Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

I love, love the film “You’ve Got Mail”. I bet I’ve seen it 20 times! At one point Kathleen Kelly writes to her chat room buddy, NY152, “So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?” I’ve got the opposite issue. So much of the fiction I read reminds me of frightening experiences I’ve actually lived through.

People read books and think, “that doesn’t happen in real life”. I’m here to tell you—yes it does!

I’ve read every one of Nicholas Sparks’ romance laden, tear jerkin’, heart breakin’ novels. Hey, don’t judge me. He rocks. But Sparks’ latest book, “Safe Haven”, is messin’ me up! I’ve lived parts of this story!

The book is about the mysterious and beautiful Katie who appears in a small North Carolina town. Alex is a young widower with two small children. He immediately takes a liking to Miss Katie.

Katie’s past is slowly revealed, and her fictional drama is reminding me of my real-life chronicles. She ran away from her abusive husband. Not only did he hit her and attempt to control her every move, he also used Bible scripture to justify himself.

My ex-husband used the Bible to legitimize his bizarre antics. He wouldn’t go to the grocery story with me because “God hadn’t released” him. He spent hours in front of the television watching Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker because “God directed” him through their show, Praise The Lord. He stayed home and cast demons out of my closet while I was at work, then threw me up against a wall in an attempt to exorcise the devil out of me.

One evening we went to marriage counseling at the home of one of the pastors from our church. We got to the small apartment in Clovis before the pastor and his wife had a chance to get home from the Sunday night service. We sat on the patch of grass in front of the complex—my baby son asleep in my arms.

While we waited there on that muggy summer evening, Terry read scriptures to me. Better to live on the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife, Proverbs 21:9 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord, Ephesians 5:22. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord, Colossians 3:18. And on and on.

That counseling session did not go as Terry expected. The pastor directed all counsel at my then-husband. He was not being a Godly leader—he wasn’t working and providing for his family, he couldn’t be called the Spiritual head of the home, and he was ignoring the Bible’s instructions to love your wives and do not be harsh to them. (Colossians 3:19)

At the end of our time together that evening, the counselor instructed me to not “use” any of the things said that evening against Terry. In other words, I was not to say, “I told you so!”

On the way home I asked if we could stop for a Sprite soda. Terry went ballistic, saying things like, “The pastor told you not to use his words to get what you want. I suppose you think you can ask me for anything now.” I remember being so terrified that night.

He eventually left Dallas and me at our apartment and he disappeared. I didn’t see him until the next day. Such ugliness.

My former husband has not been the only “Christian” to use the Bible as a weapon of mass destruction. I think I’ve accepted some of the abuse because I sincerely want to “hear” God and honor Him. People often use God as a hammer to beat people into submission.

I’ve written about the associate pastor who told me I was “on a dangerous path” because I asked “Why?” His boss had removed me from a leadership position that I loved and was good at. When I asked why, I was told, “Because I’m in charge.” Don’t ask questions…submit to the will and way of the leader—the man. These could’ve been the instructions of cult leaders like David Koresh or Jim Jones!

It’s not just men who are spiritual bullies – women do it too. Oh, our ways are subtler, but no less wrong. We gossip and call it a “prayer request”. We manipulate and claim to have “heard God” tell us truths He won’t tell you.

Sunday at church the pastor challenged us. John the Baptist said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is here, repent.” In other words, come have a relationship with me and hopefully that relationship leads to change. Real heart reformation rarely happens in the finger pointing, name calling, judgment-rendering call to “REPENT!” (Cue echo sound effect)

I grew up in a very legalistic and spiritually oppressive environment. I grew up believing that it was way more important to act religious than to know Jesus and actually have him as a friend. When I was young I was terrified of breaking the rules because God’s wrath would send me straight to hell.

As a young adult I went to the same kind of legalistic, fire and brimstone “do this” “don’t do that” kind of church. It was what was familiar. If I could change one thing about my past, I’d change what my kids learned about religion when they were little. I hope they one day see a clear picture of who Jesus really is—not the spiritual bully they grew up seeing in others.

Home churches are on the rise today. A friend told me the other day she chooses to forego the traditional church because everyone in the home church has “issues just like me”. It would be more honest to say that people at the home church ADMIT to having issues far more readily than the traditionalists, with their “Repent Now!” mantra.

To the bullies I say, no, I am not “too weak”! I’m the strongest person you’ll ever meet and I’ve survived things most people only read about in novels. No, God did not “tell” you some mean, oppressively religious thing about me. We talk everyday and HE thinks I’m awesome. And no, just because you’re a pastor does not mean you can manipulate and twist my words in order to prove I’m something I’m not. No!!

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