this is a question i have had for a bit now. yet, one that i think bears contemplation. if god wanted to do something new, something else... and he wanted you to be a part of it, how would you know?
i'm sure that the jews, at the time, thought that what they were doing was IT. god's chosen people. tried and tested through many trials and tribulations and exiles, and they weren't going to stray again. they had laid down several traditions and rules that made sure to keep everyone in line with the scriptures. and that was how things should be, or so they thought. and why shouldn't they?
but jesus came through and changed everything. he obliterated all the rules and traditions because the jews and their religion weren't the point. yet because they didn't have any precedent for his actions within their traditions of what's acceptable, they couldn't understand him.
would it be any different now? if god wanted to do something new, something outside of the scriptures, how would you know?
Monday, June 25, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
it has been 7 months and 1 day since the congregational meeting was held to discuss me, and denounce me as a dangerous man not to be fellowshipped or associated with. it was said that the reason this was happening was because of this scripture, matt.18:15-17, “ If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." since Nov. 15th, i have been waiting to hear a congregational response, but as of yet i have heard nothing. i find this strange since the purpose of the meeting was to ensure that scripture was being followed to the letter, which, in my reading of this passage, is for me to 'listen to the church' after they have been told what was going on. i am not trying to be forceful, and if there is still congregational debate going on as to an official response, i am not trying to speed up the process. but, although i am making an assumption here, i have the distinct impression that the proceedings on nov. 15th were not for the purpose of informing the congregation so that they may form a response for me, but rather to simply inform the congregation of something that had already been decided by church leadership.
since then i have had a hard time feeling at peace with what happened on nov. 15th. i do not feel that i was fairly represented or that you, as the congregation, were even given factual and non-biased material to consider. i do not know whether or not you are actually interested or even necessarily care, but i feel i should at least be given the chance to speak in my own defense, and i hope that you will have the decency to hear me out. i am not looking for debate or reconciliation or any such thing as that. i simply think that the congregation should have a fair and balanced understanding of events that took place leading up to the evening of nov. 15th so that things be shrouded no longer in mystery or misconceptions or lies. as well as a greater understanding of the leadership of the body to which you belong, who represent your body to the world. this will obviously take time out of your day to read and will be an investment of yourself, and if you are willing, i thank you in advance. this is something i do not do lightly. but rather it has been on my heart since day one, but i wanted to be absolutely sure this is something that the lord wanted, and not simply my own will being put forth. i am now convinced that he wishes me to speak. so bear me a little foolishness.
for any who are unaware, i am julie johson's brother though there is 10 years between us. we grew up as pastor's kids. for any others who have done this, you are well aware that this presents many...challenges. especially in the realms of self-esteem and relationship with church life. when i was out of my parents house, i stopped going to church because of all of the negative things i had experienced there. a few years later,in 1999, when i was 23, i began going again. i wanted to bring my worlds together. and i was pleased to have found hope christian church. at the time a non-denominational church loosely associated with a few other churches in a group called the 'Fellowship of Christian Assemblies.' (i think...) it was a breath of fresh air. it was good to be in a place where i did not feel judged for being a crazy person. but of course, at the time, i was seeking to do things according to christianity the best i knew how. i volunteered, i read my bible daily, i didn't engage in many activities that i used to, i lead worship on several occasions, i even lead the youth group for 3 years. but life being what it is moved on, and i was no longer able to do so.
life during this period turned dark for me. and the more that i tried to apply the doctrines i learned in church and hold to the rigid rules and laws of christianity, the more dark my life became. the worse things got. in short, i was turning into a monster. and the person i wanted to be, in fact the person i thought i was, was not even close to the who i had actually become. in july of 2005 i had the great fortune of visiting my grandfather whom i had not seen in 17years. though i will not go into much detail, it turns out we are very similar people. and it wasn't so much that he himself influenced my thinking (as is the popular version) but rather hearing about him and his life and meeting him gave me the courage to begin to embrace things i already believed at heart and gave me a greater desire to search these things out. 3 months later i quit my job as a manger and my brain was freed up to give more thought and consideration to these things. what came out of much prayer and consideration was the thought that i needed to bring my "two worlds" together. my church self and my real self. some of you may not know what i mean and some of you may have the same problem. (it is something i discussed once with the youth group when i asked if they felt they could be their true selves while at church and the answer was a resounding "no." many of us did not feel as if we could be accepted for being who we are the rest of the week in our church body.)
the more i became honest with myself about who i am at heart and the type of person i am and the more i felt confident about being who i am at a heart level at all times, the more i felt a close connection with god by living in a state of constant honesty and disclosure and truth. as i began to contemplate the bigness of the cross and how it was a thing accomplished already and done, and the more i thought about how this sacrifice that was indeed effective was indeed accomplished for everyone, the more i began to question my traditional evangelical upbringing. the dichotomy of ideas between salvation being something one needs to "get" as opposed to something one already has, but needs to be made aware of. as i contemplated this idea and allowed it to permeate my being, the more i found the lord opening up my mind and my heart towards the world around me. i no longer needed to live in a constant fear of judgement or of being around those who were "non-believers." i began to be able to love others and love myself without fear. which brings us to the pertinent matters at hand.
in august of 2005 i began a blog entitled "exfoliations" to begin to get ideas out of my head and onto a page to ruminate over them and have discussion about them. in january of 2006 my niece, contessa johnson, started a "group" on mypsace entitled "hope christian people" to, i assume, bring together all of the people from hope who spent time on myspace. when i received the invitation, i was skeptical, but i decided i would do everything i could to make it a place of connection and discussion and growth similar to the positive experiences i had had with my own blog. (i will do my best to describe here the FACTS of what transpired and keep it free from judgement) as i spent a daily amount of time online dedicated to god to discuss and contemplate scripture and ideas, i tried to bring the same to the myspace group. this did not prove as fruitful as i had hoped. initially, we had one discussion that lasted a couple of days, but didn't go much further. i kept at it, trying to get more discussion going, but it didn't really "take." since i had been so edified in meeting with others of the faith online in a daily capacity for discussion, my own faith had grown by leaps and bounds. since this was not happening on the myspace group, i began to have questions about community and whether or not people at hope considered us to be one or what they thought community means. i was confused why people would come to myspace everyday but stay silent from the hope group. we know that in acts the original church spent time meeting together daily, and i felt as though this forum finally gave us an avenue with which to try to accomplish this again in our society of busyness. i spoke to such an effect, but it seemed to cause friction and problems.
there was also disclaimer added to the site shortly after its conecption that stated that "The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the corprate leadership or the congregation of Hope Christian Church. For more information please visit: www.hopemn.com" whether for good or for ill, i took this as a slight since i was the one at the time expressing the majority of views. and to hear that they were not necessarily the views of the "congregation" made me feel as though i was considered outside of the congregation since they were indeed my views and i thought i was a part of said congregation. and i said as much and things got worse. the real damage happened, however, in a thread that has since been deleted by the moderator entitled "lryics, dude. recite 'em some lyrics." at the behest of susie douglas, who asked me to post some lyrics from nine inch nails that we had been discussing, i did. initially there was not much response to them. that was in february of 2006. around the end of march or the beginning of april (i don't recall which) tessa came back to this thread and asked a question about nine inch nails and trent reznor. since my approach to relationships, especially ones within the "church" had become one of complete honesty and intimacy i told her, "since you are my niece and i love you, i will answer you honestly. but you're going to get me into trouble."
in my studies of salvation and scripture and a study of acts on my blog "exfoliations" in february of 2006, i had noticed that there were people at various times who had knowledge of the true god, but had no knowledge that this god was the one god. and in the course of listening to nine inch nails' then most recent album "with teeth" i had found it odd that he, who had been outsted from the church and was a self-proclaimed atheist and nihlist should have come to what seemed like a more spiritual and hopeful place in keeping, not with "christianity", but rather a more mystical type of faith in something beyond himself. it was in discussing this with tessa that bob douglas jumped in and started asking me questions about sin and what i thought sin was. he asked me a few questions that i assume were meant to be no brainers. (is heroin abuse a sin? is promiscuous sex a sin?) things of this nature that he assumed i would answer "of course" and i could be gently guided back to the evangelical straight and narrow. as well as pointing out that trent reznor is someone we should not listen to or glean anything from since he is an unrepentant sinner. i am quite sure that he was shocked when i told him that about 4 out of he 5 things on his list i did not consider sinful.
what followed, sadly, is lost to us forever. after the fact, contessa erased the whole discussion. but it was basically a grilling of me and my beliefs and they were found lacking. it even came out that i had taken to drawing close to people by being common with them and smoking marijuana with them. and that i had disclosed my pornography addiction in its entirety to my wife and had found much healing as a result of being open and vulnerable and honest with my wife. this, somehow, was not okay. in fact, not only was it not okay, but somehow in sharing my story of healing, as i was told later, i was enouraging people to do things they didn't want to do. then on april 19th, 2006, i was greeted by a response from bob on the forum that called me a liar and in essence made judgements about me and my motives. that all i was doing was luring my wife into pornography to get myself titillated and then be intimate with her. (not true) as well as the accusation presented as fact that the only reason i eat at "hooters" restaurant is to lust after the waitresses (not true) rather than enjoying the food (which IS true). and then a rather lusty example of me getting naked with a neighbor was given and said that this is where i was heading. and several scriptures about sexual immorality were thrown at me and i was told i needed to "deal with them." i then responded, rather harshly, to say that what he had said was about the most insulting thing i had ever encoutered in church (which is a rather long list over a lifetime) and that i couldn't believe he would purport lies as truth in front of so many young impressionable people. as you can imagine, this did not sit well either.
with things spiraling so quickly out of control, and knowing how easily misconstrued things can get for some people through "e-communication" i decided to call a meeting of trent johnson and the elders (bob douglas and judie ramsey) to explain what was actually going on with me and that it was nothing to fear and that really, really good things were happening and i was finally growing into the calling the i have felt god has had on my life since i was a little boy. unfortunately, things did not go as planned. i wasn't really able to speak much to explain things other than to answer pointed questions about how the things i say and do don't match up much with traditional evangelical doctrine. in fact, i would say that out of the 90 minutes i was there, i spoke for about 20 of them. the rest of the time was me being talked at and sometimes even red-faced being yelled at complete with finger pointing. i take some small comfort in the fact that i was able to sit down for a meal with my wife just prior to the meeting, or "tribunal", to tell her exactly what to expect and what would be said to us. and i am quite sure that the things i had to say came as a complete and total surprise. in fact, the things i had to say were even dismissed as "incredulous." which, i feel, was the final nail in the coffin. if the things i have to say about the very real and true experiences i am having are not going to be believed, there is nothing left to say. i realized at the conclusion of our meeting that our two worlds would never be allowed to coexist peaceably. especially when the people involved in creating that peace were not listening but rather talking about and addressing things that were not even happening and were therefore not the issue. i peacefully turned in my keys to the church building and soundroom and made a quiet commitment in my heart to not darken the doorstep at hope again. it is not that i was told i couldn't attend anymore, but i couldn't in good conscience attend a body anymore that would require me to either not share myself with the others in attendance or require me to LIE and put on a false face as a prerequisite of attendance.
the joy that followed immediately of being free from the constraints of church culture is hard to describe to anyone who has never had that sort of a dilemma. i understand the leadership's need to protect their flock from what they consider to be harmful, i just wish they would have done a more thorough job of investigating what was actually transpiring in my world outside of just "doctrinal issues." such as having my heart opened wide to accept anyone whoever they are where they are at. and to understand what sundar singh learned in his life, that "eastern people need jesus in an eastern bowl. not a western one." and i felt god directing me to give goth people a jesus in a goth bowl, and lesbians and tattooed and mystical and liberal and so on and so forth on down the line. to be able to establish the things god has already been doing in their lives and build on it. and feel comfortable enough in the grace supplied in the cross to go anywhere he would lead and do anything he would ask without fear, regardless of what any human would say. i had thought that the leadership would be proud to have produced one such as this through their counsel, but instead they seemed angry because it was not coming through in the vein they had hoped. and i was even mocked by said leadership for saying that i obey god alone over man and that he is leading me in this direction with a clear conscience.
towards the end of may, trent joined the forum on my blog assembly to try to learn more from me about what i believe and why and try to reason with me from the scriptures and doctrines he believes to see how and if they can line up together. and if they do not, to try to bring me back to reason. this was an unsuccessful venture as it had taken me so long to get my mind free from doctrines and other people's viewpoints of scripture that every word was like a knife and sent me into despair and depression. i know he believes it was because the holy spirit was convicting me. this was not actually the case. it was because these doctrines bring out such negative things in me and i wanted to spend a season apart from them to see what would grow in my life. and with each new post, the old would keep jumping back in and hold me down and beat me up once again. i know trent never meant for things to be that way, and that he could not really believe that was what was happening to me, since scripture and evangelical doctrine have the opposite result in his life, but it was happening all the same. i had kindly asked him to stop but he would not because he said he felt lead of the spirit to continue. (in other realms of human interaction, continuing to force yourself upon another when they have asked you to stop is called rape.) so i had to stop blogging and isolate myself from that portion of my world in order to get it to stop. a very sad thing for me as until that point i had found people who were willing to talk with me and discuss with me and allow me to ask questions without fear and discuss in a doctrine neutral environment. trent only upset this balance and that was painful. once again, i know it was not his intentions to cause me the pain he did, and i'm sure he still doesn't really understand why it caused so much pain, i simply wished he would have respected my wishes sooner before the community died. at the very least, i know that he would not have appreciated the same line of critique in the middle of his sermons on a sunday morning. which is my only beef about the situation. in my understanding of trent, he did unto me something that he would have not wanted done to him. not trying to "right" me when he thought me "wrong." i know he would want that. but rather to continue to critique and argue over the minutae of everything i or anyone had to say during our times of fellowship with one another. i am quite sure he would not like this to be a part of his sunday morning or wednesday evening gatherings over and over and over again.
i do not know what transpired amongst the leadership of hope during this interim time between may and september. you would need to ask them.
around the middle of september i put my foot back in the "blog-water" to see if it was safe to come out again, but trent was right back there with us again. this time, things escalated to the point where i was finally able to get out of him that he felt it was his "scripturally mandated duty" to continue hounding me like this as long as he was my pastor. on towards the middle of october my parents came down from dultuh and had breakfast with me on a sunday morning. after the wonderful conversation with them, i arrived home in time to accomplany my wife, erin, to church for the first time in many months. what i received was a wonderfully warm welcome from many, but a very distinct coldness from the front. normally bob is quick to greet and point out people who have been a long time gone from fellowship, but this did not happen in my case and the absence of it was pointedly felt. about halfway through the sermon, erin and i felt staisfied that there is no way we could feel comfortable at hope and so we left the service early. a brief time later (while still going rounds on the blog) we received a bulletin in the mail announcing a congregational meeting to discuss me. i thought it was strange and looked for more information. i was told quite compassionately from my sister julie that if i would only recind my membership at hope then it would all go away. the harassment on the blog, the congregational meeting, everything. so i promptly sent a formal email of remission of my membership at hope. trent in turn sent me a most wonderful and heartfelt response that no longer had the harsh edge to it that so many of his commincations up to that point had held. i was very appreciative to have it and posted it on my blog for all to see and experience together.
a couple of weeks later, we received a bulletin at the house wihch contained notice of a congregational meeting to be held on nov. 15th. (we continued to receive the bulletins as erin was still considered to be a member in good standing.) obviously we were surprised. erin contacted trent to ask if this meeting was still in regards to me and he said that it was simply meant to be an "informational" meeting regarding me and though he didn't really want it to happen, he had been "out voted." i found it strange since i had been assured that recinding my membership would put a stop to the proceedings, yet in the end, that ended up being a lie and it did not. that is the true reason that i asked for my membership to be recinded, although it was said in the meeting on the 15th that i had done so to "distance myself from hope." which, as you see, was not the case. i was surprised that the meeting was still going to happen and was told that it was NECESSARY because of matthew 18:15-17. which i found surprising because i hadn't even had a meeting of two or three witnesses yet and we were already on our way to telling it to the congregation. (and in truth, this was skipped as well and we went straight to considering me dangerous) well, i wasn't sure what to expect. but knowing how diligently the leadership at hope try to rigorously adhere to the letter of the scriptures, i did not want them to be guilty of gossiping by talking about me to the congregation without me there. it was probably a small oversight that would have caused them to not invite me to the meeting and tell me what to expect.
in truth, i could not have expected what happened at the meeting on nov. 15th and do wished i would have had a chance to be better prepared to make a statement or rebuttal of some sort. but i was simply in shock that i was seeing so many of my blog postings ripped out of context for nothing other than the sheer purpose of shaming me under the guise of "information." i'm not sure why this was necessary, but i have been told it was. i think it's because i used to be in leadership and was no longer a poster boy for christianity and it is felt that i might lead others "astray" when, in fact, all i have ever done is follow where i feel the spirit to have lead. the same as with any of those in leadership at hope.
in hindsight, i am glad to be free from the cultural christianity that plagued me so long, i am simply saddened that it had to happen as it did. after leaving peacefully and amicable over 6 months prior, i still don't see why it was necessary to try to publically defame me as i had left everyone at hope well enough alone save for a couple of very close friends. and it is for those very same reasons that i feel the need to speak to you now and ask if you have realized the conundrum that has been created by either #1.) - making said decree of "fellowship ban", or #2.) - by allowing the "fellowship ban" to occur through your silence. if you have stood up for me and been railroaded, i thank you. i know there were several people absent from that meeting for love of me and i am grateful for that.
but now, since no one at hope is supposed to have any sort of contact or fellwship with me as an official church decree, i can no longer fellowship with my sister, julie, and brother-in-law, trent, in good conscience. this may not mean anything to you, but it means a great deal to me. i would not like to have to cut them out of my life, but i can not in good conscience have anything to do with them, for your sake, while the decree still stands. it was my own desire to not have a "secret life" which started this whole mess. and i found that, indeed, you cannot share all of yourself in church. but i do not believe it is right for them to be the pastor and pastor's wife in a congregation that has been warned against fellowship with me. after easter dinner i realized that i cannot in good conscience allow them to be hypocritical leadership. and what i mean by that is i cannot in good conscience allow them to be leadership at a church that says, "have nothing to do with him" as their offical policy regarding me, and then invite me over in secret, and in opposition to the church they are leaders of. if they are in disagreement with the policy, then at the very least if they stood up and publically proclaimed to the congregation that they were in disagreement, so that there was no confusion in anyone's mind, i could feel comfortable. or if the policy could be overturned so that we could be family again, i would feel comfortable with them again. but as it stands now, i do not. and i miss them. as well as a few friends who i have intentionally stayed away from as well.
i am still curious as to why things "HAD" to be this way, and it seemed to be the opinion of only one person that they did, but they are what they are.
i am not asking for reconciliation of any sort. i know that i would never mesh well back within that forum. i simply wanted to share my experience of the situation with everyone so that you could truly have a more full picture of what transpired within me to cause me to "lose my mind" the way i did. and give you the ability to judge for yourself whether you think things could have ended amicably back in may of '06 when i walked away of my own accord not wanting to bring distress upon the life of the congregation. or if you think it was indeed necessary for me to be publically humiliated long after the fact without fair warning or opportunity to defend myself and speak on my own behalf. and i also hope to give you a greater insight into the inner workings of the leadership of your congregation. which for the most part is a politically charged world in which being "right" often overpowers love. i didn't want to believe it, but i have witnessed its effects firsthand. my only fear is how it will affect young people in the future. those who may feel god pulling at them or leading them to something unpopular or easily misunderstood will be less likely to share it. or be willing to be honest and transparent about themselves for fear of retribution. because although it was presented as a unified front, i have gotten the distinct impression that this was all done and pushed through at the wishes of one man. how that one person would be able to use their anger in such a way while in a leadership role is confusing for me. i did not find out until afterwards that this is something you're supposed to "just know" about this man. you do not debate with him because he won't back down. don't question his authority. and watch out for his temper because he will make you pay. at least, this is what was told to me by his children as well as those who share leadership roles with him. that this is just how it has been for years and it's just the way it goes. why would the person who had been my biggest supporter would become my greatest enemy?
because of my choice in music? when i know for a fact that there are members in good standing, and even some in leadership positions who listen to and enjoy the likes of marilyn manson, nine inch nails, and tool. yet, because they don't talk about it, somehow it is okay for them. because i smoke pot with people? i know for a fact that there are regular attendees and members of hope who smoke pot and because they keep it hidden and secret, it is not an issue. some people point to the illegality of pot as being the issue, but, yet again, this is typically coming from people who break the speed limit on a regular and, in fact, daily basis. and of course there is the issue with me sharing my sexuality with my wife. sometihng i will never apologize for, and i guess i'm supposed to be sorry about that. but once again, there are many men in the congregation who have never gone that far in being honest about their lives and continue to keep things a secret and as long as they do, it's still okay for them to come. and the fact that i believe the cross is for everyone. i don't have it all worked out, i just know that it makes more sense and i am able to get closer to people without fear when i keep this in the forefront of my mind. and for those who have actually been willing to be a witness to me and my interactions with people, which would be only 2 people from hope, they can tell you the truth of this. the profound ability i have been given to connect with people and bring joy and love and peace their way. but because i need to believe the cross is for everyone before this comes out in my life, apparently, that is not okay. in my best and most honest understanding of what transpired, the meeting was held because of hurt pride and a need to exert authority.
it would have been better for me, i guess, to continue to say that i believe something i don't, and LIE every week and then i would have been accepted as a member of hope christian church in good standing. what a strange message to send to your congregation. "be dishonest about who you are, and you're okay with us."
at 10:58 PM