Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why Not Apostatize? It's the ONLY Thing Left to Do!

I have tried. And apparently failed. But failed not for lack of effort on my part.

The leadership has apparently decided that this conflict will NEVER be able to be resolved nor will there EVER be any restoration of broken relationships. Relationships that were broken and that the other person and I were trying to restore, destroyed by the leadership! Relationships that were not broken, also destroyed by the leadership!

They said I could talk to him on Sunday mornings like everyone else but yet he either completely ignores me or they run interference and prohibit the very thing they said I could do! And if they aren't doing that, well, they've already acted unbiblically with regard to the church discipline process they claim to adhere to and basically already excommunicated me without any process.

They pushed me away from God!

He said he wanted things to get worked out including keeping his promise to restore FB which is the very thing that he broke his end of our agreement on to start with, the very thing that started all of the conflict. He said that I was NEVER to ask him on his wall why/if he hated me and that if I did, then he would break things, but I kept my end of that agreement only to have him break it without even considering everything that he and I had already worked through to get to that point to start with!

He said to my face that he wanted things to get worked out including FB and that he could see it happening before the year even!

But there's no way. Not when the leadership told me that I could talk to him on Sunday mornings like everyone else but he either ignores me completely or they run interference keeping it from happening!

And the worst thing is that in putting things in process after MONTHS of asking them to do something is that KNOWING that the process will do no good until he is brought into a meeting, yet three, almost four weeks later, he has yet to be brought in!

So what else can I do? I've tried. And they've caused me to fail!

So I guess the ONLY thing left to do is to apostatize.

I hope they're happy now because he said it himself. If he EVER caused someone, particularly someone who is immature in the faith (like I am), that he had to reconsider being a pastor since he could not continue being one knowing he caused someone to stumble in that way.

But I can no longer stay where I have been and am being subjected to such spiritual abuse including them acting unbiblically and in violation of the very thing they claim to practice and am being treated as less than a non-member in status and where they tell me I can do something but yet prohibit me from being able to do the VERY thing they said I could do.

I will try to give them one more chance before the holidays, but if he hasn't been brought into a meeting by then and if they keep acting like they are now, I do not know where else I can go since they kind of have me trapped now and if they are no longer a safe place, no place is.

Thus, the journey to apostasy has now officially begun.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Road to Apostasy (Or the Road to Being Gomer)

What would make a person commit apostasy?

Church/spiritual abuse. Via social isolation. Via cutting a "member" off from the fellowship by removing them from those activities that even non-members are allowed.

Abuse. Via not following exact Biblical outline for church discipline. The offended must go to the offender. If the offender does not listen, then the offended takes one or two others. Well, failure to do the first step and failure to do the second step EXACTLY as it is laid out constitutes abuse when they pursue discipline without having done the proper steps. The Bible says it in black-and-white and offers no exceptions.

Abuse leads the victim to apostasy as trust is rapidly deteriorated as a result. Trust in the church. Trust in "Christians." Trust in God.

As such, the victim has no where to turn and quits altogether. Because the abusive church often places the victim under the guise of discipline making it impossible for the victim to go elsewhere.

So that leads to apostasy. To being Gomer.

Oh well. Who cares?

Not the abusive church, that's for sure. All the abusive church cares about is protecting its image, often under the guise of "protecting the peace and purity of the church." What the abusive church fails to realize is that in this effort, they themselves are often the one that ends up actually hurting the "peace and purity" as the victim decides that they have had more abuse than they can take and is strong enough to speak up against the abuse.

The abusive church then gets uglier and tries to silence the victim threatening discipline and blaming the victim failing to realize that there was a trigger.

Does the trigger get punished? Not if the trigger is the head pastor. The head pastor is "perfect and can do no wrong." The head pastor is idolized. In abusive churches.

So this is one insight into why a person apostatizes and becomes Gomer.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Special Needs in the Church

At some point in time, most churches will end up having people with special needs come through them. By this, I don't just mean those who have physical disabilities or handicaps. I also mean those who have special needs that are on the mental, psychological, and learning disability or handicap spectrum.

Why does God allow for a special needs person to come into the church?

I think it is to help provide a picture of who He really is.

Most of these special needs individuals are some of the most loving individuals there are and just really need someone and some place to love them well and help them get on a level playing field as their "normal" peers.

For the special needs individual, getting and maintaining a job (for adults), relationships, conflict in relationships, and health issues seem to be some pretty heavy challenges.

A lot of churches that do offer ministries for special needs individuals only offer such ministries for children through the age of 21, but if the individuals live past the age of 21, they still need help. Special needs do not go away just because an individual turns 21.

Some of the special needs that need to be addressed in churches include: ADHD in children and adults (this special population tends to exhibit a high intelligence, but may not be socially adjusted and may not comprehend things in the same way or even on the same level as their normal counterparts; sometimes dubbed the trouble makers for their hyperactivity, obsessed for their hyperfocus; often blamed on bad parenting, too much television or screen time; seemingly impatient (comes the impulsivity side of the diagnostic scale); might seem defiant); autism spectrum disorder (affects social skills; can be either high or low functioning which primarily stems from intelligence and acquisition of communication skills; might seem aloof or like they don't care about what a speaker is saying); hearing impairment or deaf (might benefit from having sign language interpreter or assistive listening devices available for listening to the sermons depending on severity); those with environmental/chemical allergies and asthma; OCD; oppositional defiance; dyslexic; Down's syndrome; and MR.

Fact is that ALL churches may end up facing these special needs and more at some point in time.

How can a church respond to this?

If the church is technologically advanced, they can find assistive listening devices that easily connect with their existing sound systems. Offering programs not just for children but also for adults that helps to socialize them and let them learn age-appropriate social skills while providing necessary respite for their caretakers; this can also mean offering programs to help them acquire and keep jobs.

See, here's part of the premise.

While a person with special needs is birth through 21 years of age, there are services to help them available through just about any agency including Vocational Rehabilitation Services. This is a good chunk of time and can get the person through preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school and even perhaps the first two or three years of college if the person manages to get acceptance into a college or university. Voc Rehab is supposed to be there for adults with special needs making the transition from school to work and seeking employment but who might need assistance obtaining any adaptive technologies or accommodations that can help them be on a level playing field as their normal peers in transitioning to the work force.

Parks and Recreation Services often have special programs for children with special needs to help them with any physical challenges as well to help with social skills. Even churches that offer respite care tend to focus on families with children with special needs.

But there are very few, if any, options for adults with special needs. And most special needs start in childhood and persist throughout an individual's entire life. So for those children with special needs who surpass life expectancy and live beyond 21 years of age, there are suddenly few if any programs for them to help with physical challenges and social skills development.

What can the church do to help bridge this gap?

Churches have the best positioning in community to be able to not only advocate for more community services and programs (free or low cost) for the special needs adults. They might even consider possibly extending their respite care programs for children and opening it up to adults who have special needs as well. Of course, there may have to be a sort of intake process so that there won't be a sudden overwhelming number of people as opposed to workers/volunteers. They could offer a Sunday school or other small group class that is geared more the challenges of the special needs adults, including VBS activities for adults with special needs. They could offer creative arts programs for those with special needs as many individuals with special needs have a high level of creative energy to expend. Puppetry is a great asset. Music therapy/art therapy type of programs. Assistive listening devices. Interpretation ministry.

Other ways might even include having a designated zone for the special needs individual to "escape" since a lot of the special needs lead to a sense of overwhelming and frustration due to the fact there is already a challenge to their attention and processing, but then there is also the social challenge side of things. For instance, if there is an event at the church that the special needs individual might attend, having a quiet room apart from the activities might be a good way to allow the person to get some alone time in order to regather and recompose so they can later reintegrate and re-engage.

Understanding too that these needs exist and developing more awareness about them and having the staff go through sensitivity training might even be important as sometimes the staff ends up saying something that comes across as hurtful or mean to the individual with special needs. Telling someone who has ADHD that they are impatient could be an attack on their impulsivity that is part of their ADHD. And if handling an ADHD individual in discussions and meetings, giving them too much information all at once and not allowing them time to process things or giving them options in order to have questions heard and answered or even to express grievances and frustrations or seek clarifications, is doing them a great disservice.

If we are supposed to love even the least of these, consider the fact that the special needs individual is one of the least of these, especially the special needs adult who often ends up having no resources to help him/her be a functional member of society or the church.

Peer mentorship is another good option as is a strong discipleship program so that the special needs individual can be "adopted" by another more mature individual and have someone to sit with them in church services and even meet with him/her on a regular basis.

Education and mobilization.

*October is Mental Health Month and the week of October 16-22, 2011 is ADHD Awareness Week.

Recognizing When Spiritual Abuse Is in the Church, Part II: Spiritual Abuse Defined

What is spiritual abuse? What might it look like? Like any other forms of non-physical abuse, it tends to be more subtle. Sometimes victims are not aware of it until after they feel so pressured and so hurt that they just apostatize.

Not one denomination is immune to it. Yet learning to recognize the signs of it is important in preventing it and correcting it.

Often it might even start off as a form of discipline, but over time, it becomes abuse as the victim begins to feel socially isolated from their friends and their family unit within the church and community and just ends up leaving altogether. Many of these victims are likely to never set foot in another church again after enduring spiritual abuse as trust in not only people but also trust in God is fractured.

It is a very serious problem and can lead to some very serious results if it is not recognized and corrected soon enough.

The Barnabas Ministry has a lot of different articles about what spiritual abuse is. One of these articles, "The Yeast of the Pharisees: Spiritual Abuse by Pastors and Counselors" by Edward J. Cumella, Ph.D. (2006, Christian Counseling Today from Christian Counseling Today 2005, Vol. 13 No. 1:35), explains that spiritual abuse can lead to serious harm. Christians long for fellowship with one another. For that matter, people long for fellowship with one another. Humans were not designed to be alone without being in community. But when spiritual abuse arises, it hurts that fellowship. Spiritual abuse consists of any actions that cause a distortion or a severance in relationship with God as it hurts a person's sense of self-worth. It can even cause mental and emotional distress.

In their article, "Uncovering and Facing Spiritual Abuse," (John Engler, 2006) spiritual abuse is described as being a situation in which a person in a position of spiritual authority misuses his/her position and can involve an outright mistreatment and harshness or a subtle direction for the his/her own prestige. This is often evidenced by the stereotypical televangelist.

Engler defines spiritual abuse as "the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person's spiritual empowerment." Functionally, it can occur "when a leader uses his/her spiritual position to control or dominate another person," and "often involves overriding the feelings and opinions of another, without regard to what will result in the other person's state of living, emotions or spiritual well-being" (from The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, 20-21). It can also happen "when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds" (Healing Spiritual Abuse by Ken Blue, p. 12).

For individuals who come from an already harsh background and may have been abused growing up, this very subtle abuse can actually cause a lot of trauma. Whereas someone who grew up with a loving family may not experience any trauma.

Because church membership often involves a lifelong commitment, if the victim feels pressured to leave the church, they risk being separated from friends and family, and that is what makes it a hard issue.

Cumella lays out thirteen features of spiritual abuse based on Matthew 23 when Jesus addressed the actions of the Pharisees. These features are:

1. Authoritarianism - Instead of modeling and teaching obedience to God, leaders just expect believers to obey them. They expect everyone to just approve of everything instead of actually being accountable.

2. Coercion - Instead of respecting freedom and conscience, and "offering messages that persuade based on scriptural integrity and reason," abusive leaders strong-arm members and coerce them to overrule better judgment and follow their demands.(This could be a situation in which a member has confessed to sin and expressed willingness to cooperate so there can be restoration, but instead of moving toward restoration, they make even more demands and then don't allow for questions to be asked as to why and don't explain why. The result is then a member who feels socially isolated and is ready to apostatize due to the mourning he/she is going through over the loss of all their friends, community and fellowship. Especially if leaders have prohibited the member from being in community by prohibiting small group - the family unit of the church - that even non-members are allowed to attend - without explanation.)

3. Intimidation - Instead of building up the church body in love, there are threats of punishment, excommunication and condemnation in the effort to force people to submit and continue church membership.

4. Terrorism - Abusive leaders intensify fear, shame and false guilt instead of inviting people to follow Christ with the Gospel of love and forgiveness. They teach "that problems in believers' lives are due to the believers' personal sins." (Although on a side note in some ways, a lot of problems in the life of a believer are in fact a result of sin.)

5. Condemnation - Instead of refraining from judgment, they condemn anyone they feel is a sinner and then suggest that anyone associating with the individual may need to leave. The individual becomes the scapegoat.

6. Classism - Abusive leaders tend to be preoccupied with a hierarchy. (This could also be a form of elitism.)

7. Conformity - Abusive leaders may unintentionally target inexperienced and dependent individuals who are seeking a strong leader. The individuals will often keep quiet when they object to something the leader does due to fear of shame.

8. Manipulation - Twisting the scripture to convey personal opinion rather than God's intent. Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden did with Eve.

9. Irrationality - This happens when scripture gets manipulated and often causes contradictory interpretations.

10. Legalism - Instead of treating people with love, grace and forgiveness, an abusive leader may end up communicating (even unintentionally) that a person's worth and amount of love deserved depends on performance. (So if a person is in a conflict and trying to seek restoration, what might end up happening is that the leader makes demands and then judges the person based on those demands. What ends up happening is that grace becomes contingent on performance and becoming what has been called "cheap grace.")

11. Isolation - This to me is the biggest concern. Abusive leaders might discourage an individual to cut off any ties from anyone they see as being a challenge to them and their ability to be in control. (Conversely, cutting a member off from the very essence of what comprises the community of the church, is another form of isolation. So this one could be demanding that a member cut off ties with non-church people or prohibiting the person from being in community.)

12. Elitism - Sometimes this consists of building up a false pride to compensate for the shame and worthlessness a person might feel due to other experiences. This often involves teaching that members "must protect the church's image at any cost." (When protecting image becomes more important than teaching how to be in community, there might be imbalance.)

13. Ensnarement - Instead of promoting maturity, abusive leaders end up promoting "self-doubt, guilt and identity confusion" as believers struggle with what their conscience says and try to reconcile that with what they are taught. This contradiction between conscience and teaching along "with fear of condemnation and loss of direction and fellowship" is what makes it more difficult and painful for a victim to leave an abusive situation.

The scriptural background that Cumella based his title on is from Galatians 5:7-10 and Matthew 16:6.

Why is it so subtle? Engler calls it a diversion of attention. The abuser might try to minimize the situation by stating that they are imperfect, busy, not take responsibility for their part in causing the hurt and attempt to treat such situations as individual cases rather than a pattern. He/she might blame the victim claim that the victim brought up the issues in the wrong way; claiming those who are hurt are "just too sensitive, not mature enough, didn't understand understand what was meant, etc.; find a lot of people who think that he/she is "just wonderful" and cite the victim as just being bitter; accusing the victim of not strictly following Matthew 18:15-17 and then intimidate and bully people so hardly anyone will directly challenge him/her - misuse their authority; and claim that if the person "had just come to them and expressed how they felt, they would have been so sorry for the hurts that were caused." The abuser might create confusion by associating themselves with the good work of the church which makes it harder to hold them accountable for their actions as doing so becomes "opposing or attacking the work of the church," appealing to others that they are under attack instead of just being held accountable, acting hurt and playing the victim, appealing to the good results of his/her ministry in attempt to suggest that the good outweighs the bad, citing  "Jesus' tough talks with the apostles which could imply that abusive treatment is okay and even necessary, focusing "on the deep frustration and hurt of abused people and call it 'bitterness'" making them the issue instead of the abuser's behavior, having a group of influential supporters who are in subordinate leadership positions and can provide favorable treatment for him/her (this can lead to supporters deflecting all concerns raised and doing counter-attacks on anyone asking questions and then the main leader persistently endorsing the positions of influence causing a lack of checks and balances and leading to favoritism and honest, legitimate questions never getting anywhere), appealing to the concept of grace and expecting forgiveness without ever acknowledging wrongdoing (grace and forgiveness often becomes a lack of accountability for his/her actions), implicitly or explicitly threatening staff members who then feel like their positions are in jeopardy if they question or object to certain behavior and therefore defend the abuser due to intimidation or self-interest (compromise), blackmailing by saying if they are disciplined for what they did there won't be anyone to lead the church, and positioning themselves as being the solution for any problems their behavior caused.


So how does one deal with the issue of spiritual abuse? Some of the lasting effects of it are betrayal of trust, learning to trust again and trying to figure out who can be trusted, falling out with and seeking forgiveness from God and family, grief, and understanding grace and God's loving nature. The victim might feel worthless instead of dignity and self-respect. He/she might try to control their circumstances instead of surrendering everything to God in trust. He/she might feel shame instead of accepting him/herself. He/she might still feel guilt over past mistakes that have already been forgiven. He/she might develop performance anxiety and fear punishment instead expecting peace. He/she might become more morally rigid instead of showing grace and unconditional love. He/she might place him/herself in more isolation and in secrecy instead of trying to belong and be authentic with others. He/she might develop addictions and compulsions instead of healthy boundaries and coping skills. He/she may be confused and lack clear understanding of the Gospel and God's nature. He/she may also feel hopeless instead of having a sense of meaning, purpose and direction.

Cumella also has a lot of suggestions for intervention including "encouraging involvement in a healthy faith and community" and helping the person reduce the cognitive dissonance between conscience and teaching. He suggests that a healthy faith community offer what he calls "the four F's" of: Food from "sound Biblical messages promoting personal growth and maturity," Fellowship from "supportive relationships," Fit from "commonality with other members," and Fruit from "service to community and one another."

What can be done?

Engler suggests that learn to love and seek the truth and not look the other away when mistreatment or abuse arises, since if the abuse is the truth, it demands action. Those who are abused or mistreated and those who cannot even conceive that there is such a problem need to recognize each other and understand that neither side is lying. Everyone involved needs to sort out the good from the bad and act with maturity. People need to realize that just because it has not happened to them personally doesn't mean it does not and has not happened at all. Engler suggests that non-staff and non-leadership might not ever actually see the abuse. Exercising objectiveness with regard to the allegations and weighing love of the truth. Understanding that often abuse is not deliberate. And not demonizing those who report the mistreatment. Engler also explains that others should not minimize or underestimate how hurtful and damaging such abuse or mistreatment can be, particularly for the victims who can end up having emotional scars that stay with them for life. The people who report it are taking risks in terms of their own identity in the organization but deserve respect, support and love and do not deserve to be torn down or have their motives questioned. Listen. Engler suggests churches have explicit policies addressing spiritual abuse and train staff and other leadership in awareness. He also suggests that every church have a clear process for addressing such issues quickly and fairly with unbiased and uninvolved but spiritually mature parties investigating the matters. Depending on the circumstances, abusers might need removal from positions of leadership. If a body is not "uniformly resolute in addressing the problem," it becomes a "grave disservice to abusers who need the truth about their behaviors" if there is ever to be a chance at change and healing. There can be reconciliation between the abusers and the abused, but it might be a long process (where trust might be betrayed so quickly and easily, rebuilding trust is not so quick and not so easy). Forgiving abusers and reconciliation with them "should not be confused with re-establishing the trust necessary for spiritual leadership." Abusers need help once they admit it and recognize a need for help and need someone to tell it them straight.

Other links that might be helpful include:

"Characteristics of Unhealthy, Abusive and Cultic Church Environments" by John Engler (2005, 2008)

http://www.spiritualabuse.org/introduction.html 

http://www.churchabuse.com/

Next post will discuss the issue of special needs in the church.













Monday, October 3, 2011

Recognizing When Spiritual Abuse Is in a Church, Part I

This is going to be a multipart post namely because I'm still trying to process the reality of things, but this has happened to many church members in many denominations ranging from Southern Baptist to Presbyterian, even in the Presbyterian Church in America. For the victims, it often results in apostasy and distrust of church leaders as well as distrust of God Who the victim may often describe in terms of what the abusing party did or was like. It has happened to me personally even in a variety of ways.

The first step is to recognize that the problem exists. Just like a victim often stays in an abusive relationship with a spouse or significant other, sometimes the victim stays with a church that has become abusive as well.

Why would the victim stay? Because of the need for relationship, love and intimacy. My parents were together for 20 1/2 years before what I called World War III. It was rough. The summer of their separation, I had had as much as I could take of the fighting and moved closer to the college I was attending (I was a year-round fasttrack student) into an apartment that I had to leave due to abuse of privileges by roommates who abused my phone number by refusing to get their number established as advised since mine needed the Internet. It was during that fateful summer that I had the vivid flashback of being beaten with his belt. Over and over. I was around six. "Daddy stop. You're hurting me." He threatened to kill her if I ever told anyone. She'd be driving me to school some mornings during high school and I'd see bruises. During that summer, something else happened. I was visiting home and packing more things for the apartment when he came and got very violent because he no longer could get in the workshop. She changed the locks. My grandmother was there. He shouted through the door as we waited for the sheriff, "She's not mine!" She yelled, "Do I need to have a paternity test on her to prove she's yours because if I have to, I will!" My heart shattered into countless pieces that day.

But I didn't give up on him. At least not then. It wasn't until a friend in some of my classes and my co-ed dorm suggested writing a letter that summer to see what would happen that I gained some closure. I asked why he did it. The response I got was the first time I ever got a headache reading a letter, it was so loud. But that closed not only the door but also the window. That chapter closed. Until about four years ago when the night terrors came. And pieces of a fragmented memory that suggest when I was even younger, still a toddler, that something else happened.

Why did my parents stay together so long when he was so abusive? Because of me. Because she didn't know. Because I kept quiet. I blocked it off. After all, he threatened to kill her if I ever told anyone.

So for victims of prior abuse, it's harder to recognize when they end up in another abusive situation. Victims think it's normal because it's all they've known.

But it's never normal for abuse of any kind to happen. Not physical, not emotional, not spiritual. Whether it's bullying, socially isolating someone who speaks up and questions authority and calls them out for the wrongs the leaders have done (what I call excommunication without process), or what, it's not normal.

The victims are left with broken pieces as they face the fact that if they leave the abusive situation, they stand to lose job, friends, home, reputation, and even faith in God. The churches that commit spiritual abuse often are unaware until attention is called to it, but stand to lose a potentially committed person willing to do anything to help in any activity they can as well as reputation and standing in community, and worse, risk causing apostasy.

The leadership that are guilty often abuse their power as they continue to make the victim even more socially isolated and mentally and emotionally, sometimes physically and definitely spiritually hurt. They make demands to comply without question and abuse their authority to such extent that they leave the victim with no right to ask questions, even for clarification, and with no resource.

The thing that is most heart-sickening is that they often act in a manner that I have personally experienced and even start accusing the victim of being the abuser! And sometimes these leaders can be so blinded that they don't even recognize that they are doing it.

How many churches will commit spiritual abuse before it's addressed? How many victims will lose faith in God or apostatize before it's addressed?

Shamefully, it's not just the members that suffer. In some churches, it's both the victim and the pastor who suffer spiritual abuse from the leadership. I recognize that in a case where a member and a pastor have become friends, close friends, not best friends but closer than most members and pastors and even almost closer than other leaders and pastors. But the friendship gets hurt because the pastor does something. However, the two as friends keep trying to move toward restoration and resolution only to have the other leaders deliberately block any and all efforts to move forward toward restoration and resolution because they are resentful of that relationship being as close as it is. The member and the pastor both want to work it out, but trust on both sides is broken because the leaders are hindering the restoration and resolution process by adding more and more to the victim being socially isolated such to the extent that the member is having doubts in their salvation and wanting to apostatize and even begging them to show grace and bring them under church discipline outlined in Matthew 18 because it makes more sense than acknowledging the truth that they are being spiritually abused!

In the next article, I will address more specifics about the signs of spiritual abuse and outline some of the research on it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Deciding to Follow God Is Scary

I have resolutely decided that because I do believe that the leaders have acted unbiblically, that I have two choices:

1. If I continue to comply with them, I will be in direct disobedience to God and that is not good;

or

2. if I follow what God wants, I will be in disobedience to the leaders.

But I have been taught that if the rule of man conflicts with the rule of God that I am ALWAYS supposed to follow the rule of God.

So, in light of what I have been taught, and in light of the fact that continued disobedience to God could mean that God will punish me and His punishment is much worse than any punishment from men, I have decided that I can no longer comply with the leaders as continuing to do so means direct disobedience to God.

This is scary as heck for me because either way I am in defiance of somebody, but I fear God more than I do the leaders and thus I must do what I know God wants even if it means disobeying the leaders.

Friday, September 30, 2011

No Longer to Protect Identities

Bob Flayhart instigated a conflict when he chose to break an agreement with me that I had diligently adhered to. He did it without warning. So I basically called him a grace killer because of it. But I reasonably expected him as a pastor to keep his word so when he broke his end of the agreement that we had made.

Mark Hunter deferred to a counselor as he was resigning then everything got thrown to Tom Patton.

Tom as it turns out has been deliberately blocking any attempt at moving forward toward restoration and resolution. He has been all along.

I tried repeatedly to get things resolved to no avail as BOTH Bob and I made numerous mistakes along the way.

But things escalated in March when Bob decided to do the very thing he swore never to do when we had initially made the agreement.

What was the agreement? It was that I was never to ask why or if he hated me on his wall. I never did. He said that was the ONLY thing that would lead to what he did in March.

I did not know because they never teach new people what to do when a pastor causes the conflict and a member has a grievance against the pastor, so I contacted the presbytery. AFTER Bob sent a text one evening saying if I texted him again that evening that he would have me removed from my activities. Well, I did not text him again but he sent me a text the next morning saying he was doing it anyway.

The next day he sent an e-mail saying that it was because I had tried to seek advisement from an elder. Which according to presbytery was what I was supposed to be doing.

So I wrote a letter after getting advisement with regard to two activities. Sunday school and LIFE group. To paraphrase what I was told: if it is an activity that is open to everyone including non-members then I was permitted to attend them unless I was under biblical discipline.

Instead of resolving anything, the counselor actually mucked things up when she ended up stipulating that in order to see her that Tom and I would have to be in regular communication.

Tom mucked things up when the first activity we agreed to for the summer was whatever was left with VBS. I got that cleared, but then Tom insisted he had to call and make sure but then had to wait to hear back. But then Tom removed from doing anything at all. Because of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

The commission that got appointed crossed some lines as well. I asked for help getting back in activities not with relational matters, but they apparently made some decision regarding that that they never informed me of and then used against me. Instead of clarifying a new communication agreement the counselor made with me and Bob which was not clarified until the next month despite repeated attempts at getting it clarified and only broken for two emergent situations during Tom's absence for a couple of weeks, I did adhere to the clarified terms.

The commission has not been adequate in terms of action. And frankly last time proceeded to destroy every relationship I have at church instead of moving anything toward restoration and resolution.

To make matters worse, they retroactively created an issue out of LIFE group and have essentially done what amounts to excommunication without process.

The biblical process of Matthew 18 stipulates that in terms of conflict, the "offended party," which in this case is Bob (actually me, but he refused to listen, so some others tried to approach him on my behalf), is to go to the person who offended him. Well, Bob, in fact, has failed to do this.

Because LIFE groups are described as the life blood of the church, even non-members can attend them and is where my friends are, all my relationships were in essence destroyed and I, in fact, have been excommunicated without process.

In the past couple of weeks, I did seek forgiveness from Bob who optimistically stated that it might be possible that things can be restored by the end of the year except that since I spoke to both him and Greg Poole last Sunday, they both understood that the first step on rebuilding trust on both sides was LIFE group.

Tom said he cares, yet in conversation, he opposed Bob and Greg and again deliberately blocked any attempt to move toward restoration and resolution.

I know I DESERVE to be brought under discipline YET they, despite continually saying if I don't comply with various demands they have made, I will be subject to church discipline. I do know in my heart that going through the process will in fact have better chance of bringing about restoration and resolution. So I have this challenge: Do it. Bob has to initiate by biblical definition. But clearly, it would be more gracious to start it then to not do it.

And that is my challenge.

In the meantime, I will write to Georgia and seek intervention since the local leadership has not done anything and has now repeatedly refused to even hear my case now.

Oh, and, well, what am I supposed to do? They keep saying I need to maturely state my case but when I do, Tom instigates an argument with me and they refuse to hear me.

Frankly, I am tired of this conflict and Bob made a promise he has yet to be able to keep but will keep when things get resolved and settled, but in the meantime, I am now forced into a position where I can no longer comply.

So, I'm challenging them now. Please if you want to demonstrate grace to me, to the church, please bring under the process.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

When a Church Goes Wrong

What do you call cutting a member off from community, fellowship, and the very thing they call the life blood of the church? What do you call it when they retroactively create an issue that never should have been an issue and in defiance of prior advisement from higher authority forbid a member from doing something that even NON-members are allowed to do? Merriam-Webster calls it excommunication. But what do you do when a church that teaches that they follow a biblical process of church discipline essentially excommunicates a person without following the process? You fight back. Well, now I have to write to Atlanta.

The thing that hurts the most is that they say it's about rebuilding trust and we started to move forward again, but they threw me this hurdle.

And now I hurt for him more than I do for me because when we talked Sunday, he was optimistic that things could be worked out and restored before the end of the year. Yet how can they be when there's GIANT obstacle?

Because of this, I am faced with having to quit church altogether. After all, there's no more reason for me to stay where I am being treated as less than a non-member.

So it is with heavy heart that I write this post. Heavy because I may have lost one of the most valuable friendships I could have because of hurt that he started and my reactiveness did not help.

I have made my apologies and asked forgiveness, but it is the inaction and the wrongful actions on the part of the leadership that have destroyed everything. I'm sorry.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Letter to Gomer in Hosea

Dear Gomer,

You know something? I get it. I really do. Probably more than most people.

Gomer, who hurt you? Who abused you or molested you? Who promised to never abandon you but still did? Was it your father? Was it a friend? It doesn't really matter who though.

I know you're hurting. I know you're desperate. I feel your pain. Because you and I are a lot alike. Well, except for the prostitute lifestyle you chose.

You see, Gomer, I have been hurt. I have been abused. I don't know for certain, but I may have molested. I have been abandoned. Several times. My "father." Friends.

I feel pretty helpless. Hopeless. Frustrated. Scared. Desperate.

Gomer, I started cutting because of it. Like you, I don't know what else to do. But unlike you, I don't think prostitution is the answer.

Gomer, I have been hearing about a God who supposedly loves those He chooses. And I have been hearing that this God also pursues those He loves and chooses. Like Hosea does with you.

Gomer, I say supposedly because I don't really know because I don't have that God in my life. You see, I have been hurt and abused and abandoned by those who say they love me and promise not to abandon me that I am skeptical about this God I have heard about.

But I am curious about that God. Because what I have is no different than the people who did all those things. And what I have heard says that what I have is not God.

But I want to know more about this God. Because I can see that this God is pursuing me like Hosea pursued you. And I need that God.

Gomer, maybe we should both stop trying so hard to run away. Maybe we should both stop running and let ourselves be caught by these pursuers.

I know it's scary, but maybe we need to do that.

Of course, it might help if some of the people in our lives could help us out a little bit and take our hands and help us with it. Sometimes we can't do it on our own because we have been wounded so much that we are literally paralyzed with fear. So if someone came along to take our hands and to go with us, maybe we can at least meet our pursuers in the middle.

Do you have someone who can do that? Or like me, do you need and want someone who can and will do that?

Anyway, Gomer, I just wanted to write you this letter to help you know that you are not alone. And even though I know that you will never reply to this letter because you lived a very long time ago, I wanted you to know that I get it. That I understand.

Sincerely,

SE Spann

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Even Churches and Church Leaders Make Mistakes

Well, duh, even churches and church leaders make mistakes. They are flawed human beings with all the bad qualities from the fall intertwined with the good qualities. It's what they do after making the mistakes that is important. There are two sides to every conflict that will arise as a result of a church being made up of flawed people, but the solution is not to sweep things under a rug and pretend they are not there. A writer writes what they know, what they experience, and that is what I do. How people choose to interpret things is out of my control. But I have never once NOT admitted my role. However, I am tired of the fact that I am not the only one at fault yet I am the only one being punished. And I look up the meaning of excommunication and essentially, the church has ALREADY done exactly that WITHOUT having exercised the biblical process of church discipline FIRST with the FIRST step being the original "offended party" directly going to his/her brother/sister. So my decision was to escalate the matter up. And ask for an appointed mediator because in all honest, this problem CAN be settled through mediation and be settled nicely and fairly if a proper mediator handles it. In truth, I have tried for months to get them to follow through with what they teach people that they practice, and they have not done so yet. And now, there have been a few false accusations on their part with regard to me and a threat. But the worst is that they have already violated the process.

And I have to say, that in the midst of this, something lifechanging is happening. This past Sunday, as the God of Hosea was described as being a God who pursues those He chooses and loves those who He chooses, I heard for the FIRST time EVER loudly and clearly that there is a God who cares. And He has been pursuing me. Hard. In the strangest of ways. And I want THAT God. I NEED THAT God. I don't have THAT God. I need help getting to THAT God.

At this juncture the church is either going to make another mistake that could cause a pretty serious loss of the potential to bring someone to the God I heard about Sunday and push that person FURTHER AWAY FROM that God or they could slow down considering the recent revelation has occurred and lead someone CLOSER TO that God described Sunday.

But being the nature that flawed human beings are, yes, even churches and church leaders make mistakes. It's how they handle those mistakes that can make or break things.

As to my own mistakes, I have apologized and will apologize even now thus making my apology as public as whoever reads this post. I am asking forgiveness of those who are directly involved and those who have been vicariously (not sure if that's the right word) involved. I ask forgiveness of those who have put their neck on the line in their effort to help me resolve the conflict that he caused. I ask forgiveness of those who have stood behind me, with me, and beside me and have not given up on me and have been my rocks, encouragers, and Switzerlands. This should never have been allowed to escalate to this point, but this is a matter of leaders make mistakes too. And, it is the duty of any human being when they see a potentially devastating mistake occurring with a leader to point that out. My method may not be the best, but it is the only one I have since they refuse to hear me out or to acknowledge me. And for that, I apologize only for my chosen method of airing things out with regard to my grievances about these mistakes. I have asked for the time and the opportunity to be able to air them in a more appropriate manner and they have repeatedly refused. So here it is, hopefully for the last time because hopefully they have finally gotten their wake up call. I know I have, and that was the fact that I NEED the God that was described Sunday because THAT is the God that has been pursuing me.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mr. Popper's Penguins on Redemption

Mr. Popper's Penguins is a delightful family film about a businessman whose father has been away in Antarctica for most of his life. He is separated from his wife and has weekend custody of his two children, a precocious boy and a pubescent daughter who has her own share of drama. It is as he is in the middle of trying to make an acquisition for his company on an old restaurant that he learns that his father passed away and ends up inheriting a penguin which due to a language gap ends up quickly turning into him acquiring six penguins!

His children end up coming over for a birthday celebration with him and his son falls in love with the penguins. As time passes, Mr. Popper becomes attached to the penguins and they to him. Named after characteristics they show, they become like part of the family for him, his wife and his children. He even goes so far as to allow some of the snow into his apartment so they can have a cold environment in which to live. The problem with his attachment becomes evident when three of the penguins lay eggs and after a few more weeks, all but one of the eggs hatches. He then does everything he can to try to get that egg to hatch.

He is in such despair over the egg situation he calls the zoo guard who insists on taking the penguins. What Mr. Popper does not realize is that the zoo guard did not intend to keep the penguins but to ship them off to another zoo. So he and his family ensue on an adventure to rescue the penguins from the zoo. They realize as they are about to leave that one penguin is missing and then see him on the roof. The penguin has been trying to fly and has his one moment of flight due in part to the kite that got stuck to him as they were escaping through the gift shop.

At the end, the whole family takes the penguins and their two babies back to Antarctica where one of the penguins ends up laying a new egg. They vow to make frequent return visits to see the penguins.

This film is rated PG and is one that is sure to be enjoyable to young and old.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Knowing Your Time Is Up in a World That Often Lacks Grace

First of all, I am going to be very open and honest in this post because it may be one of my last across all of my blogs. And second, I no longer can care what anyone thinks of me or anyone else because of this post because not like it really matters in the grand scheme of things anyway.

I will apologize to the person who initiated what has turned into the biggest and longest conflict ever. But only for what I said out of retaliation for what he did. But to be honest, the reason why what he did hurt so much is because it honestly does feel like that he did not consider what all he and I had been through for the vast majority of a year to get to the good point where we were before he just up and decided that he was going to arbitrarily break his end of an agreement that he and I had made that only had term to it at the time we had made it - I was not to ask him why he hated me on his Facebook page. And I didn't. I never would and I never did. But he still chose to act adversely against me without warning and cut me off.

When we finally started to discuss anything, he admitted that he was wrong to do things the way he did and that he should have talked with me first. Yet he didn't.

The road to trying to come up with reasonable boundaries that are needed was a long one and filled with many mistakes on both sides. But then he did the worst thing he ever could have done. I have been wrestling over a decision I really don't want to have to make, one that I need to make sure is not based on me trying to just run away from a conflict, but could hurt everyone I know - friends and others. Me, even. We had gotten in a bit of an argument in text messages and then he said if I sent another that he was going to talk to the staff and have me pulled from my volunteer positions at church. That's exactly what he had said. So no further text messages went out. The next morning he texted me and said he was going to talk to them anyway. That's when he arbitrarily changed the terms again and extended them as not only being him but others. It wasn't until the day after he did it that he ended up sending me a message and basically told me I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone about anything except for him and that reinstatement in the activities would be contingent on several terms - which I have in fact actually met.

But I asked for help - for intervention- in order to get back in the activities. And instead of that, I got a boot. Literally. Apparently some of the leaders decided to cut off communication altogether and didn't tell me about this decision. And all over the fact that I had tried to clear up a murky point from a meeting that he and I and one other had with the counselor that was supposed to be working on helping me get reinstated and helping to resolve the conflict.

He said some things and made some promises in that meeting. 1. He promised when the time was right and I started showing some restraint that he would restore Facebook privileges. 2. He said that he felt like for whatever the reason God put me in his life as one of the people he was to be a pastor to outside of the leaders and his family. Knowing him, he doesn't ever make promises and assertions that he doesn't mean and doesn't intend to keep.

I finally got the murky point cleared and then we gave it a shot and even though I did show a lot of restraint during the weeks that followed getting it clarified though not perfectly, some of the leaders used the prior decision that I was not made aware of to start with against me. And now not only have they destroyed the one relationship that was already hurting, but they have destroyed all of my other relationships there.

I was told to trust them. I did. I trusted them to help get me reinstated into activities, not destroy every relationship I even have. They have now jeopardized the only church I have encountered that refuses to stigmatize past victims of abuse. Or well, used to refuse. I'm not sure that's true anymore in light of what they have done.

Here's the deal though. I don't know that I really have a relationship with God. I've been wrestling with that for a while now. They throw at me about the peace and purity of the church. I didn't understand that until now but not only is slander and gossip something that can hurt that, but so is what they did. You see, they began to go down a slippery slope of entering into church discipline over the situation, but it's one that jeopardizes the whole church because they skipped two important steps in doing so and as a result have acted unbiblically. Utilizing EVERYTHING that I have been taught, in order to engage in the disciplinary process biblically, the offended party MUST go to his brother/sister individually. If at that point, things get resolved, yay! No need to proceed any further. If not, then that offended party takes another. Repeat. If things don't get resolved at that point, THEN it goes to the whole or can go to the whole. But here's the thing: Step one has NOT, in fact, occurred.

This is why I said the world often lacks grace. Because when you have a process to protect an organization you have to follow it to the letter. One step out of that process is where grace falls apart. And the thing is, there are NO exceptions to this rule. It applies to EVERYONE EQUALLY EVERY TIME. So, now I am at a critical juncture of having to write a letter that I don't want to have to write and in that letter having to acknowledge that the original "offended party" basically brought this on himself when he basically dared me to do exactly this.

You see, based on EVERYTHING that I have been taught about grace, grace would have considered the progress made and maybe tried to pare down the communications but not cut them off altogether. And grace would NEVER destroy EVERY relationship a person has. But because of their actions, I was put in a place of disobedience to God since God also requires that His people use their gifts to serve their local body and that can't happen when some of the leaders act unbiblically and head down a slippery path into a disciplinary process that has skipped steps in the process that is outlined for them to help protect the organization.

I will not apologize for sharing my perspective so openly and honestly. This is my perspective.

And before anyone goes "oh! such slander!," I do know what slander is. And in the effort to prevent that, I do have this blog open to the person or persons who this relates to for them to post their side if they so choose. This is just my side, one side, and even though some of the most sensitive details have been left out, including names of people and places so random people cannot know or deduce what this is actually about, it is still my side, and I do have the right and the obligation to share it, no matter the cost.

I, like everyone else, am tired of the facades we too often put on and the pretending that everything is fine when it really isn't.

If the person or persons who this relates to wish(es) to do so, they may counter with their side in a comment or a post.

As to the part of my title that says knowing your time is up. Well, the reason I said this may be one of my last posts across all blogs is because my immune deficiency is rapidly catching up to me faster than we would like. I have been sick basically the entire time since the tornadoes of April 27 disrupted the environment and I don't know that I will see my birthday in November. The next appointment with the immunologist isn't until October. At which point we will be discussing the efficacy of IVIG infusions to help boost the immune function that I am severely lacking. Those infusions may be what can safe my life. But in the meantime, I don't know how much life I have left. It's not looking very positive though. So I have to transition into being ready for the end of life stage. And for that, I do need a pastor. Only apparently I don't have one because of the unbiblical actions of some of the leaders which have now jeopardized an entire church. Ugh!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Smurfs Has a Tale of Redemption

Unless you were born in the late 1990s, there is a chance that you are familiar with the little blue characters known as Smurfs. But even if you are familiar with the Smurfs, you have never seen them like The Smurfs film.

When I learned that this classic cartoon series was turning into a film, I was not sure what to think of it and said that if I saw it, it would be in the local dollar theater. But then I received an e-mail invitation for an advanced screening. Free.

It does have a 3D version available, but as I always say, save the money and just watch the 2D.

There is enough action and storyline in this film that you do not need the extra visual effects of the 3D to be into the film. The screening was packed!

This film has a lot to offer: endearing comedy, heartbreaking moments, engagement with the characters, greater messages and morals.

What basically happens is that Clumsy Smurf accidentally leads Gargamel and Azrael to the Smurf Village. They then have to flee and Clumsy ends up down the wrong path and in a cave where he ends up sucked into a portal that has opened up due to the blue moon. Papa, Smurfette, Gutsy, Grouchy and Brainy also get sucked into the portal as they try to rescue Clumsy and escape Gargamel at the same time. Then Azrael gets tossed into the portal and Gargamel follows. They all end up in Central Park in the middle of New York City.

In their effort to escape, Clumsy falls into a box and the others end up on top of the cab that the man, Patrick, climbs into to go home to his apartment and pregnant wife and dog.

The others find the apartment and end up in the box that Clumsy already escaped from and ended up running from the dog and trapped in the toilet of the bathroom. The wife finds Clumsy in a wad of wet toilet paper while Patrick finds the other Smurfs in the box. Chaos ensues.

As the few days pass and Papa Smurf diligently seeks a way to get his Smurfs back home and stay safe from Gargamel, the Smurfs and the couple become close. Papa even provides wise advice and encouragement to Patrick about his work and his ability to be a good father. Patrick learns to be who he is and not worry about what others think. And Clumsy learns that he can be a hero while the other Smurfs learn to accept him for who he is.

As to Gargamel, he finds life in New York City to be much different than what he is accustomed to. And he does make a mess out of things because of his awkwardness and lack of social adeptness.

In the end, the Smurfs do return home safe from Gargamel and Azrael with both the Smurfs and the couple having learned things from each other as well as having made new friends.

There are a lot of comical places and endearing moments with good moral lessons.

Overall, I would even say that I actually would not mind seeing this film again. With a PG rating, it is one of the few films currently in theaters that the whole family can enjoy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Can Churches, Youth Pastors and Pastors Help With Cyberbullying?

First of all, if you are a pastor, a youth pastor or any other church leader or church staff person, I hope you saw the recent ABC Family Channel film Cyberbully. If not, please read my blog review post about the film over on my Media Review site: http://susanelizabeth31-themediareview.blogspot.com/2011/07/cyberbully-brings-to-light-relevant.html.

I ask some poignant questions.

What can be done to help the victims of cyberbullying?

What will it take for laws to be passed in every state (Alabama is one of 16 states that do not have laws regarding cyberbullying)? Another victim to become a suicide statistic?

What can be done both with victims and with the bullies to educate them on the importance of not engaging in such activity?

How far do the protections of the First Amendment really go when it comes to cyberbullying?

In summary of both the film and my review, the film portrayed a high school student by the name of Taylor who comes from a broken family and ends up nearly taking her own life because of some hurtful actions by her friends on a social network site similar to Facebook because the comments started to extend off the Internet into her life at school and affecting her social life. The fact that she comes from a broken family and that her father has little to no presence in her life is a factor to consider as to why the situation with the comments and posts pushes her over the edge of almost becoming another statistic.

What can churches do to help young adults and teenagers (those 35 and under) when it comes to cyberbullying or any other kind of bullying?

In my own personal opinion, I think one thing that churches can do is help the victims by offering support groups. Another way is to contact law makers and get them to push for passing laws. Instead of being standoffish and judgmental, churches should actively seek to help victims of any crimes and violent acts or words to not remain victims. Whether victims of abuse or bullying or even just a broken family, the victims often stay in a victim mentality because they feel judged or cast out by their churches. Many churches stigmatize the victims causing them to feel like outcasts and criminals when really what the church should be doing is offering a safe haven for the victim to learn how to not remain victims.

But whether abuse or bullying, what can churches do to help?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cars 2 and Redemption

I am not that big a fan of the Cars films, but since I had won a couple of vouchers that got both my mother and I into the Cars 2 film for free, I figured what the heck?


I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.


So as not to give any spoilers, I won't reveal too much of the story line, but this film focused on the friendship between Lightning McQueen and Mater. McQueen had tried to get Mater to conform to being more sophisticated while they traveled the globe for races, but in the end, he learned that friendship is more important than conformity.


I particularly loved the quotes regarding friendship in this film! And of course, one line: "Mater! I'm sticking by you the way you always stick by me."


On a cost-saving note, the film has enough action packed into the 2D version, so save the money and skip the 3D version unless you want to get really dizzy!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Proverbs 3 and Luke 3 - What Does Discipline Really Look Like?

In Luke 3 lies a reference to a baptism of repentance. Baptism itself does not give repentance though, so I'm a little confused by the expression. There is also a genealogy of Jesus through Joseph which I guess offers hope for everyone who is or has been adopted. If Jesus, who was not the biological child of Joseph, can still be attributed to the lineage of Joseph, what hope for those who are adopted and their lineage!

Proverbs 3 talks about the discipline of a father who loves his child and equates it to the discipline of God. But sadly, for some, discipline is not present. In some families, discipline was in the form of abuse and not from love. So what does REAL discipline look like? What SHOULD it look like? Understanding and knowing this can help those who have grown up with abuse know and understand God's discipline and what it really is.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Proverbs 2 and Luke 2 - I Am Confused

In Luke 2, I read about how Joseph and Mary became frantic searching for Jesus when they could not find him in their caravan. They searched everywhere for him until they found him in the temple. A loving family apparently will search for their lost member until they find them - intentionally search for them - pursue them.

In Proverbs 2, I read about how if someone searches for wisdom, they shall find it. But it got messy for me as I read later in the chapter and almost felt as though it were saying that sometimes a person doesn't find wisdom and ends up being punished.

In my own life, sometimes I feel like I am searching for wisdom and not finding it, feeling lost and confused and not being pursued. This scares me. The lamb feels lost and confused, alone and scared. Where is the lamb's shepherd?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Proverbs 1 and Luke 1 - Shut Up and Listen!

In one sentence, what I learned from these passages that rang out in both, is that when God speaks to you, especially through angels, you better shut up and listen!

I'm sure there are other things, but that's what I got for the time being.

You see, I'm on a journey. A LONG journey. It's not going to be easy and it's not supposed to be easy, but it's supposed to eventually help me learn more about me and about God. That's the purpose of this blog. To explore what I'm learning. To ask questions. And to be open to answers from readers who may understand more than I do.

God's Predestination and Watermelons

I have questions. Lots of them. Just when I think that I understand predestination, I don't have a lemon thrown at me, and not even an orange. At least with a lemon, I can make lemonade. With an orange, I can catch it and make orange juice! But I am learning that sometimes watermelons get thrown in the works, and MAN, are they messy! Boy, are they messy! How do we deal with the watermelons when it comes to predestination?

Watermelons of life: Divorce, child abuse, child neglect, affairs, pre-marital relationships, losing a job, not getting a job, disabilities, handicaps, illnesses, car accidents, children dying before their parents, losing a baby at birth or shortly after, child kidnapping, foreclosures, bankruptcies, disasters, wars. They're all watermelons!

There's never anything pretty about a watermelon. All it is is a green ball or oval-shaped thing with red, juicy, watery meat inside with either just white seeds or black and white seeds that makes a giant mess.

Watermelons are fragile. You throw one and it's going to break. You hit a hammer to one, it's going to splatter. They are just plain messy.

They're popular in the summer because they do have that juicy, watery messy goodness as a positive attribute, but they don't really provide nutrition and they're messy.

You ever see a young child enjoying his or her first watermelon? The clothes, the child, and anything else around are never the same again.

Watermelons. Do we throw them in the works and mess up God's predestined plan for our lives? Or does God throw the watermelons in and mess up His own plan? I don't know. But if someone figures this mystery out, I'm open to hearing it.

That's all I have to say for now.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wrestling With Hard Core Faith Issues

I haven't written in a while, but honestly, I haven't felt up to up because I have a confession. Some major life changes - good mostly, but some bad - have put me in a hard place. One of those involves an ongoing conflict. But it is the main source of tension with me right now. Everything I have ever been taught about grace has been shattered. As a result, I am starting to lean toward the direction of apostasy. Not saying I would abandon God, that is, if this picture of God is correct to start with. Just abandon the church. Who needs it when the outside world is less judgmental, less pompous, and sometimes more gracious and forgiving and safer? You see, Christians, as a whole, have a bad habit. They often unintentionally push babies in the faith AWAY from God. They either say or do something that brings up questions like the ones I'm struggling with now. Sometimes they do them with good intentions, but it backfires and is seen as negative, hurtful and harmful, spiteful and hateful, and rather than drawing someone closer, the actions or the words or the lack of actions or words at the right moment pushes someone further away. So, to anyone reading this post, you now have an insider's perspective on what can cause someone to end up wanting to leave the church and maybe even God. How are you going to step up your game and prevent more people from feeling like this? Because from the inside, right now, things are not looking good either way.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Prayers for Alabama, Missouri and Oklahoma

Dear God,

I don't know anyone in Missouri but my friends and family in Alabama and Oklahoma as well as the strangers in Missouri need comfort, shelter, safety, peace and help. They are my neighbors, my friends, my family.

Why God, are there so many of these monster tornadoes? Is this what the end will be like? You said no one knows when the end will be here, although there are nutjobs that like to try to calculate Your time table.

You taught us all that You don't operate on a human agenda, but You are baffling me right now.

I don't know what to say or what to do. How do I comfort my family and friends who are being devastated by these monsters?

I pray for their safety. I pray that enough volunteers can be deployed to help. I pray for quick healing, quick recovery, quick restoration.

Casting Crowns sing "Praise You in This Storm." May it become an anthem for all of Your children, Your chosen, Your elect. May it be a comfort.

In Jesus' Name,
Amen

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Voices in My Head

The voices in my head are not the ones in my heart.
The voices in my head say I'm not pretty, I'm not smart.
The voices in my head say I'm not lovable, I'm not wanted.
The voices in my head say they hate me, they don't care.

I don't want to believe the voices in my head.
I want to believe the voices in my heart.
But I can't seem to synchronize those voices in my head with the ones in my heart.

I messed up again. The voices in my head say I failed.
They say that I'll never be forgiven, I'll always be shut out.
They say I'm a mistake, unworthy of anyone's love and friendship.
They hurt me deep inside, turn me upside down.
They laugh at me, mock me, and beat me senseless.

Those voices in my head scream louder than the ones in my heart.
Where's the love, the grace, the truth, the cure for those voices in my head?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Developing a Thankful Heart Whilst in the Midst of Chaos and Confusion

This past Wednesday, volunteers from Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church went to serve a small community in the Ensley area of Birmingham. This area was one of the hard hit areas from the storms and tornadoes of April 27, 2011. Crews went earlier in the day to conduct debris removal and clean up with a later team to feed the community via Westmont Baptist Church. Personally, I was amazed by the turnout of OMPC volunteers as compared with the prior week when we served Moody. It seemed to have doubled, if not tripled!


Let me be honest for a moment though. This is one location in which having print directions and GPS map function on an iPhone did no good. The directions gave names of roads, many of which no signs were present or signs were knocked down by the tornado. The map feature said to turn in a different direction. Following what I instinctively wanted to follow and not being able to get the two to coordinate, I ended up on a very narrow road made all the more narrow by the devastation from those storms. It was bad. Finally after passing the road I needed probably for the third time, I was able to get on the correct road only then to find that mileage does not really mean much on directions either. That area will definitely try one's patience!


So, I've been feeling a little useless and helpless as I can't go out with the debris removal teams and we do tend to have more hands than needed (which is an excellent thing) with the other teams. So I'm now sort of the unofficial photographer. Unofficial in that I am not a professional, I just love taking pictures of, well, everything, so I can capture a lot and stay out of the way and still feel like I'm helping somehow. You know you see a lot from behind the camera. I would say from behind the lens except that most camera phones don't actually have lenses, now do they? I know I certainly do. 


I see pain. These people, these neighbors, these friends, these families, these brothers and sisters, they have real pain right now. So many of them have lost everything. Literally everything. Last year, I felt like I had lost a lot when I was told that I have an immune deficiency that is practically unheard of and has no cure and no treatment. And don't get me wrong, I did lose a lot with that diagnosis, but these people have lost EVERYTHING. I still have a lot to be thankful for. I don't always see it and I don't always feel it, but I do. I have my house. I have my cat and my dog. I have my clothes. I have my collectibles. I have my car. I have my phone. I have my family. I have my friends. I have my church. I have people who love and care for me even when I don't understand their quirks in showing that love and care. But some of these people lost all of that when those storms ripped through. 


I heard on the news a girl from Cullman who said that her church was leveled. But she said all they lost was the church building. She still has her church, the people that go there. In spite of the fact that so many of these people have literally lost so much, I keep hearing the sounds of appreciation and joy and thankfulness. It's overwhelming. If they can be so thankful in the midst of such loss, why is it so hard for me when I still have so much?


It seems as though in the midst of the chaos and confusion, despite the chaos and confusion, there are people who have seen ways to still be thankful. And apparently, I am starting to develop that thankful heart myself as a result. 


Maybe it's true what the group Alabama sings, "...there are angels among us," and maybe those angels are what help us to be thankful in the midst of chaos and confusion.


Another thing I am thankful for right now is that my church has been so responsive to the needs as a result of this disaster in Alabama and has been offering organized ways for people to get involved in the relief efforts through so many different avenues. Because in some ways, doing exactly what we are currently doing, is allowing each and every person to have the opportunity to be a missionary. There are few things that even the youngest and the oldest can't do right now.


To see some of the pictures from this week: http://photo2.walgreens.com/walgreens/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=12517722006/a=5001910006_5001910006/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=walgreens/ or http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100199558026185.2592095.27434363&l=ecc7571383


http://www.oakmountainchurch.org/tornado-disaster-relief has a lot of the ways people can get involved. 


For Sunday, the Third Day tornado benefit concert I posted about Monday could still use as many volunteers as they can get. It'll be a great way to have fun listening to some great groups and help at the same time. And to exercise a thankful heart!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Great Opportunity Coming for Tornado Relief

Third Day is the main group behind a tornado relief benefit concert coming to Birmingham Sunday, May 15, 2011 at the BJCC.

http://makeyourmovebenefit.com/#

Tenth Avenue North and Rush of Fools are also lined up as well as others.

The cost is ten dollars at the door with all proceeds going to disaster relief efforts.

Also, consider volunteering. They stated in an e-mail to volunteers that they would rather have too many volunteers than not enough. And one advantage about volunteering is that volunteers can see the concerts for FREE. As they will be accepting donations, volunteers can make a donation.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Looking Out From Behind the Camera and a Great Loss of Words

I got my photos from Wednesday, May 4, 2011 printed. Let's just say, many are sobering. If you haven't seen them, but would like to I have two ways that you can do so now. The first is via my public Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100195046262795.2589976.27434363&l=4b81b9563e. The second is through: http://photo2.walgreens.com/walgreens/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=12417214006/a=5001910006_5001910006/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=walgreens/ which will let you order print copies of any that you might like.


As I looked through the photos, I became more aware of the monster that ripped through Alabama that fateful day, April 27, 2011. It was a monster beyond compare. A monster that even Hollywood, with all its doodads and gizmowhooties cannot reproduce.


So now this is my heart's cry.


I know not what to say. 
I know not what to do. 
All I think is why'd it happen to you?
I know not how to respond. 
I know not what's best for you. 
All I ask is why you and not me, too?
I wish I knew the words. 
I wish I knew the deeds. 
I wish I knew indeed how best to reach to you.
My heart aches inside as I wonder why. 
My heart yields a loud screaming cry.
Why God why?
What lesson is there in this moment?
What lesson are we to learn?
How?
How and why?
Hear the cry.
Hear the roar.
Hear the scream.
Reach out and comfort.
Comfort those in need.
Heal us.
Heal us all.
That's all I know to say.
That's all I know to do.





Friday, May 6, 2011

Kids, Dogs, Service, Sorting, Getting Lost, Almost Destroying a Car, Steven Curtis Chapman, Storms, Accidental Fasting, and Chaos - How It All Ties in to Theology, Missions, and Disaster Relief

"Kids, Dogs, Service, Sorting, Getting Lost, Almost Destroying a Car, Steven Curtis Chapman, Storms, Accidental Fasting, and Chaos - How It All Ties in to Theology, Missions, and Disaster Relief" has got to be my longest blog post title ever. I'm not sure, but it may be the longest title of anything ever. If you find anything in the record books longer than this title, let me know.

Chaos. The last two weeks. My AD/HD and my brain are going crazy. Next week is going to be a week that I'll HAVE to consistently take my Vyvanse regardless of how I feel. I need some sleep. By the end of next week if I have not been able to quiet my overactive brain, I'll have to call my prescribing doctor and see about a non-addictive sleeping medicine. I hate sleeping medications, but my brain won't SHUT UP! Oh, and let's see. I've got about four songs running through my head all at once that all encourage me and have served as inspiration through these past two weeks, particularly this past week and a half since April 27, 2011. Thank you TobyMac, Casting Crowns and Steven Curtis Chapman.

Kids. The first thought that came in my head when I awoke April 28, 2011 was all those children just lost everything. They don't even have a stuffed animal to hold right now. I look at my bed. I see the one my mother swears I stole from her when I just a little baby. I see one from one of my two trips to New York City to the Disney Store. I see my first bear from Build-a-Bear. I see a black panther I had gotten my first year at the University of Montevallo when I visited Toys R Us in Hoover that I called Salem after the black cat in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. But those kids lost everything. So I contacted Build-a-Bear. Last I heard from them is that they were working with the Red Cross, but they thanked me for thinking of them and how they might be able to help. I just found a twin to one of the little plushes I have that I can donate. I have another twin around somewhere that I would like to find and donate as well. Already donated four stuffed toys. Two of them were these pillow pet type of things that can serve dual function.

Dogs. The second thought in my head was pets. What happened to all the animals? I remember one of the reasons some people didn't evacuate for Katrina was that they didn't want to leave their family pet behind. Some of the pets have ended up in foster homes until their owners can be relocated out of shelters. Some of the animals found range from newborn puppies and kittens to older animals. A few, sadly, have died. Some have been reunited with their families. And the saddest thing to me is the fact that those litters have possibly lost their own mother cats and dogs. Too young to survive on their own, and possibly too young to survive. I remember one of my first dogs was a rescue from a flood in Oklahoma. The poor thing never could get over storms after that. He was seen floating atop a dog house. He died several years later after I had to leave him behind during the move to Alabama. He had heartworms. I only saw him once between the move and his passing. He barely remembered me.

Service. Let's just say that anything that anyone does toward the disaster relief, be it clean up or sorting clothes or even just donating, is service.

Sorting. Sorting clothes. My first time was sorting at the Christian Service Mission in Birmingham. I was hand sanitizing left and right after that one. Someone tried donating dirty underwear. Not just used, but really badly stained. EW!! I am fine with gently used shoes even though I would never buy shoes from a thrift store. But all I could think is come on people. You would not debase yourself to buy used underclothes or socks or bathing suit bottoms from a thrift store or yard sale, let's not subject our victims to them either! My second sorting job was at the Salvation Army Disaster Relief Warehouse. Sort of in between Birmingham and Bessemer. It was better except for the bags of strongly smelling of cigarette trigger an asthma attack clothing. Ugh. And one of the people who ended up helping at my table found an adult clown costume. All we could do was laugh. It was a little sad.

Getting lost. What I did when I was going to the Christian Service Mission. Should have followed the GPS mapping on my phone. Ended up following the exit and got turned around because the street was a one way street. That part of Birmingham is not very safe for single women under 40. I feel safer alone on the streets and the subways of New York City than I did around there.

Almost destroying a car. Really. The road leading to the Salvation Army warehouse was worse than the potholes and craters on I-65. But I felt safer. However, I am noting that I need to work on finding any and all possible alternative routes that don't use I-65.

Steven Curtis Chapman. Got stuck on a song of his this week that fit all too perfectly with everything that Alabama just experienced. I'll post the lyrics and a link at the bottom of this post.

Storms. The more we have threaten Alabama, the more fearful and anxious I become. My city and my county were spared the worst of the damage. And every time I close my eyes, I see trees falling and getting uprooted.  Because in three of the storms during April, we have had three trees break and crash.

Accidental fasting. Yep. It's been so bad in the state of surrealism about everything that I accidentally fasted the greater part of the week. I did not realize that I did not eat anything Sunday until midnight. And I've been lucky if I've eaten at least a snack one time during the day the rest of the week!

How does it tie in to theology, missions and disaster relief?

Theology is shaken and stirred and tested when anyone experiences the travesty this great state of Alabama has just been through. Hollywood cannot even begin to come close to being able to portray what happened last week with that monster tornado. How do you handle the theological questions that arise? Why? How come? Why would a loving God allow this to happen? Why would He spare some but not others? Why would He spare me and not them?

Missions. Whether it's going to sort clothes, going to do debris removal or going to serve a hot meal to a community that was affected, it's missions.

Disaster relief. Anything can count as disaster relief. Donating time and money and clothes/items, cleaning up, rebuilding.

TobyMac's "Get Back Up" and "City on Our Knees" were the first two songs that moved me this week. Casting Crowns "Praise You in This Storm" followed. The other day I heard Steven Curtis Chapman's "Beauty Will Rise." It is this last song that I felt more strongly compelled by. As I thought about my own church, Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church, PCA, and the relief efforts that have spun out in response to the disaster.

My first year in Alabama I survived Hurricane Opal. Hurricane Ivan ripped through as far up as Montevallo. I went home to be close to family when that was approaching. I remember having to check in with my resident hall assistant before leaving. But I never thought that other than the random "snow" events which pale in comparison to what New England goes through that my part of Alabama would ever see anything like the images we saw when the tornado ripped through Enterprise (near which I lived for the first half of my life in Alabama (which is exactly half of my life)) or the tornado that ripped through Prattville or the images from Hurricane Katrina. I never would have imagined it to be possible. It is for this very reason that the Steven Curtis Chapman song has really compelled me more than the other songs.

"It was the day the world went wrong." April 27, 2011 started and ended on a bad note for Alabama. There is hardly a county from Montgomery north that was not touched by that nasty storm system that brought that monster through Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Cullman and every small and large town and city in between and around it.

"I screamed til my voice was gone." I think a lot of us have screamed. In horror. In anger. In pain. In anguish.

"And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down." I have not personally gone to Tuscaloosa yet. I do not quite have the courage and the strength yet. But I have seen the images. For me, the full reality has not sunk in yet. But we certainly watched in horror as the face of these areas were changed in a matter of minutes and hours.

"Slowly panic turns to pain as we awake to what remains and sift through the ashes that are left behind." I think of everyone sorting through the rubble, the remains of homes, churches, daycares, schools, businesses, etc. I think of the heartache that many are feeling as they find pictures, documents, toys, remnants of what was a life that was relatively normal as possible before that monster came through and changed everything.

"But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams we have this hope." We do have a hope. A hope and a promise. One of a better life. Maybe not on this earth, but it most certainly will be for the elect, those that belong to God.

Chorus:

"Out of theses ashes...beauty will rise." The cities and towns will be much more beautiful after they rebuild than they ever were.

"And we will dance among the ruins." For every person or animal found alive, there is joy.

"We will see Him with our own eyes." God is in every person who comes to the aid of the victims of this monster.

"Out of these ashes...beauty will rise."

"For we know joy is coming in the morning, in the morning, beauty will rise."

"So take another breath for now, and let the tears come washing down." Right now, we hurt. We need time to heal. And there will be tears. That's perfectly fine.

"And if you can't believe I will believe for you." Your faith may be weak. My faith may be tested. But together we can trust that things will indeed work together for the good of those who love the Lord.

"'Cuz I have seen the signs of spring! Just watch and see." Every little bird and every little flower that survived the storms that ripped through Alabama April 27 is a testimony of hope that springs eternal.

Chorus

"I can hear it in the distance and it's not too far away."  Help is coming. That help is beautiful.

"It's the music and the laughter of a wedding and a feast." I went to Moody with my church this week to a church there that suffered a hole in their roof. But I did not see fear and tears. I saw strength and courage. I saw inspiration. I talked with a couple of little boys who were hanging out by the truck that brought the food afterward. They were both five and in kindergarten. One of them is really excited about starting first grade after the summer. Does he even know or understand how that storm disrupted his life? I don't know, but it was encouraging.

"I can almost feel the hand of God reaching for my face to wipe the tears away and say, 'It's time to make everything new.'"

"Make it all new." And new it will be made.

"This is our hope. This is the promise. This is our hope. This is the promise. That it would take our breath away to see the beauty that's been made out of the ashes, out of the ashes, that it would take our breath away to see the beauty that He's made out of the ashes, out of the ashes." As cities and communities rebuild, it will be beautiful.

Chorus

"Oh, beauty will rise. Oh, beauty will rise. Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise. Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise. Oh, oh, oh, beauty will rise." Beauty will indeed rise.

Lyrics from http://www.metrolyrics.com/beauty-will-rise-lyrics-steven-curtis-chapman.html.

And that's how everything begins to fit together.
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