Tag Archives: Religious Abuse

5 Reasons You Should Watch the Shack

6 Mar

Isn’t The Shack just a made up story? Yes. Is it even based on biblical facts? Yes, in some ways, but I like to think of it as an allegory. Pilgrim’s Progress wasn’t a true story either. But wait, God is a man and not a woman, right? Well, who of us has seen God? These are some of the questions people have about the movie, The Shack based on Wm. Paul Young’s book by the same name. This book and movie have taken a lot of heat, but most of the critics haven’t bothered to read or watch it. If you are one of the skeptics, allow me to share five reasons why you might want to watch The Shack.

1. If You Have Ever Suffered a Huge Loss and Wondered Why

The Shack tries to answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Many of us in hard times after a death of a loved one or some other terrible event have asked, “Where is God if he is sovereign?” This movie attempts to answer this question through telling a story about one man broken by a terrible childhood and then a loss in his adult life.

2. If You have Father Issues and Feel You Can’t Trust the Father

Early in The Shack we see Mac’s father beating him with a belt. If you grew up with a narcissistic parent who beat you, put you down or abused you in any way, you might find it very hard to trust God. This is because God’s original plan was for parents to act in the role of God to their children. When we were small and unable to provide for ourselves, we relied on our parents for everything. When they were abusive, it gave us the idea God might be abusive too. Part of the reason for this is that little kids can’t see the abuse. They won’t assume their parent is abusive, they just think they are bad. As children, we absorbed our parents’ sins and now as adults, we still feel unworthy. In the Shack, Papa goes out of the way to make sure Mac knows he is worthy of God’s friendship and love. That word friendship came up several times between Mac and Jesus. It reminded me of one of the least repeated verses in the Bible where Jesus says:

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

One of the problems we ACoNs have with our parents is they often won’t release us to be their friends, because they want us to be their servants and slaves for life. Of course it is a form of love to serve our parents–but not when we are adults who are forced to submit to a narcissist abuser.

The Shack reminds us that God is not at all like a narcissistic parent, he is always concerned about what is best for us. In the words of Papa, God says, “I am especially fond of you!” And what is so amazing is that he is especially fond of every person in the world, but it doesn’t take away from the wonder and love he has for each of us as individuals. God is a good parent who loves every one of his children equally, but differently.

3. If You Have Been Afraid of God’s Wrath

In The Shack, Mac asks Papa what about God’s wrath. And Papa says, “What? What are you talking about?” Mac thinks God is vindictive and revengeful toward sinners and Papa reassures him this is not true at all.

If you have not discovered the fact that God’s wrath in Romans 1 is really about God letting people go to their choices and not about revenge, then study up on it. There will be fundamentalists who disagree, but a thorough study of the subject might back up Young’s ideas in The Shack.

This film gives a great example of letting go through the art of storytelling. While it has theological tones, the story itself is well written, well directed and well-acted. People without a religious bone in their body could still enjoy The Shack—because it is a well told story and the heart of this movie is not about religion, but relationship.

4. If You Struggle With Judging or Forgiving Others

It also shows how we can let go and still honor our losses.This movie is not just about losing someone dear, it also carries the message to stop judging others and forgive them–despite the horrible things they have done.

Every abuser was formed most likely by the abuse of their parents going all the way back to Adam and Eve. While judging and forgiving seem to be at odds with each other, the way we can deal with both healthfully is to let go.

In the situation of narcissistic parents, we are healthier for letting go. The burdens we carry don’t have to hinder us and tie us down, God can turn our pain into wisdom as we grow stronger until we learn to fly. In this story, like in many of our lives, there were characters who needed to be forgiven and there were nightmares that came from the darkness that could only be put to rest by looking to Jesus as our brother and friend.

I was particularly touched by one scene with Mac and his father. Once we see our parents’ wounds we can forgive easier and we can realize they didn’t mean to harm us, they were broken by the fall too. How many children’s hearts would be turned back to their fathers if parents only they owned what they had done and asked for forgiveness? Of course, we realize most narcissistic parents will never do this, but we can forgive them even when they don’t say sorry. We are the ones who will heal when we do this.

5. If You Have Trouble Trusting God in Any Way

About ten years ago, I went to a seminar where the speaker asked if Jesus was behind one door and the Father the other, which door we would choose to go through. My answer was the Jesus door because I thought Jesus was the good guy who had saved me from the Father. That night I learned some things starting with the fact that Jesus said he and the Father are one. God’s wrath is letting us go to our own choices. There is no revenge in the Spirit of God. That whatever Jesus would say and do for me is the same as what the Father would say and do for me. I was first in shock, then in awe of God.

The next morning I got up at dawn and looked at this amazing and gorgeous sunrise full of pink and gold. As I stared up at it, I felt the Spirit speaking to my heart that this display was for me. That Abba, Papa, Father–whatever we call God was shining his love on me and I began to weep. I asked him, “Father, can you really be this good?” I will never forget that morning—it was the day that changed everything in my life. I have never had a worry about the future or my salvation since. My feelings were similar while I watched The Shack. I was profoundly touched by God’s love.

The Shack gives us a little God’s eye view of humanity where we can see how God loves every person. One of my friends who went to see it with me said, “I wish I could go and stay at the shack for a long time.” Why? Because to dwell in that shack is to be nurtured and loved unconditionally by God. To get answers from God. I believe The Shack is a little taste of heaven and it will change your heart, but you’ll have to see it for yourself.

NOTE: Some will have theological questions about this, while I am not a theologian, I will share a little of what I have learned from others.

Some Theological Questions About the Shack

God as a Black Woman?

The biggest criticism of The Shack has been its portrayal of a black woman as God the Father. But people who have trouble trusting God as a father might need to see the feminine face of God. God said, “Let us make humankind in our image.” If Eve as Ezer Kenegdo was created in God’s image, then certainly God has a feminine side. Jesus himself said he would like to gather the people in Jerusalem like hen gathers her chicks under her feathers (Matthew 23:37). There is a Bible verse which says, “Even if a mother forgets her nursing child, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15,16).

The fact is God is Spirit. None of us have seen God. We know throughout the Bible God has manifested as the angel of the Lord in various places (Genesis 22:11–15). And God has manifested as a human even before Jesus was born, when three visitors came to Abraham and at least one of them was God. Even here, maybe the number three has significance (Genesis 18). When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit was manifested as a dove (Matthew 3:16). Paul says Jesus was manifested as a rock for the Children of Israel (I Corinthians 10:4) and he was also the cloud which protected them by day and night (Exodus 13:21).

The Shack portrays God manifested as a black woman, an Asian woman and as a Native American Father. I see no reason why such portrayals would shock anyone who understands how God bends close to the earth to meet each hurting human in the place where we most need God.

Universalism?

Other critics have accused Young of writing about Universalism which states that no one will be lost but all will be saved. I didn’t get this idea from the book or the movie. But it is important to note that God is especially fond of everyone—the question is will we allow God to heal us? Some may not, but it has always been God’s dream to save everyone–he just won’t force anyone.

When Mac asked, “Then are there to be no consequences for sin, Papa says, “Oh there’s always consequences.” Then Papa describes how God gives everyone freedom of choice–if this is true, then God either must win every soul to his way of thinking, or lose some.

I was reminded of two verses:

1. The Wages of Sin is Death (Romans 6:23).

Some say the wages paid by sin is death. This is the law of sowing and reaping. Some call it karma. Jesus taught about the parable of the sower. If there is no sowing, there will be no reaping. We all will reap what we sow.

2. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Some say sinners can’t follow God unless they are scared into it, but that is not God’s way, that is the enemy’s lie. How do we know this?

God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

The true biblical explanation of God’s wrath is actually letting go (Romans 1:18-32). We would all be wise to notice this passage is about all sin–not just the ones mentioned by the fundamentalist Christians. I believe when God lets go, the Holy Spirit releases people to their own choices.

The poison vine Sarayu warned Mac was deadly when helping him dig up the weeds in the garden of his heart, reminded me of how sin kills us. And if we refuse to allow Sarayu AKA the Holy Spirit to help us clean up those toxic parts in our hearts, we could become damaged and in danger of walking away from God altogether.

Disconnection from God is what is so deadly for all of us humans. This is why God’s enemy puts up so much opposition to The Shack. If people are afraid to watch it because some Christian warns them it’s dangerous, they might miss out on trusting God and having a better relationship with him and that could be a tragedy.

Where the Spirit of God is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Let each person decide for themselves.

Don’t Shut Up, Your Voice Matters

11 Feb

Well Friends, I have been dumbfounded. I haven’t been sure what to write about lately because there is just so much sad news, I can hardly bear to write about it. When you grow up with oppression and live in fear of a belt and are refused an education, your hope turns to the government and church—people who try to make laws to protect you.  But when your church and government rise toward authoritarianism it can really bring on your CPTSD. These days we all need to keep a paper bag nearby to breathe into or puke into–depending on the news du jour.

It’s even sadder to realize our own social media feeds probably contributed to the election of the lowest life form to ever enter the White House. The more intelligent people who voted for him are now beginning to realize he is not keeping his promise to drain the swamp, but selling it off to vipers through the highest bidders.

So what can we do when women are bullied and belittled as sex toys and not allowed to speak of the truth of racism in congress? We will persist and make our voices heard.

What can we do when other-abled people are made fun of and bullied by the powers that be? We can educate and stand up against bullying–and I’m not talking about protecting one spoiled millionaire’s child, I am talking about the brown kids, the fat kids and the gay kids down the block and most women reporters.

What can we do when a mother is separated from her children by an invisible wall that ultimately threatens their very existence? We can educate and offer empathy to those who are worried this will happen to their own families.

What can we say when the government keeps lying and putting out alternative facts which are basically lies? We can pull out the videos of these lies and educate the public.

What can we do when racists and people who do not support the separation of church and state are able to buy their own seats in the cabinet of our land? We can pray and educate and write and call our congress men and women.

It’s hard to speak up and let our voices be heard when our Christian brothers and sisters disagree. I don’t have all the answers, but I recently came across a paper outlining the history of the Seventh day Adventist denomination in Nazi Germany. It was the most incriminating article I have ever read about the church I was born into and raised in. You can read it here. We cannot ignore our history, because history often repeats itself and there are many today who deny the holocaust ever happened. So here are a few  voices to remind us of history.

“I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.

“I remember: he asked his father: ‘Can this be true?’ This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?

“And now the boy is turning to me: ‘Tell me,’ he asks. ‘What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?’

“And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

“And then I explained to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must–at that moment–become the center of the universe.” -Elie Wiesel

Don't Shut Up, Cherilynclough.com, https://www.etsy.com/listing/219719647/dont-shut-up-print-survivor-girl-print?ref=shop_home_active_47

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“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.

“Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.

These words come from a Protestant pastor who spend the last seven years of the Nazi rule in a concentration camp:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–
And there was no one left to speak for me.”

-Martin Niemöller

What can we do when other Christians insist we should be quiet? We can point out how the religious right is not very spiritual and not very right. It’s not enough to have a flag on your profile and post KJV Bible quotes at random. These things do NOT make a Christian. This war we are fighting comes from the kingdom of darkness—

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is NOT a war where we should post inflammatory memes or spew hate toward those who think differently than we do. Save your breath for breathing and breathe out love. Only love can heal the world.

Love does not boast,
Love is not proud.

Love does not dishonor others,
Love is not self-seeking,
Love is not easily angered,
Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil,
Love rejoices with the truth.

Love always protects,
Love always trusts,
Love always hopes,
Love always perseveres.
-1 Corinthians 13

By this all people will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.
-Jesus

Love speaks the truth—whether your friends understand or your pastor agrees or your teacher cares. Just ask Viktor Frankl, Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Niemöller, Maya Angelou, and Jesus. If we have learned anything from the past, it’s that we all need each other and all of our stories matter.

maya-storm-quote

Don’t Be Afraid

2 Dec

One of the worst forms of religious abuse is manipulation that scares people to be afraid of God. Fear has caused generations of people to be afraid of Jesus coming. Yet the message of Christmas is “Don’t be afraid.” This is what the angel told Mary and and what the angel told Joseph and later this is what the angel said to the shepherds when the angels came to sing.

It seems heaven’s mantra is, “Don’t be afraid.”

I believe Jesus came as a baby so we won’t be afraid of God.

Think about it.

Are you afraid of a God who gives up all of his power and lives in a womb for nine months?

Are you afraid of a God who was born in a cave with the animals?

Are you afraid of a God who comes as a helpless baby relying on us humans to diaper and feed him?

Are you afraid of this baby God who had to be hidden so a wicked king couldn’t kill him?

Are you afraid of a God who came–not to condemn but to love the world back to trust in God?

Are you afraid of a God who worked for most of his life in a carpenter shop?

Are you afraid of a God who owned no home or bed to lay his head?

Peace Angel, cherilynclough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/24136406-peace-angel

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Are you afraid of a God who made time for little children?

Are you afraid of a God who gently touches the blind eyes and makes them see?

Are you afraid of a God who makes lame limbs walk again?

Are you afraid of a God who feeds thousands with five loaves and two fish?

Are you afraid of a God who wrote in the dust to set a woman free?

Are you afraid of a God who forgave Mary seven times?

Are you afraid of the God who taught us to forgive seventy times seven?

Are you afraid of a God who walks on water and shows Peter how to do it too?

Are you afraid of a God who washes the dirty feet of his friends?

Are you afraid of a God who allows himself to be captured and beaten?

Are you afraid of a God who allows people to nail him to a piece of wood and kill him?

Are you afraid of a God who dies for you and rises again so you can live for eternity?

Are you afraid of Jesus coming back to remake the earth so you can live in peace forever?

They were looking intently into the sky as He was going,
when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.
“Men of Galilee, they said,
“Why do you stand here looking into the sky?
This SAME Jesus,
who has been taken from you into heaven,
will come back in the same way
you have seen Him go into heaven.”
-Acts 1:11

Listen to the angels.

Don’t. Be. Afraid.

How to Survive Spiritual Abuse

5 Nov

In my early twenties, I was part of a Christian music ministry and for nine months we sang at a different church every night. We were told to respect the authority of our leaders because they were set in place by God. One day at training camp, I was slapped in the face for leaving a three hour meeting to run to the bathroom. Some might wonder why I allowed someone to treat me this way, but I was conditioned to accept this spiritual and physical abuse because I was belted until the day I left home at nineteen.

As we traveled slowly across America singing cheerfully, the interpersonal relationships were fun and not so fun at times. Our leader turned out to be a control freak who got mad because we went to McDonald’s for breakfast, so he forced us sit in circle on the floor and demanded that every one of us say we respected him.

Knowing he was abusive and knowing we had done nothing wrong, I refused to say I respected him. This made him more angry so we sat for hours until it was time to leave for the next church. Since he couldn’t force me to say I respected him, he told me to sit in the audience that night instead of singing in the concert. As I sat among strangers trying to hold back the tears, I felt very alone, but God had already provided a gift to encourage me.

After the concert, my host family for the night was a middle aged couple who immediately noticed my red eyes and tear streaked face and threw their arms around me. They were a married couple who were both counselors. When we got to their home, they pulled out a delicious chocolate cake and said, “Let’s talk.”

There is a unique intimacy between strangers which allowed me to be free to tell my story because I knew I would never see them again. I stayed up half the night telling them about my childhood and what was going on in the group. The tools given to me that night have stayed with me through many encounters with abusive people.

1. Never Trust Any One Who Claims to be the Voice of God
The myth of a church leader speaking for God, has done untold damage to millions. Cult leaders often ask people to forgo their conscience to obey their rules as if God has spoken through them. No person is capable of looking inside human hearts and no one will ever be as gracious as God.

If God wanted a person to be his spokesman, Jesus would have told us, but like Brian Zahnd says, “Jesus is what God has to say.” Jesus and his life and teachings is our only safeguard. If someone claims to speak for God and they don’t match up to what Jesus taught, there is no light in them.

Spiritual abuse is the violation of our trust in God
by someone who claims to speak for Him.

2. Recognize the Limits of Their Power Over You
When an abusive leader discovers he/she can no longer control through manipulation and coercion, they will frame dissenters as the scapegoat so others will attack them too. This eventually breaks down relationships and causes schisms within the group.

You might gain some progress by breaking through barriers and befriending those who are trying to shut you out, but if this doesn’t work, look for new family and friends who are open to healthier ways of thinking and living.

Tears are a river that takes you somewhere…
Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground,
carrying it downriver to someplace better.
–Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Humans can fire you or exclude you, but they have no real power over your life in the long run. Trust God, stay loyal to him and he will eventually come through for you. No matter what someone does to you, God will ultimately have the last say. It’s easy to feel alone, but greater is He who is within you, than he who is in the world.

3. Realize It’s Okay to be Angry
Beware the Pharisees and flying monkeys who will try to shame you for being angry. Anger in response to poor treatment simply means you have had to confront evil. Whether it’s because of rude behavior or lies or someone trying tarnish your good name, there will be times you feel angry when confronted with injustice and that is really okay as long as you don’t harm anyone with your anger.

God never condones the violation of a person’s freedom–whether it’s physical or emotional or spiritual abuse. Jesus got angry when he overturned the tables in the temple to drive out those who stood between the people and God. But his anger was not vengeful or destructive. The Bible reminds us to not to sin in our anger and to not to go to bed angry. It’s important to vent and find a plan to deal with our anger in a constructive manner.

You should be angry. You must not be bitter.
Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host.
It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure.
So use that anger. You write it. You paint it.
You dance it. You march it. You vote it.
You do everything about it. You talk it.
Never stop talking it.
–Maya Angelou

4. Give Yourself Time and Space Away From Toxic People to Heal
Sometimes you need space and distance from toxic people to restore your soul. If you find toxic people at church, take a break from your local church or go to a different class. If you feel sick when you walk through the door, find a safer church. This goes for social media too. If arguing with strangers makes you sick, stay away from those groups. Block toxic people from your page. Let your life be filled with opportunities to serve others, but don’t allow others to shame and control you.

The Twenty Third Psalm is a great comfort to many people. One of my favorite verses came to life during one of my darkest times. Some people in my family were angry because I didn’t join them in excluding someone. To this day we barely talk. During this time, God provided a smorgasbord of better understanding about His character. One day I was reading the twenty-third Psalm and I realized this reality in my spiritual life:

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
-Psalm 23:5

My soul was fed and my mind opened up to many good things and I experienced great peace despite a huge family split. I longed to share my new insights to all of them, but they were more interested in punishing me for not doing what they wanted, than learning anything new. During this time, I literally was given a spiritual banquet—one which any of them could also have experienced, but they refused to partake of it.

5. Stay Connected to God
I have heard from a lot of people who have put up with lots of crap in the name of God. When spiritually abusive leaders lead, it’s important to not let them rob our joy. A few years ago, my husband and I once again had to deal with an abusive leader. We were targeted by a pastor who didn’t like my skits for the youth or my husband’s music. To keep us from doing anything he didn’t agree with, he lied about us. When we found out and tried to speak the truth, he got even more angry and tried to disfellowship us without giving the members any reason. Before it was over, we became very discouraged.

Spirit of God is Liberty, CherilynClough.com,http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/15989067-hummingbird-liberty?asc=u&c=541259-soul-sanctuary

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One day we were walking on the beach and I began to cry, I wondered what would happen if we were disfellowshipped. My husband took my hand and said, “They might take our names out of human books, but no one can take our names out of God’s book of life.”

Something shifted for me that day. Our membership was never taken because there were no grounds for it, but the weird thing was we no longer cared about positions in church or membership to the point it would control what we believe and how we serve.

When it comes to abusive leaders, church structure is irrelevant because they will twist the rules to meet their agendas, but let them play their games. We know where to place our faith and it’s not a denomination, but in Jesus himself.

This world is full of beautiful scenes, loving people and animals, intoxicating flowers and delicious fruit. God graces our views with warm sunshine and inspiring mountains and warm fires—all mere sentiments of his great love for each of us. Look at the reminders in nature all around you. Soak in God’s promises of unconditional love. Abusive leaders will come and go, but God’s government is not based on policies or control, but on freedom. His love is steadfast and will remain so forever.

Women Pastors and Corporate Abuse in the Church

28 Oct

I’ve been in mourning these last few weeks. Not over a person–but over a church. Specifically the church I grew up in. The church that has been a spiritual home at least in name to six generations of my family. Yet even though I say six generations of family, my childhood home was far different from my mother’s childhood home. The stability she took for granted was missing from mine. Some of the rules were passed down, but my parents diverged from the path of our Adventist pioneers by accepting the false concept of male headship when I was young.

How do I know this? Well they never used those terms, but my mother never worked outside the home. She never led in a family worship except to teach little children. She rarely disagreed with my father in front me. My father put down my Bible worker grandmother who was constantly giving Bible studies. He argued with her over theology. He yelled at her over doctrinal issues nearly every time we visited her.

And there were the quirky things he did while I was young. He scolded me when I was five for handing him a purple towel to dry my baby brother. I had to go back and find a blue one. He was upset when my mom took me school shopping and we came back with plaid dresses. He called them men’s clothes. He never let me or my sisters wear denim or jeans because they were men’s clothes. My parents didn’t want me to cut my hair because it was given to a woman for a covering. They also despised women who worked outside the home and “wore the pants in the family.”

Perhaps my father learned some of this from his father because his mother never learned how to drive a car. He meant well, he told me he wanted better for his daughters, but I’m not sure he knew what that could look like. My husband taught me to drive when I was twenty-three.

Arise and Shine, cherilynclough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/15835854-arise-and-shine?asc=u&c=541259-soul-sanctuary

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My father’s background made him vulnerable when the false teaching of male headship began to enter the Adventist church in the seventies. This concept did not come from the Bible or even one of our church founders–it originally came from Bill Gothard who has now been embroiled in lawsuits against him for sexual abuse and harassment from multiple young women who worked for him. His teachings of male superiority have taught women they are less than and must obey a male and in turn they have falsely given men the idea they are more important than women.

As the scholars at Andrews University have refuted with the Bible and prophetic quotes, this false concept of male headship flies against the one and only true head of the church–Jesus Christ. And it has caused a lot of trouble recently because people who support male headship are directly opposed to male-female equality which was God’s design at creation, temporarily lost in Eden and restored by the life of Jesus.

In the current controversy of women’s ordination in the church, proponents of male headship have argued that a woman should not be a pastor and most definitely not an ordained one because that would give her authority to lord over a man, but they have missed two important facts:

  1. Being a pastor (male or female) should never be about lording power over anyone. A faithful pastor’s job is to serve as Jesus did when he washed the disciple’s feet.
  2. The Biblical meaning of ordination simply meant to be called and while the actual word appears in the KJV of the Bible, it’s not in the original language. The early church prayed and laid their hands on both men and women who were called by the Holy Spirit to give their lives in service to God. And it should be the same today.

When we realize these two important points, this controversy over women’s ordination is ridiculous. So why am I in mourning over such an insane controversy?

While I was growing up, I saw the disrespect my father gave my Grandmother who served God. I saw how my father had the last word and it was his way or the highway. I saw how my brother was not expected to do the chores while I was used as a family slave. And behind all this subjugation was the power of the belt. When I was seven my legs were beaten black and blue for whispering in church. I could go on and on, but the truth is the beast-like power-over of another human being–in any form of abuse creates a deep and terrifying fear of God–a literal fear that made me sick and kept me up at night for most of my life.

I was terrified of the judgment and of Jesus coming. Events like Mt. St. Helens and 911 carved this fear even deeper into my psyche. It wasn’t until I discovered Jesus and the Father are one and I began to read up on the life of Jesus that I lost this fear created by a false God concept. And male headship was a part of what I was able to throw away.

When I realized God was not the way my father had portrayed him, I finally felt safe in church because I realized how God uses his power. Not like an angry, belt wielding father, but like a humble servant even submitting to let his created beings kill him.

So in the last few months I’ve been sad to see this ridiculous controversy rage on in the church. For me, one of the final straws against the establishment is this vote taken a couple weeks ago to eventually punish those who ordain women. Can you see how this demonic power-over that I felt I had escaped from my childhood home is now leading the church I love? Can you see how unsafe this makes me feel? Can you see how nothing can cover up such abuse? There is no excuse for a world leader being allowed to act as the beast power in a church where we teach the mindset of Jesus and preach against using our power over another human being! Please don’t preach to me about Babylon and the apostate church when our own church is taking on the form of beast-like power.

People have asked me why I care so much about women’s ordination. I once felt called to be a pastor, I came by this through my Grandmother’s joy in giving Bible studies and my own love of people. But I realized my parents would never support me in this choice so I searched for other types of work. Today I have no regrets. I feel I am able to answer God’s callings in different settings most recently through my art and blog.

But here’s the thing–as a friend of Jesus, I owe it to him to honor his example of letting Mary sit at his feet as a rabbi in training. Remember Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” So why should we allow men who have these two false beliefs of male headship and power over ordination keep women from serving God?

Apparently the General Conference President Ted Wilson disagrees with me. In Australia a few years ago, Wilson refused to lay hands on a woman pastor who was being commissioned. Unlike our world leader, the Adventist church both approves women pastors and uses a ceremony exactly like ordination–except they call it a commissioning. This month Wilson pushed a policy through to potentially punish those unions who have decided to go ahead and ordain women.

Wilson did this recently by asking the church to vote on a policy which seeks to punish outliers and those out of compliance. The first irony was the number of people who voted. There were nearly 300 people, but only nine were women. Talk about unfair representation!

The second irony is this document also aims to punish those who don’t subscribe to all twenty eight of the church’s fundamental beliefs, but get this–fundamental belief number fourteen states all are created equal and through Jesus restored to equality–including male and female. So by the GC’s own standards, this attempt to punish goes directly against fundamental belief fourteen. What a mind warp!

And how abusive is it to threaten punishment for a woman following the voice of God? What kind of false religion is this? It’s not the religion of my ancestors who treated women equally. It’s certainly not the religion my husband and I endorse.

I’ve had several conversations with women in my church. Several are leaving and not coming back. And I am left standing with very little to encourage them. Another conversation was with a woman elder who said, “I don’t care about women’s ordination.” It was sad to discover a woman who acts as an elder has no empathy for other woman who are called by God. As long as we have apathy like this, any woman who obeys that call will stand alone and be treated as less by the men in the church. I wondered if her opinion would change if her own daughter heard such a call.

Some people say “We don’t need to worry about what happens at the GC level–just deal with the local church.” Well that might sound nice, but when a vote has been taken to persecute women for accepting God’s call on their life and it aims to punish the faithful, God serving men who ordain them and support them, something is rotten at the top and the stench is trickling down to let all of us know that following conscience is no longer acceptable, we must now conform to the GC’s version of God. And right now, that God represents power over much like the kingdoms of this world.

Others say “Just focus on Jesus and don’t worry about this other stuff.” Really? You don’t think Jesus cares about women who are following his call and being persecuted? And if we are really following Jesus, then won’t we have an eye single to his glory for all?

So what can we do? For starters we need to stop allowing this corporate bullying. Women need to step up and stand up for other women. If nothing else, we need to maintain the golden rule. And the golden rule tells us to treat others as we wish to be treated. Male headship fails the golden rule. Punishing documents fail the golden rule. And sad to say it, but apathetic people fail the golden rule. Each of these mindsets are contributing to a crisis which is splitting the church.

Equality affirming male pastors need to step up. They can preach against this false doctrine of male headship. They can preach on our fundamental beliefs which state equality. They can preach about the godhead. Multiple sermons could cover the true headship of Jesus, the role of the Holy Spirit in calling people and the equality of the Godhead. They could preach on how Jesus treated women. They could also preach on how the true kingdom of God endorses freedom and does NOT use power over. They could preach on how true unity is not conformity, but can only come about by having a free conscience and being led by the Holy Spirit.

My husband and I listen to multiple podcasts every week. This keeps our marriage alive and we are never bored because it gives us lots of ideas to talk about. It also reminds me that I am part of a global movement to embrace Jesus and his freedom promoting lifestyle. It shows me I am not alone. That I don’t have to settle for sitting in church going over the same ol’ same ol’ where people keep their heads in the sand while this corporate abuse is being set up to destroy lives. I’ve heard sermons by very courageous pastors who are willing to stick their neck out for their female colleagues and their example has been refreshingly Christ-like!

I would embrace any local church who is preaching on the topics above. If you live in Southern Oregon and hear such a sermon please message me the podcast, I’d love to hear it!  For now, I’m hanging on and glad to know George Knight still preaches occasionally at my local church because he, like Jesus, supports women leaders in the church whether these elders have empathy for other women or not. And if George should fail me, then I will cling to Jesus! I don’t need to allow abusive and apathetic people in the denomination to discourage me from following Jesus.

If you can go off script and think for yourself, if you like discussing ideas about God, if you are not so stuck in your beliefs that you can look outside the boxes, then I would be thrilled to call you friend. We need to find like-minded people because we are the church!

If you want to hear a great sermon on the current crisis in the church, check out this sermon from Alex Bryan. The choir is great, but if you are in a hurry the message starts about 35 minutes in.

http://livestream.com/accounts/7962515/events/5049907/videos/137763786

George Knight on the Biblical Meaning of Ordination

Andrew University Unique Headship of Christ Statement

Five Myths of Male Headship

Women Sue Bill Gothard

The Spirit of the Lord is Freedom

14 Oct

This blog is about freedom from narcissism and religious abuse. Today I am going to write about the deep sadness in my heart over the church I grew up in and the growing threat to religious liberty.

Ted Wilson, the world president of the Seventh day Adventist church is on a witch hunt. Of course he claims he’s not, but any intelligent person paying attention knows what he’s doing. He pushed a paper through this last week to give the unions who have been ordaining women a year to stop or they will take legal action. A couple papers circulated from his office last week discussing a possible takeover of these unions because this president obviously does not support women pastors. It’s not just ordination Wilson is against, but actual women pastors.

A few years ago he was visiting Australia when a woman pastor was to be commissioned along with two men who were going to be ordained. When Wilson arrived, there was a change of plans and the woman was commissioned alone, so Wilson could come onto the platform when the women left while the men were ordained. Bluntly speaking, Wilson wouldn’t lay hands on her and pray over her. Can you imagine any of the disciples not doing this for a committed gospel worker? Can you imagine Jesus doing this?

Sandra Roberts has been an elected conference president for three years, but her name has never been listed in the Adventist yearbook, nor has she been welcomed at official meetings. It doesn’t matter that Jesus has called her and she gives her heart to God’s work, she is simply shut out because she is a woman.

So why should I care? I’m not a pastor. I care because what happens to one women affects all of us. As Maya Angelou said,”Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

I care because male headship divides families and it is splitting this church. I care because it took me years to realize God loves me as much as my brothers, because I grew up thinking God preferred men over women to pray or preach or lead worship. I care because little girls growing up right now need to know that God values them as much as the boys. I care because Adventists have always stood on the side of freedom until now.

There is a movie coming out next month about Desmond Doss, a World War II medic who saved lives without carrying a gun. Adventists believe no one should bear arms if it goes against their conscience. They also have a religious liberty department and lawyers to ensure their members are not forced to work on Sabbath.

Until now, freedom of conscience was of utmost importance if you belong to the Seventh-day Adventist church, but now there is group of people who are not approved to use their freedom and they are women pastors. These women believe they are called by God and Mr. Wilson wants them to ignore this call. How oppressive is that?

It’s so ironic it reeks of insanity, but in a church founded by a woman who preached all over the world, there has risen a very self-righteous and vocal movement to proclaim women pastors under the influence of Satan. If that is not a witch hunt, I don’t know what is.

Many Adventist scholars in North America firmly disagree. The seminary at Andrews University has put out a document refuting male headship which came into the church in the 1970s. While founder Ellen White was alive there were women pastors. She herself carried ordination credentials although she was not ordained by men, but claimed to be ordained by God. One would hardly expect her to be welcome by these men if she were preaching today.

So how did we get in this mess? Men who wish to be on a higher plane than women. They not only wish to be seated next to Jesus before the women, but they would prefer the women be seen and not heard. This is obvious by the vote itself where nearly three hundred people voted, but only nine of them were women.

Such exclusions are abusive and go against all we know about Jesus, yet these men claim to be doing God’s work. They aren’t worried about people leaving the church under their abusive watch because they believe in the shaking in which people will be shaken out of the church. They even got these words from a woman, but I doubt she thought the shaking would come down to women pastors because she sent her own tithe to support women pastors.

Jesus has always been calling women. He called a woman to evangelize her entire village. He called Mary to sit at his feet. He called a woman to preach the first resurrection sermon to his disciples. And Jesus is still calling women today.

Mr. Wilson might think he’ll be the president to usher in the second coming, but I fear he has forgotten who is actually coming. Here’s a little parable I wrote for him. If you know him pass it on.

You Can't Hold Back the Dawn, cherilynclough.com,http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/15944700-cant-hold-back-the-dawn?asc=u

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Once upon a time there was a group of workers who were waiting for the master of the estate to come at any time. He had specifically asked all of them to bring in the harvest before he returned. In order to do this it took every man, woman and child.

They were dealing with less than ideal conditions because they were working in the dark of night and they wanted to harvest as much as they could before the master arrived.

The master knew how difficult the task would be and had warned everyone to make sure they didn’t run out of oil. Some of the workers, concerned about a shortage of oil went into town to get more oil to make sure they had plenty. When they got back, they seemed to work twice as fast.

A few men believed the Master had put them in charge over the others. They looked around and saw how fast the workers with new oil were working and decided to limit the use of the good oil to men. It was said that men work faster and can do more heavy lifting so the oil needed to be redistributed.

Some disagreed. Women in particular disagreed because they were all about doing their master’s business. They did not feel they were accountable to the men who wanted to limit their ability to do their job because they believed they answered to the master himself.

Other men agreed with the women and by standing up against those who wished to control, empowered the women to keep working, but as the night grew darker a great conflict ensued.

Men against women, men against men and even women against women began to argue and take sides. The question came down to who was most important to use that good oil.

The men who imagined themselves in charge, firmly believed only men should have access to this oil–after all God created Adam first and Eve was his helper sent to procure the oil so Adam could do his important work. Others said God created both Adam and Eve in his image so neither worker was more important than the other.

While the workers were arguing over who could use the good oil, a terrible storm came up. It was worse than anyone had seen before. A large portion of the crop was still in the fields and they were all heartbroken to see how much they had lost, yet many blamed each other for the losses.

There was still much work to be done, but now it was much harder to work around the hail which had frozen some of the crop. Many were exhausted from the fight and scrambled to salvage what they could, but they were shocked to be told they must give up their oil or they would be arrested and fined their wages. They were given one hour.

They had no more time to waste on vain arguments to soothe men’s egos. The women and men who supported them saw a faint glimpse of light on the horizon and they knew if they could just keep working through the hour, the dawn would soon break and they would no longer need the oil.

The last few minutes they worked with what appeared to be super human effort and it was amazing what they were able to accomplish. Then it happened. Light. Glorious Light such as none of them had ever seen before. The Master had arrived to honor his faithful workers.

The men in charge ran out in front to try to explain to the Master how these women had impeded the work with their insistence that they were equal to the men, but the Master told them to go to the back of the line because in his kingdom whoever is first shall be last and the women who were last would be welcomed first.

Then to everyone who tried to stop another worker, the Master said the most incriminating words, “Away from me, you evil doers, you’ve twisted my words, you’ve esteemed yourselves above others and kept the best seats for yourselves and by doing this, you’ve lost a great part of my precious harvest. You certainly don’t know me–because I never knew you.”

 

The Sound of Gravel–Book Review 

16 Sep

There’s no place like home–unless it’s a shanty reeking of mice droppings without indoor plumbing and hot showers and there are live wires hidden everywhere. The house Ruth Wariner grew up in was more like a booby trap than a home.

Located in the village of Colonia LeBaron, her childhood home was in a compound started by her grandfather and led at one time by her father who was considered a prophet in the Church of the First Born of the Fulness of Times–a spinoff of what most would call fundamentalist Mormonism. Ruthie never knew her father because he was murdered by his brother in an act of Cain and Abel betrayal. She was not even given her father’s name. Her father had dozens of children. But this story is not about Ruth’s father, but rather what transpired as the result of her mother becoming the second wife of another man. This is the story of betrayal and survival, poverty and resilience and a story of teenage hate for her narcissistic step father and a pitiful love for her mother.

We rejoice with young Ruthie as she discovers her new friends are actually her half-sisters and she finds out she is not alone. We sigh with annoyance every time her mother becomes pregnant because we wonder how she will be able to clothe and feed yet another mouth in this world where men are rarely home to help with the chores because they are off spending time with another wife.

Although I was NOT raised in a Mormon cult, I once again found some things in common with a polygamist’s daughter. I’ve also reviewed The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser. Despite the similarities of growing up with Mormon fundamentalism, these two women’s stories are quite different just as two Baptists, Catholics or Adventists can have completely different stories.

I like to think of memoirs as true life fairy tales where young girls who spend their childhoods cooking and cleaning and babysitting get to find joy eventually. We can learn from each of our stories and we need all of our stories to build a better future.

So back to what I found in common with Ruthie:

1. The most obvious was her physical situations which included constant moving, using an outhouse and sleeping in inadequate beds and shivering in the cold without heat due to extreme poverty and lack of electricity and hot running water. Which is mostly the result of the second thing I found in common.

2. We were both raised in a religion focusing on isolation from the world where a call to separate from Babylon includes conspiracy theories and fear of the government. A dream to be self-sufficient and prepared for the desolation or time of trouble. This includes conversations and fear messages about the end of the world with an emphasis on salvation by works.

3. While Ruth’s step father and mother did things my own parents would call unthinkable, there was a common thread of constant moving, parental control, lost education, teaching children to lie when it’s convenient for the parent and using children as house slaves while taking their money. Her step father has all sorts of broken down cars he plans to fix which once again I can relate to only too well.

4. There are many smaller similarities which bring familiarity to Ruthie’s story for me. My first memory is of my own mother baking bread in juice cans and sorting dried pinto beans. Ruthie grew up sorting beans and baking in juice cans too. Like myself, she was the main daughter that her mother relied on to care for the younger children. It’s like our mothers got the same memo on how to raise a daughter to do your chores.

There were two very ironic moments in the book for me, the first was where her grandparents shook their heads sadly and said they felt powerless to help their daughter and grandchildren because of her step dad. I’ve seen such shaking heads only too well–although I did not understand the depth of it until I left home. Her step dad asking her grandparents for a loan to buy a trailer for them to live in was de je vu for me too.

Speak the Truth, cherilynclough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/13762555-speak-the-truth-healing-flowers?asc=u&c=540575-healing-flowers

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The second most bizarre moment for me was about music. It seems like such a little thing, but music connects us with hope and one of my biggest struggles with my father throughout my childhood was his oppression in trying to control my music. The scene where Ruthie’s step father listens to Kenny Rogers “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Lucille,” while Ruthie begs him to listen to John Denver’s “Country Roads,” could’ve been taken from a chapter in my own book with the exact same songs. As a matter of fact I have a chapter written which includes these songs in a different order but reading Ruthie’s version freaked me out.

Other than these things, whatever harm my parents allowed by their actions was mild in some ways compared to the negligence of Ruthie’s mother and the evil of her stepfather. My own parents would consider the things Lane her stepfather did unconscionable. And my mother is a germaphobe who would bleach any signs of mice droppings and never serve me a fly in my food. However as we all know from counseling we cannot compare our stories as one being worse than the other. All abuse is abuse regardless.

Without giving away the plot, let me just say Ruth Wariner survived the unthinkable several times over, yet she wisely tells her story with the innocence of childhood, much like Jeannette Walls does in “The Glass Castle.” As Wariner describes her family’s drama in understated tones, she chronicles her private traumas with skill and uses her real life plot twists to keep the reader turning page after page wondering what else could possibly happen to this girl.

This book contains triggers of various kinds, so read at your own discretion with a box of tissues. However Ruth does NOT write as a victim, she writes as a shining star–one who shines most brightly against the darkness of evil. In the end, Ruthie triumphs against the face of false religion and abuse and learns to speak the truth–even when her voice shakes.

Ruth Wariner, thank you for sharing your story in The Sound of Gravel with the world. You truly deserve your place in the Sheroes Hall of Fame!

Healing from Hidden Abuse Book Review

6 Aug

It’s not the load that breaks us down–heaven knows if we could see it all at once we might just shift our hips and find a better way to carry it–no, it’s the shrapnel of life that keeps turning up in our relationships or the gloom we feel when we’re alone due to the painful reality of a heart being torn out and left bleeding on the couch.

It’s not so much the shape of the matter as the absence of love–like a hole left behind when one piece of scripture is wantonly ripped from the Bible and taken out of context. It’s not the big things that tear us up, it’s a million little rocks in the soup of life that ruin our meals. It’s not the actual mass of the load as much as it is the way a thousand little things stick to our back like ornery burrs on a dog’s coat.

This is why recovery can’t happen all at once or even as fast as we hoped. Have you ever sat in slivers and had to get help in taking each piece out one at a time? That’s basically what recovery from abuse looks like. There ain’t no hurrying what cannot be hurried.

For those who are on this survivor’s journey, you’ve probably discovered healing is a continuous process. Now that we’re awake, we’re always learning new ways to heal and deal with in life. So what can we say to our friends who ask if we are over it yet? The first thing I want them to know is this is still me with a few scars. Like the skin horse in the Velveteen Rabbit, I’ve survived some rough handling, but I’m still here and I am myself now more than ever. I’ve also just read a new book that can help lighten the load.

Healing from Hidden Abuse Book, Shannon Thomas

The book is titled Healing from Hidden Abuse and I’d like to tell you a little about it. The author is a Christian counselor named Shannon Thomas. Her writing style is comforting. Thomas understands what it means to be abused, (I won’t give away her story here) and that might be why this book seems like a like a conversation with a good friend.

At the beginning of the book, Thomas reminds us that abusive people are everywhere—at work, at church, in the family, etc. It’s not enough to get safe from our abuser, because part of our healing is learning how to recognize unsafe people and maintain our boundaries to avoid future abuse.

In the last three years since I learned about narcissism, I’ve read at least a dozen books about abuse and I can tell you this is one of the best. Healing from Hidden Abuse especially hits the mark for ACoNs and those who have dealt with the hidden abuse of narcissism.

The first part of the book is very validating. For many of us who grew up with abuse, it’s been hard to recognize and name this abuse because what we lived through seemed normal to us at the time. I appreciate the way Thomas defines the difference between psychological abuse and emotional abuse. She says people can be emotionally abusive due to drug addictions, alcohol, etc. yet still have empathy for other people, whereas psychological abusers will abuse others because they get some sort of thrill from it.

Regardless of why such abuse happens, one of the most puzzling things for a survivor is the secrecy and clandestine nature of the abuse. When no one else sees what we’ve gone through or the abuser questions us like we are the abuser, it sometimes makes us question ourselves. If this is happening to you, this book will help you realize this is a form of gaslighting.

One of the most healing truths I discovered in this book is that our good points—resilience, empathy, and compassion actually made us targets for psychological abusers who were looking for people like us so they could milk us dry. I have often thought it was a flaw of mine that caused the abuse, but reading this book, I discovered it was not my flaws, but my strengths that allowed me to be targeted by the abuser. If you are the type of person who likes to make lemonade out of lemons, this is truly a book for you. There is nothing wrong with making lemonade–but we need to learn who is safe to share it with.

This book is easy to read, yet it packs a lot of information. I found myself marking the book and going back to re-read pages again. Sometimes I wondered if I would end up marking the entire book. It’s not only a validating resource, but it is also a great reference to have when issues or situations flare up again.

The first section examines patterns of psychological abuse. This book grew out of an online survey as a research project. If demographics are not your thing, just skip that chapter because it basically just affirms why the rest of the book is necessary and why Thomas’s six stages of healing actually work.

Thomas explains many terms we use in recovery community such as flying monkeys, hoovering, smear campaigns, love bombing, etc. I’ve written blogs on many of these topics before, but I found Thomas’s in descriptions informative and fascinating. I learned a few things here and I am sure you will too.

My favorite part was the recovery section. Thomas reminds us that the word survivor means to carry on despite hardships and to outlast and persevere. She points out the goal of surviving is to remain functional and what last half of the book is about.

This book is packed full of practical suggestion to help you overcome the emotional pain in your life. One of my favorite tips for those who are struggling with no contact is to put a photo collage of all the good things in your life on your phone. This is a reminder of what is going well in your life and why you need to protect your heath and the relationships that matter to you and not waste your time arguing and being emotionally attacked by your abuser.

This book describes in detail six steps of healing from psychological abuse. These are solid and easy steps to understand and follow. And it also includes understanding the ways we have contributed to our own abuse. Yes, we are responsible for the ways we have allowed other people to treat us, but this is not a shame walk, it’s a freedom walk. It’s a place to learn how to avoid landmines in the future.

When I read Thomas’s six stages of healing, I recognized these different stages in my own journey. I am sure you will too.

Here are the Six Stages of Healing

  1. Despair: The realization that life has become unmanageable.
  2. Education: Learning the specific methods of psychological abuse.
  3. Awakening: Awareness that other people have had similar experiences and recovery is possible.
  4. Boundaries: Implementing emotional and/or physical distance with an abuser.
  5. Restoration: Living purposefully to restore what was lost during the abuse.
  6. Maintenance: Returning to earlier stages to heal at a deeper level and maintaining recovery from abuse.

The book gives in depth tips for getting through these stages. If I’d had this book years ago, it would’ve taken the shame away of being scapegoated by my abusers and fast forwarded my healing, but I am grateful to be one of the first to read it now.

I recommend this book to anyone who has suffered any form of abuse and for those who have friends or family in abusive situations. This book is full of tools and wisdom to change lives. Reading it has filled me with clarity and peace.

You Won’t be Left Behind–Unless You Choose to Be

5 Aug

If I could go back in time, I’d go back forty years and give my thirteen year old self some advice: You won’t be left behind–unless you want to be.

It was popular to wear red, white and blue in 1976 because it was the bicentennial year and everyone was celebrating the fact that the United States had survived two-hundred years, but some had doubts it would last another ten.

I’m not sure if there is a plague more hostile to a civil land than conspiracy theories, but in 1976 conspiracy theories abounded. The kids at school the year before had been consumed with rumors about Big Foot and UFOs, but now that we had a born again Christian headed for the White House, the ultimate bogey man—the “mark of the beast” threatened life as we knew it. My parents didn’t send me to school that year because they figured it was the end of the world and Jesus would come before I grew up.

Jimmy Carter was running for president and nearly everyone I knew was against him. He was despised for being a Baptist and laughed at for being a peanut farmer. People hated that his sister was a woman preacher and his brother was a drunk. The people at church said Carter would destroy the separation between church and state and bring on a national Sunday law to force all of us to worship just like him.* They even said it was the beginning of the time of trouble.

There were other signs of the end around us, we had just gone through a terrible energy crisis and what could signal the end of the world more than running out of fuel? Another natural alarming sign was the fact that Mount Baker had started letting off steam the year before and everyone was wondering when it would blow. It was particularly scary because I lived on an island in the shadow of Mount Baker and the thought of being stranded on an island in the middle of a pyroclastic flow brought on nightmares of the apocalypse.

But nothing was as scary as a man who came to church in a trench coat who said he’d worked at the pentagon and stood around telling us conspiracy tales in a suspenseful voice akin to M. Knight Shyamalan. He spoke for hours in an excited voice, but every once in a while he lowered it to a whisper to say he had top secret information, but he couldn’t spill the beans on it. However there were a couple things he could tell us. Because of his high clearance at the Pentagon, he had access to files that proved we were about to have a nuclear war and it was time for us all to move to the country and grow a garden and prepare for the time of trouble.

He also told a story about an unknown man who picked up a couple of hitchhikers who turned out to be angels. The angels only rode a little way before asking to get out at the next exit because they were on business for the Lord. As they got out of the car, just before they dissolved into the Bellingham fog, they whispered to the driver, “Jesus is coming very soon.”

Child's Starry Night, CherilynClough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/13707342-childs-starry-night?asc=u&c=541752-inner-child

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My dad reminded us that it was time to put our lives in order and give up all sinning, “so we can be perfect before Jesus comes.” He had me memorize the writings of a church founder that said “Jesus would not come until his character was perfectly reproduced in his people.” I really felt the pressure, not only did I wonder how I was going to eat dandelion greens and ferns and hide in the rocks of the mountains, but I was mostly afraid of Jesus.

I’d been baptized the year before and I thought I loved Jesus at the time, but since then, I’d sinned by listening to John Denver. People at church said syncopation was the seat of satanic power. Even though I had paid for it by having a belting, I still liked the devil music and I knew in my heart I wouldn’t stop listening to such music forever.

I had also been told I needed to be right with God because I would have to stand before God without an intercessor. At night, I lay wide awake in fear trying to remember if I had an un-confessed sin. I’d heard Jesus was the intercessor so it seemed terrifying to imagine he’d abandon me during the scariest moment of my life.

In my panic, I gave up sugar, chewing my fingernails, reading comics and thinking about cute boys because those were my most obvious sins at the time. Fear and abstinence of all my vices pretty much stole all the joy out of life.

So if I could go back in time and talk to my thirteen year old self this is what I would tell her:

  1. Mount Baker is not the mountain to fear—at least not for another forty years. So you have some breathing space on that one.
  2. Nuclear war might be a possibility, but it’s not the only thing to fear. People can and will survive nuclear disasters, but love will never survive pride and hate. Pick your battles.
  3. God (this includes the Father, Son and Spirit) has said he will never leave you or forsake you (Isaiah 41:10-13). If any religious teaching says he will abandon you, this is a false belief based on a misunderstood teaching. When the Bible says “He that is righteous still, let him be righteous still, and he that is filthy let him be filthy still,” this is not an arbitrary command of God but actually a diagnosis of our human conditions. It is the revealing of what we have chosen. God gives you freedom of choice and you get to choose if you want to be saved or not. It’s always up to you. God will not force you to be saved or lost against your will.
  4. What about that word perfect? Well in the original language it means mature or complete. Jesus wants us to grow up in Him and act mature in love toward other people like our Father in heaven and he gave a list of what that actually looks like (Matthew 5). So it has nothing to do with chewing gum or even noticing a cute boy.
  5. There might come a time of trouble, but with inferred and other modern diagnostic tools, it will be pretty hard to hide in the mountains unless God performs a miracle. But the good news is God watches over his people (Psalm 91:4).
  6. Ignore that scary story because those hitchhiker angels are false angels. Jesus said only the Father knows the hour–not even the angels in heaven (Matthew 24:36).
  7. Big Foot and UFOs will pose a very small threat to your life—so will listening to John Denver. Syncopation is NOT the seat of satanic power—pride and selfishness are. As you get older, you will discover that pride and selfishness destroy love but God’s love and mercy are greater than your sins (1 John 3:20).
  8. Jesus isn’t going to come before you grow up, so ask him to help you plan your life.
  9. Oh, and President Jimmy Carter? He might be one of the best men ever to take the job because he was all for separation of church and state after all. Don’t let faithless conspiracy theorists manipulate your life. No matter how dark it is outside, no matter how dark your soul, God can always see in the dark and he will bring his light into the darkness all you have to do is ask him.

Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?
To be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!

Then I said to myself,
“Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light,
they’re all the same to you.
-Psalm 139:-12

10. History will eventually repeat itself. We are in another election year full of conspiracy theories and fear messages, people keep writing to tell me they are so worried they can barely sleep. My advice is do yourself a favor and tune out all the fear messages and spend some time with Jesus.

When people start to tell me conspiracy theories or even plausible stories that breed fear, I walk away or take them off my news feed, because God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear.

If you are afraid of being left behind, read the gospels, learn to know what Jesus is really like. Don’t take someone else’s word for it. When you know Jesus, your fear will be gone because it’s his perfect love that takes away our fear. (1 John 4:17)

*PS Jimmy Carter said in an interview in 2012 he has always supported separation between church and state and even stopped having worship at the White House for this very reason.

We Are Shaped by Our Stories

14 Jul

You’ve probably heard the saying, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” One of my secrets is that my family was often homeless. It happened for a short time when I was eight years old. Then we lived in a cabin with limited utilities for most of seven years. During that time, we took our weekly showers at the state park. In my mid and late teens, we moved from campsite to campsite to motel and to cabin without any power or running water.

As I am writing my memoir of those years, I am struck by our resilience and our ability to ignore the fact we were homeless. We were more depressed over not going to school, so despite all the chaos, we never called ourselves homeless. My mom used to say she couldn’t wait until we lived like normal people. Not having real beds or a place to call home was hard, but the one thing my siblings and I longed for most was friends. We didn’t go to school so we only had each other and we missed the socialization and community of going to school.

My youngest siblings had at best a third grade education, but they only attended one year of formal school for first grade. At least I got to the sixth grade before my parents pulled us out of school. We are all good readers because of my second grade teacher who let me read all the way to the fifth grade readers. I learned so much from her that I eagerly taught each of my siblings to read before they even got to school because I was good at it and I loved reading so much.

The state of Washington had a law for kids between eight and fifteen to be in school. We were told my parents could be arrested and put in jail and we might get farmed out to foster homes if we were seen. We were told to hide below the car windows if we drove somewhere during school hours. We had to hide in the woods or the shed when someone came to our cabin or house. I lived in fear and dread of being caught.

Everything Shapes Us, cherilynclough.com, http://www.redbubble.com/people/littlered7/works/13519018-everything-shapes-us?asc=u&c=540575-healing-flowers

Prints and Accessories Available Here

All of this hiding and the loss of community and relationships further isolated our family. No one knew if we were belted, no one checked to make sure we had an education, no one realized we were homeless.  The worst part about all of this is we could not speak about these things.

Meanwhile we were told Jesus could come at any time so we needed to perfect our characters to be accepted by God or we would burn in the lake of fire. The cognitive dissonance I felt, still brings a tear to my eyes today. In my heart, I just knew I was lost because I was a fake and a liar telling people I was home-schooled, lying to bill collectors and hiding in a shed.

Whenever the world events inspired my dad to warn us about being ready for Jesus to come, I laid awake at night begging Jesus to forgive me, but doubted that he would. As I grew up and left home, these doubts still terrorized my soul. My dad referred to grace as cheap grace, so I had no faith in the grace that calmed others. I still feared for my life and carried the dread of Jesus coming far into my adulthood.

One day a film adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew began to change my picture of God. Every time I watched Bruce Marchiano’s portrayal of Jesus, I wept for the dawning realization that Jesus must surely love and forgive me. This drove me to share as much as I could of God’s love with others. It gave me great comfort to know that Jesus was homeless too. It felt like Jesus wrapped his arms around me and said, “I understand how that felt to not know where to lay your head or whether you would be safe.”

But the journey was not over yet, I had more to learn about God and little by little God brought seminars and people into my life to show me deeper truths about him and I began to trust God more with each paradigm shift. Sadly, it began to separate me from my parents. I eventually had to fire their version of Jesus to embrace the Jesus I was getting to know.

As the years go by, I’m learning more about the true Jesus and I am no longer afraid of God. The saddest thing for me is that out of my own family–my only peer group growing up, I have almost nothing in common when it comes to talking about God. Some reject God altogether, others follow and agree with whoever they are with at the time and seem not to do their own thinking. My parents, as far as representing God to us have epically failed because they refuse to acknowledge the wrongs of the past which would allow us all to move forward in truth and love.

Even in adulthood, we were discouraged from talking about being homeless, beaten with the belt and our loss of education. One of my siblings tried to speak of it in our twenties, but became the scapegoat where they had once been the golden child. Then, as I woke up in my mid-forties and realized the inability to speak of our secrets and pain had damaged me, I spoke up and became the scapegoat.

I am writing memoir today because this is history–my history. I ignored the first twenty years of my life for the second twenty and woke up in great despair for swallowing all those secrets. The only way to find relief and live a wholehearted life is to tell the stories that make up my life.

“Hold those things that tell your history and protect them.
During slavery, who was able to read or write or keep anything?
The ability to have somebody to tell your story to is so important.
It says: ‘I was here. I may be sold tomorrow.
But you know I was here.”
-Maya Angelou

Those who are perhaps not awake might say, “Forget the past and move onto the future.” But for me, the future is clearer when I can acknowledge my past. Maybe that’s because I am still the little girl beaten, the homeless big sister trying to comfort my mom and encouraged my siblings while we sleep on hard floors and eat m and ms for breakfast. I am still the teenage girl who weeps for friends and thrills to read novels which were taken away from her. I am still the young woman inside who determined never to let anyone control my life again. Anne Lamott is right when she says, “I am all the ages I have ever been.”

We can tell people what they want to hear, but when we are alone with the mirror, we have no choice but to tell ourselves the truth or die. I choose truth and life. It gives me great joy to know that Jesus is the Truth and he always supports those who tell the truth and he stands on the side of the truth.

Did you grow up with secrets?
Is it hard to tell the truth?
Will your family members openly discuss the past today?