Friday, May 9, 2008

Sometimes, Life Just Hurts...

Hmm... I had planned to blog on several topics - submission, shepherding, women in leadership, fake love, sterile churches... but I can't seem to get up any steam tonight (or the last several nights, for that matter) to use the Bible to prove this idea or that. Don't get me wrong. I believe that we should know and use the Bible to guide our beliefs - probably. ;-) I've even left a few passages in blog comments here and there the last couple of days. But... tonight I am not in a mood for it. What do I feel like doing? Crying. Yelling. Talking to someone who won't judge or misunderstand. Asking if anyone really cares. Hmm... What about? Well...

I have spent a lot of time the last week or so reading a lot of different blogs. Some are really great. I've added a couple to my sidebar. Some are ... well. I am tempted to leave comments that tear their theology a new one. But no. That would be using the same fire that is making me angry. I see people fighting in an aggressive, condescending - almost vicious manner someone whose theology upsets their perceptions of how things should be. And then won't leave it alone. Seems to be hell bent (yes, I chose that phrase purposefully) on trying to browbeat a repentance/concession. All over what I perceive to be a doctrinal difference within a broad denomination. 

Then I read the comments on a variety of other blogs. I find that even amongst encouraging words, there are those who are more concerned about theology than why the people who are commenting are disillusioned with the way things are - what it is about the church that has hurt them. So, maybe I just need to rant a little. (Maybe not... but here we go...)

So, you want to know why I am not keen on going to church anymore - why I, in point of fact, don't care to ever be involved with one again. Okay. 

The very first pastor I had (we're talking the first 4 years of my life) was held up to me by my mother all my life as a wonderful pastor who was an answer to prayer. So here is what that pastor was like. He was trying to get in the pants of at least two (that I know of) teenage girls in his congregation. In these two instances, he failed, but to even try... And he succeeded with a couple of married women in his flock. Yeah - great - answer to prayer. The only good thing I can say about this time was that I did come to know Jesus. This is the only reason I survived what was to come.

If you've read the posts under the 'my story' category in my sidebar, you know that I was molested by an older cousin from the time I was 7 until I was 12. What I didn't put in there was that I think I was molested when I was around 2 - while we were going to this church, but the memory is shadowy and I cannot pin it down. When I was 7, after the major molestation began, we were going to a church (my third) where my mom played the piano and taught Sunday school and my dad was a deacon. And the teaching I had received in Sunday school and heard from the pulpit and at home from family convinced me I was going to hell - the one thing that was a surefire ticket was the one thing I had done - adultery - sex outside of marriage. Big word for a 7 year old. I never told anyone what was going on. The potential (I believed sure) consequences of that were too horrible to contemplate. So I was desperate for God to accept me back - to forgive me. I would go to the altar on Sunday nights and just cry and beg God to fill me - I would be at the altar sobbing. The ladies in charge of the altar didn't know what to do with me. No one ever asked me what was wrong. Now, as an adult, if I saw a child going to the altar regularly and sobbing, I would be concerned - I would inquire...

Throughout this 5 year period, during which we went to 3 different churches (we moved a lot) under 4 different pastors, I learned to hide in the light. I had nightmares of going to hell. I was afraid the rapture would happen and I would be left behind. I was afraid of God and of church. And no one noticed anything wrong. Well, that's not entirely true. I have found out that some noticed something , but chose not to inquire. Not that I would have probably told anyone anything anyway....

My uncle was a pastor. He loved it. He was a very kind man. The denomination he served in treated him like shit. He's in heaven now, but I think of how he was abused by the denomination and it still brings tears.

When the sexual abuse finally stopped, we were attending a church with a pastor who loved the people - loved God - was not eloquent or flashy, but he was real and he was loving and compassionate. And he was nice to some people that didn't fit in the congregation. They had long hair and wore jeans and loved God and didn't fit. So the 'church ladies' (just a handful of women who thought they knew best) got together and ran him out. Actually, he decided to resign to prevent a church split. Noble. Futile. The seeds were already planted. The next pastor - well, I can actually have a little sympathy for him now. I didn't when I was 15 - 16 years old. But he came into his first position as a pastor in the middle of a church falling apart. And he helped it along in that direction nicely. There were a lot of crazy things going on at that time - church splits are never pretty. At the ripe old age of 16, I walked away from church in disgust and didn't think I would ever go back. 

But the emotional damage was not healed or even acknowledged. It was stuffed and every effort was made to forget all about it. I almost succeeded. Over the next 21 years, I went to a few church services, but they never grabbed me. I was hungry for a place of warmth - of welcome - of rest and safety. I never found it. 

Then I 'came back' to God. Really, in retrospect, what I did was decide to really throw myself into this church/religion thing and find what I was looking for. I thought I had, for a while, but oh my, what a mess the church is in.

I spent 7 years attending my last church. Four of those, I worked in the H.E.L.P.S. - 3 of those in the office - 1 1/2 of those as a leader... Through that entire time, no one ever really reached out to me. I have never gone to a church, in fact, that was more cold and forbidding. But I believed it was where God wanted me (and I still do, but that is another story). But I would try so hard. I would sit in my car after services and just cry. Needing comfort - counsel - someone to actually care. I had a lot that needed dealing with, but no resource available to help. In the end, I was spending 50+ hours a week volunteering at the church - belonging to 6 departments - leading in 3. And still, I would sit in the empty building, or in my car in the parking lot and cry. No one saw me or cared to. It was a very superficial place.

Then, well, this pastor couldn't keep it in his pants, either. Left a string of broken and discarded women on the side of the road. Through all this, he preached on integrity and honor and marriage and faith and all the while did not even come close to practicing what he called on the congregation to practice. They seem to truly believe that even God is more concerned about how his church appears than in what the truth is. 'Love covers.' Not unrepented sin, it doesn't! The Love of God does not cover blatant evil practices. Love covers stumbling and falling and getting back up. Love does not cover by pretending that everything is fine - no problems here - we're all fine.

All this in the backdrop of doctrinal teachings (in all the churches I have been in) that emphasize a list of 'regulations' that must be followed in order to be a 'proper' Christian - which, if not followed, will lead you to hell - or least to an inferior shack on the wrong side of the tracks in the backside of heaven - if you're lucky. The church painted for me a picture of a Father God who was perpetually ticked off at us, ready to punish us for the least infraction, full of judgement, short on mercy unless you really earned it - by being properly repentant and humble and groveling and poor and ... eww. So I have spent the whole of my life feeling like God was mad at me - barely tolerated me - and then, only because He had to.

I met Jesus at a very early age. I was already talking to Him - laid hands on someone and asked Jesus to heal them (which He did *smiling* He's great that way) - when I was 2 years old. That was what kept me from being destroyed. Jesus was there (even though sometimes I didn't know it at the time). I was never afraid of Jesus. He protected me from His Father's anger. I never perceived Him mad at me. Only God. 

Through all my life - in an out of the church - the church has never had anything to offer me that was helpful below the surface. They did not want to hear what had happened to me. They did not want to help me. They wanted me to conform and fit in and be happy, just like they were happy. Couldn't do it. They did not want to deal with people that had real problems that were messy and needed long term commitment.

In the year before I walked away from this last church, there was a young man who had started coming. Had had addiction problems. He was uneducated. But he had found out that God loved him and he was hungry for truth. After a few months, he stopped coming. I wondered where he was. Prayed for him. One night, he showed up and he was unkempt - unwashed - tweaking on meth - and he had a glow about him. While getting ready to light his meth pipe, God showed up and talked to him. He was glowing with the love of God. Everyone ignored him. I went and said hi - listened to his story of God's mercy and grace - hugged him - told him I was glad to see him.... he never came back before I left.

The pastor decided to get on TV - and succeeded. So they started instructing the ushers to seat the well dressed and well behaved people in the front and make sure the unpresentable ones were seated in the back where they would not be picked up much by the cameras. 

All I see right now (family included), looking back over the years, is hypocrisy - phoniness - and pain. So, why would I want to be a part of that? I go to a church and I hear the 'buzz words' and the Christianese and it almost makes me physically ill. Hmm... as with my family, my church has abused me. I am mourning the loss of what should have been - in my family and my church. And so I want to cry - over the pain I have and am feeling. Over the people that have been damaged - some beyond wanting to even have to do with God anymore. And meanwhile, I see people squabbling over theological hairs (I've been guilty of it myself) and talking in cliches and jargon and wondering why no one takes them seriously. And those who do not know that Jesus is alive shrug and shake theirs heads and call us crazy and hypocritical and can we blame them? We won't even listen to what they have to say.

Does the church really care that it has hurt me? That it has hurt many? I don't know - and that makes we want to sit and cry... 


traveller said...

Unfortunately, your story is the same as many others. I do see change occurring, not in institutional churches so much but in some small gatherings of followers of Jesus who do care and do the hard work of coming along side others.

It is my prayer you will find some of these people near you.

Katherine Gunn said...

Thank you. There are a handful of people - others who have been chewed up and spit out by the Institutional Church - who are friends. I don't think any of us would have survived without each other. And that is God's doing and it is truly wonderful in our eyes. ;-)

Cinder Ella said...

God is Truly Amazing! Praise be to His Name, that even in the face of such horrors, you know God is good!

I, as a member of God's church, care about what was done to you. The pain that was inflicted to you, and the other people you mentioned, is wrong. Period. End of story. It's a terrible, terrible thing when the name of God is used to abuse people. I think of the anvil and the water.

I've not read the blogs to which you refer. I do hope God's people can see the horrors (wrongly) done in His name do matter, just as the people to whom they are done matter.


Katherine Gunn said...


Thank you. Tears - and a smile. God is good. And He is not an 'angry father,' like so many portray Him. He has been the one thing in my life that has never let go of me.

Hannah said...

I have been to churches in the past that felt were going to be good for me, and only to find they really didn't pay to much attention. I remember mentioning huge issues at a bible study at the pastor's house, and the follow up was pretty much NOTHING! It took all the courage I could gather to mention it the first time, and to basically feel ignored afterwards...made me hush and just go away silently.

I found a new church within the last year, and found other women that I really have a good relationship with.

Its like night and day.

I can relate to other items you mentioned as well. At times I had to remind myself - because of my own brokeness - that wasn't of God. His love for me was much different.

His love will guide us thru this mazes, and he will bring us to where he wishes us to be! I do believe that with all my heart!

My prayers are with you!

Robert said...

this is heartbreaking katherine but so uplifting to hear how you found Jesus and God were not the angry distorted images you had been led to see them as. So much of what you share resonates with me. I love how as you share your hurt and pain,you display and give grace and love. Any theology should have love grace and forgiveness at its core and heart.

Anette said...

We've also found that being involved in "church" business does not make you part of anything, It doesn't connect you to anybody and even though it could maybe give you a feeling of "being good" for a while, eventually you end up being alone again. Although a lot of hurt is because of bad leaders, or leadership, or whatever, most of the damage is done because God never intended to live within an institution. He is too alive, too real, too much everything to be locked into such a small area. I have found that it is much easier to find Him, connect with Him and experience His love amongst a community of friends, without a leader (except HIM), who loves Him and therefor loves me (because I'm precious to God). We don't do anything formal, we are just involved in each other's lives. I am glad that you seem to have also found such a safe place.

Katherine Gunn said...

Hannah, Robert, Anette~

Thank you.

Sue said...

Okay, that's two pots in a row where I've cried my way through them. I'm going away to eat, now.

Katherine Gunn said...

You're welcome here, however much or little at a time. ;-)