What’s The Hurry (Part One)

“What’s the hurry?  What’s the hurry?  If you’re both born again Christians and love the Lord, if you’ve kept yourself sexually pure, If you have harmony with both sets of parents and they say okay, what’s the hurry? At least wait for the approval of authorities in your life. Besides your parents, how about your friends? How about your grandparents? Get your grandparents’ approval, would you please?They want to give approval too. By the way, not too, not too off to say to you…It might be wise if some of you would pass it by your pastor. Remember, he’s the marriage doctor”   The Father
Wow! There’s so much to unpack here that I have to divide this into two parts.
The father/son family business cult that posed as a church had some strange views about the role of a pastor in your personal life. The dad often  stepped over the line, seeking to limit your ability to make your own decisions. He also had a habit of telling people’s personal business, confided to either him or one of his “counselors”, in his sermon illustrations.
He did this with our family, commenting on the way my son and daughter-in-law chose to get married.
My son and my daughter-in-law are about to celebrate their 17th wedding anniversary this month. They have two great kids as well as two fantastic cats. Whenever I listen with my ear against their wall, I hear nothing but bliss. Their marriage has always been a success. They’ve weathered no relationship storms.
The two of them followed all the dad-made church rules. First, they were adults. My son had his own apartment. Nevertheless, he came to Liz and I to ask our blessing in marrying Catherine. Our advice was to do it before she could change her mind. She was then, and still is today, about the most perfect woman he could ever find.
They were both “born again” Christians. That’s a term I no longer use, but it describes them accurately in that Christian world. Ross Jr’s grandfather was crazy about Catherine. He certainly approved. Their friends felt the same.
Ross and Catherine took the expected church counseling and got no “red flags.” They were never once counselled to delay. They told the counselor that they thought they would like to, one day, hop on a flight to Las Vegas and get married. No family, no friends, just them and God. So, that’s what they did.
We knew they were going. We fully supported this marital adventure. The moment they left the chapel, Catherine called us. “Woo Hoo, we’re married,” she yelled into the phone.
And. of course, that’s when the dad got silly. We told the church secretary and she wanted to put it into the bulletin. But the dad/pastor wouldn’t allow it. Why? Ross had not told him. So, he wasn’t sure it was true! Then, Catherine and Ross came back from their honeymoon and he still wouldn’t announce it in the bulletin. Instead, with a smile, he slapped Ross in the face. He pretended it was a joke but the real intention was clear.
The thing that ultimately allowed him to acknowledge the wedding was when we had a reception at a local restaurant. We rented a private room and allowed him to perform a mock wedding. Now he felt better. He put the announcement in the bulletin without the real wedding date and he spoke from the pulpit as though the re-enactment was the real wedding. So, in his tight mind, he got his way. Nothing happened until he said it did.
A few Sundays after, he snuck in his true feelings as he asked, “What’s The Hurry?”

Nick Cave, Thoughts, Bill Gothard

Into My Arms

I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

And I don’t believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that’s true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

But I believe in love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candles burning
And make her journey bright and pure
That she will keep returning
Always and evermore

This Nick Cave song has not left me alone for a minute during the last few months. I first became aware of it when it was used in the funeral scene in my favorite movie, About Time.

The opening line goes straight for the jugular. He doesn’t believe in an interventionist god. I wondered if I did. And then, I was amazed that I dared to wonder at all.

When I first heard the song, I googled Nick Cave. I’d only known him from Red Right Hand, the theme for Peaky Blinders. I pegged Cave for a cult act, an underground independent artist. Well, what a surprise! Cave has a long, successful music career of about thirty years. Thirty years and I’d not heard of him. He just wasn’t on my radar. Nick Cave had begun and built his career during the same time I was completely trapped inside a religious cult.

I spent a good part of my religious formative years in that family owned cult of a church where the most important thing you could do, the most spirituality you could demonstrate, was to not think. You were to learn the dad/pastor viewpoint and be able to parrot it whenever needed. Of course, the dad never said not to think. In fact, he told us often that, if we agreed with him, it proved that we didn’t “leave our brains in the parking lot” when we entered the building. But, we did. And the people I see on Facebook who are still in the cult, still parrot the party line, whether spoken by father or son.

Add that to the cult’s devotion to a sexual deviant named Bill Gothard and it’s a wonder any escapees can think at all. Gothard is the man whose “cause and effect” teachings about an interventionist God were credited often by dad as being foundational to the success of the family business.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/january/more-women-sue-bill-gothard-iblp-alleging-sexual-abuse.html

Do I believe in an interventionist God? I did. I believed in a God who chastised you for every wrong decision you made. I knew of a God who punished you for sin committed by family members. I believed in a monkey’s paw God who would give your loved ones cancer if you played their birthdates in the lottery.

But, out of the cult and free to think on my own, I now know it’s permissible, even right, to wrestle with God and angels.  So, like Nick Cave, I don’t believe in an interventionist God. I believe in a God who is good and kind. I believe in a God who is the Good Shepherd. I believe in a God who will shield and comfort me.

Does God intervene in my life? Only for good. Only in love. Especially as He presents Himself to me constantly during my day, offering Himself to be chosen by me.

So, I’ve learned to think. And. I’ve learned that thinking doesn’t make me a disloyal Christian. I’ve learned that, even in American Evangelicalism there are different from those the dad held. And, looking back, I can see how strongly feared new ideas. He would not let a Christian book be put up for sale in his Book Shoppe without his approval. He judged the live and ministry of each author looking as he said, “for cracks” that would disqualify he author’s opinion. And, even though the dad would not let the church bookstore manager order a book that held a different but nonetheless valid viewpoint, the truth finds a way.

And the truth sets us free.

Deckers, Kennedys, and The Glory of God

With Memorial Day upon us I find myself reflecting upon a Memorial Day the Decker/Olsen family had a few years ago. It was a fairly laid back day. There were some friends over, the family was together and we enjoyed the relaxed time we spent. It was the type of day I’m learning to love more than I ever had.
I had often been told that grandchildren were special. They represented the culmination of one’s life. The pinnacle. They defined fulfillment. Grandchildren, I was told, gave you a special sense of love. Love both received and given. I didn’t hear that from my side of the family, of course. It was my father-in-law, Paul, who gushed about how much he loved his grandchildren. He had four grandchildren and three great grandchildren when he passed. He has five great grandchildren now. Grandchildren were the greatest, he said. And he was right.
The Kennedy family came to mind that Memorial Day. I grew up in the sixties to pictures of that clan playing touch football on their vast expanse of lawn at the Hyannis Port compound on holidays. For my generation, they were the picture of family. Cousins, sisters, brothers all come together to relate to one another in love. And, to fulfill the American Dream, they were phenomenally rich.
On this particular Memorial day we gathered at the Decker compound. It’s a somewhat smaller version of the Kennedy property. There would be no football on the front lawn for us. Most obviously because we have no front lawn. Try as we might, the giant tree in front of our house casts so much shade that, for a long time,  we couldn’t get a blade of anything other than weeds to grow. But, lately we’ve had some good success with a spreading ivy groundcover.
We do have a backyard deck that my son built. The deck perimeter is lined with plantings. Tomato plants and fresh herbs cast their scent into the air and when the foul NYC air isn’t crushing my sinuses, the fragrance around the deck is delightful.  That Memorial Day my daughter’s children were playing so sweetly on that deck. One year old Ryan was splashing at a water play table and Lily slid down a small slide. Bethany and  Kat Kat, my son’s delightful child bride,  sat on the covered swing watching the two cherubs.
We are not the Kennedys, for sure. But we are working on our compound. We’ve been adding pieces every summer. Ross Jr. and I live in a two family house. He’s upstairs, I’m down. When Paul was alive, we built him a basement apartment. The staircase in the back of the house goes from the basement apartment to the attic. So, my son’s children used to go up and down that staircase at will, visiting their grandparents and their great grandfather. When we couldn’t find Eric it was always because he was on Gramps’ couch, snuggling and sharing Oreos.
The apartment next door became available and my daughter moved in with her family. Now there are ten of us living in two adjacent houses. The closeness is delightful. The two houses were built in the 1950’s by the same contractor and used the same blueprints. So now, on warm spring and summer evenings my two granddaughters speak to each other from their front rooms, just about ten feet apart.
Two summers ago we extended our patio. We bought a large table which is happily getting too small. Summer days see the table crowded with food. Most of that food, thanks to my Kat Kat, is actually healthy to eat. All of it is delicious. The chairs around it and throughout the yard are filled with family and friends. This Memorial Day I sat at that table and watched my grandson splash around in our pool. From the time the water warms up until he goes back to school, the place you will likely find him is in that pool. Now, it isn’t an Olympic sized pool. It doesn’t have varying depths. At four foot deep, it’s a round, above ground pool that you can pretty much just dunk yourself as you hop up and down. It isn’t Kennedy-like by any standards. But it makes us happy. Especially Eric.
Eric is at home in the water. Once in, he doesn’t come out. He’s a sweet guy, love just emanates from him. He’s witty and funny, does great at school. But his territory is the pool. That’s where he lives all the summer.
Later in the day I went into our backyard hot tub. It’s a small one, of course.. We bought it used and found several spots where it leaked. It had to be drained, set on end, and patched several times before it was finally nearly leak free. I’m pretty sure there aren’t a bunch of patches on the Kennedy hot tub. Neither, I think, do they purchase them used off of Craigslist.  But, we do. And the leaks were actually a benefit. We needed help in turning it on end, And, help means friends in the yard. And, while we grow tomatoes in our backyard our most precious crop, our money crop, is friends. We learned that from my father-in-law Paul. His home always echoed with the laughter of good friends. Everyone was welcome in his house. 
 Because it was recently drained and refilled, the water temperature of the hot tub was in the low eighties. This made it possible for my granddaughter Lily to come in with me. We had a great time. She chatted away as I smiled and pretended to hear her over the bubbles. At one point she asked me about my Crucifix. Why did I wear it? I told her that I wore it because it made me think of Jesus. She reached over and moved the chain so that the crucifix hung down my back. She told me, “Don’t think about Jesus. Think about Lily”
I know that Charles Spurgeon once said that he could smoke a cigar to the glory of God. I’d known people who posted memes with that quote. It apparently meant something to them. But that never really resonated with me. I didn’t ever really understand it. What did mean something to me on this Memorial Day were the words attributed to Saint Irenaus. “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
The Decker family doesn’t have the money or the compound the Kennedy family has. Heck, we don’t have a backyard as large as most of our neighbors. But we are a family. And there’s a great deal of love in that family. And acceptance. We like to be together.  That is what makes this old man feel fully alive. 
We are a family to the glory of God.

Choirs and The Family Business (Part Two)

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant
 
 
When we left off in part one, it had become evident that the dad pastor had listened to untrue gossip and was determined to act upon it, even to the extreme of coercing one of his youth workers to make accusations against our children. My son was dating my friend’s daughter and the gossip was that they had begun a physical relationship. When the youth worker came back into the meeting room and admitted that he’d been pressured by the pastor to lie, all bets were off. 
The son assumed that the issue would be dropped. He somehow seemed to not grasp that the dad had pressured the youth worker to lie about our kids. But, the dad, even with the curtain now drawn back, would not be deterred. He told us that, for the good of the church we should force our kids to break up for six months so that the youth ministry workers wouldn’t look foolish. And, to this day, I really believe that he thought we would do it. He thought we would sacrifice our children on the altar of his church’s reputation. How surprised he was when we both said no. We would not make it look like our kids were guilty in order to make his church look right.
The dad still had a bullet left in his gun, though. “Ross,” he said. “it occurs to me that I have to start being very careful about who I allow on stage with me to sing before the message. I don’t want people in the congregation to be asking why I let people sing if they don’t agree with Biblical teaching on dating, marriage and the authority of the pastor.”
I didn’t respond. There was nothing to be said. He held all the power in this case. He’d made it clear that, if I didn’t cave, Liz would no longer have a ministry in song at his church.
This was on November 22. I remember that so clearly because he made a big show of opening up his Franklin Day Planner and saying, “I’m writing down that on November 22 you refused to obey the authority of your pastor.”  Liz was not asked to sing for quite awhile and I didn’t tell her why.  The winter and spring went by without Liz either singing or mentioning to me that she wasn’t. It seemed to not have an effect on her. The climax though, was when she didn’t sing on Mother’s Day. And, the pastor’s daughter did. Yes, he chose a single, childless family member to sing on mother’s day rather than have Liz sing.  He was punishing Liz for something she didn’t do and didn’t know about all because he was upholding the reputation of his church.
That was when I told Liz what happened. She was so hurt. “But, I didn’t do anything wrong! I’ve been praying all these weeks and asking God to show me the sin in my life that was disqualifying me. And it wasn’t my sin!”
No, it was his. he used the power he thought he was entitled to and waged war against my wife. He’d listened to gossip. The gossip was untrue. he tried to bully me. He hurt my wife. Not, in the name of Christ, but in the name of his church business. And who was there to make it right? No one. He answered to no one because he was the business owner. It was the family business.

How Was Your Lent?

I spent a lot of Wednesdays and Sundays in a church that really didn’t recognize Lent. The pastor preached instant forgiveness and promised that God could not even remember your sins once you confessed them mentally to Him. He preached about Lent, Confession, Penance, and other Catholic practices only to mock them. He had a special vendetta against Catholicism and preached against it often. Until I entered the Church I always bought the story that, for Catholics, Lent was a dark time. It was a time for self flagellation. You beat yourself up for your sins. I was taught that Catholicism provided no outlet for the forgiveness of sins.

After being received into the Church I began to see the beauty in Lent. I saw that Lent was also a time for deeper praying. Our Lenten journey was to allow us to walk closer to our Lord and to hold Him all the closer. We do that through those Lenten sacrifices and through a deepening of our prayer lives. And, alms giving. That’s such a beautiful and sacred part of Lent. and, so fitting that a church which shares God’s special love for the poor would prescribe a season of charity so that we might enrich our own hearts by giving.

Lent was always important to my mom and me. She was a single mom and took me to church often. She sang hymns around the house during the day and quoted Bible verses to me that, I now realize, were learned directly from her Small Catechism. She grew up in a Lutheran Orphanage, the daughter of a Lutheran minister.

Her father had a brutal effect upon her life. Not only was he a bad father, sending her and her twin sister to live in an orphanage, but he was a terrible minister. He was defrocked due to poor moral conduct and ultimately wound up working on the custodial staff of the very home where he’d sent his daughters. For some crazy reason, my mom grew up distrusting ministers. Even crazier, I think, she grew up without her faith in God shaken.

One Lenten Wednesday night my mom took me to church. The lesson was about Jesus’ agony in the garden. It was told using a slide show. I can remember to this day a slide that was shot from above, through the trees, of Jesus praying while the disciples slept a short distance away. Something stirred in me at that time. I still cannot put it into words but that feeling has stayed with me. Today, writing this and seeing the picture once more in my mind, I am stirred with a desire to walk with Jesus.

But, Lent was also a time of mild fear for me. I knew very little about it but I knew that there was a time during Lent where the congregation washed each others’feet. Believe me, I wanted no part of that!

It was during Lent of 2013 that my RCIA course drew near the close and I prepared to enter the Church. It was a turbulent time for me, a pretty staunch Protestant, as I came face to face with the reality of what the first fifteen hundred years after the Cross meant. I realized that, if the Holy Spirit was real, and in charge of guiding the Church into all truth, Catholicism had to be the right choice for me. Otherwise, I thought, the first thing the Holy Spirit would have done after being charged with leading us to truth would have been to guide us into error. That just could not be. So, during Lent, I took the plunge into the Tiber and swam to the other side.

It was as Lent ended in 2014 that I sat in our congregation on a Holy Thursday and was swept up to heaven in worship as the choir filled the church with beautiful notes. Those notes seemed to swirl upward toward the great vaulted ceiling and were joined there with angel voices. It was the most beautiful time I’d ever experienced in church.

And, this Lent is sure to be a special memory for me, too. As I was on the handshake line after Mass, my priest asked if he could have a word with me. Was I planning on coming to the Holy Thursday Mass? Even though I knew immediately what was coming next, I admitted that I was.

“Would you be willing to have your feet washed?”

 

 

 

Choirs, Churches, and The Family Business

I don’t want my wife to become a Catholic. Not, as in the Seinfeld episode, that there’s anything wrong with it. While she finds Catholicism to be meaningful and beautiful, she gets a personal fulfillment from another type of ecclesiastical community.

I’ve become a Catholic recently. But, that isn’t my heritage. My heritage, my lineage, is that of a Protestant. My mother was Protestant. My father was Protestant. My grandfather on my mom’s side was a Lutheran minister. It gets pretty muddled beyond that. Although I was baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran, growing up I went to a Methodist church. And, like any self-respecting teen, as soon as I was confirmed, going to church was over for me.

When I was a young adult, I began to feel a very strong desire to return to church. My wife, Liz, shared that pull. We didn’t know where to go at first but I remember saying that I didn’t want to waste our time by going to a church where the people weren’t “all in.” We decided to go to a nearby Assembly of God church. We had been married there and had no doubt that the pastor was fully committed to the Bible.

I was the only male younger than sixty in that church so, with the pastor’s support, we began attending (ultimately joining), an Inter-Denominational church. Our Assemblies pastor didn’t approve of that particular church but we were sure we new better. The twenty two years that followed were more like being customers of a family owned and operated business than being members of a church. And, for that reason, please cut me some slack when I describe my Evangelical Protestant experiences.  They come mainly from one, off the track, church.

This was a church that was formed when the founding pastor had a disagreement with the church he was pastoring. It’s actually a fairly stereotypical illustration of how many Protestant churches begin. There was a squabble (this one happened to be over money), and the pastor convinced 16 people from the congregation to come with him so he could start his own church in the basement of a bank. There, he could lead his new group unfettered, not controlled by anyone else. I was a member of three Evangelical churches during my 37 years as a Protestant. But this one, a family owned and operated enterprise, formed most of my understanding of Protestant churches. So, I do realize that the picture is clouded.  After the family owned one I went to two denominational churches, both within the Evangelical Free denomination. They were not too similar to each other, oddly. One seemed to be a traditionally styled EFC congregation and the other clearly borrowed the playbook of the independent one. One thing the three of them shared was a right leaning political position. They sang patriotic songs on US holidays. They had the United States flag on the “platform”.

Liz became a soloist at the first church as it grew. She was one of the very few singers in the regular rotation who was not a family member. I’m going to get a little “churchy” and say that, when she sang, the Holy Spirit moved. It was never a performance. What came out of her mouth on Sunday mornings clearly was more than the sum total of her ability. Grown men often wept, they were so deeply touched.

The church continued to attract new members and was about to outgrow the building they’d bought. They added onto it but the building was too small the moment the doors opened on each new section. My wife was ministering in song, I served as a deacon, and my son found his first girlfriend. And, that’s when the wheels came off and I first peeked behind the curtains and saw the wizard.

Someone in the youth group told a “youth worker” that my son and his girlfriend were going “too far.”  The youth worker did what was protocol in that church and told the pastor without confronting my son or his  girlfriend. So, the other father and I were called into a meeting where we were ambushed by the pastor, his son, and a few witnesses. The pastor presented his concerns and then two youth witnesses came in to tell of their fears. The pastor told s in grave tones that we, as fathers, must order our kids to stop seeing each other.

Perhaps it had never happened before but, the pastor was pretty shocked when both fathers refused to break them up. Just as he really began to heat up, one of the youth worker witnesses came back into the room and recanted! He said he’d been pressured into saying there was an issue when he really didn’t see one. even the son now realized that there were no substantive complaints about our kids. But, when he said that to his father the dad shut him down. obediently, he hushed himself.

What happened next was beyond the pale. Realizing that nothing untoward had happened between our kids and knowing that many people were aware that this meeting was happening (although we didn’t know) he tried a different tact. Rather than being the righteous judge, he petitioned us to break our kids up so the reputation of these two respected youth leaders would not suffer. That’s right! As loyal church members we were to make our kids appear guilty in order to protect the youth workers reputations, even after one had admitted that he was not telling the truth.

What happened next was really crazy. It’s the type of thing that could only happen in a church where the pastor is CEO and answers to no one.

Part Two is coming your way soon.