Killer Conundrums

Her unfamiliar face and obvious baby bump solicited stares and hushed whispers. She was new and different in a community which wasn’t accustomed to the like. The only new and different things making an appearance were those speeding through the only four-way stop in my tiny town. However, here she was at a full stop, parked in my home room with a compelling story very few were willing to approach or inquire about.

Cigarettes & Short Skirts

Sadly, I confess I never spoke to her. Her “condition” was far outside of my comfort zone. Besides that, my parents would have grounded me if I had done so. I was already out of their good graces for coming home smelling like cigarette smoke. My girlfriend had borrowed my jacket, lit up and left me with the lingering odor of rebellion.

In case you’re wondering, that is the truth and surprisingly my parents actually believed me. Nonetheless, I was buried alive under loads of extra-chores because… having a girlfriend was forbidden! The fact that she was a cheerleader made my offense seriously grave. My parents cringed when they thought of how every Friday night she could be found dancing around the gym floor in a short skirt before a rowdy home crowd.

Sternly, they warned me how I was to “live in the world” but “not be of this world.” From now on I was to avoid scandalous relationships, which could potentially screw me out of experiencing God’s perfect plan for my life. Clearly, I would have to be careful around the new girl in my home room. Thankfully, I had a lengthy chore list in hand. My dad believed firmly that manual labor would cleanse my soul, and I honestly had no reason to doubt him.

Inoculated

My off-the-beaten-path public school was a perfect place where pregnant teens could lay low for six months. Then, as spontaneously as they had appeared, they disappeared, arriving home alone as if returning from an exchange student program. Sorry to say, due to the general ruse and temporary nature of the situation, befriending them wasn’t a high priority. Furthermore, heavy doses of religious fear, swallowed three times a week on Sundays and Wednesdays, served to inoculate me against having a conscience.

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The drama of teenage pregnancy is as old as the Bible and still much older. During the Christmas season, it’s rigorously celebrated with ritualistic fervor. For weeks on end, the airwaves swell with tunes and melodies extolling the pregnant maiden who was whisked away by her gobsmacked fiancé to give birth in a stable. Certainly a scenario like this today would prompt someone talking to someone, an intervention at the very least or maybe even criminal charges. But who wants to be a “scrooge” by disparaging a beloved tale?

Killer Conundrums

Amidst plastic replicas of singing angels, serene barnyard animals and eastern wise men illuminated by a cheap star blinking overhead, the matriarch of teenage pregnancy is enshrined. People of faith worldwide gather to stand silently in reverence before the blessed maiden and her holy child. They rehearse her story with hushed whispers and humbly bow to the fruit of her womb, a molded plastic baby representing the “Sacrificial Lamb,” a.k.a the ultimate human sacrifice.

Obviously, to this day, remnants of ancient blood rituals live on in the religious psyche, enlivened by centuries of sacred paranoia. These time-honored superstitions serve to provide irrational justifications for a host of killer conundrums and bad behavior. Sadly, opportunities for dialogue, understanding and meaningful relationships often get placed on altars of blind obedience.

Rarely do faithful adherents consider what has truly been sacrificed. I should know. For the longest time I never stopped to think, just like I shamefully never thought to speak to the pregnant teenage girl sitting in my home room.

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A Thousand Tears

When it came to sex, I was completely ignorant. The only education I received was gifted to me by a woman who sat on the front row of my church. Midway through every Sunday morning service, she would unbutton her blouse, pull out her milk filled breast and commence feeding her fussy baby while remaining uncovered.

From my vantage point in the tenor section of the church choir, I had a front row seat for the “Great Reveal.” Granted, this had nothing to do with sex, absolutely nothing! But like I said, I was ignorant. The topic of sex was taboo for my Midwestern, conservative family.

Tragically, my naivety would be gravely assaulted when I was 12-years old.

Blind Spot

Thirty-six years ago, while my friends scarfed up homemade pancakes and farm sausages inside the hot, summer, church-camp cafeteria, I stood outside. My concerned parents towered over me, as I cowered in a blind spot beyond everyone’s view. With puffy, red eyes, a sick stomach and pointing fingers, I revealed how a camp counselor had sexually assaulted me a few hours earlier under the cover of darkness. He was a prominent deacon in the church my father pastored.

As you can imagine, the details I revealed had nothing to do with a naked breast and a fussy baby. It’s an understatement when I say, I was woefully ill-equipped in that moment. I still remember the extreme embarrassment I felt that early morning. I also remember being deathly afraid of my father’s reaction.

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As a 12-year old, I knew how powerful he could be. Two or three times a week, he faithfully honored God with his leather belt. He was determined to not “spare the rod” with me and my younger sister. I trembled with fear as to what he might do in response to the grave offense I struggled to convey behind the cafeteria. My chief concern was for him. I was afraid if he did what I knew he was capable of, he might go to jail, rather than my abuser.

To my utter shock, there would be no outbursts of anger, or welts and bruises administered. Apparently, such beatings were reserved solely for me and my sister.

In that moment, my parents briefly consoled me. They cautioned me to hush for now and invited me inside for leftovers. I remember eating privately in the kitchen, while my friends stood outside wondering what terrible thing I had done to warrant such isolation.

My imposed isolation didn’t end there. Hours turned into days, then weeks and months with little to nothing more being said.

Gag Rule

Ultimately, my father’s inaction served to embolden an already very brazen pedophile. For the next few years, every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday evening Deacon Scott would religiously follow me into the church restroom and crowd me at the urinal. As I peed, he’d quietly whisper in my ear, informing me what more he could have done and assuring me I would have enjoyed it. This was very traumatic for a pubescent teen.

He also told me the same had been done to him when he was my age, assuring me my future was inevitable; I would one day be just like him.

It goes without saying, those years were tremendously painful, mentally and emotionally. In many ways, his verbal accosting was worse than the physical, sexual assault. I was isolated with no protectors, no counselors and no safe place to retreat to, not even my own bedroom.

Terrorized by frequent nightmares, I’d would often awake in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat with his haunting whispers looping endlessly in my mind. Adding to my silent torture was the fact that I frequently wet the bed, well into my teen years. I couldn’t control my thoughts. I couldn’t control my body. On every front, I felt hopelessly helpless.

Complicating matters, was the gag rule faithfully enforced by my parents. No one could ever know anything, not even my innocent, naive sister. And if my abuser spoke to me, I was instructed to ignore him, saying nothing in return. My parents poured all their energy into controlling me, and only me. Apparently, they had determined, dealing with Deacon Scott was futile.

Channeling Pain

Eventually, during my high school years, I found an outlet for my grief through music. I taught myself how to play the guitar and write songs. For the first time in my life, I was in control of something. Music enabled me to take charge of my thoughts and emotions. It was a medium through which I could channel my repressed pain and create beauty. There was an unexpected bonus also. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t being told to be quiet.

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By the time I was 17, a handful of my original songs garnered attention from some small-time music insiders. I was elated when I got the phone call from a producer offering me a chance to record in a real studio. One week later, when the contract arrived in the mail, I trembled with excitement. However, my parent’s reaction was less than enthusiastic.

Unknown to me, they had already determined my future, and it involved preaching, not singing. In the days which followed, they built a very strong case as to why I should tear up the contract and “surrender to the high call” of ministry. In a few short weeks, after being worn down mentally and emotionally, I humbly submitted. As God required of me, I honored my parents by tearing up my recording contract and leaving for the “preacher boy school” they had chosen for me.

A Thousand Tears

Despite their choice college being extremely conservative and controlling, the experience was very liberating. For the first time in my life, I had some distance between me and my parent’s stern rule. It was wonderful, but also terribly confusing. During my critical developmental years, I had never been allowed to express myself, explore and discover who I am. Every hour of every day, my parents had dictated who I was, who my friends were, what I could or could not do, who I dated and what I was supposed to do with my life… then and forever.

The only momentary sense of discovery or freedom I had ever experienced was with music. So, to cope with my confusing emotions, by day I attended my “preacher boy” classes. This made my parents happy. But at night, I’d quietly slip out with my guitar and perform my original music at coffee houses and small venues. This made me happy.

Eventually, the inevitable happened. I wrote a song about my abuse, using an fictional female character as the lead voice. I entitled it, “A Thousand Tears.” It felt safe to tell my story as her story. Years later, looking back at that song, I can admit it wasn’t a great song. But, because I was so emotionally vested in the lyrics, my live performances were very moving.

The response it evoked from listeners was not something I was prepared for. I remember the first time I performed it live, there was a line of college students waiting for me just off the stage after the show. They weren’t there for pictures or autographs. They were there to share with me their own stories of terrible abuse, betrayal and cover-ups. Apparently, my song had given them permission to break their silence. I was wrecked by their stories. I had never been allowed to have a voice, let alone be someone else’s voice.

In between my freshman and sophomore year, I returned home for the summer as a very different person. The courage and openness of my peers had empowered me. My parents sensed my new confidence and clarity, and it frightened them. Little did either of us know how serious of a threat I posed to the fragile reality they had carefully guarded for so long.

Watershed Event

Shortly after returning home, I was asked to sing and speak at our local church on a Sunday morning. Without question, I said yes and stepped on the stage with guitar in hand. I sang “A Thousand Tears” and then delivered a sermon which called out abuse of every kind. This was a “checkmate” moment for me.

The church was packed and sitting near the back surrounded by kids was Deacon Scott. On his face was the familiar part-glare and part-grin, which seemed to say, “Your body and your mind… are mine.”

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My father, the pastor of the church, had unwittingly made a big mistake that Sunday by surrendering his pulpit to me. My maturing songwriting skills had made me a very good wordsmith. I knew how to build a thought up to a critical point, and then make it pay with a heart stirring hook. Before my sermon was complete, I had successfully pulled on everyone’s heart strings until no eye remained dry.

That morning from the platform, seeing a literal “thousand tears” gave me some closure. But what happened after the service turned my checkmate moment into a watershed event. Just as my college performances had empowered abuse victims to share their stories, a handful of young men in the church, my age and younger, began talking. All of them had similar stories to mine, and what tied our stories together was Deacon Scott sitting in his usual spot with his tearless half glare, half grin still on his face.

I wish I could tell you he was rushed out of the church and into a jail cell, and everyone lived happily ever after. Sadly, I cannot. Just as my parents had silenced me years earlier, the young men speaking out for the first time were each shut down by their parents. Even though I had not specifically told my story, only fictionally referencing abuse through music and a sermon, it was clear to everyone. I was the instigator.

With my father’s church in turmoil, my mother a nervous wreck, and board members unwilling to dismiss Deacon Scott, I was barred from the pulpit and promptly disowned by my parents.

Making a Difference

I returned to college and tried to finish, but I had lost my motivation. I was beginning to doubt whether I really had to be a minister. Long story short, because I was a very good speaker, I eventually fell into a successful career as a full-time minister. My career took me coast to coast and around the world. I even got to record with some amazing musicians and eventually become a published writer.

As a pastor, whenever I encountered abusive situations, I never hesitated to alert the authorities. Right now, one pedophile is serving a 30-year sentence because I refused to stay silent. Also, by advising church staff around the nation to do background checks on all volunteers and staff, countless sex offenders were removed from Sunday School positions, youth groups and various small groups. This was my small contribution in trying to combat an institutionalized epidemic.

It wasn’t until my mid-40’s, when I finally realized, I didn’t have to be a pastor. I could be and do anything I wanted. After burying one child and raising four amazing, inspirational kids, my wife and I have successfully transitioned into very satisfying, profitable careers.

Currently, what has me troubled and up late at night is: misogyny, gender discrimination and pay inequality in the business world. Concerning these things, I’m beginning to find my voice.


Part Two: It’s Called Consequences


 

The Eternal Love Shack

My follow up article to Only Human is live now on Patheos: Exit Plan. I confess, there were a few drafts, and obviously the one posted made the final cut. In no way am I inferring the current article is deficient in any way. IT IS NOT. Linda, the blog editor, and I worked hard to tell the story with enough detail to hopefully answer as many questions as possible.

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My working title was “The Eternal Love Shack”, which upon reading Exit Plan makes no sense whatsoever. For you following me on FreshLA.me, below is a portion from the first draft which reveals some of the backstory and emotions I started writing from. I would suggest taking 5-minutes to read Exit Plan so the below excerpts jive better for you:

But, before I reveal how this all came about, let me back up a bit with my story.

 I went to bible college in the early 90s when Christian Music (CM) had given birth to as many sub-genres as there were new modern bible translations flooding bookstore shelves. Christian Counseling was a popular major. Friendship Evangelism was the big breakthrough in proselytizing methodology. And, the topic of “accountability” was turning the age-old duty of making disciples into a sexy mandate! 

 In the late 90s, I started working professionally in ministry. By then, a dozen new CM genres and revised bible translations had been discarded for new and improved infatuations. Interestingly though, the attraction for accountability had never faded. The desire for it had actually increased, making it a steamy church-house obsession.

 To keep my story short, I’ll just say: For the love of Jesus, I do not want to be in a weird, three-way accountability relationship between me, God and you — all in the name of discipleship of course. If I want to experience something new and understand my potential, I’ll find someone who’s not interested in making me a love slave for all time and eternity. Sorry, no offense intended; feel free to do likewise. I won’t be hurt.

 For the group sitting on my patio, the idea of existing in the divine’s secret place of accountability was repulsive. For all we cared, you could tie a millstone on that #%@$! and drop it into the Marianas Trench! We could stomach no more. For us, Forest Gump’s sentiments summed it up best: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

 Thus, Patio Church originated from a shared ache to be free of compulsory bondage and stupidity. We all were just looking for a safe place to hide from the disciple-making-holy-match-makers. In a professional capacity, we each had lent our vitality to these religious, lovesick practitioners, and we were now desperate to be free. But was it possible? Could we really breakaway?

 A safe place was needed where we could rest, think freely, question critically and talk without fear of reprisal. We needed a haven outside of The Damn Dark Room — better known to me now as The Eternal Love Shack. Why? Well… my experience on the inside had revealed this space to be home-sweet-home to numerous pet fetishes and oppressive exercises. I (and my staff) had been exposed numerous times to 50+ shades of misogyny, abuse, racism and sexism rooted in sacrificial bloodletting rituals and foreboding promises of never-ending punishments/rewards. I needed an escape, and my staff likewise. In time, Patio Church served as the gathering where “exit strategies” were discussed and evaluated.

 After serving together in ministry at the same church for almost two decades, we slowly and graciously worked ourselves out of jobs. There was nothing sexy about it…

Exit Plan definitely does a much good job telling the story in a straightforward manner. Thank you Linda! For everyone following me here at FreshLA.me, I couldn’t help but share the above first draft excerpt. No doubt, it gives insight into my state of mind — sentimental with a dash of Fifty Shades of Grey… OMG! Actualy, I have plenty to say about faith and sex, but I’ll save that for another time.

Predictably, when I started writing what is now Exit Plan, I was jamming out to the B52’s timeless hit Love Shack. And… I still am. Bang! Bang! Bang! on the door, baby! I can’t hear you… YOU’RE WHAT?!?  The “Love Shack” was a rustic cabin with an outhouse where the B52’s wrote their music. Sadly, it burned down in 2004.

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