Denominations, Abomination & the Christ

Denominational barriers, in my opinion, are a bit like a certain proposed wall between USA and Mexico; we build the wall, and the other side pays. We’re in; they’re out. It’s a divisive ‘us v/s them’ mentality, when ‘denomination-as-an identity’ is what we focus on, rather than focusing on Jesus, and rather than blessing our neighbours who also focus on Jesus, but do it differently. That said, I’ve read several strong ‘anti-denomination’ articles and comments ranging from general anti-denominational rants to calling all use of denomination identifiers demonic, to healthy questioning. (Observation would tell me that those who are totally anti-denomination, are very ‘pro-my-belief-system’ and create the same barriers without the denomination name associated.) And it all made me think below the surface of this problem.

Isn’t the real issue from Whom/whom, or what we draw our spiritual identity? Is it from a denomination? From a leader? (dead or alive) Or from any other person or thing other than Christ? To whom do we look for validation and affirmation? Denominations are an unnecessary thing in and of themselves, granted, but I’d hesitate to call them demonic, as there’s no biblical evidence, nor current evidence that they are. But there’s plenty of evidence that they can be problematic. And that problem is old as the idea of Christianity and church. “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos…” they said in Corinthians, and Paul corrected them, to bring it back to Christ, and that is something that popularly ‘followed’ or ‘idolized’ spiritual leaders sometimes fail to do, as they watch their ‘tribe’ grow in strength in support of them, lifting them up rather than bringing it back to the simple gospel of Jesus. Good spiritual leaders will turn that ‘lifting up’ back to Jesus, not in false humility, but humbly accepting thanks and redirecting glory to God. Less than stellar spiritual leaders will absorb that ‘idolatry’, and as their name grows, the shift happens from Jesus to a person. (I would know… I’m “MENNOnite” by cultural birth, which wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t a spiritual identity.) And as that name grows and if the identity becomes about a person or a set of beliefs held by that person, rather than about Jesus, divisions are inevitable. But the problem isn’t about the name, it’s about the position it is given, and the division it causes in the body of Christ.

That divisiveness is not good. But it goes deeper than denominational name, doesn’t it? Is the root not a baser thing than that? A thing of selfish ambition and fear of losing position if we don’t feed and absorb that place of being held high, or having our beliefs held high… even higher than Christ? We forget that the ‘positions’ we are given in spiritual leadership are sacred callings, and they are servant-hood; an invitation by God to do His work, and when He has called, He preserves our calling if we trust Him and humbly turn the hearts of people to Him. This is gracious spiritual leadership, honouring ‘the Christ’, whether with denominational ‘titles’ or not. And I have known men and women of great ‘position’, wealth, and wisdom, who have walked humbly with their God, and whose names hold significant ‘presence’ when referenced, yet always they hold their hands up, redirecting to Jesus, the worship, as did Peter and Paul on the streets, as told in Acts 14. These are men and women of various denominations, or no denominations at all, but they are true heroes of faith, and true spiritual leaders. Because spiritual leaders always lead the way to God; they are never an end in themselves.

I will grant it, I don’t like the whole ‘denominations’ thing much, and find it particularly unnecessary as a frame of reference as to what ‘kind’ of Christian I am. I’m either the Jesus kind, or I’m not one at all. But I can extend grace for the idea of it, because it dates back to the beginning of the church, from what I can tell, though often associated with cities, and now associated with beliefs. I don’t think it will keep people out of heaven, so I come back to the argument that strong labeling or condemnation of denominations seems a bit over zealous.

Revelation addresses unique church identities well, pointing out that each has something to offer, but with areas of deep need for transformation. So I question whether ‘ridding the world of denominations’ is the answer, or even possible. Rather, tearing down the invisible divides we create by holding high our own positions, or this person or that one, rather than lifting Jesus high… now that’s a mission I’m into. Because when Jesus is lifted high, people are drawn to Him. And when He is invited in, the demonic flees and people are made whole and the body of Christ is made whole, not divided. We humans tend to focus on solving a problem so the Christ can be portrayed accurately and we try to rid ourselves (or each other) of the demonic to invite Jesus in, but the reverse is the answer most times; when Jesus is invited in, the darkness scatters. Darkness cannot exist in the light. And Jesus does not fear that darkness. In His darkest hour, He opened His arms wide, welcoming the whole world into grace.

And that’s the problem with us… We tend to cross our arms and close our hearts, but Jesus opened His arms wide, and His heart wider. If we stop ‘fixing the problem’, and rather invite a broad shift in focus away from the denominations that exist, and away from the people who lead them, and collectively lift Jesus high, and walk in the way of His love, transformation will come. Barriers will come down. Walls will crumble.

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger

Childhood Sexual Abuse; Prevalence & Impact in Christian Communities

What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

“Sexual Abuse is when a younger or less powerful person is used by an older or more powerful child, youth or adult for sexual gratification. Sexual abuse can be contact or non-contact” (Canadian Red Cross, 2016). The document goes on to define both contact and non-contact forms of sexual abuse, listing various acts in each category, including oral, anal and breast area touch, and visually exposing victims to pornographic material or nakedness.  Health Canada takes it further, stating, “Sexual abuse is inherently emotionally abusive and is often accompanied by other forms of mistreatment. It is a betrayal of trust and an abuse of power over the child” (Health Canada Archives, 1997).

It is accurate to say that Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) is any act used for sexual gratification in any way by an older, larger or more powerful child or adult, and/or any act that disrupts or interferes with the sexual innocence of a child, whether through touch, visual exposure or in words.

While curiosity about sexuality, body parts and their function, is a normal part of child development, the way in which older children, teens and adults handle this curiosity has tremendous impact on each child’s sexual development. As with any learning, when a child receives age appropriate facts and positive information about his or her body, the child develops a healthy view of his or her sexuality, thereby building self-confidence and healthy self-esteem. In contrast, when the information is negative or abusive—whether taught in words or learned through abuse—the child suffers negative consequences.

Prevalence of the Childhood Sexual Abuse

Due to remaining largely unreported, it is difficult to determine just how extensive CSA is. Among many other issues contributing to the silence, victims often have a relationship with their offender, and fear imposing consequences on them. “An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members […] About 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members.” (United States Department of Justice, n.d.).

In recent years CSA has become a more open conversation, thereby giving victims permission to find their voice, reclaim their power, and speak out to break the shame of silence. However, even in this changing culture, shame and the fear of not being heard remain a powerful force, preventing many victims from disclosing or reporting.

Within the context of religious culture, silence remains strong, making it virtually impossible to determine the extent of the problem, particularly in closed-culture communities, such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish and other similar groups. However, glimpses inside the culture reveal a hidden problem. In a case involving a Conservative Mennonite group, in Bancroft Ontario, a school teacher molested a high percentage of her students, including having intercourse with at least one, and forcing others to watch sexual encounters. (T. Metzger, personal communication [interview], January 13, 2016). In another similar small private Christian school, in Southwestern Ontario, of twenty plus students, over a period of approximately seven years, at least fifteen disclosed being molested either at school or in the homes, by older siblings, other students or an adult. (T. Metzger, personal communication [self disclosure], January 10, 2016). So, while accurate statistics are difficult to determine in Christian settings, the cases that do come to light, indicate near epidemic levels in some communities.

Understanding the Impact of CSA (Long-term/Short-term)

CSA is unlike any other abuse, in that it has the potential to produce physical pleasure while inflicting emotional trauma. When an adult hits a child, the child’s emotional trauma matches the physical response; the body confirms a wrong was committed. However, sexual touch potentially awakens pleasurable sexual response, and the body, in essence, forms an alliance with the offender against the victim, leaving the victim helpless and even desiring more of the same.

Further complicating the victimization, is the sense of being ‘special’ and ‘chosen’ by the offender, or receiving treats such as candy or money; a bond that is compounded by the feeling of ‘this is our secret’. While the child’s emotions are confused, and shame casts a long shadow over the joy of the rewards, ultimately the rewards win out for some victims.  The result is mental and sexual confusion, self-loathing—because the victim’s body is against him/her, and they cannot resist the rewards—unhealthy obsession with sex, or an extreme repulsion of it, among many other negative impacts on the victim. The hypersexual victim acts out inappropriately, starting at a young age with re-enacting the abuse with other children, with dolls, or grabbing adults in sexual ways. When other children see or experience these behaviours, they tend to reject the offending child, further isolating the victim who already feels alone and different. In contrast, the child who responds with discomfort to all touch and becomes fearful of interacting with others, whether children or adults, is likely to behave in odd ways and also becomes isolated. Both become targets of bullying or being misunderstood, and apart from compassionate intervention, are likely to struggle for life.

In later life the consequences continue, as many victims suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to varying degrees. This plays into anything from the ability to hold a job due to relational issues or feelings of inadequacy, depression or mental distraction, and failed relationships, to name only a few consequences. In marriage, flashbacks and repulsion to sex interfere with sexual intimacy, making it difficult to form healthy marital bonds, and causing frustration for both partners. In parenting, the victim who has pushed down pain and buried confusion, also has deeply buried anger and functions with a short fuse, or emotional distance. The emotionally distant parent fails to bond well with his or her offspring, and draws comfort from the fact that he or she is not abusive, but in the process there is risk of extreme neglect; a reality that comes back to haunt in later years. Fits of unexplained rage leave the angry parent feeling frustrated, inadequate and hopeless; thus the cycle of abuse continues in the form of emotional abuse or physical violence in the next generation. And the parent who vacillates between anger and emotional distance, feels constantly torn, trying to perform well, while feeling ever on an emotional yoyo with the consequence and outcome of either response.

How Does CSA Impact Individuals in Religious Cultures?

In religious communities, nothing really changes in so far as the basic responses and consequences of CSA. However, what does change is the added dynamic of religious teaching and beliefs, often for the negative, though sometimes for positive, not the least of which is faulty teachings on forgiveness. News stories where victims of crime, for example the murder of a family member, speak out and offer forgiveness, draw deep emotion from masses. Many are moved to tears at such undeserved grace, while others groan. Forgiveness, in its purest form, is a beautiful gift that sets the victim free; it releases the victim from the power the offender has over him or her. Tragically, in religious settings forgiveness is often partnered with forgetting, and presented in such a way that it ends up freeing the offender, requiring victims to ‘overlook’ the crime, push down negative feelings and interact with the offender within social context, thereby further victimizing them. This becomes a double-edged sword, particularly in sex-related crimes, first by desensitizing the community to the crime, thus creating an environment for sexual crimes to flourish, and secondly forcing the victim into silence and shame. If or when the victim acknowledges the crime and its impact, he or she is quickly rebuked, and told that to speak of it shows a lack of forgiveness. Biblical references are pulled out of context to support this kind of response, citing that God also forgives and forgets. In reality, the Bible says that God ‘remembers our sins against us no more’, which is a far cry from forgetting. Nonetheless, the approach effectively shuts down many victims, especially those in environments that discourage questioning what is taught.

Furthermore, religious people who commit sex crimes represent God by their claims to faith in Him, particularly when in a position of religious leadership or trust, such as pastor, parent, or Sunday School teacher, causing even deeper confusion. The victim cannot separate the offender and his or her faith, from the God whom he or she professes to serve, making God accessory to the crime. It is not unheard of for CSA victims, whose fathers or pastors have molested them, to close their eyes in prayer and see only their offender’s face, because that offender represents God. Consequently, victims who view God as someone who partners with child molesters, live in debilitating terror of this Cosmic Being to whom they must surrender, and who, in turn, commands them to obey the parents and leaders who would do such things.

High standards of ‘holiness’ and the need to portray a ‘perfect’ religious image, combined with a tenacious sense of loyalty within some Christian communities—particularly in more closed-culture groups—further suppress many victims. To speak out means facing rejection within church circles, family relationship, and the broader Christian community. The fear of isolation, and the inevitable emotional consequences of that isolation, holds victims hostage to pain, forcing them to suffer in silence. Those who have spoken out and faced that consequence, sometimes say in hindsight that the latter is worse than the former, and they regret speaking out.

In stark contrast, victims of CSA in a religious setting for whom the abuser and God remain completely separated, find solace in having Someone bigger than life to turn to; Someone who will, in His time, redeem the impact of the pain, horror and mental suffering. These victims find hope in a higher justice, and in believing that Someone has a redemption plan. Because of promises in the Bible, this victim believes that, while the crimes committed can never be good, indeed good things will one day come from the dark experiences of childhood. Reaching for the hand of God in comfort at night, trusting that His angels stand guard in the dark, and hearing gentle whispers of belonging and purpose, fill this child with resilient courage, even in the midst of fear and anxiety.

And the victim who comes forward in a Christian setting where support is offered, thrives like no other. Surrounded by people of faith, who also believe that God will heal and restore, and who encourage the victim to speak openly and honestly, while holding the offender accountable for the crimes, gives the victim a sense of community, safety and security. While the crime is always a tragic one, these victims stand a chance at full healing.

How Do We Positively Impact & Minimize Risk of Victimization?

This paper addresses many general issues and some unique to Christian settings, but it stands to reason that all cultures have unique dynamics. The secret in any culture, then, is to become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses, and work with respect to both. By building relationships within the community, establishing trust and partnering together, we open doors. By focusing on the strengths of a community, while avoiding the pitfalls, and being respectful of and sensitive to cultural norms, we maximize impact. Finally, by inviting the culture into the solution, we eliminate the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, and empower the community to contribute to their own, and change from within. Relationship-based solutions create sustainable impact and lasting change.

References

Canadian Red Cross. (2016). Definitions of Child Abuse & Neglect. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from http://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/violence–bullying-and-abuse-prevention/educators/child-abuse-and-neglect-prevention/definitions-of-child-abuse-and-neglect

Health Canada Archives. (1997). Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/H72-22-2-1997E.pdf

United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). National Sex Offender Public Website, Facts & Statistics. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from
https://www.nsopw.gov/en-CA/Education/FactsStatistics

On Rejection & Whistling Cheery Tunes…

It has become a thing of habit, posting daily, but also a thing of thinking about the forgotten ones, the rejected ones, and the abandoned ones. Like the lepers in Bible stories, the religious people of today see many victims as ‘untouchable’, fearing their stories… fearing the exposure of their own pain and hidden secrets.

While the fear is understandable, the result is that many victims feel unnecessary rejection, and those who reject them out of fear of facing their own pain, miss out on the wonder of freedom.

Other times victims are rejected is a result of the person(s) needing to protect an offender. To acknowledge the pain of the victims would require acknowledging the consequence of hidden crimes. And in these cases, the offenders miss out on the help they need, and again victims feel rejected. But in this case it is the best interest of victims for these kinds of people to stay far, far away from them. The poison they offer is deadly, and serves only to further victimize and violate the hearts of wounded people. The rejection still bites, if the victims believe it is about them, but it is a gift.

When victims tell me about people rejecting them, my instinctive first response is compassion. And on the heels of that, I explain that rejection is never about them; people are far to self-serving to reject us because of us. They reject us for their own benefit, their own comfort, or their own self-preservation. They hate us because what we stand for or represent offends something in them. They speak evil of us because they have to defend themselves. And the more vehement their attacks or rejection, the more likely it is that our stories and our voices come too close to home, and their controls are threatened.

Again, in cases where it instills fear in victims who are hiding their stories out of shame, I offer nothing but compassion and understanding. And where it is the fear of some perpetrator being exposed, or needing to acknowledge those crimes, I have compassion but all I can say is thank God they stay far away. There is grace in that.

And as for the pain of rejection, it remains for those at the receiving end, and it is hard for most not to take it personally. Especially at first. With time, experience and seeing these patterns, it’s easier to let it ‘run off’ and chalk it up to the realization that these people have issues. But until then, it is a draining experience, and one that takes time to heal from and work through.

Counteracting rejection requires intentionality. Surround yourself with at least a few good and supportive people whom you can trust. Step outside of your own pain and story; a constant and repeated reliving of it is difficult even for those who love you, and does you no good. Find a mentor or counselor who will help you work through the hurt, and help you refocus so that you recognize you are not the problem; these people have issues. And, because I write from a Christian perspective and for Christians, get grounded in your true identity and who you are in Christ. The childish or fearful responses of those around us hold little weight when we know who we are, and Whose we are.

With the love, acceptance and approval of God, the Creator of the Universe, the rejection of a few fearful, angry, bitter or selfish people pales in comparison, and their approval means nothing.

Finally, if it is a close relationship, rather than some distant judgment pronounced by judgmental people who haven’t bothered to hear your heart, take time to have a conversation. If you have wounded them, hear their hearts. If they are afraid, encourage them.

But if it is that distant heartless judgment from those ignorant ones who are hell-bent on bringing you down–and especially the religious ones who misrepresent Jesus and who have not heard your heart–just pick up your boots and keep walking. Whistle a little tune, breathe in the fresh air and let the sunshine kiss your face… and celebrate Jesus, life and hope.

It’s a good day.

 

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

Curse from Religious Cult Brings Blessing

Today I received an email saying I am being cursed by a religious cult because of my upcoming memoir, Between 2 Gods. If their intent is to unnerve me, shut me up, or scare me away, it won’t work. To the contrary, I felt, suddenly, peaceful. The past day or two I’ve been restless. Nothing I could put my finger on, but a gnawing feeling that started getting under my skin. I’ve been here before, a thousand times and more, and, eventually, I always figure out what it is, or it goes away with time. While it’s here I try to be in tune to my feelings and not let them take over, and focus, instead, on the ‘quiet knowing’ that God has my back.

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When the email came in, it put a bounce in my step. It reminded me why I do what I do: to penetrate the darkness with light and hope. For a religious cult to be this threatened by what ‘Between 2 Gods’ will bring to the light, thrills me! It means the darkness is threatened and losing power. It also means that, by going to such an extent as to gather and curse me, the enemy also ‘shows his face’. That opens all kinds of wonderful doors and opportunities, not the least of which is people within that cult seeing it for what it is, and finding freedom. That’s one reason it doesn’t frighten me.

The other reason is because I’ve seen the enemy up close, in my darker days. One incident, which I share in my memoir, I experienced darkness so intimately that it made me shiver for years. Coincidentally, I shared that story a few weeks ago with a group of women in Michigan and told them how, to this day, that scene makes me tremble, to recall and tell it. It doesn’t ‘frighten’ me, but the emotional flashback to that day remains strong, the memory of staring the enemy in the eye.

What I didn’t have then, that I have now, is faith in Jesus Christ, and His power. A little black curse falls flat in His presence–and, yes, the biggest curse, in His presence, is but a shriveled and powerless worm. It isn’t my own strength that gives me courage to face curses; it is Christ in me. He has filled me so full of love, courage and hope, that even for those who curse me, I feel nothing but compassion. And given a chance, I’d sit with these folks and tell them Jesus loves them.

It’s only 22 days now, until my memoir is released. Only a few proofreaders, editors and publishing staff have read it, and already the darkness is threatened. On Amazon it has been on the Bestsellers list every day since the pre-order opened, which tells me people are reaching for hope, longing to be heard… and some are just plain old curious. And that’s cool too, because God can work with it.

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So, to those in cults, cursing me: go ahead, hold your little curse gatherings and witchcraft rituals, if that’s what makes you feel powerful. Personally, I think it’s a bad idea, for your own sake, but there’s no power over me. None. The blood of Jesus stands between me and any evil thing you can wish upon me. In fact, I will begin to pray blessing over you, and ask the Father to bring confusion to your gatherings, and turn your curses inside-out, upside-down and backwards, so that they come back to you, in the form of a desperate desire to know God in intimate relationship, and reach for His blessing. I pray you will one day be on fire for His Kingdom, exposing the very evil you now worship in His name, and that you will be a great force fighting the things I am about to expose.

As for me… my Jesus has my back… I am at peace… I am loved… I am blessed!

To my friends and fellow warriors, who also fight this darkness in religious settings: we are at war. The area of sexual abuse and molestation has gone relatively unchecked and given the enemy power in the church, like few other things. The warfare and attacks that result from exposing it are a powerful indication that these things are not pleasing to God. The resistance has little to do with those who cover it up for the sake of their own religious pride and arrogance. It is a much bigger battle. God, through Jesus, brings light and hope; the enemy brings destruction, bondage, secrecy and tragedy. And the light is far more of a threat to the enemy than it will ever be to one pastor, or a thousand, who stand behind pulpits hiding sins, thinking it is about his image and reputation. It’s not.

Friends, today we have a voice, like never before, and we need to use that voice. There is a cry from the children–those who are now grown up, and those still being molested–for us to be the hands, the voice and the heart of Jesus. Let’s be Jesus to them.

Please pray for those resisting truth, spreading curses and holding these children captive. Pray for yourself and for me, for courage and boldness. Most of all, pray for the children… the vulnerable, stripped, voiceless children… Yes, pray for them!

Love
~ T ~

To pre-order Trudy’s Memoir:
(Paperback): Between 2 Gods_eLectioPublishing  (Currently offering pre-order discount)

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© Trudy Metzger

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Why I Stopped Blogging Regularly & Attending “Church” Religously…

When the heart stops ‘feeling’ the truths God has promised,
faith stands in the gap for our feelings, giving us the courage to believe what we cannot see.

One day, the heart feels again, but it is faith, not feeling that carries us, even then.

In January 2013 I stopped ‘feeling’ much of what I know and trust about God, and I have continued, and will continue, to declare the truth that I know. I am so thankful for the authority and power of faith.

****

I received a few messages, recently, asking why I haven’t blogged much, and declaring how they miss reading them.  First of all, “That’s very kind. Thank you.” Secondly… I have been writing. I have nearly 100 blogs written, but I have not posted them.

Why, you ask? That is not an easy question to answer. A few of the blog posts are raw pain. That’s all they are. Several are all-out vent sessions, like the emails that you wisely never send, and serve only to offer therapeutic release for you. Others are revelations that I felt were not ready to be shared. Not new revelations, or anything, but old truth–things I rediscovered in Word of God. But mostly I didn’t share my writings because I wasn’t at peace with it, for reasons I cannot fully explain. The few I posted, were ones I felt peace about. And when I am not at peace about posting, I won’t do it. I intend never to be a slave to blogging, and this season of my life, that’s all it would have been, had I forced it.

It has been a heavy season in my life. ‘Heavy’ in the sense of carrying dead weight around, spiritually.  It began in January 2013. I managed to stay focused on God, for the most part, in spite of the heaviness. Throughout that year, in ministry, I faced intense spiritual battles with clients, and writing was both my outlet and part of ministry.

Telling the stories victims wanted me to tell, and breaking the silence surrounding sexual abuse in the church, is the single most dangerous thing I have done, spiritually. And I went in with naive faith and trust, having no concept of what that would mean, no concept of the cost. I reached out to several people, when I felt myself starting to drown, but neither they nor I recognized the extent of danger I was in. One foot in front of the other, I pressed forward, always able to keep my eyes focused on the One who called me, and presenting Him as the healer and restorer, when sitting with victims of abuse, or those struggling spiritually. I had nothing to give, of myself, but I knew with confidence that I could lead them to God for healing.

Admittedly, at times it felt as though my lips were parched, and I was dying of thirst, even while I held the cup for others more wounded than I, who had thirsted longer. And watching them come to life somehow quenched my own thirst. Somehow–even though there are areas I have long struggled to trust God, in practical ways–I trust Him without reserve, to heal and restore the broken-hearted. And that is the place where I stood in the gap for many wounded.

As is inevitable, when exposing darkness, the attacks and lies began, and ‘my people’, whom I trusted and believed to be born again believers, started to spread blatant, bold lies. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I knew about the sexual abuse hidden, but I truly believed it was a matter of ignorance–a lack of awareness of the problem, among leaders–and when they knew, I was certain they would rise up as godly men, and fight for victims, and offer help to perpetrators. Instead, I watched as perpetrators were protected, victims further abused, and lies spread to discredit my ministry.

The shock of this climaxed in early January 2014, exactly one year after the intense heaviness began, and I found myself in a state of spiritual shock, struggling to accept that Christians do these things, yet believing that Jesus is enough… enough for me, in my woundedness… enough for them for lying.

Even so, I continued to meet with victims, and offered them hope that can only come from Jesus. I was honest about my own struggles, and shared with them the hope that Jesus  is even in a dark place.  When I had nothing else to hold on to, I would say, “I know that He loves me, and that is enough”. When I could not pray, I could still whisper ‘Thank you for loving me… thank you for dying for me… thank you for having my back.’ And always He would come alive in me, sitting across from the broken, and prayer would rise from within my own broken place, offering Jesus to the people in front of me.

The final blow, overlapping with this shock, came in the form of a letter. I felt, in ways, as if I was ‘gasping for air’, when a letter arrived in the mail. Handwritten, I opened it eagerly. Until that day all handwritten letters had been encouragement notes, offering prayer and pointing my heart to the Father. It was what I expected and, quite frankly, longed for–some small sign that God had not forgotten me, that He saw my shock, and wanted to reassure me.  Yes, the letters and notes I received also carried challenges when a friend felt I was getting sidetracked, but challenges offered with love and care; always they drew my heart to God.

But that day the letter held harsh criticism, attacking my character, offering accusations about a case I was involved in–the one where I supposedly posed as a cleaning girl and lied to get in the door, and then stomped my feet and yelled at the perpetrator. The author of it attacked me, not having taken time to meet with me to ask any questions. Coincidentally–or predictably–it was a relative by marriage of the alleged perpetrator. I understood the defenses. They are characteristic of those who have an agenda to hide abuse and corruption, those who cannot come to terms with their own circumstance. But it was from someone I had known for years. Someone I respected. Someone with whom I shared a church pew. That day a part of my heart died.

In the weeks that followed, we continued attending the church we were trying to make our own, to be  ‘our family’. But we were not plugged in enough–being relatively new–and the aloneness of ministry, and this attacks from within, created a deep loneliness. Church became depressing, and draining, rather than life-giving. Having said that, the worship leader and his wife, the Lead Pastor, and, most of all, the wife of the Associate Pastor, offered a kindness and friendship that drew us in.

When another case in a sister church escalated , a few months later, and I was perceived to have been involved, even though I had nothing to do with it–though I would gladly have owned it, had I been involved–more resistance and attacks trickled our way.  It was then that we realized that with the ministry of working with sexual abuse in the church,  we didn’t stand a chance fitting making church our home, anytime soon, and, for the most part, support for ministry would need to come from outside of church.

Ironically, one ‘hate’ letter from someone in my cultural background, calling me a BEAST, among other things, finally broke the power the lies. The evil in that letter exposed the darkness from which the attacks came, as all ‘niceness’ was stripped, and I was finally able to see the attacks came from a place of pain and denial, and a lot of fear. Until that moment I struggled to call the attacks what they were, and tried to believe that most of the attacks were misunderstandings of well-intentioned people. Reading the harshest version of attacks, all in the name of God, exposed the darkness behind all of it, and I was finally able to make peace with the attacks. I can handle persecution from those resisting truth–even in God’s name–but attacks from the Body of Christ I cannot reconcile.

Now, months later, having taken a step back from Western ‘church’ culture, and removing ‘the noise’ of it, my heart has finally come to life again. The heaviness has lifted, and God is able to touch my heart again, and worship again rises from my spirit in a way it hasn’t in a long time.  We have continued to fellowship with believers–for those who might fear we are sinning in not ‘gathering with believers–we’re just not doing it regularly in the context of lining pews, and consistently listening to structured church services, at a specific time of day, each Sunday.

In the last few months, the greatest encouragement has been, not only seeing people break free from past pain and addictions as they begin to understand their position in with God through Christ, but hearing testimonies of the ripple effects of the ministry we did in the Mennonite community. When people break free from addictions, sexual sin, homosexuality, and move into a place of freedom, it makes the ‘hell’ of the past two years seem small, and it is humbling to think that God uses us, so broken and human, to bring the love of Jesus and hope to those who are hurting and struggling. It is amazing to me that, even though I was struggling to come to terms with my own pain, and the shock of what we encountered in church–attacks we might have expected from enemies of the cross–that God still worked, as only He can.

So, why have I not been writing? That is the long answer. I needed time to process, to regroup, to make peace with what I have experienced in ‘church’,  the attacks that have come from within, and most of all I needed time to refocus my heart before God. The past two years have showed me that, even though I have forgiven the church of my youth, I carry deep scars and wounds that, when ripped open, cause intense pain. I don’t trust church.  I don’t trust system. Even less now than I did two years ago. But, thanks to a few incredible men and women of God, I have learned to trust the hearts of more leaders than I have ever trusted before. I could have mentioned many, including several conservative Mennonite leaders. For this to be the end result in one of the most difficult ‘church’ experiences of my life, is astounding. There is a wonder and a grace in this for which I have no words.

In spite of those wounds and scars, in spite of the hate mail and attacks, in spite of my inability to fit in–and knowing the attacks will continue–I want to learn to trust. I want to connect with a church family. (I didn’t think I’d ever say that again.) I even want to learn to trust church leaders, and let them fail, be human, and I want to pray for them and forgive them in the way I wish to be forgiven when I fail. I want to fight for the Body of Christ–His bride–and partner with her, for the sake of God’s Kingdom. I am committed to continuing in ministry, because I believe it is not our perfection, or our ‘togetherness’ that offers anything meaningful. It is Jesus flowing through our brokenness, spilling out in love, that transforms lives. I’ve never stopped believing that, even in my lowest of lows. He is my hope. Besides my love, encouragement, and some practical resources, He is all I have to offer victims, and He is more than enough.

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Thank you to friends, mentors, pastors and leaders who have spoken into my life this past year, taking time to meet with me in my ‘darkness’, or speaking truth during ‘random’ encounters. Special thanks to  my faithful friends who have let me say, without judging me, things I could not say to everyone, but needed to get out of my spirit. Thank you to the many online ‘warriors’ who have fought tirelessly for me, through prayer. You are too many to mention, and some I would not mention because you are also clients, but each of you offered me hope at a time when I felt little hope in the Body of Christ, and had only my faith in Jesus to cling to, the support of my husband and family. Finally, thank you to my husband, Tim, who has loved me faithfully, lifting my weary heart in prayer when it was crushed, and holding me when sobs of grief racked my body. I am grateful for each of you, and pray God’s blessings over you.

If God hands out stars for positively impacting another soul, you will each carry a star for me.

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Every Erection isn’t Lust…

… And What Does Modesty Have to Do with It?

Ezekiel 23:20 (KJV)
20 For she doted upon their paramours (illicit lovers), whose flesh (genitals) is as the flesh (genitals) of asses (donkeys), and whose issue (emission) is like the issue (emission) of horses.

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I’ve promised several people I would write this blog, so here goes…   I started with the verse (above), simply to show that God is not afraid to speak about sexuality, and does so with language that makes us conservatives a bit skittish. Based on this, I conclude the notion that we should not talk about it, is not at all grounded in biblical truth. Especially using verses out of context, like Ephesians 5:12, “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” to justify covering up sexual sin and abuse, or to condemn talking about sexuality, in general. I’ve had that thrown my way too often by those wishing to cover up abuse in the church. It may be shameful to repeat what is done in secret, but it is not sin to repeat it, and putting guilt and shame on those who speak out, abuses that scripture.  Especially considering that the verses before and after talk about exposing and bringing to light those very things, . In context it says, “ And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.  But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.” Surely, if the dark things of sexuality are to be brought to light, then talking about sexuality–particularly the ‘not dark’ aspect–is good. It is not evil, perverted,  or unforgiving to speak of the ‘dark thing’, nor is it in any way displeasing to God. And it  is not displeasing to God for us to take a good hard look at our misconceptions about sexuality. That established, this blog post is about lust–what it is, and what it isn’t–not about sexual abuse.

A variety of conversations influenced this blog post, not the least of which is the frustration of many women, and possibly a few men, regarding teachings on modesty in conservative settings. (To determine who I refer to by ‘conservative’, I would say ‘if the shoe fits–or the dress, as the case may be–wear it”. With the word ‘dress’ referring to’attire’, not ‘frock’, and serving as a figure of speech.)  Countless women, all being women who value modesty, have shared with me the pain and frustration of hearing, almost Sunday after Sunday, that it is their duty to prevent men from lusting. Some have messaged me, others have told me in person. Their heart cries go something to the effect of, “I feel raped…” or “I feel stripped….  as if I am only an object to be lusted after… when men preach like that… when they accuse me of immodesty, and I am already fully covered…” This coming from women with flowing skirts that reach nearly to the floor, and their hair tucked neatly inside a veil, women who are modest and beyond.

One encounter stood out, among all the conversations I’ve had, when a church leader’s wife explained how she felt, and how her identity had been lost in her culture’s teachings. “What do we (as women) have left? Who are we? We’ve been stripped of identity. We have no voice. We are treated like sex objects when all the focus is on covering us up….” She poured out her heart, asking deep questions about her purpose, and the purpose of every woman in church, and trying to reconcile her religion with the Word of God, and the prophecy in Joel 2 that God’s daughters will prophesy–speak out truth, boldly–and whatever personal wonderings she had. We spent some time talking about her feeling like a sex object, and feeling stripped of identity, by teaching that focuses on controlling every detail of a woman’s attire, rather than teaching modesty, self respect, and personal value.

This teaching is not only in her church, it is all around, this belief that how women dress makes men lust, or prevents it. And that teaching is utter nonsense. Modesty isn’t utter nonsense,  but that teaching is. Keeping in mind that what is perceived as modest varies drastically, from person to person, church to church, culture to culture.  Modesty is more about respect for ourselves, than respect for others–though that is a part of it–and with the best of intentions and most modest attire, there may well be someone lusting.  And the men preaching it every Sunday would be the first I would be uncomfortable around, as their minds are clearly already there.

In these conversations with women, about modesty and lust, the one thing I started to realize is that, for many of us, our understanding of what lust is has become about as skewed as the notion that women are responsible for that lust. I left these conversations asking, “What is lust, exactly?” and that got me thinking….

Is lust the physical response–natural, God-given response, I might add–to beauty? Is lust the desire a man or woman has, to be loved intimately, sexually? A desire that exists, even before marriage, simply because we are human? Is that desire sin? Is it shameful? Or is it, in fact, a God-given desire that should be ‘blessed’, rather than cursed, and brought under ‘management’ rather than suppressed, it’s existence denied, and made shameful?

When my husband sees a beautiful woman–modestly clothed, or not–he has a choice to make. Will he ‘look on her, to lust after her’, or will he see her through the eyes of respect, as God looks on her? Will he ‘ogle’ her, with sexual intent and impure thoughts, or see her as God’s beautiful creation, worthy of honour, respect and protection? Whether she is a prostitute, and scantily clad, or a woman covered head to toe–Christian or not–or a woman in church looking like the prostitute, he has a decision to make. And, regardless of her self-respect or lack thereof, she is worthy of his respect. Each one is God’s creation, made in His image and likeness, and ought to be treated with the same level of respect as if it was Jesus standing in front of him. And he does.

Is he human? Yep. Pretty much. Is it possible for his body to respond to visual stimuli? I expect so. Does that threaten me? Not at all! I trust him, as a godly man and loving husband, to handle his sex drive well, and be intentional about how he  responds to temptation or opportunity.  It is his responsibility to deny what the flesh desires, and live out his commitment to holiness. And, like King David, he has to make a covenant with his eyes, and a commitment in his heart, to live with integrity and honour. And if the beauty that stands or sits before him, triggers a bodily response, causing an erection or stirring some sexual desire,  he has to make that choice again, to look away,to walk away, or do whatever it takes in order to honour and respect the woman in front of him.  But that bodily response is not lust, it is not sin, it is not shameful. It is human reaction to sexual desire and stimulation, and it must always be mastered and brought under personal authority–authority God has given each one of us. And the desire, itself, is part of how we humans are wired–not just the men–and that makes it sacred, not perverted. The sin is not in the desire, or the temptation, it is in our response and our handling of it.

Lust is a deliberate indulgence in, or pursuit of, impure sexual gratification, or ‘unrestrained sexual desire’ , as one dictionary puts it. I once read a quote that went something like, ‘Lust is sexual desire that dishonours the object of its desire, and has no regard for God.’ And that ‘objectifying’ of the person being lusted after, says it all.  It is wrong to treat someone as an object to obtain, conquer or dominate. And making a person feel like they are only a sex-object does just that. This over-sexualizing is done through using someone sexually, and it is done through teaching with an over focus on modesty to extremes the Bible doesn’t address. Tacking on the notion that men can’t help themselves, sexually, takes it to a whole new level, as does adding warped personal judgement like, ‘You might as well be naked if …’ when a person is not covered neck to ankle or doesn’t wear cultural attire. That is perverse, and it is not biblical. It says something about the warped mind of the teacher, and turns the audience into sex objects to be lusted after. Rather than promoting holiness, it promotes lust and perversion. It is for men like this, that I wonder if God does not feel compelled to draw a curtain over the mountains, lest they should imagine breasts and wander down a path of sexual lust. (If elbows supposedly look like breasts, and must therefore be covered to keep men’s minds pure, how much more the mountains!)

These misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what lust is–condemning even natural God-given responses–and imposing guilt on women for men’s responses to that desire–has done great harm to the body of Christ. It has heaped shame on young men and women unnecessarily–and likely older ones too–and left them struggling in their faith, believing there is something wrong with them. They feel defeated, fearing they live in lust when, in reality, the things they feel are natural, God-given desires that they are managing well.

The young woman who longs to be held in the arms of a loving husband, desires a beautiful thing. For her to desire sexual love as part of that experience, in marriage, is natural and wonderful. Even biblical. The young man who longs for a wife to hold and love, isn’t a pervert, nor is he lusting. He is acknowledging that God created him with the desire for relationship, and sexual love as part of that relationship. There is nothing evil  about it, and it isn’t lust. To say we didn’t have those desires before marriage, for most of us if not all of us, would be blatant lies. For those who lived in denial and pushed those desires into oblivion, the same truth still applies–the desire was there, we just lied to ourselves about it, and that is not noble either.

When God made us sexual creatures, in the Garden of Eden,  He blessed us as sexual creatures. “Male and female created He them, in His image….” or something like that, it says several times. Our sexuality does not frighten God. He said ‘it is very good’, and blessed us, sexually. To teach anything less is a slap in the face of the Creator, and a disgrace to us, as His image bearers.

It is time to reclaim the wonder and holiness of our sexuality, and consecrate ourselves to God, teaching our sons and daughters the truth about holiness and purity, including how to respect those who do not respect themselves, or don’t live up to our standards. When we lift the burden of false guilt from our children, they will find it easier to walk in holiness before God.

I understand that my views are conservative and outdated to those who accept ‘anything goes’ in the area of sexuality. And my views are liberal, bordering on blasphemy for those who have a list of man-made laws they like to tout as ‘scriptural’. I am not offended by either disagreement, nor do I believe I have the ‘best’ and ‘most right’ understanding. It is simply the understanding I have, and I embrace it. To pretend anything more or less would by hypocrisy. What I do know is that what we have had isn’t working. Holiness in the church, as it has been presented, is a myth, going by at the percentages of people who struggle with sexual sins and addictions–and it is time to acknowledge that. For us to pretend it’s ‘out there’, and judge harshly, when we are as human in the struggle, is deceptive and serves only to keep us in bondage.

I have watched people break free from addictions, and abandon homosexuality simply by adopting a biblical view of God-designed and God-blessed sexuality. By recognizing who they are in Christ, and discovering they are unconditionally loved by God, many have overcome the depression that goes with sexual struggle. Therefore I speak with bold confidence in this regard, and I do so without judgement for those who disagree–you are accountable for you, I am accountable for me. And I speak without apology for my beliefs, no matter who is offended.

Change does not come without disturbing ‘the way things are’, and it does not come without offence.

Messy Grace, Dipped in Blood

My  new coaching client sat across from me,  suddenly distracted. Her eyes ‘popped’ in shock. She gasped. We had spent a bit over forty minutes talking, exploring her dreams, her talents, her desires, and the challenges to match. Unlike most of my clients, who are working through one trauma or another, she had come for career help, and I had asked her a question. The sudden diversion startled me.

Instinctively my eyes followed her gaze and I saw him, an elderly man, hitting the cement, then leaning up a few inches and dropping again. Did he try to lift himself up, or did his body bounce? I saw it and wondered.

The mind and body are fascinating, in a moment like that, when consulting reason is not even on the radar; they simply engage one another in reasonable and necessary action.  Nor does dignity or any other thing hold an ounce of importance, or factor in, in any way, in a moment like that.  I shot to my feet, and ran through the coffee shop, and before my mind had fully registered what it was I saw, I found myself kneeling beside the gentleman. He struggled, attempting to sit up. I put my arms around him, and leaned him slightly forward to lift his head from the unkind hardness, while asking him questions. He was coherent. I felt the cement under his back, and wished I had an extra sweater, a jacket or a blanket.  I had enough dignity that I wasn’t willing to sit there in my bra so he could have my sweater, but I certainly would, if needed, to save a life.  Most of us would.

From my vantage point there was no blood,  until I sat him up.  That is when I saw blood running down his temple, his neck and onto his chest and shoulders, and his hand dripping a steady pace.  I looked for something to use as a compress, at the same time as I asked my client, who had followed me out, to go in and find napkins or something  and bring them back, and to make sure to call and ambulance.

The manager came running and for the next twenty minutes, or so, we sat there, holding an elderly man’s hand and forehead.  There was blood on the ground, blood on his pants, his shirt and matted into his hair. It was all over our hands and arms, and a bit on my white shirt. Blood stands out on white.  My client sat behind the gentleman, providing a back-rest, while the manager held his forehead, and I held his hand–now gripping mine in solid tension. We chatted and laughed, as we sat there. He was so appreciative and said he was okay, that he had just lost his footing. It had happened a few days ago, too, and he had hurt his finger. He showed us his crooked finger, bent at the last joint, in an almost -perfect 90 degree angle.

As we sat with him, bleeding all over us and himself, people drove by. They looked. A few gentlemen came and asked if there was anything they could do. One was a fireman, the others made no indication that they had any training. They were just concerned.

Something else happened as we sat there, all covered in blood. In fact, two things. First of all, we bonded. We cared for him. We held his wounds. We connected. (Admittedly, I was afraid to ‘touch’ his raw wounds. Not because I feared being contaminated but because I feared contaminating them.  One never knows for sure what germs or bacteria we have come in contact with and the immunity of the elderly potentially being compromised, I assessed the extent of the bleeding. It wasn’t life-threatening, though steady, so I waited for the compresses. (Obviously, had he been bleeding profusely, I would have taken the chance.) And the second thing that happened was that we learned a bit of his story. He told us that he had a ‘weaker side’ because of a stroke twenty years ago and hence the recent tumbles.

By this time we had retrieved an umbrella from his truck, and sat there, in a spritzing rain, talking and still holding his wounds.  A staff member came with some forms and asked questions. What did we see? Who saw it first and what did we do?  Who were we all. Names. Addresses. Phone numbers. All those things.

The paramedic arrived and together we helped the gentleman stand up, and seated him on a chair, under the awning. We stayed a few minutes, answering his questions, then went inside to wash the blood off. The red stain on my white new sweater stayed. I hung my scarf over it, and returned one more time to the elderly gentleman, to wish him well.  That’s when I thought of his wife, at home, and how worried she would be.  Would it be okay if I popped by their home to tell her he was okay, but needed stitches and to get checked over? He thanked me and said how nice that would be.

I had just given my new client a good-bye hug–you do that after intense moments like that–and was almost to my car when the manager caught up to me. The gentleman had one valid concern. His wife would need the vehicle, but would have no way to get it. I said I would offer to drive her back to him, and to get the truck.

She met me at the door, moments later after I rang the bell. To make sure I had the right house I asked, “Are you Mrs. ____?”

“Yes….” she said, looking quizzically at me.

“First of all, your husband is okay, so don’t worry, but he did have a tumble at the coffee shop. He said you would need the vehicle–would it be okay if I drove you there?”

Moments later I dropped her off,  made sure she had everything she needed and headed for home. The rain had picked up, and I remembered that my car window was stuck… open.  My old Mazda had picked this day to malfunction with an open back window. How convenient. I tried half a dozen times, unsuccessfully.

I took to pleading with God, at that moment, about something as piddly as a stuck window, all because I didn’t want rain in my car. I tried again and, “Tada!!”  it went up. I whispered a thank you as I drove out  off of the coffee shop parking lot.

My mind got busy then, thinking about many things. Why does God answer little prayers about broken windows, and neglect big ones like a dying loved one, a chronically ill family member, those who desperately need jobs and many other things. And I had no easy answers. Just the awareness that God is God.

I saw the blood again, and the elderly gentleman’s eyes, as he thanked us and told us how nice we were. And then the awareness that his blood had been all over me, and I had hesitated to touch his wounds, afraid of contaminating them.

That’s when my mind wandered to church. To people who are bleeding.  And we sit there, like my client and I, in our coffee shops.  And I wondered if we get so busy with our coffee, and conversations, and whatever things we all do, while people bleed only feet away.  I thought of how I had my back turned, and my client–thank goodness she was ADHD, she said, and observing everything–was the one who noticed the gentleman, almost before it happened.  He could have been there an hour, with me only feet away, if she hadn’t been there.  And, while that wouldn’t have likely happened, I couldn’t help but think about, when I considered church. Or if, when we see the ‘fallen and bleeding’, do we even run to them, or do we get scared  and run the other way again.

I wondered what it would be like, in church, if we stopped being afraid of each other’s cuts, and wounds and scars. What if we weren’t afraid to get all bloody, and have stains on our new white clothes.  And if we put our hands on those gaping wounds without fear of contaminating, or being contaminated, and we held each other up, spiritually, even while we bled…  And sitting there, under an umbrella in the rain, we could get to know each other and hear the stories behind the pain… the stories about why we have ‘weak sides’ and stumble…

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And then, when the weak ones, with bleeding wounds, need help with walking to a place of rest, we who are stronger could square back our shoulders and let them rest on our strength until they are safe….  Until they find that rest in the One who Bled Love for us,  all messy and dipped in grace, when we were in that place of need and brokenness…

What if… Yes…. What if?

© Trudy Metzger

 

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Losing Religion & Finding Community

“You know you’re supposed to do it? How long will you fight it?” He looked deep into my soul. At least as deep as I would let him, and then a bit deeper, as my defenses broke. Just as quickly I did the only thing I know how to do when I’m too vulnerable, when my soul is bared, and I would rather hide and retreat; I laughed.

“I don’t know. I’ll think about it though, I promise,” I said, still laughing. His challenge, urging me to start a group/meeting for the broken and hurting, came at the end of a lengthy conversation about the brokenness of people. Particularly in churches.

Having suffered much, he has wearied of how Christians present as ‘Happy, Happy, Happy’ all the time. Because, with few exceptions, that’s what nice church people do. And say. And are. Happy, victorious, healed, and ‘fine’ Christians.

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If you don’t agree, try it sometime. Go to church and when asked how you are, if you’re not in a good place, be real. When they say, “Good morning! How are you?!” with a big smile, and warm handshake, respond with transparency. Don’t bother to smile, or say “I’m fine, thank you.” Forget about social graces for just a moment. Look them in the eye. Look longer, and deeper than is comfortable. Pause awkwardly before saying a word. They’ll squirm and you’ll want to run for dear life. But don’t let go of that hand because, odds are, you’ll both turn and run, if you release them.

When the awkward is about all you can handle, still looking them in the eye and holding their hand, which they, by now, are most likely trying to wriggle free, say, “I’m really not doing well. It’s been a hard week, and I don’t know how I’m going to make it. It feels like hell!”

If they ask “May I pray for you?” say, “Sure, if it makes you feel better, but it would mean more if you helped clean my house. With the time I’ve spent caring for my dying mother (or whatever hardship you’re going through), even basics are neglected. My bathrooms, especially, could use a good cleaning.”

If they have stopped smiling, and don’t simply mumble, “God will provide”, before apologizing that they need to run, then consider yourself in a good place. If that person says, “When can I come clean your bathrooms?”, know this, you are in an exceptional place. If they acknowledge your suffering and share how much they struggled with anger, loneliness and feeling as though God abandoned them, after some great tragedy, they are extraordinary. Most have excused themselves by now.

We withdraw because we fear people’s pain and suffering. But, as my friend pointed out over coffee that day, suffering is an opportunity to connect. It is the single universal experience all humans share. Every person on earth suffers. Some experience joy. Some success. Some happiness. But everyone suffers. Eventually.

Why, then, are we so uncomfortable with suffering? Here, my friend pointed out, it is our faulty view of God that rams a stick in the spokes of our bicycle at most in opportune moments; our ‘vendor machine’ view of God, if I pop in a prayer, out should come a miracle, an answer, a solution. And the world should be made right and perfect and wonderful.

But we do. And it doesn’t. Our prayers rise. And our miracles fall with a splat. Our faith gives way to questioning. Eventually it grows tired and we wonder… Does God care or even listen? And, as Christians scamper away from our broken pains, we conclude He doesn’t. Because they don’t. And suddenly God makes no sense. He should have done something. But didn’t. He let us down. And answers don’t match the questions.

There, with props yanked out… faith and religion having failed us… abandoned by the God of religious obligations, we are finally free to meet the true God. He sees us in that gutter, filthy, weary and faithless. And He doesn’t run. Or fix. Or pray it all away. No. He gets down on His knees and crawls into the gutter with us. Unkempt. Looking worn and haggard, bloodstained and naked–His garments having been stripped by the religious rulers who despised Him too. And suddenly we are understood. Nothing is fixed. Nothing has changed, circumstantially, but we feel hope. Because that’s what happens when someone enters our pain, offering only love.

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That is what community was meant to be. And it is the community we hope to create, a place where the broken Jesus is welcome, and imperfect people are loved.

If you are local to Elmira, Ontario, and have suffered spiritual abuse or feel misunderstood and long for a safe place, a community where the broken are valued, and all are invited to contribute, regardless of class, race or gender, send an email to info@generationsunleashed.com for more info.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is in you.”  The Kingdom of God is not some distant goal we strive for, it dwells within us.  (Luke 17:21) Everyone of us was made with a ‘Kingdom purpose’. And that is not a religious statement. It is an invitation to love, as Jesus did, and offer others an encounter with divine grace, regardless of circumstance. Together we advance the Kingdom of God, by loving our neighbour.

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(Written for the Elmira Independent, September 4, 2014. Ending has been revised.)

 

© Trudy Metzger

 

To Donate: Generations Unleashed, and Help Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Church

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All Mennonites are Not Sexual Predators…

…any more than all Christians are hypocrites,  all Germans are Nazi’s, all blacks are gangsters and all priests are paedophiles.  Those statements are stereotypical and false.

But it is difficult to write about the crimes and cover ups in a particular people group, and be a voice for the victims, without making the whole lot of them look party to the crime, without naming names, one way or the other. If the telling of every story is required to justify those who are not party to the crimes and cover ups, it is just another way of downplaying the pain of victims, and taking away their voice. And that, in my opinion, is just as corrupt.

I wrote this blog in response to very particular ‘challenges’ I received, privately, from several ministers in conservative Mennonite settings concerned over how I make the Mennonite church look by sharing the stories of Mennonites. Both were respectful, for the most part. And my response was intended to validate their views, that all Mennonites are not Sexual Predators, and the stories I post misrepresent the culture.

My most recent blog post “Mennonite Woman Responds to Recent Column: My abusers are my church leaders” , which received almost 4000 views in just over 24 hours,  was met with a sprinkling of similar criticism while many messages of support, appreciation, compassion, concern and identification poured in. And I say ‘sprinkling’ because, less than a handful of messages expressed frustration at the misrepresentation of the culture also arrived. Even ‘sprinkling’ is exaggerated.

So this blog, which was originally inspired by several church leaders–appropriately follows the most recent blog exposing abuse in the culture. (Though I challenge readers to take note that, beyond mentioning the victim to whom I am giving a voice, the culture is not mentioned. It was, and still is, intended as a challenge to ‘the church’, not ‘a culture’.)

Reflecting over the past several years of writing, in telling my story, I am keenly and painfully aware of this in my writing, that sharing the stories of Mennonite victims, and giving them a voice, casts a shadow over the entire culture. (And have been aware as I wrote. It is not a new thought.)

I have tried to balance the harsh realities with the good in the culture, and the beauty of certain aspects of it–particularly the sense of community. I have also shared of how my healing began at Countryside Mennonite Fellowship, when Howard and Alice reached out and helped me, and Glen Jantzi, one of the ministers, reached out to my one brother. This care, on behalf of my brother and myself, had a powerful impact on my healing journey.

Furthermore, while I was always ‘different’, and never fit into the cultural mould, I felt loved and accepted by many friends at Countryside, right up until the time we left, and even after.

It was at Countryside where I first felt I had something of value to offer, and that I could make a difference in the Kingdom of God. This was thanks to the bishop’s wife, Florence Martin, who saw something in me, after she and I had a shared incident, in which she encouraged me to reach out to a young girl. She gave me a card with a thank you note. Placed inside was the calendar page from a little inspirational calendar from that day, it read: “November 9  Who knows but that may want to use you this day… ” and I don’t recall the rest. (Though I do have the note stored with memorabilia, because it had such influence in my life.)

Lena Martin, the deacon’s wife sat with me in a  coffee shop and answered hard identity questions, when I first started working through abuse. I can’t think of anything more she could have done. Years later, while watching a video of Lisa Bevere with a handful of other women, she said, “Trudy, I could see you do this one day.”  To which I responded with a laugh, “In a light blue suit?” because that is what Lisa had on at the time.

Countryside was, for me, a very safe place to begin healing. We loved the people, we appreciated and cared for the leaders–all of them. Not once did I feel unkindness, even when Joe and Esther had to ask me to tone it down on the make-up, and Glen and Elly asked me to scale back my heals, and Leighton sat me down, in a most fatherly way, and asked me not to skip service and go cruising with a bunch of rambunctious youth instead of attending special meetings.  In fact, Leighton, the bishop, spoke with such understanding and gentleness, even when chiding me, that my heart-felt completely safe.

Yes, some tragic events took place, rocking the church we knew. And we all grieved. Many of us, if not all of us, went through inner chaos and confusion. Why did God let the accident happen, and allow three children to be orphaned? Why did it seem no one knew how to handle the tragedy and grief left in its wake? There were no answers. Only pain, turmoil and disappointment.

Still our love for Countryside, and all the people we knew there, never faded. It lives on to this day, and always will. Because it was the place God took me, in a culture that had deeply wounded me–though a very different ‘brand’ of Mennonites within that culture–and began to reveal himself to me. I sat in that church, in God’s presence and shed many a healing tear, as I discovered a God of grace. And it was only the beginning of that discovery of God’s love and grace.

I didn’t get to know many of the other churches much in the Midwest setting. Only a few, and only a little.  Tim’s aunt and uncle served as leaders at Woodlawn, Abner and Almeda Martin and, to this day, are among the Mennonites I respect most for their genuine faith.

None of these realities have escaped me, or lost appreciation in my heart during this past two-year stretch of addressing sexual abuse in Mennonite and plain cultures.  And  those who have taken time to read the blogs I wrote before focusing on exposing the corruption, will know that I have said many, if not all of these things in the past. Hopefully you have not lost sight of them. I could not, however, go back to constantly reaffirming these things, while speaking the truth about the corruption.

And then there is the small matter of knowing people I respect would not necessarily wish to have me applaud them here. It creates a tie to me, and establishes in the mind of the reader, a relationship with them, and they may not wish to be identified in any way back to me. (There are those whom I admire and respect from my time in the Mennonite church, who would as soon not be associated with me, and I try to honour that, though I may have crossed that line in this post.)

I am not sorry for exposing the things I exposed. I’m mostly not sorry for how I said them, most of the time. (There’s a time or two, when a deep breath and a long pause would have served me well, when leaders refused to face truth. I regret not taking a deep breath and a long pause first, but also trust God to redeem my humanity. Therefore I will not live in regret.)

I am sorry that some wonderful people in the culture, who sincerely love God and fight for truth, were hurt in the process and feel their name and identity have been tarnished with my telling the truth of victims, and being their voice.

It is the thing with ‘carrying a name’, that becomes the price tag for that name. We hold it dear, even idolize it, until the image crumbles because too much corruption lies buried by those whose hearts are evil. And then we struggle to deal with the consequence of that name. That is true whether the name is Menno Simons, or Jesus Christ. Whichever name we carry close in our hearts, that is the name that will cause us the greater anguish, when not held up to the extent that we revere it. 

Even Jesus generalized and spoke out against the Scribes and Pharisees for their corruption as leaders. He didn’t go about saying things like, “a few of you… or ‘some of you’ or some other softening of the blow. No, He said it boldly, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees!”  And then each one had to decide in his own heart if he was guilty.

Amazingly, some of them were His inner circle. How could Jesus do this so boldly, and not risk losing the hearts of these men? Or were they so lost in Him, that the truth of the evil attached to their ‘other identity’ no longer frightened them? Even when it came so close to home that it could have been interpreted as an attack on their own identity? Had the name and title lost its meaning, with no idolatry left in their hearts, so that they no longer worshipped that identity? 

Is this the biggest problem many in the culture have with me?  That the painful truth of buried sexual abuse and sin, connected with my cultural background, is too personal because too much faith has been placed in a name–the name of a man, Menno, who would be mortified at that idolatry–and that identity has been a source of great pride, but is now a source of shame? (And this could also be said of Baptist, Pentecostal, Christian Fellowship, Non-denominational, Inter-denominations, and every other religious identity where corruption lies hidden, and the name is protected.)

Is it possible that God wants to unravel that cultural pride, and bring us all back to one identity–Jesus Christ?

If we were to embrace His identity as the only one that matters, and openly acknowledged the wickedness within, would that not open the door for healing, restoration and allow the Body of Christ to thrive? I would no longer be a threat with my truth-telling, but an opportunity to rise up. And only if I defamed the name of Christ would there be any need for personal offences, hurt feelings and emails challenging my message.

The truth is that the name of Jesus is the answer to this problem. Many a Christian has left me wanting for another name to identify myself by, because of the damage they have done to the name of Christ, and still, I carry the name of Jesus Christ with honour, boldness, and without apology. Because His is one name that, no matter how close I carry it to my heart or how wrongly people use it, does not bring shame to me. Christians shame Him. Religion does also. But not Jesus. He restores my honour, just by embracing His name, regardless of how He is misrepresented.

That is a name worth holding on to. 

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© Trudy Metzger

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