information@gracefall.org
503.464.6004

Church

8
May

A Prologue to: A Fallen Pastor’s Story

She grew up the youngest of four children during the Great Depression. Born in late 1929, she could not have been welcomed by her dad the way she wanted or needed to be. He didn’t know how he was going to feed her. And though her Mom was a saint, the family left the comfort of the Georgia to go West where her Dad could work, first as a laborer on the Hoover and Grand Coulee Dam projects, and then later in the Vancouver Shipyards during the War.

She considered herself to be unwanted, ugly, and fat even though she was never bigger than a size 12. She was a perfectionist. Indeed, she demanded perfection, not only of herself but also the world around her. If things were perfect, it meant that she stayed under her Dad’s wrathful radar and life was easier to control.

An exceptional student she graduated from Fort Vancouver High School at the age of 16 and followed her older sister to Bob Jones University where she majored in Speech and Communications. A year after graduating, she left her fiancé to go as a missionary to Europe, a single 22-year-old radio producer. She was the first to produce a weekly Christian radio show that broadcast across the continent. She was excellent in all that she did, and she was lonely, convinced that it was a sign of her holiness.

She met her husband, a rising gospel star in 1951 in London. Their first date was King George’s funeral and 9 months later they married. By all

A picture of the procession for King George’s funeral

accounts, they had a storybook romance and she and her husband were love birds that couldn’t get enough of one another. They lived a poor but Christian-jet-set life — living by faith and traveling the globe together —  ministering side by side.

After eleven years of globe-trotting married bliss, she had two boys and her life turned upside down. Nearly everything she liked about her life disappeared and was replaced by the lonely drudgery of raising two rambunctious boys by herself while her husband traveled for the sake of the gospel. She went from loving her life to despairing that she’d ever regain it. Publicly she retained the air of a Christian dignitary, but privately she was majorly depressed, wrathful and abusive.

Growing up the son of an itinerant evangelist has perks: travel & a certain level of status within the Church’s subculture. It also meant that my Dad was away much of the time when I was little and I grew up with an image of God that, if true, still scares the bejesus out of me. We were at church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and, later when we were older, on Wednesday nights for AWANA. Our life was centered on our church rather than the community in which we lived. Though we only embraced the moniker, “inter-denominational,” we were truly conservative Baptists. This came more of my Mum’s demand than my Father’s, but she did go to BJU, right?

Conservative Baptists brought in a flurry of “Scare-you-straight-for-eternity” films in the 1970s, and my church showed them all. While Larry Norman sang, “I wish we’d all been ready,” people poured to the altar rail; scared that if they missed out on this promised glorious relationship with Jesus, they’d be condemned to her for all of eternity. I distinctly remember Mom saying, “We are commanded to use all means to save a few. And fear is one of the reasons people come to Jesus.”

When I was five, a singing group from Multnomah Bible College (now Multnomah University) visited my church on a Sunday evening. My five-year-old brain couldn’t handle it anymore. I knew if I didn’t do something I was going to go to hell. I prayed telling God I didn’t want to go to hell, asking him to forgive my sins and save me. I took out fire insurance. I did it alone because I knew my parents must think that I was a Christian already and I didn’t want to disappoint them.

As I grew older, the thought of eternal life continued to scare me. I was stuck in an existential crisis. I didn’t want to cease to exist and I didn’t want to live forever. It was all unfair! I couldn’t make any sense of it. It was far worse than the fear I got watching any horror film I could think of simply because I lived in this terror — I was a part of it, not a mere observer. Dad was away, I was alone with my fear, sweating, and couldn’t sleep terrified of life. It was worse than any nightmare, and there was no escape — one way or another I was going to live forever and I didn’t like that one bit. I didn’t want to go to heaven or hell, and I didn’t want to cease to exist. The very fact of my existence was my nightmare. It was in the middle of that crisis that I first walked into my mother’s bedroom alone, late at night so the isolation of my existence wouldn’t overcome me. It was the first of too many visits and unmistakable pleasure and guilt that I still can’t put together In my soul.

They say that victims of sexual abuse (particularly abuse by a parent) blame ourselves rather than our abusers. They say that we minimize their roles in our abuse…

I was always the one that walked to my Mom’s room late at night. I ran from the ennui of trying to sleep alone into my abuser’s bedroom, and I enjoyed being there with her. It was my salvation from an abyss I still can’t face. I chose abuse rather than loneliness. Anything is better than that dreadful feeling of complete abandonment, and isolation. Anything is better than the blackness that I still don’t know how to face.

I hate that part of me — the part that escaped to unmentionable and life sucking, forbidden pleasure. Cognitively, I know that is s silly stance. If, as an adult, with years of seminary and graduate studies under my belt, I still can’t emotionally handle the darkness; how could anyone expect that little boy to handle it any better?

As I grew up, the orgasms I learned at the hands of my mother became my solace from the darkness. Certainly, they weren’t all fueled by loneliness. Fury and hatred fueled them more and more as I got older. I disassociated from them completely. I was Jekyll and Hyde — Truth be told, the dissociation hides parts of me still. A part of my journey is to discover and integrate those parts, long hidden and still petrified of the dark in order that I can be whole; or, in the words of Pinocchio, “…learn to be a real boy.”

I wrote 18 chapters that detailed my fall into grace. They catalog my Grace-fall. As I continue my work, I realized that those chapters don’t exist apart from this prolog. They don’t exist apart from my drive to escape the spiritual abyss born of the union of an unhealthy theology, an absent Father; and a needy, depressed, and sometimes monstrous mother.

I’m going to go into eternity wondering why I chose to walk into abuse and into addiction. For those choices are on me. I carry the shame of them and am still not sure what to do with them. None of the words here or that I wrote earlier in those 18 chapters take any of the blame of my actions away. They may help me understand those actions better, but they don’t excuse them.

I write for myself. But I also write for the thousands of others who have and do walk in my shoes, finding escape and reprieve from their own pain in the pain of others.

There is no other way to say it: I, and maybe you, are offenders. At best we’ve objectified other people made in the image of God. At worst we’ve done untold damage to their bodies, their souls, and their psyches. Like leeches, we sucked the life from others to escape the death in our own lives. Some of us will choose to make amends for those choices for the rest of our lives.

We are guilty. But we don’t have to be shameful. As Brené Brown says so eloquently, “Shame can’t live in the light.” Here before you is my shame. May it die a grizzly death in the light as it comes out of the shadows. Maybe together we can shed some light, “Kicking at the darkness til it bleeds daylight.” I pray so.

~~Stephen G., May 2017

21
Nov

Stephen & Paula: Traveling to the Baltics in January?

When Bruce Cockburn called us to “Kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight,” I didn’t think he meant literally; but, Paula and I have been invited to lead a Lithuanian Campus Crusade staff retreat in January on the frozen shores of the Baltic Sea outside of Vilnius. The darkness that far north at that time of year encompasses life.

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-11-46-08-amLithuania is nestled south of Latvia, between the Baltic Sea and the Ukraine. It is due east, across the Baltic Sea from Copenhagen. Ah, January in the Baltics, every traveler’s dream…

God has an amazing sense of humor. I had a bad experience with CRU when I was a student and so, as a young staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I intentionally walked onto campuses where CRU was working to set up competing ministries. The resentments I carried ran so deep that when I “vetted” Paula, her CRU background was one of my biggest concerns. And now… I think, God laughs at / and with me a lot, leading me to repentance on this issue

In addition to this CRU staff training conference, we are working to gather our own ACT Intl. missionaries together the following week in Germany for a week of retreat and refreshment. They’ve never gathered and are in desperate need of connection to one another and the Lord.

As I talk and listen to them each week, I am struck by the challenges they face as artists, evangelists, and pastors. Some common refrains echo in our conversations. Though they are also common to you and me, they are amplified in the souls of artists on the mission field:

  • “I feel like such a fraud…”
  • “I don’t know where I fit…”
  • “I feel so lonely…”
  • “I’m so depressed.”
  • “If my supporters knew…”
  • “I can‘t tell anyone…”

togetherI hear heartbreak, disillusionment, frustration, and anger. I hear about broken and lost relationships. I hear about kids who are in open rebellion and wives and husbands that aren’t sure they want to stay married.

Our artists already feel a little out of place. When you add in the above concerns (and so many more), life is often overwhelming. It is an honor and a privilege to walk with these women and men as they courageously step into the unknown and face their fears and their insecurities. I get to be their champion, coming alongside them as they face their inner demons.

I’m writing this because we need to raise and additional $3000 for this trip. Would you pray about the possibility of making a special year-end gift to help us help others build the kingdom in “post-Christian” Europe? It seems so strange to ask for special projects when we are struggling to raise our own funding, but obedience doesn’t always make sense. We only need thirty people to give $100 a piece and we will be there.

If you can’t give financially to help, will you pray and drop us a line of encouragement. Truth be told, we are discouraged right now. We could use some encouragement as we move forward. Thanks for walking with us.

Here is a link to an encrypted partnership page where you can safely give:

27
Jun

Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 17: I needed to Forgive.

Authors: Note: This is not what I planned on writing at this point. I had no peace in my soul and that stopped me from posting what I planned. I sat on what I wrote for over two weeks and only just now deleted it all. And for reason that is beyond me, this takes its place. This is a continuation of my story, as best asI can remember it. However, it is not a linear and chronological history. I pray that the posts I write become “our story.” By that, I mean that you recognize parts of your story as you read mine. My story is not wholly unique. Others share it — or, at least, parts of it. And countless others deny sharing it, but do anyway. Maybe we’ll meet in the middle of the narrative.

If CPR is a picture of renewed life, then coughing up water to breathe is a picture of the act of forgiveness. That sounds backward. It feels backward. I need forgiveness. I don’t need to forgive. I am the guilty party. I  betrayed my Ex, my kids, my supporters, friends, family, staff, and parishioners. Yes, I did. And still I need to forgive.

Alcoholics Anonymous gets this right. Alcoholics make amends in steps eight and nine:

Step 8: Made a list of all we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made amends to those we had harmed, except when to do so would harm them or others.

Long before they get to those steps, they spend time figuring out who they need to forgive. They do that in steps four and five:

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory.
Step 5: Admitted to ourselves, to God, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Recovering alcoholics discover that the exact nature of their wrongs is holding grudges and withholding forgiveness. They correctly believe that God forgives us the way we forgive others. So, we need to learn to forgive to experience being forgiven. This is consistent with how Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive our sins as we forgive the sins of those who sin against us.”

I am amazed that the evangelical church that birthed and grew me never spent much time teaching this principle. To know forgiveness, I need to forgive.

France

When I did my fourth step, I wrote pages and pages of resentments. For instance, I acknowledged resenting the country of France and the French. It is almost funny that France is part of my fourth step. But France isn’t alone on the list. There are many other deep and dark resentments that I didn’t / I don’t want to admit: I have Polaroid images of my mother fingering my pre-pubescent genitalia in inappropriate ways…  And, I remember my Dad leaving me with her for weeks on end while he traveled to serve God, who evidently needed him more than I did. I remember my angry, depressed mother who seemed to hate my brother and me for stopping her from enjoying the life she loved — traveling and ministering beside Dad — beating me with a belt. I remember my brother brutally beating me up every day, throwing me into walls and never getting caught. I remember the betrayal of a first love and then having to listen to her friend’s cutting explanation, “She broke up with you because you were afraid to kiss her.” I remember that same girl writing me a letter whilst I was in exile in England to get away from her, asking me if I heard Journey’s new song, “Separate Ways.” I remember the betrayal of my college fiancee and my brother, as we drove away from her house for the last time, stopping the car so I could throw up because I couldn’t handle the pain …

There are so many more vivid resentments I could name. Alongside them, I have 70 mm Dolby surround sound, 3-D film of every shameful thing I’ve ever done. I remember with too much clarity the things I did that made me want to crawl into a hole and die; the times there was no place to escape. I can remember all the times I let people down, disappointing them. I remember telling lies to appear bigger, smarter, faster, stronger, more, and more lovable than I knew myself to be. I remember getting caught in those lies and shrinking down smaller than I wa before they left my mouth. I remember shrinking as small as I could get and realizing that it wasn’t small enough.

I need to forgive the Country of France, and a bunch of others. But most of all, I needed to forgive myself. There are a few reasons for that:

1. I convinced myself that I was so bad I deserved the bad things that others did to me.

2. The feelings that accompany my shame are more powerful than feelings surrounding wrongs done to me. Though I feel both. Historically, I feel shame more viscerally.

3, As hard as I try, I can’t forgive myself. There is a spiritual power that needs to be broken down for me to forgive myself.

4. Until I forgive myself, I don’t know what it looks like to forgive others.

Forgiveness is a process. It is not a linear event that I pass through and then complete. It keeps circling back like Bill Murray’s character in GroundHog Day. As I go through life, I uncover more that I need to forgive. Like taking up my cross daily, true freedom requires daily forgiving myself and my world.

There is a downside to forgiving yourself, at least there was for me. As I began to forgive myself, I started to get pissed off. When I thought I was a P.O.S. I could excuse people for treating me badly. I didn’t deserve any better than I got. After being forgiven, I started getting angry.

Now, you have to understand, my parents didn’t allow me to feel anger. The only person who could be angry in our house was Mom. The only exception was that Dad would occasionally get mad at her to hold her in line. Mom and Dad proudly boasted that they had “beaten the anger right out of me.” I don’t remember that. I don’t remember anger. I still don’t do it well. My friends told stories about throwing things or having a tantrum, and I’d get jealous because I didn’t know how to do it. My anger came out as passive aggression. While I smiled sweetly at you, I’d stab you in the back and watch you bleed out without you ever knowing it was me who got you. Or, I’d escape into my double life because it was the safest place I could find.

But, now, after learning I could forgive myself, I was feeling it. In the furrow of my sin, people felt free to wrong me. My Bishop lied to cover his butt with his wife after my Ex retold the story to them. He said he hadn’t realized in ’97 that I’d had intercourse with prostitutes, even though I went specifically to him and others to confess that sin. He knew his lie wasn’t important. My sin superceded it. So he got away with telling it.

Shadow preacherThe leadership of the church in which I grew up decided it was wholly appropriate to not only read a list of my sins from the pulpit to shame me but to demand I write an explicit letter to my prayer and financial supporters outlining those same sins to them as well. Conveniently forgetting the rest of the New Testament, they intentionally shamed me because of their interpretation of the pastoral epistles. Later, they performed an exorcism on my brother and sister-in-law’s home because I stayed there a month. When it became clear that if there were demons in the home, they undoubtedly came from my brother, no apology was ever offered or considered. The pastor discovered he could get away with saying pretty much whatever he wanted to say to and about me, and so he did. It was reported to me that he made sure a local seminary refused me admission to their counseling program. I no longer had any grounds to disagree with or stand up to him. People in the church started and repeated fantastic rumors. A missionary friend saw me in Costco and asked if I really made my Dad move out of his house so that I could live there.

The leadership of my house church community thought they knew what they were doing, and in their arrogance demanded that everything be done their way. They chose my counselor and then didn’t like things he said and so demanded that I stop seeing him and find a Christian counselor (assuming he’d agree with them). Finally, when they disagreed with both my sponsor and new Christian therapist and discovered that I would not obey them, they asked me to leave the church altogether. So I did. I became an Episcopalian.

I knew that I needed to forgive these men and women for my sake rather than theirs. I didn’t want to, though. My hatred of them felt deserved. It felt good, and it held me captive. I was unwilling to give up my right to revenge. Judging them gave me solace in my despair. Even when you are at the bottom of the barrel it helps to have people that are easy marks for contempt.

Finally, after years (and that is not an exaggeration) of prayer for willingness to take action I asked my former Bishop to meet. We had coffee, and I told him that I forgave him. He asked me what he had done, and I said it was unimportant and bringing it to light again would probably create further damage between us. I knew I needed to let it go. I needed to give up any fantasy of revenge. I had to give up the right to judge he and his wife in the same way I had given up the right to judge myself.

However, I was still unwilling to forgive the pastor who read out my sins, blocked my admission to the seminary, didn’t stop rumors, and said hateful things about and to me that were untrue. Then one day, I walked into a pastors’ prayer meeting, and he was the only one there. As I walked across the room and sat down next to him, praying as I walked. I found that I held no ill will for him. I didn’t need to harm him. He was an old man, and God had my back. I didn’t need to judge him at all.

I wish I could tell you that once I gave up the right to revenge or to judge him –or anyone else, for that matter — all my hatred went away. It didn’t. There are still moments when I want revenge on that old pastor. I have to pray them away. There are still moments that I judge the hell out of the old bishop and his wife. That fact isn’t helped by her ongoing judgment of me and continued belief that she was correct in her assessments and actions, so I continually return to my knees and ask for willingness to forgive, and then I pray a simple prayer of surrender:

“Lord, I surrender my right to be angry with ________. Save me from being angry with them. Please give them _________ (whatever I want for myself right now). May I find in you, whatever my anger is giving me. Your will not mine be done.”

I pray that prayer until I mean it, which means I repeat it a lot. Some folk aren’t easy to love! But by praying, I take the Lord seriously, seeking the welfare of my enemies. And as I obey, the Holy Spirit slowly transforms and resurrects my heart.

“Listening” to the energy in my body as I wrote these words, I am very aware that I have more work to do. Though my resentments’ power weakens the more I pray to forgive, my resentments can still keep me awake. Their power and my powerlessness require me to rely on the Holy Spirit. He has to be actively involved because my resentments are too much for me. The good news is that he is willing to get his hands dirty with me.

Just so you know, because this post brought back a lot of emotion, I will be praying the above-cited prayer a lot in the next few days. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to join me in it — for your resentments, not mine.prayer-on-my-knees4

Previous Posts

2
Jun

Confronting The Invisible Impasses In Your Life

Written by Alexander W. G. Seidel

The pastor, a liberal by most standards, wondered why anyone would have the audacity vote for any evangelical conservative candidate. After all, old ways of far-right thinking, rigid and closed, would never lead to the kingdom of heaven. The new guy that visited his church this last Sunday played into all his long-held progressive beliefs.

As they spoke after the service, the pastor found the new visitor to be as conservative as they come. He asked how people tended to vote in the fellowship and whether they believed in social justice, a term the pastor learned was very suspicious to his new visitor. This mere layperson had such nerve asking these questions. He also had the nerve to be a Tea Party conservative that was bent on voting for Donald Trump. The pastor, an Obama supporter, bristled at this even as he maintained his feeble veneer of Christian hospitality and acceptance.

The new visitor was indeed suspicious of this congregation and its pastor. He was tired of tax-and-spend liberals and their do-gooder approach to saving the world. The longer he spoke with the pastor, the more he felt this place was heretical. How could they allow gays? How could they affirm what was clearly sin? How could they advocate for big government? In the end, the visitor, a pastor also and a proud neo-Calvinist, could not bring himself to find any good in this congregation. So he left with a contrived good-bye. Both pastors found themselves at an invisible impasse. Imagine if this interchange had actually occurred between a pastor and one seeking Jesus? Read more

16
May

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, Part 15: Do meds play a role in recovery?

I finished my 2nd step about the same time that my psychologist referred me to a psychiatrist to do a medication check. After the separation and divorce, Doctors prescribed Wellbutrin for me which changes patient’s moods by affecting our dopamine and norepinephrine. Wellbutrin is a unique medication as it does not fit nicely into other anti-depressant categories. While it is a second generation antidepressant, it does not address serotonin levels and so is unique in its field. There were several good reasons my psychiatric nurse practitioner prescribed it. I was obviously overweight, and Wellbutrin is an appetite suppressant as well as an anti-depressant, and it would help alleviate some of my ADHD symptoms as well.

The issue for me, however, was Wellbutrin is a sexual stimulant. As a sex addict trying to get clean, taking a sexual stimulant is probably not a good idea. It certainly wasn’t for me. When my counselor did extra reading on my case and discovered that Wellbutrin was a sexual stimulant, he was astounded that my nurse practitioner prescribed it for me and wanted to see if a psychiatrist would approach my case differently. As a lay person in the field of medications, he thought that eliminating the extra sexual stimulation, and perhaps even adding a sexual depressant could help me.

Though it is hard to find a psychiatrist who could fit me into their schedule; once I did, he agreed with my therapist and began to search for the right medication for me. It was a long process. As nearly all psychiatric providers explain. Prescribing psychiatric meds is as much art, as it is science.

My psychiatrist wanted to find a drug in the SSRI anti-depressant category. SSRi stands for “Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRi’s are “Second wave” antidepressants and are generally more effective with fewer side effects than first wave anti-depressants. They work by inhibiting serotonin levels in the brain. There is an extensive list of SSRI’s to try. They all work slightly differently to achieve the same ends, and effect different people in different ways.

First, we tried Prozac. I do not remember if it didn’t work, why I didn’t like it, or why we decided to try something else, but we did. We tried Paxil which I took for nearly 2 years. it had the desired effect of creating space and slowing my mind but slowly, its effects waned. So we pivoted to Zoloft. I hated Zoloft. It made everything fuzzy. It was as if my mind was running through knee-deep, wet cement. This surprised me because most of my recovery friends were on Zoloft. Indeed, it could have been that fact that led me to urge my psychiatrist to take me off Paxil to try it. My friends referred to Zoloft as “Vitamin Z;” and it worked for them. So, I wanted to try it too. It didn’t work for me like it did for them, though.

Celexa ended up being my long-term solution. I stayed on it for over eight years. It took a few weeks to find the right dosage, but once we found it, I noticed, just like with the Paxil before it, that I had immediate freedom from compulsions of any kind.

My shrink told me that his goal was to give me a split-second gap between my thoughts and my actions. The speed on which I moved was one of my biggest strengths. It helped me get ahead. I was afraid to lose it and gave voice to those fears to both my Psychiatrist and therapist. But they convinced me that what I relied upon on as a strength and viewed as integral to my being was also killing me. My ADHD mind didn’t provide me the psychic space I needed to overcome my compulsivity. That needed to change and I needed to surrender my quick thinking if I was going to survive.

If my wife reads this, she will be surprised because she still sees me as an extremely quick thinker. Indeed, what I feared I was going to lose wasn’t lost at all. I merely gained a measure of sanity.

Looking back, I understand now that my early traumas led to some neural disruption and/or disconnections in my prefrontal cortex where my behavioural inhibitors and filters reside. In prescribing the SSRi’s my psychiatrist attempted to help stimulate those neural connections enabling them to give me clarity about my actions and their consequences. And while medications were not the whole answer for me, they were a major piece of my sobriety pie.

My parents and church raised me to be suspicious of medications being a reasonable response to mental and emotional issues. In their world view, the need for medication somehow diminished humanity’s moral responsibility. We blamed original sin for peoples’ poor choices and felt that people needed to take full responsibility for their actions. While we were not completely anti-psychiatry; seeing the need for people struggling with psychosis, schizophrenic disorders and the like; we frowned upon antidepressants as medications that displaced the Holy Spirit’s role in discipleship, etc…

I needed to repent of that belief. And I hope that cultural reality is shifting given all that we know about the mind/ body connection. It is surprising to me how much the suspicion of psychiatry exists in AA & NA 12-step recovery rooms. Anyone that was addicted to a mood altering substance has every right to be suspicious, and yet they also need to heed what research is revealing. While neurobiology is still in its infancy; I, for one, can hardly wait to see what advances we make as we unlock more of our mind’s secrets.

Please note that I do not want to suggest in any of this that I was not and am not entirely responsible for the choices I made before seeking medical intervention. And without medical intervention, I would not have been able to enjoy long-lasting sobriety.


Previous Posts (linked)

13
Apr

All Messed Up and Nowhere to Go

Written by Alexander W. G. Seidel

Ministry is a lonely pursuit. Or, at least that’s what some church leaders make it. The pressure to perform is far too common in church circles. The image of the noble pastor and his wife and family has placed crushing pressure on many leaders. At best, it leads to burn out. At worst, this careens into a moral tailspin. When the pristine image of a pastor goes, the pastor likewise has nowhere to go. How could it be possible to confess burnout or moral failing, when a pastor fears the fallout of his shattered image?
Read more

11
Apr

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 11: Abuse & Rehab

Johnson & VanVonderen defines spiritual abuse as, “Using God as a carrot or a stick to get people to behave the way you’d like them to.”* Spiritual Abuse came naturally to me. As a junior in college, Campus Crusade for Christ tried to ask me to come on staff with them, and I did not allow them to get very far. At the “Senior Panic” I attended, I did not even know it was a recruitment event, and after I discovered what it was, it was too late. I went to my interview time in shorts and a ripped tee shirt and informed the three people who were there to interview me that they were wasting everyone’s time and that I was not going to go on staff with them. When they asked, “Why not?” I said, “Because it

I said, “Because it isn’t God’s will…” knowing that the answer would leave them nowhere to go. I was right. My college staff worker came to me soon after that, and we agreed that my ongoing involvement with Crusade would be a distraction rather than a help to them or me. So I joined InterVarsity.

In those days, IV held “Bible & Life” weekend conferences. I attended my first event as a senior. Costs were kept down by meeting at a local church, and attendees stayed with families in the community. I was placed in the Bible Studies method course — and I discovered that this old guy named Tom  (he must have been in his mid-40s) was at my table. I was blown away when, on Sunday, he was the speaker for the event and man, could he preach! I discovered that he was the Area Director for Central Michigan, and he was there to “vet” me. As we left the conference, he asked for a moment of my time, “Steve, I’d like to ask you to pray about the possibility of considering joining InterVarsity staff.” I tried to formulate the word, “No,” but couldn’t. How could I possibly say no to praying about the possibility of anything.

In my unknown woundedness, I latched onto Tom as a surrogate father to me. He was more of a mentor to me. I wanted to be him. Later in my career with IV, I realized I demanded way too much of him, and though we remained close; he was the preacher at my first wedding, and I named my son after him, he felt betrayed by my move back to Oregon and we drifted apart. Though I don’t know entirely why, since I fell, he became unreachable. Sadly, and to my detriment our relationship, which I valued above nearly every other was a casualty of my sin.

I began using the phrase, “I’d like you to pray about the possibility of considering…” I discovered when I “twinned” his expression with the story of how he used it with me; students could not say no to me. If I really wanted to twist the knife, I would add, “If as you pray, God says no to you. I will not argue with him. Arguing with God is not smart.” I was developing into a great salesman for Jesus. I do not know how many people I manipulated this way. To my shame, the number is too high for me to count.

It was the fall after the Church publicly vomited my sin for the world to see; as I read Johnson & VanVonderen’s book that I saw more of the fulness of my abusiveness and recognized more fully the abusive nature of the Church system I had been raised. What killed me was that I realized that so much of what I thought was good was really evil and had driven people away from Jesus.

I use Johnson and VanVonderen’s definition of Spiritual abuse. And, I am convinced that we spiritually abuse people whenever we use God, or his written word as instruments of shame. There is no shame in the Kingdom of God.

Since nothing the church tried was working, and since I couldn’t get clean and because my wife had filed papers for divorce and asked me to move out of our house, the pastors agreed I needed more than they could offer. Perhaps, the therapists and my sponsor were right. Maybe I needed rehab. I still remember my friend Tom saying to me, “Even David had to learn through the rods of the Philistines. Perhaps that is what needs to happen with you. I don’t know, Steve. I don’t know.” Finally, the Church was acknowledging that it was in over its head.

As I flew back to Philadelphia for rehab at Keystone, I listened to Mozart’s Requiem on my walkman. I put it on repeat. I checked into the facility —  a giant house in Chester. Across the street, all the people in drug and alcohol rehab looked down their noses at us. Sex addicts are the scum of the earth. That house in Chester was a cocoon for me, though. It was the safest place on the planet.

When I arrived, I was shown around the three-story house, given a room, and introduced to my housemates. There was a giant white board in the kitchen with all of the resident’s names. They wrote my name at the bottom. I moved up the board as people left and others arrived. Once at the top, a decision was made about when it was best to graduate. I stayed 35 days.

Sex addiction is not limited to pastors though there were two of us there during my stay. There was also a mobster (I kid you not), a nineteen-year-old kid who also struggled with heroin, a banker, and an artist. Most of us were educated and at some level had a level of success. There was a jew, a Wiccan, and assorted Christians, as well as an atheist and agnostic. There were gays and straights and even a couple of “tri-sexuals” (“We’ll try anything”). There were people in trouble with the law, with their partners, and with their workplaces. And though, while I was there everyone was male; that is not always true.

We had group and individual therapy sessions in Art therapy, psycho-dramas, family therapy (for those whose partners participated — mine did not), and talk therapy. We faced our predatory selves. It didn’t matter what we had done. Even my friend who never “acted out” with another human being, acknowledged that he was a predator — though most the world would not understand how. In the evenings, we attended 12-step 12-tradition meetings, and eventually we were all allowed to use and talk on the payphone when it was available.

Next week we’ll go further into the details…


Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10

*D.  Johnson & J. VanVonderen (1991) The subtle power of spiritual abuse. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.

 

8
Apr

Trinitarian Therapy

Martin Buber

Martin Buber

Alex was the first to talk to me about Martin Buber as we sat outside one of Portland’s better brew pubs on a summer night in 2013 talking about my upcoming inaugural term at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Ostensibly, my intention was to study with Dr. Dan Allender, the founder of the small, almost anonymous school on the shores of Elliot Bay. Allender’s books were already formational in my thinking about pastoral care.

As we broke bread together, Alex talked about other professors who would impact my life and thinking. Foremost among them was a man named Roy Barsness. Alex was unable to talk about Roy without mentioning Martin Buber, whose name I knew, but nothing more. Alex told me I’d soon know Buber well and prophesied that he would become seminal to my thinking. He was right.

When I started school in the fall of 2013, the Seattle School created cohorts of students who entered and traversed together a semester of classes that every student, no matter their degree program was required to pass. The course rotation was rigorous: Dan’s “Faith, Hope & Love,” created a grid for us to view our calling in the Kingdom of God, Dwight Friesen’s, “Hermeneutics,” helped us think about our interpretation of, not only the Word of God but all of life. This is important because the Seattle School endeavors to live at the intersection of “Text Soul & Culture,” and Dwight’s class made us carefully and thoughtfully explore the ramifications of when, where and how “text, soul, & culture” meet. Finally, my cohort met Roy, the creator of a provocative deconstructionistic class entitled, “Interpersonal Foundations.” In our first class, Roy asked us what we believed about God, people and sin, declaring that our answers would shape our approach to our work as therapists. So, the rest of the term we worked on those topics together.

Dr. Roy Barsness

Dr. Roy Barsness

It is perhaps that simple prolegomenon that sets the Seattle School apart from other schools. Everything we studied for the next three years caused us to wrestle with answers to these questions. They became the prolegomenon of our understanding about therapy.

Buber is important because of his emphasis on “I-Thou” relationships. This brilliant, Jewish philosopher taught me more about the importance of the Trinity than all my seminary professors. Buber’s understanding of the I-Thou is a Trinitarian understanding of relationships. For what Buber calls his readers to consider is that our very identities — The Imago Dei — are formed as we relate to others and God.

I define sin as “anything that violates a relationship.” This statement is true, in part because anything that harms relationship, in reality, violates the very nature of the triune God. A sin is a sin because it is the anthesis of God’s nature.

It is not hard to see how these core beliefs about the nature of God and who he made us to be and how we become who we are supposed to be, affect our work as therapists. Our endeavor is to live into the Trinitarian image in all our work and all our relationships. We are truly children of our seminary. We think that holding onto this Trinitarian truth throughout the counseling process sets us apart, and calls us to a new kind of relational holiness that increases the fullness of our lives and our clients’ lives and makes God laugh with delight.

 

 

8
Apr

And can it be

Len Sweet posted this hymn of Wesley’s on Facebook. As I watched, the years fell away and my soul was lifted up. My memory went back years to the Bridge Street Church in Leeds, Yorkshire singing this at the top of their lungs. Then I remembered from my time with interVarsity in Ann Arbor and my friend, Dave Collins leading the students to sing these amazing words whole heartedly. IV was known for almost preaching from the hymns. And there is so much here to underline. All the stanza’s rock. Because I took my gracefall, verses 3 & 4 in the video move me to tears — it is 4&5 from the lyrics below since this lyric sheet included verse two from the original that the video left out.

 

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? ‘Tis mystery all: th‘ Immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
to sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
let angel minds inquire no more.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
let angel minds inquire no more.

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th‘ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th‘ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

 

If these words don’t give hope, I fear nothing will. May you know the reality of what Wesley wrote in your life this day.

6
Apr

In Search of Approval

By Alexander W. G. Seidel

In my many years as a church leader, planter, board member, or plain old attendee, it is remarkable how many of the leaders I’ve worked with struggle with an inordinate need for approval. I include myself in this struggle. I think we would all agree that it is nice to be liked, respected and affirmed for a job well done. But life becomes fraught with peril if we enter our vocation to fulfill a deep need for approval. This is especially problematic for those that choose the vocation of pastor.
Read more