I called two different people yesterday, and read them the first 3 pages of the book - and their reaction was the same: a gasp, variations on "Oh, my God," and a resolution to pick up the book themselves. Want to see what evoked such a reaction? Go here and check the introduction to the book, or go here and see the whole website for the book. (For anyone who has suffered any kind of abusive treatment, I will warn you - this can be triggering. I'll also tell you that though the introduction is in pain, there is hope and recovery in these pages.)
I don't know how Renee lived this long, or how she endured what she did without killing herself (or anyone else) - but I thank God for her bravery in writing what she did. If the books I have rattling around in my head ever hit the presses, it will be because of Renee's example, her courage and her inspiration.
Obviously I have not encountered the depths of horror that Renee has. But there is a central theme, a part of her experience that I identified with so much that it hurt: the experience of coming to the church with doubts, fears, reservations, wobbly-kneed faith - and finding complete rejection by the church, unless I could buy into everything that the church folks said they believed in.
I, however, was blessed by the gift of my friend Craig Lindner, who led me to Faith Lutheran Church in the spring of 1991, and by the gift of of Tom Housholder, the pastor there, who had the courage to be honest and humble in the first sermon I ever heard him preach, as best I remember it:
There are many times when I am standing up here in the pulpit, and I look at you, and I know that I am speaking a message and that you are hearing it. I know I am making a connection with you, and that you accept and believe what I'm sharing with you. And then there are times when I feel that connection, I see it in your eyes, and still a small voice in the back of my head, asks me, "What if everything you are saying is a lie?" (May 5, 1991, Faith Lutheran Church, Prairie Village, KS)I remember, ever so vividly, wanting to jump to my feet at the back of the church and yell, "NO [kidding]?!?!" (Had to clean that one up for Mom Housholder, in case she reads this.) I had never, ever heard anyone in the church ever express any kind of doubt or uncertainty - and it was my first hope of real salvation. I was absolutely flabbergasted…and overwhelmed with the possibility that maybe - just maybe - that if this man could be a Christian, then maybe I could be a Christian too.
Tom's sermon was anything but a sermon - it was a testimony, a humble confession by a man who struggled, and wasn't too proud to admit it in public. It galvanized me. It was also the first time I'd heard a sermon that didn't have the traditional "three-points-and-a-poem" structure to it, with some slick and alliterative formula for salvation and Scriptural understanding. It was the first time I really heard someone "share their experience, strength, and hope" anywhere other than in an AA meeting. It was amazing.
Years later, I stood in the new sanctuary of the Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines. It was the dedication of their new building, and another Housholder - Tom's middle son, Mike - was senior pastor there (he still is, too). We had just finished saying the Apostle's Creed - one of the confessional statements of the church - when (as best I remember it) Mike stood before the congregation and said:
There's probably more than a couple people in this room who are thinking, "I don't know if I can say those words…I don't know if I can even believe those words." We want you to know that it's OK to not say those words - that it's OK to be here, and be unsure of what you believe. We want you to know that this place is a safe place to discover the answers to your questions, and the anchors to your faith. If you're doubting...if you're seeking...if you are wondering...you are welcome here.I may never get to be an ordained pastor - the odds seem kind of stacked against it, right now. But if I ever do, I want to be a pastor like that. I want to be a pastor that doesn't have to "save" God from God's "infidel children," but who wants to introduce those same stumbling kids to a God big enough to love them exactly the way they are. And no matter what kind of ministry life God has planned for me, I hope that someday I can share that kind of love and acceptance with someone who needs it...someone, perhaps, like Renee.
Or someone like me.
[A note: this is not the first time I've written about this...you can see the original post here.]