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

Importance of Taking Time Away From the Heavy Things

  
It is a crisp and beautiful day here in Pennsylvania.  I’ve enjoyed the past few days, away from work and ministry commitments, to connect with friends. I’ve relaxed and chatted, enjoyed a somewhat restricted amount of coffee (because too much raises the blood pressure), and had many good conversations. 

I even spent one afternoon baking and cooking meals for my friends’ freezer, because she is recovering from surgery, and there are things he would rather do than cook. And I quite enjoyed it too. 

Yesterday I even took a break from blogging, mostly because it was my birthday, and the day was too full to fit it in. So work and ministry were especially far from my mind.  I’ve thought of my clients, of course, but mostly that ‘world’ is 645 miles away. 

Taking a rest or a break, they say, is as good as a change. And I certainly believe that to be true. But even when I am at home and in the thick of it, I set aside times that I am available for clients, and times that are reserved for family and other commitments. This is to avoid burnout, and then end up being unavailable for months, or maybe even years, or the rest of my life. I do it for my family, and for my clients, and most certainly for my own well-being.

It is no different for victims of sexual abuse; sometimes you need a break. The heaviness of dealing with what once was is very draining, and sometimes it can feel like there’s just too much. When I work with clients whose circumstances and stories are exceptionally extreme and require extended support, there comes a time when I recommend a break. 

Victims  reading this are probably asking, how in the world does an abuse victim take a break? The reality is we cannot get away from our story; it is what it is, it is a past event that cannot be changed. 

When I encourage clients to take a break, I outline a few  suggestions to help clear the mind of abuse-related information, at least for a short time. Many victims want to understand what was done to them, and the psychological consequences. The pursuit of knowledge related to sexual abuse and its outcome is not uncommon.  Reading blog, after blog, after blog… or researching books, and papers, or more blogs about how abuse might have impacted their world, even scientifically… Trying to understand anxiety, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress syndrome and various other outcomes including sexual dysfunction. The desire to know these things is not bad, nor is it difficult for me to understand why victims want to know; we often don’t understand ourselves and the symptoms we carry. But obsessively and constantly reading material related to sexual abuse, while we are in the throes of trying to work through it, keeps our minds constantly in that space and has potential to do more harm than good. 

Sometimes I will suggest taking a break from reading anything related to sexual abuse for a month, and rather filling the mind with other things. Even social media, in general, offers post after post after post about sexual abuse, and violence. And the truth is, speaking out is long overdue! But the other truth is that when we as victims spend obsessive amounts of time reading about it, while working through our own pain, our minds simply do not get the break they need from the trauma. During this ‘break’ we continue to meet, in most cases – – unless the client wants a complete break – – and simply focus on affirming truth, so the power of the lies is broken.

My encouragement is to focus on the healing process during that time, rather than trying to understand all of the outcomes, consequences, and psychological conditions we acquired through trauma. Healing seldom comes through that knowledge, especially in extreme cases, and with the risk of exacerbating the problem, it’s just not worth it. 

There comes a time and a place, after we are healed, when that information no longer has the same negative impact. And at that time, our minds are much stronger, and the information can actually be helpful, not only for ourselves, but in helping others as well.

Stories of overcoming can be very encouraging when read at the right time, but in our week times they can add trauma. And unfortunately often news reports, and even some blog posts, are  current events for which there is no imminent solution or good outcome. Therefore the offer no positive input into a traumatized mind and are best avoided for a time. 

If you are an abuse victim, and find yourself constantly absorbing information that keeps your mind focusing on your pain and story in a negative and hopeless way, I would recommend  considering a break. Read other encouraging things, and continue to meet with your counselor, mentor, or other support person and fill your mind with uplifting things.

While I don’t have a long list of stories as proof that it works, I do have several, and feel quite confident in encouraging such a thing. 

God bless you all today, and my prayer is for ongoing healing for every victim and for this tragic crime to stop. My prayer is also that the church would rise up, and offer the healing touch of Jesus, rather then the condemning curse of silence and denial. There is a healthy way…

Love,

~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger

Generous Love, Defined Boundaries & Lines in the Sand

To love without discrimination is to love generously. To love without boundaries lacks wisdom and discernment; it is not in the best interest of the giver or the recipient. To love generously, with healthy boundaries is to love wisely and to love well, in the best interest of everyone. Even Jesus exemplified love with boundaries, driving some out of the temple, when they perverted His Father’s house. It was not the same ‘presentation’ of love He offered the 10 lepers. Both were love.

In situations of molestation in religious settings I see, repeatedly, this lack of discernment at play. Parents and leaders of victims extend forgiveness most lavishly–as though it is somehow theirs to give–and then open the doors wide for the offender to remain part of their lives. This is done without boundaries or accountability, subjecting victims to unnecessary trauma, and other family and church members to huge risk. Sometimes even resulting in repeated victimizations.

This behaviour reveals the ignorance surrounding sexual violence. Few crimes with the potential to forever alter the mind, identity and life of the victim, could be committed where those responsible for protecting and caring for that victim would knowingly subject their children to risk of re-victimization.

When someone murders or attempts to murder  a family member, the murderer is not invited to come and go freely and unsupervised. Oddly, with a crime that has the potential to make the mind go mad from trauma, the same discernment is often not applied, and victims are forced to face their offenders with no regard to either risk or trauma.

And the same individuals who will cry out against alcohol, after a loved one is hit by a drunk driver and in a coma, or worse–dead–speak with casual distance when a victim of molestation lives in emotional, psychological or spiritual coma. And unlike the grief displayed for the crash victim, where prayers are offered and all steps are taken to give that individual the best care possible, the victim of molestation is told to snap out of it, get over it and move on. Or maybe “it was so long ago…” All this to “love” the offender and extend grace.

It is necessary in the life of the believer to love generously. But love cannot be defined by ‘equal rights’ for offenders as fo victims; for criminals as for children. To neatly fold love and pack it in a well-labelled and narrow box, is not love. It is an agenda.

To love well, is to love in the best interest of all, particularly those whom God has placed in our direct care. Not selfishly, but graciously. And  that love includes drawing a line in the sand, when it comes to protecting the innocent ones, and setting up firm boundaries that come with cost and consequence to the offender(s) and criminal(s), not to the victims.

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Yes, love acts in the best interest of all. And if boundaries prevent the offender(s) from re-victimizing former victims, or finding new ones, then those boundaries are love, and that love is a gift we should not withhold.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

(…) The Church’s Response to Abuse (Part 2)

Don’t come to Church!
There comes a time when an individual can be asked not to come to church. But it is not the right answer every time.

The identity of a teenager who offends, in many countries if not most, is protected. While there should be vigilance–always, always–public exposure is not usually an option, by law. The teen needs help and guidance and whatever ‘judgment the courts determine to be appropriate, but banning from church is not one of them. At least not most times, though there may be an exception.

The adult who has victimized people in church, people who must face their offender and be continually traumatized, is a different story. In my opinion, an offender ought to have enough remorse to choose to go somewhere else, to protect the child. It’s easy math. And every now and then they do.

But, as it stands, more victims leave churches than abusers, based on the people I deal with, because the ongoing trauma becomes overwhelming. They forgive, they try to move on, but Sunday morning, when they should be hearing the truth of the Gospel, they are confronted with the trauma of flashbacks to naked genitals or breasts, or some other sexual exploitation in the past. A wife goes home with her spouse after church, and struggles all week with intimacy because the flashbacks make her feel gross and disgusting. The husband how remembers being molested, goes home and withholds himself, and possibly turning to pornography, feeling completely inadequate. (Let me inject that, surely we can try to understand that this is not about a lack of forgiveness–as is often the accusation–but about post-trauma anxiety and flashbacks.)

Why would an adult who has molested someone choose to impose such a thing on a victim, Sunday after Sunday, robbing couples of intimacy and forcing them to relive the violation? Is it not reasonable, in such a situation, to encourage the offender to find a church family elsewhere?

Instead, it seems victims are the ones who eventually uproot and find some other church family, or simply stop attending, spiritually stripped, having endured accusations of being unforgiving or making things up. The lack of healthy care and understanding for victims, combined with religious demands to ‘forgive and forget’ has done it’s share of damage, and has in essence told victims to either ‘shape up or get out’, while offering little in the way of healing.

Get Out!

I spoke recently with yet another victim of a now-church-leader; the third that I am aware of, who eventually just left, while the offender went on to become a leader. The victimizations ranged from coercing a peer in early teens to reaching under skirts, yanking down panties to molest–something I recently discovered is/was a very common occurrence with hired ‘maids’ in some homes–and grabbing and groping… well into his twenties. And in every case the victims ended up paying the price, while the offender managed to fly under the radar, with nothing more than a mild slap on the wrist for ‘sexual immorality’. That should not be. And yet it happens repeatedly.

If an offender refuses to take ownership, and comply with the laws of the land and church-imposed boundaries, or if there is any indication they are causing ongoing trauma, it is not asking too much to tell them not to show up. There is no repentance in self-preservation and rebelling against those boundaries, and that person should be deemed unsafe in every way.

Feel Free to Attend, but with Supervision and Boundaries
In the case of the church I worked with in 2014, a team of people met with the intent of creating accountability. There was no agenda to cover up or protect the offender, but neither was there any agenda to destroy. In all my life I’ve never seen such a healthy approach as I saw in that meeting, and in the  months that ensued.

A recommendation was put up for discussion, to allow the offender to attend church, but to always have someone supervise. Every trip to the bathroom, every exit from the auditorium, every event, someone would be assigned to watch over the offender. There would be zero opportunity for offending again. There would be guidelines of not working with children, or being involved in any way that would compromise their safety. Had his presence made victims vulnerable, I might have felt differently, but as it was I thought it was brilliant.

The thought of being ‘babysat’ was offensive to the perpetrator, saying he felt the church was not proving forgiveness. As a result, and of his own free will, he chose to leave the church and find a new church family. If my memory is reliable, the pastor felt it his responsibility to contact leadership at the new church to inform them of the situation, not out of spite, but for the protection of the children there.

All in all, the situation was handled responsibly, and in the best interest of the victims and church family.

What About The Law?
The law was involved early on, in the case of the church I worked with; even before the church was made aware. So, for an example of law, I will share from a conversation I had with a police officer in the past month.

My conversation with the officer led me to believe that when it comes to religion, she is on the outside, looking in, and trying to make sense of it all, and she wondered at the driving force behind that behaviours of churches and Christians, as it pertains to obeying the laws of the land in regards to child abuse. I tried to explain–not justify–from my perspective, what I see; fear, pride, the belief that we Christians are subject only to God’s law and not the laws of the land, among other things. I’ve had the same conversation with 4 police officers since May, where they talk about the religious community covering up and not getting victims or offenders the help they need, and it leaves them shaking their heads. It should.

But what this last officer shared, didn’t stay there. After questioning, she mentioned how several years ago she had a case unlike any other. A pastor, she said, had walked in one morning, accompanied by an offender who had molested his daughter. Immediately after having done so, he went to his wife, and told her, packed his bags and left so his daughter would be safe. The pastor was drawn in, and that is where the man stayed until morning, when they stood in front of the officer saying they have a crime to report. The entire police staff was flabbergasted, she said. Not one had experienced such a thing before.

She told me how the man ended up doing jail time, getting counseling and was eventually reinstated in his home, but is not allowed to be with children unsupervised at any time. He is humbly compliant, and understands that this is to make 100% certain it never happens again. This situation, is the ideal, when it comes to handling abuse cases, she told me.

I wasn’t involved with that situation, and don’t know the people, but from where I stand looking on, I see redemption, while complying with the law and facing consequences. The church is aware of what he has done, and works to make it a safe place for children all around, while allowing him to be part of his family and the church.

A Tragedy Cannot be Undone, only Redeemed
There is no way to make a bad thing good. It can’t be done. There is only redemption of evil in the lives of God’s people, and in the working of society. What our enemy means for evil, God will use for good, but the wickedness can never be made good. We have to accept that, and call the wickedness what it is.

That said, we undermine the grace and mercy of God, when we refuse to extend the work of Jesus on the cross to all sinners… including those who molested a child, or children. There must always be forgiveness for them. While the practical working out of healing should be done with great wisdom and seeking God’s heart–and God always fights for the children and the vulnerable–to sentence offenders to hopeless judgment, doesn’t sit right in my spirit.

I’ve worshiped in prison with those who murdered someone. And I’ve hugged them if they wanted to be hugged. It makes zero difference to me, at the foot of the cross, what you have done; you are my brother and my sister. Besides, I remember that “but for the grace of God, there go I”. And I mean that. Coming out of the sexual confusion of my childhood, it is nothing short of the grace of God that kept me from growing up to be in prison with the murderers and pedophiles. When it comes praying ‘thank God I am not like the sinner beside me’, the words choke heavy in my throat and I cannot spit them out.

Instead, I thank God for His liberal grace and generous wisdom so that we might be forgiven, extend forgiveness, while still choosing to respond carefully in every situation. Bitterness and hate destroys lives, as does overlooking sin and neglecting to address and deal with abuse. Somewhere, in seeking the wisdom of God, there is a better way…

We were molested, many of us, and we inevitably hurt and grieve the loss of innocence. We need to be given space to do that, and to express that hurt without being judged. But, horrific as that moment was, or the thousand times over, none of us really want to stay stuck in that darkness. Advocating for other victims, fighting for the safety of children and creating awareness are some of the many ways to take back our freedom, our God-given voice, and to bring good out of evil, without empowering evil through bitterness.

Together we are a powerful force for good, for redemption and for hope, if we avoid the pit of bitterness, and a sense of being entitled to live in it and speak out of it. Our life purpose is not defined by what happened to us, but it can empower us for greater things. The choice is ours. Always.  And I, for one, want to care for the hearts of all, but I want only to partner with those who bring hope out of darkness…

Yes, together we are a powerful force for good, for redemption and for hope!

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

I have the right to be bitter; I was molested… And the Church’s Response to Abuse (Part 1)

The Crime and the Calling
Standing against sexual abuse and violence is a noble and godly thing to do. It really is. And I applaud anyone who does so with a pure heart. Because I cannot think of many topics that stir deeper feelings than child molestation. And rightfully so. What is more horrendous than an innocent child or young person stripped of sexual innocence by an adult? I can’t think of a thing, really, that does the thing to my stomach that such a story does.

Especially now, as a married woman who understands what sex was supposed to be in the first place, as designed by God; a beautiful and fun bonding between husband and wife. For an adult to impose such a thing, and impose a life-sentence of struggle on an innocent child… to rob that victim of unhindered marital joy…

Even writing about it, like this, creates inner angst and tension on behalf of that child that the makes me want to vomit. And that’s not exaggerating. That’s how the mind and body should respond, with powerful resistance, against such a thing. And the instinct to protect children should rise, immediately, to the surface.

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The Danger in Fighting Against Abuse and Violence
But that is the very thing that makes it such a complex thing to stand against. Those feelings, legitimate and justified, must be acknowledged but cannot be the driving force, in and of themselves; there has to be a deeper goal to be effective. Those feelings must not be it, lest we move out of hate and bitterness. Because then the very thing we fight against, gains power over us, and makes us slaves to it. When we become bitter and hate-filled, and out to make the offender(s) pay, on our terms, a toxicity sets in that does nothing–not one little thing–to protect victims or change the world.

Bitterness is counterproductive in every way. Besides rendering your voice empty and irrelevant to those in positions to help change the world, its toxic poison will suck your soul dry faster than any hurt imposed on you. Every time. And not only that, it will suck dry those around you, if they don’t leave before it poisons them. In either case, it will leave you empty and friendless, or empty and lacking healthy support. It’s not worth it.

As Believers, What Do We Reach For?
There are good and positive things that can be done in dealing with molestation, without turning to the venom of destruction and the poison that is so prone to dribble from our lips. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve done it. I’ve lost sight, in the past, of what my heart really longs for in all of this; redemption, justice, boundaries, mercy, truth and ultimately restoration with God… even in situations where the last thing that ever could happen (or should, for that matter) is reconciliation between offender and victim.

In religious settings it seems often there is a dreadful imbalance in situations where an abuser is exposed, caught or turns himself or herself in. It is either carefully guarded and covered up in denial, or the individual is abandoned and thrown under the bus. Most often it is the former. And, to the latter, many ‘justice seekers’ would shout a hearty ‘Yay… serves them right’ and jump on the bandwagon that finally someone is listening.

At the risk of receiving hate mail, I will say publicly that I think both are corrupt; both are wrong. That’s my view. Justice and truth without mercy is barbaric. Mercy without truth and justice is endorsement of evil. As I watch the two sides play out around me, in various situations, I think surely there must be a better way! Surely there is some humanity, somewhere. Humanity that says, “Enough is enough!” to the senseless victimization, and humanity that says, “we are all broken and need help, so we’re going to get you that help.”

And then, beyond humanity to Christ-likeness, that says, “Someone died for my sins; He died for yours too.” To offer the grace and love of Jesus to my offender is the most freeing thing I have ever done. Freeing for me.

To not share that truth with others, is to keep them in bondage. And yet, as angry voices–and yes, they should be angry–shout around me, some with bitterness and hate, I find myself retreating, publicly, for fear of tomatoes… or worse, thrown at me. It is not the healthy anger that makes me cringe, it is the hate and offensiveness. And I am not alone. Other victims have written me, saying they are afraid to publicly state they have forgiven, for fear of being judged or ‘hated on’.

What Then is the Solution?
While abuse angers many of us, as it should, the greatest headway in change will come from calm, composed persistence. There is a time to expose, but doing so with venom will stop the ears of people we want to speak to; it is overwhelming. Furthermore, if there are defenses already in place–take for example a pastor, parent or other person of influence–where the person feels it is an attack on them, the attack and raging approach will trigger subconscious response–either tuning out or defending.

An approach that lacks attack, and rather appeals to the intellect, the heart and compassion of individuals in positions of influence, will produce a much healthier response. Reasonable dialogue is necessary, and exploring healthy solutions without demanding the heads of abusers on a platter, will go much further than raging and bitterness. And if we want to really make a difference, then we need to manage those feelings with honour.

What Can the Church Do?
When a molestation case comes to light in a church, there is inevitably much upheaval. In 2014 I was hired by a church several hours away, to work with a very difficult situation. I learned more in a few months, about what pastors and leaders go through, than I had learned in the preceding 44 years of my life.

When a pastor cares for his church and wants nothing but the best for everyone, abuse and molestation allegations cause heartbreaking struggle. When the offender owns up, admitting to the crimes, and it is confirmed reality and not allegations, the truth is harsh and offensive. The crimes need to be dealt with, and the person needs someone to walk with them, and the victims need to be protected along with all vulnerable church attendees, children in particular. How is a pastor to do all of those things, and not be harshly judged by some, if not all involved and aware?

Some want the offender banned from attending. Some want the church to ‘forgive and move on’. Others want boundaries and protections in place. Some want it taken to the law. Others say that’s not biblical, even when the laws require it. The latter, for me, is not optional; a crime must be reported. The Bible says that the law is for the lawbreaker, and if that lawbreaker happens to sit on a church pew, he or she is no less a lawbreaker.

How to handle incorporating the abuser, or banning, as the case may be, is something each church family must fumble their way through. Each situation and solution presents complexities that make a black-and-white-blanket-solution nigh impossible to implement. And while the protection of victims should alway take precedent over the abuser, I hesitate to judge harshly when I see a church trying to care for both.

I say that as someone who instigated inappropriate sexual interaction with a peer in my early teens. Sure, she came into agreement before we did anything, but I will always see her as the victim. I was a few months older and I suggested it, therefore I feel I need to own that. To this day, it is more important for me to know that she is cared for than to have my pride protected. She deserves that; I made her vulnerable. And any offender who steals innocence should pursue the well-being of the victim, over their own comfort. It’s the least any of us can do who have wounded another.

So what, then, should a church do? What are some options?

(To Be Continued…)

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Touching Response from Conservative Mennonite (to ‘Cult Curses’)

An understanding heart is the safest shelter in the storms of life.

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Being in church leadership, today, is not easy. Maybe it never was. And I say that from the sidelines, having been close to some church leaders, but having never led a church. While God has called me to rise up in the area of bringing light to darkness in the church, that has long lay protected, and He has called me to bring hope for freedom to the children, and hope for forgiveness to the abusers and those who have hidden sin so long, that is a very different thing than leading a church. Having seen up close, through the eyes of friends in leadership, some of the struggle and challenges they face, I appreciate even more when God brings church leaders into my life who represent Him with such grace, beauty and authority, that I walk away changed, having been touched by Him, through them.

In my life, presently, there are such leaders. And, in the past two and a half years of finding my way through some very dark battles, I’ve had some outstanding warriors, caring men and women, who entered into battle with me–including several pastors who called me into their offices, just to bless me, pray for me, and encourage me. I can’t name those who are leaders in Conservative Mennonite churches-ranging from Amish to Mid-west and beyond–because they could get in trouble for associating with me, so I shall refrain, but I still want to say “Thank you!” publicly: you know who you are. I bless you and thank God for the work you do. The few I can name, or think I can without putting them in a place of attack and criticism, are: Pastor Rob Gulliver, Pastor Dan Allen, Pastor Gord Martin, Pastor Bob Hamp, Heidi Konig, and Heather Tompkins. As men and women of God, you spoke powerfully into my life in a time when I felt like I could hardly breathe, spiritually, and your words of encouragement propelled me forward, when I felt too wounded even to crawl. Thank you! And, while not a pastor, but as someone who has walked his own journey of pain and grief, I am indebted to Phil Mills–a friend, and the son of Marion Mills and the late Pastor Don Mills, who both encouraged me to follow God’s call–for offering many an encouraging word this past year and challenging me to offer ministry from the broken places in my own heart. You are trustworthy men and women, in my estimation–for whatever my opinion is worth.

But today there is someone I’d like to thank, specifically, who is in leadership in a conservative Mennonite setting. Encouragement has come often, from you, and has lifted my eyes from the waves around me, to the Jesus before me. It has affirmed me in being this ‘voice in the wilderness of sexual abuse’, offering hope and healing to those lost in that wilderness. When I got your message, on the heels of releasing my blog Curse From Religious Cult Brings Blessing, my heart spilled its thanks all down the front of my shirt. You are truly a blessing! I am sharing your message here, with all identifying features removed, so that people in Mennonite churches will know  that you ‘dwell among them’, fighting for their hearts and their freedom and that you are not afraid to face the dark truth of sexual abuse, and help bring healing. There are many more like you, I have no doubt–even a few who contact me–who are waiting to bring healing to those wounded, when the truth finally shakes out. I pray for you in that shakedown, whether it come as a mighty earthquake, or a gentle crumbling of the walls. God knows and He has you on standby.

Here is the note that greeted me this morning:

“… just wanted you to know that I am in prayer for you as the release date nears.I have had, and still have a strong “sense” that significant things will happen… some of them relate directly to the topic of your book. There will be pain, and there will be rebirth. So, I bow my knees before the Father, by whom all heaven and earth was formed, and pray that He will grant you the exceeding riches of his grace, and that His plans will be done earth as he has planned for them in heaven. I bless and honour you today in the words of the Hebrew people – Eshet Chayil! (You are a woman of valor!)”

 For every lie the enemy throws my way, countless truths cover me, and for every curse, numberless blessings spill into my life. I am encouraged, especially, that many warriors are rising up among ‘my people’, fighting for truth and protecting the little ones who suffer. There is a deep stirring that thrills my heart and fills me with hope for the next generation!

God has not forgotten His little ones…  He has not forgotten those adults who carry the pain of childhood inside… and He has not forgotten His warriors.

Love
~ T ~

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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.

canstockphoto19501023

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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Serving from a Broken Bottle

We romanticize church, communion, and all things ‘Christian’ as hinging on a holiness born of perfection,
But it is the unrefined love of the Broken Christ, poured in messy spills, like wine from a broken bottle,
Flowing into and through broken vessels, and splashing reckless love into the world around
That ultimately spreads His grace to the world around.

wine_broken 2

****

Christianity is a messy encounter between sinful humanity and Divine Love.

****

There is this thought that troubles me, and one that has tumbled around in my mind, for years in a way that can’t be ignored…  Like the annoying sound of mindless, repetitious tapping that carries on until someone bursts out an exasperated ‘stop it!’ … or the faucet dripping water until you are forced to abandon what you’re doing and get up to tighten it…

My  first awareness that some people are ‘different’ came when I was about four or five years old. A girl in our community, or possibly a neighbouring colony–I cannot recall which–probably in her twenties, brought this revelation into my life. Or, more accurately, what people said brought the revelation. To me she was simply a more fun adult, than most. One I could connect with. Really connect with.

I don’t recall her name, but her image is burned on my memory, most clearly. When we visited her home, which I recall doing at least twice, she and I played together. This friend loved to play dolls, and sat with me, holding and rocking them with the same childish delight that I felt. Though I certainly didn’t recognize it as childish then. I did, however, observe that she did what other adults didn’t do. She entered into my world, and I into hers. We sat in our chairs pretending to nurse our babies, then rocking and burping them, just the way mothers in our world did. She didn’t talk much. I don’t recall, but it would be a safe guess that I chattered. I did that from time to time.

After one visit to their home my mother explained that this girl isn’t ‘normal’ or, the German wording, ‘not as she should be’. This bewildered me. To me she was as everyone should be.  It isn’t that my mother was rude, or condescending. It was the normal wording used for mentally handicapped or delayed people. Another expression used was the equivalent of retarded–something I found offensive, even as a child.

But the thoughts tumbling in my head are not exactly about the mentally delayed or handicapped, though this ‘learning’ of our differences does tie in, for me, emotionally, to my thoughts…

I don’t know when I first learned that there are people at church who are ‘different’. People who don’t fit the mold.  The ones who are not ‘as they should be’. Those who dance to a different rhythm. (God bless them, at least they dance!) These are the broken souls who don’t have it together, hold it together, or present a ‘church image’. They don’t wear a ‘suit and tie’ in a ‘suit and tie church’. And if they do, the pants are too short and the sleeves fall shy of reaching the wrist with an obvious deficit. Their shoes have no shine, if they wear shoes at all, and their socks probably don’t match. Not each other, and not the suit.  The tie, if worn at all, is a tacky mis-matched accessory, and the hair slicked to the side, haphazardly, with Brylcream and smeared flat.

When they talk, they stutter. When they laugh, it is a geeky laugh that incorporates a few snorts and maybe a cross-eyed glance, as they push their ‘taped-together’ glasses up their nose. When they look into your eyes it’s that awkward ‘look deep into the soul’ gaze that creeps the average Joe out, especially in church where everything is meant to be nice and peaceful, and no one is supposed to know anything below the nice exterior. And everyone is perpetually happy. Because God is good. And when they do that–the awkward ones–and look deep into our souls, they look past the ‘nice’ and see the dark spots on our souls and it makes us uncomfortable. I know. I’ve experienced it.

These people don’t fit into Western church culture. More accurately, they don’t fit in anywhere.

My descriptions  are figurative. It isn’t the external differences that make people ‘unfit’, but it is that way of thinking and living, of refusing to conform to expected norms, or maybe oblivious to these norms, that make them misfits. They are no more welcome in much of church culture than Jesus was welcomed into the religious community of His day.

And whether it is because of a mental handicap or just ‘being different’, and being ‘broken’ and scarred by life, we don’t really know what to do with these people. The mentally handicapped most of us accept. They can’t help how they were born. But the broken. Them we try to fix. Surely with a bit more effort, or offering another earnest prayer, or a bit more counsel, surely then they will pull themselves together and fit in. But they try–some of them, at least–and we pray, and we advise–or send them to the more qualified for help–and still they sing off tune and dance out of time… And slowly we pull away, or push them out, and leave them on the discard pile…

The broken ones who don’t fit…

While housecleaning my basement I came across an envelope. A fat, homemade envelope. Crooked and mis-measured, with holes where the corners should meet–gaps because she didn’t align it right. A few scribbles decorated the front. Inside a handful of papers with unintelligible notes, made of up wordless words, with letters randomly slapped together. Tall letters. Short letters. Fat ones and skinny ones.

i studied them, trying to recall where they had come from. A memory played at the fringes of my mind, teasing, but refusing to reveal itself. I flipped to another note, unfolded the uneven folds.  There, written in clear English were the words, “I Love You! Janet Kuepfer”

I smiled. And a tear fell. And I remembered why I kept the note. She worked hard to write that, many years ago when we attended the same church. It was one of a few such notes I received from friends there, who were mentally delayed, handicapped or had special needs of some sort. I found others as I rooted through my boxes. And while hundreds of beautiful cards landed on the discard pile, each of these notes returned to my keepsake box, where I will likely stumble upon them in a decade or so, the next time I go through my memory box, sorting what is worthy of storage, and what should be tossed.

And in the meantime the question will continue to tumble through my head, like an empty tin can, blowing about in the wind, demanding to be acknowledged.  What should the church do with the broken ones?

I believe I saw a glimpse of this on Sunday. We attended the Meeting House in Waterloo, and it was communion Sunday. At the very front, sat two gentlemen in wheelchairs. I don’t know them. I don’t know their stories…

A man went forward for communion but, rather than taking the bread, dipping it in the wine and helping himself, he walked past the cup and the bread to these men. He leaned forward and whispered something to them, then turned, took some bread and dipped it in the cup, and placed it in the first gentleman’s mouth. He followed suit with the second man.

“He’s a true gentleman,” I whispered to Tim, pointing out what I observed.  And something connected deep in my spirit with the broken Jesus–the One from whom many in today’s Christian culture would likely withhold communion, or walk the long way around Him, if the way we treat our broken is any indication.

In the background the worship team played ‘Jesus Messiah’, and I came unglued as the tears began to fall so that I couldn’t hold them back if I wanted to. And I wanted to. Because I don’t like to cry in church anymore. I’ve learned that people don’t cry in church, and mostly I prefer not to be so vulnerable in front of them. With Tim I don’t mind, and some of my trusted friends. But in church I have learned it is best to close down my heart and emotions, and blend in with the accepted norms.

Every now and then, however, the raw, real, broken truth, about love being poured from a broken glass without pretense of apology,  grips me with such force that all walls crumble and all defenses  dissipate. And then I weep. And in those moments I feel alive, as if Jesus has slipped again among us. And my soul reaches out with open hands and longing heart….

… for a place of vulnerability where it is safe to be broken…  A place where Jesus is lifted up and human effort is not glorified…  and the ‘least of these’ is valued as if they were Jesus in the flesh…

 

© Trudy Metzger

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Dear Anonymous Mennonite Friend

IMG_2128IMG_2129Dear Anonymous ,

I’m sorry for whatever happened in your life to make you this bitter and hateful. The letter speaks for itself, and for you–as all anonymous hate letters do–but I will let the readers make of it what they wish. I see no need to respond to most of it.

I will, however, address (with evidence) one item of misinformation regarding the ‘lie’ you claim I told. Evidence, for the second item I will address, would be documented at Family & Children Services (F&CS).

The minister I spoke to is from local church, along with another staff member as a witness.   (If you are involved in this case and would like to have their names/contact information, please email me using the Contact Trudy page and I will connect you with them.)I shared the details of what transpired the night your friend fled home in terror, leaving a child in the care of a man she feared, and I was encouraged to call F&CS, even months later.  (You will note in the text screen shot below that I never hinted at it being a Mennonite minister. I have the other texts as well, and there is no harassment.)
text to friends of anonymous letter

At some point, after speaking with them, I called F&CS using a hypothetical situation, to find out what my obligations are for reporting, months after the fact. They said they have to investigate and determine the danger/risk, it is not up to me. (I told them I hesitate to answer because I am concerned about backlash from the Mennonite community–see letter above for evidence/reason for such concern) They questioned me until they got enough information to make a house call, but even looked up the address themselves and guessed at the child’s age, because I did not know. (This, I presume, would all be documented at F&CS and is the extent of my ‘harassment’, as you and your police officer friend call it.)

I’m sorry that your friend cannot face the truth of what happened that night. Abuse only ends when confronted, regardless of what tragic past experiences trigger the abuse. And I hope she and her husband go for counselling and get the support and healing they both need.

Having said all that, your letter begs one question–what truth are you afraid of having exposed, to react this strongly to something that has nothing to do with you?  (And to which you clearly do not have facts. Harassment charges never come from a citizen doing their duty and calling F&CS, especially when advised by a church leader to do so. )

I offer my forgiveness for calling me a ‘BEAST’ and a ‘loser’. And, again, I am truly sorry for whatever it is that causes such darkness to spill from your soul onto paper.  I pray you will discover just how incredibly much Jesus loves you, and find peace.  I have nothing but love and compassion in my heart for you, and for your friend.

Sincerely,

Trudy

Ps. Mark, Stuart, Glen, Kenny and other pastor/minister in your church(es) are welcome to contact me about this or any other Mennonite abuse cases. I respect the three that I know and have heard many good things about Glen.  I’ve already met with other Midwest leaders and, in all but one situation, everything has been handled with grace and integrity. When one leader got angry, he later apologized, in front of two fellow ministers, his wife (I believe was there) and one other individual, and then thanked me. That takes humility.

© Trudy Metzger

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