her husband understood their value in the eyes of God and after giving the church and leadership several opportunities to become more gracious and less judgmental of people’s social and economic status, they determined it was time to move on.

So, thank you, Sally, for calling.  For sharing your story.  For letting me know I am not alone.  And that I am not the problem.

Godspeed, Sally and Lou.

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