Fin: A Fond Farewell from the Battlefield. 5 July 2017.

[Return to Table of Contents.]

On this the 2nd anniversary of 13’s hand-scrawled list of ‘suggestions’, I thought it fitting to post the blog’s swan song.

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I’ve been thinking for many weeks how best to wrap up this project.  A blip of inspiration appeared on the radar screen some time ago, but it was not substantial enough to begin writing.  Now I trust I have discovered a train of thought that will round out the record of this catastrophe rather, for lack of a better word, nicely.

The blip of inspiration was the result of my morbid fascination with shipwrecks.  After finishing Erik Larson’s novelised account of the sinking of the Lusitania (highly recommended, though perhaps not narratively as strong as either Devil in the White City or In the Garden of Beasts), I found myself on a ‘Wikiwalk’ during which I stumbled upon a section listing shipwrecks, ordered according to their number of deaths.  It is shocking how many people have died in recent times on Asian ferries, and of course anyone living on this side of the Atlantic will be aware of the numbers of migrants from North Africa who have drowned in the Mediterranean these past few years, trying to get to Italy.

What piqued my curiosity were the ships listed as missing or lost before 1800.  One of these was a Dutch ship called the Batavia, which went down off the coast of Western Australia  en route to the Dutch East Indies in 1629.  To Americans, this period is practically pre-history.  The Wikipedia page will tell most readers what they may wish to know; there are also a couple of recent books available on Amazon.  One of the writers, Peter Fitzsimons, did this entertaining interview on Australian radio about the time his book came out.  I won’t detail the story of the Batavia here; it’s a tale of almost unbelievable evil and savagery, though the ending seems to demonstrate an intervention of Providence. While this is cheeky, I have to admit I took great pleasure in reading about certain Dutchmen behaving very badly, and other Dutchmen taking that bad behaviour very seriously.

Image result for ship batavia

It’s worth making the point that people don’t take betrayal very seriously these days, especially if they’re not the victims.  Mutiny, among his other crimes, earned Jeronimus Cornelisz the gallows, with his hands cut off to boot.  In contrast, 54 was told early on by Templar that was 13 was doing was dishonest, the backstabbing of a former friend.  54 didn’t think this was morally or relationally significant enough to do anything about it; maybe he should have–oh, I don’t know–BEEN SUSPICIOUS OF 13.

**

In past posts we have had lists of home truths embodied or proven by this scam (or is it a sham?  Probably a bit of both.).  In this last post I will do something similar, drawing on another real-life of event and its fall-out as a parallel story, and for direction in subject matter.

**

I was in London last Wednesday, and thus had the opportunity to pick up a copy of the Evening Standard.  Image result for evening standard hillsborough cops chargedThe front page headline was not about Grenfell Tower, cladding, or Glastonbury.  Instead, I read this ⇒

 

I remember when I first came across the term ‘football [soccer] hooliganism’, back in 2012, my first year in the UK.  I sat at my computer in our Headington flat living room on yet another ‘Wikiwalk’, which eventually brought me to the page on the Hillsborough Disaster.  I was captivated by the story at the time; I’d not been aware until this past week that that same year, an independent panel published its findings, and in 2014, a new inquest into the events of 15 April 1989 began, and took more than two years to complete.  The verdict and results were released in 2016.  And now, criminal charges have been brought against responsible parties who were spared accountability by the systems–legal and political–again and again.  The campaign of the Hillsborough Families and survivors for justice and acknowledgment of the truth is a fight nearly as old as I am.

The Hillsborough Disaster was a human crush at an FA semi-final match at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs.  But it became more than the chaos that killed 96 people.  It’s turned out to be both the events of that day, and the cover-up that began while people were still being injured and killed.  One thirty-year-long miscarriage of justice.

Image result for hillsborough fans help fans up the wall
Fans in the west stand above pens 3 & 4 pull people out of the crush.

Those who enable and work a corrupt system know they can often wear down victims of injustice through long waits, setbacks, and disappointments.  On the one hand, the Classis process seemed to us to drag on unnecessarily and through people’s carelessness, though in retrospect, perhaps it was deliberate.  But on the other, at long last, the truth about Hillsborough has been admitted and declared, and now there are meaningful consequences.

In sum, the Disaster was this: on April 15, 1989, the mass of Liverpool fans were being ticket-checked through an inadequate number of antiquated turnstiles and then sent into the grounds.  At the time, Hillsborough’s standing-room-only section consisted of concrete terraces at the goal ends of the pitch.  These terraces were divided into ‘pens’, separated by spiked fences, and divided internally by ‘crush barriers’, metal railings to keep the weight of the crowd split so as not to squash the people at the front of the terrace (I don’t believe we have had such things in American sports).  Liverpool fans were allocated the west end terrace, the entrance to which was through Leppings Lane.  The front of the terrace is separated from the pitch by a fence that is intended to be impossible to climb over.  In each pen is a single-file gate to the pitch, through the perimeter fence, that can only be opened from the pitch side.

Kick-off was scheduled for 3pm.  By 2:45, the crowd outside the stadium was so dense at the turnstiles that the police managing the crowd outside feared injury to people at the front–they were witnessing a crush at the gates and turnstiles.  To relieve the pressure, they requested (one officer in quite colourful, desperate terms over his radio) that police control–headed by chief superintendent David Duckenfield–inside the stadium, who could see everything happening outside on CCTV, open an exit gate (C) around the side of the turnstile wall, to allow people on that side to go into the stadium, taking the pressure off the bottleneck.  This the police did twice, a few minutes apart.  Just before 3, Gates A & B were opened.  At 2:59, Gate C was opened a third time.

Image result for diagram hillsborough stadium
Diagram produced by the BBC.

It made sense–but other orders that on previous similar occasions had been given in conjunction with the opening of the exit gate–such as for police escort onto the terraces, or the closing of the tunnel (outlined in blue above) to the central pens–were not given now.  Most of the fans, something like 1,800, coming in through the exit gate C headed for the tunnel, and into the two central pens 3 & 4–which were already over-full and where people had already been uncomfortable since 2:30.  The crush began in earnest.  Less than 6 minutes after kick-off, the game was halted.

This is BBC Liverpool’s timeline of the events of the day.  The conduct of police and emergency services shows a complete absence of control, and complete lack of preparedness.  95 people died; 1 man succumbed to his injuries four years later (he was taken off life support after showing no signs of improvement, having been in a PVS since the Disaster).  The aftermath was to be the scandal of not only the police (and to a lesser extent stadium owners/managers) failing to take responsibility, but also turning the press (and indeed much of the country) on the Liverpool fans, who would be made to take the blame for their own dead and injured.

I won’t outline further details here.  Instead, readers may inform themselves by watching BBC’s 2013 Panorama program, which I recommend be followed up by the 2-hour documentary from 2016.  Do watch them; though be warned, some of the footage is distressing.  Parties interested in learning still more can start with the latest edition of Prof. Phil Scraton’s book (which is extremely affordable on Kindle).

**

So why Hillsborough?  What has a fatal incident in the late ’80s at a sporting event in the UK got to do with a church coup in Northern Michigan in the 2010s?  As I delved deeper into Hillsborough, the number of significant parallels between the two cases began to add up, leading me to at least one conclusion: institutional cover-ups, whether of the cause of death for football fans or of a church scandal, manifest similar MOs.

Hillsb crush at the gate
A glimpse of the sea of faces trapped in the crush.

What are these parallels? This list comprises both parallel actions and parallel lessons from Hillsborough and Aetna.

  1. Each case should have been anticipated based on already known pre-existing circumstances and earlier events.

Prof. Scraton’s book on Hillsborough opens with a chapter that, after an introduction to Sheffield’s police context, enumerates several earlier football disasters and near-disasters in the UK.  Why?  I myself asked this question when I realised he was beginning with a set of other stories.  His point was, of course, that Hillsborough was not the first major incident at a football stadium, not even the first one to have claimed scores of lives.  Some of the significant examples are:

Burnden Park in Bolton, 1946.  A crush in an overcrowded embankment killed 33 and injured 400.

Non-fatal crush at Molineux Stadium in Wolverhampton, 1976.

Bradford City Stadium in Bradford, 1985.  A rubbish fire in wooden stands killed 56 and injured at least 256.

Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, 1902 and 1971.  1902: a stand collapse killed 25; in 1971, as thousands of spectators left down a single stairway, a pile-up or crush killed 66.  In contrast to what happened at Hillsborough, fans were not blamed, and due to previous incidents at the grounds with injuries and even fatalities, the Rangers Football Club was deemed responsible.  The Club did not oppose the findings of the law that they were at fault, and they were subsequently sued for damages by relatives of the deceased.

These events were warnings about the conditions of stadiums, and opportunities to [re]assess and adapt crowd management and safety, and police and stewarding, procedures.  Reports were published, warning signs interpreted and articulated, recommendations issued, but there were no wide-ranging changes in regulation or practice.  In the 1971 case of Ibrox, the investigating sheriff noted in his Damages Statement (emphasis mine):

“So far as the evidence is concerned, the Board [of the RFC] never so much as considered that it ought to apply its mind to the question of safety on that particular stairway […] and would appear – I put it no higher – to have proceeded on the view that if the problem was ignored long enough it would eventually go away […] Indeed it goes further than this because certain of their actions can only be interpreted as a deliberate and apparently successful attempt to deceive others that they were doing something, when in fact they were doing nothing.”

Doing nothing after repeated signs that something was amiss was also a feature at Aetna.  The Raisin and the unwillingness of the leadership to deal with her in a responsible way; the situation with the Ss; the doctrinal issues with and unbiblical discontent of, for example, the Three Little Elders (on council before 2015); and the conspiracy to extortion that happened at Prosper, were all proof that there’s something going on beneath the surface in both Aetna and its wider Christian community, on the spiritual plane, that is not healthy, and not Christ-oriented.  No one on the council in early and mid-2015 wanted to pursue the theory that Aetna was dealing with a serious spiritual problem–even an invasion!  They preferred a superficial reading of the situation–the pastor and his preaching are upsetting people–and opted for 13’s quick fix.Image result for snake oil salesman

 

In a sense, the Article 17 did come completely out of the blue.  The Classis system, with positions being manned by fellow believers, should have ensured some sort of due process, as well as some compassion and Spirit-led sensibility.  Also, the leader of the ‘movement’ within Aetna was a surprise, because Templar had believed 13 was his friend, and the two men’s families had spent so much time together over the years, especially holidays and birthdays (and a wedding).  But perhaps too, if 13 hadn’t been a friend, Templar would have seen red flags.  42 and others knew that 13’s character was inconsistent.  But we’ve talked about this already.

So, those two components were surprises.  But the fact that the Event happened shouldn’t have been a total shock, given the precedents, and given Templar’s own analysis of Aetna’s situation, which no one else was willing to accept or investigate.  In fact, it should only be expected that Evil, when the Good gets close to putting its finger on it, lashes out and makes an extra effort to thwart the perceiver, and work extra hard to deceive those who might eventually come to recognise it for what it is.

As the RTE commentator states in the midst of the crush: ‘That [i]s a situation which should never have developed.’  And the people chant, ‘Please help us, please help us!’

**

2. Each case involved conspiracy to change the record, blame and castigate the victims, discredit witnesses, and bias in advance those appointed to conduct inquiries.

Related imageThe creation of the Myth (h/t P. Scraton for this term) of the fault of the Liverpool supporters in the disaster began within minutes of the stopping of the match.  Here is the first claim ‘explaining’ the cause of the crush, broadcast during live RTE coverage of the match and the disaster; the BBC’s commentator John Motson reported the same–the explanation came from the police control room at the Liverpool end of the pitch, from David Duckenfield himself, namely that the gate the police themselves had ordered opened to relieve pressure outside the stadium had been broken and rushed through by drunk and disorderly fans.

In the very midst of mayhem and death, those in charge were thinking how they were going to escape culpability.  This was merely the beginning of decades of cover-up, the first in a string of dishonest, blame-diverting assertions put forward by those who failed in their duty of care.  For those of you in Classis Northern Michigan with difficulties in this area, this claim is an example of what’s called a ‘lie’.

The laying of the groundwork for what happened at Aetna began before the Church Visitors were brought in, e.g. with the submission of the ‘list of suggestions’ full of innuendo and horse manure, and the publication of the report by Uncle 54.  These documents were also the start of a myth, Image result for actaeonwhich like the Hillsborough cover-up, snowballed as time went on, and as more people were willing to become part of the conspiracy whose sole purpose for existence was, apparently, to destroy the career and public character of Simon Templar.  But I’m sure, like the South Yorkshire Police in 1989 and after, they believed they were acting in the best interests of…someone.  Most likely themselves.

There was the creation of a myth by creation of an artificial record, a paper trail, first by 13, and then by Classical officers.  The problem was that most of the paper trail was unclear–due to poor exposition of the supposed problem(s), poor writing, and lack of clarity in purpose and thought.  But it was enough.  Beyond that, there was the use or misuse of the power to control the of flow of information, which we will address in point 5 below.

Regarding changing the record, this is perhaps at its clearest in the misrepresentations of the Oversight Committee (in flagrant contradiction of a pre-existing written record of interactions in Simon Templar’s emails–utter idiocy, one would think, but they got away with it).  It could also be seen in the fluctuating dates, which got earlier and earlier, in particularly 21’s documents, when alleged ‘problems’ between pastor and church at Aetna really began.  It’s like a multiple choice quiz, and every time 21 picked a different option.  Of course, we know why the date kept getting earlier–to try to refute the fact that the real trouble started with 13’s odd about-face in late 2014/early 2015.  Attention had to be deflected from the falling dominos that could be traced to 13’s behaviour, and a case had to be insisted upon, a case that Templar had been a long-standing MAJOR issue, and it just took people ages to do anything about it/him (or to realise it?).  I’d like to think that when I make stuff up, I can still keep my story straight.  Not that I do that for any situation but writing what I acknowledge to be FICTION.

Of course, the option that 13 and the council required a blaming of the person they were firing and evicting without cause.  What about castigating?   Classis personnel showed themselves expert at this, with allegations about Templar’s lack of submissiveness, stubbornness, tendency to ask uncomfortable questions, strange penchant for justice (maybe he could go into law? surely there’s no room for that in the pastorate!), and paranoia.  Some of the Hillsborough Families know what it is to be derided as conspiracy theorists.  You look crazy until you can prove it’s a conspiracy.  Of course, those within the conspiracy will always prefer you be thought unstable than to allow you to demand scrutiny of their operations.  I think we’ve demonstrated here with all our documentation that, for as poorly organized and executed as everything was, it was a conspiracy–certain things were agreed upon from the outset, and everything was done and represented with certain goals in mind–integrity, truth, health and well-being of the person in question, and honour of the church be d*mned.

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And what about discrediting witnesses?  John Ashton (picture here is from the Telegraph), a qualified doctor, was an ‘inconvenient witness’, critical of the lack of coordinated and organized police and emergency response at Hillsborough.  When he wouldn’t keep quiet about his take on what he saw at the Disaster, his reputation and credibility were attacked and undermined.  Ashton uses the word ‘implication’–subtle statements are very powerful things.  Did he contact the media, or did the media contact him?  Sort of like 21’s slimy generalization, ‘We got the sense that something just wasn’t quite right.’  Sorry, this was supposed to be akin to a legal proceeding.  Put forth a charge and some evidence, or else withdraw your innuendo.

The assault on Dr. Ashton’s character was a lateral one.  Just like what happened to 42, behind closed doors, at the Special Meeting of Classis.  Because he was articulate, educated, righteous, and a star witness for the defense–having torpedoed Classis’ star prosecuting pastor’s written bilge–who couldn’t be rebutted, 21 and others had to make him look unreasonable, angry, unhinged, whatever.  It couldn’t be that someone that sound could side with Simon Templar: then he would have to be listened to.  Only the Lord Himself knows if any pastor in that room stood up and said that attacking the man sideways in his absence was unacceptable.  Somehow I doubt it.

Finally, biasing officials in advance of proceedings.  There are multiple examples of this–but we’ll stick with one that may have been a pastor putting his foot in his mouth.  Do you, reader, remember this extract of email exchanges in Exhibit T.?:

On Thursday, Nov 5, 2015, at 9:58 AM, WVW writes:

The [classical committee x] has deemed it necessary to call a special classis meeting for November 18 at 6:30 PM location to be determined if either V—- Church or P— Church could host let us know.

I am aware that this is short notice but the matter has been brewing for some time and has been dealt with well by church visitors.

WVW

On Monday, Nov 9, 2015 at 09:40:AM, WVW writes:

To all,

Due to conflicts for many of the pastors involved it has been deemed necessary to change the date of the Special Classis meeting.

We still need to act on this as soon as possible so it has been decided to change the date to Monday Nov 23 again at 6:30 PM at P—– Church.

Di— respond if we need to find a different location.

Please respond to Dwight concerning your availability.

Dwight sorry to complicate the process of finding synodical deputies.

If you are back from your trip Da—- this would once again place you as chair of the meeting.

The special meeting is necessary to address A. and Simon Templar concerning their ministry.

WVW [classical committee x] Chair (short term)

On Thursday, Nov 12, 2015 at 7:49 AM, Simon Templar writes:

TO: WVW

FROM: Simon Templar

Hi, WVW. I received your note sent Monday morning, Nov 9, on Wednesday afternoon.

I had not received your communication from Thursday morning, November 5; did you send an e-mail to me that got lost?

I need to know a couple of things.

First, am I expected or allowed to be at the “Special Classis meeting” planned for November 23?

Second, in the event that I desire to be present but am unable to attend on November 23 (Thanksgiving week!), at what date in December could the meeting be rescheduled?

I’ll wait to hear from you.

Thank you.

Simon Templar A. Church

On Thursday, Nov 12, 2015 at 11:20 AM, WVW writes:

Simon,

You are allowed to attend this meeting, you are not compelled to be there.

The meeting will not be extended to a later date it is time to conclude this matter.

WVW

**

What is interesting about the above exchange is that it shows someone both in the act of biasing others, and in the state of having been biased himself by someone else.  And this kind of thing, getting evidence of what people are saying about you behind your back, which influences how they treat you (scornfully) and how they handle their duties (hurriedly and haphazardly) shows how bias can affect the outcome of cases which are supposedly handled by neutral, ‘objective’ people–before it even comes to the official proceedings.  It should prick people’s consciences that they allow themselves to be poisoned against others without seeking the truth for themselves and demanding proof.  But it’s also thoroughly irresponsible and unprofessional to shoot one’s ‘mouth’ off in emails, offering conclusions about and appraisals of procedures and performances to which one hasn’t even been privy.  It’s contamination of judge and jury.

When attention was drawn to this by Simon Templar, who in Classis Northern Michigan do you think cared?

Secularists do it better.  Recognizing and calling out hypocrisy and bias, I mean.

tony blair why
1997: PM Tony Blair on Home Secretary Jack Straw’s proposal of a limited independent review on Hillsborough: ‘Why?  What’s the point?’  Classis NM can relate.

 

**

Here we find a point of contrast.  What happened to the Liverpool fans on 15 April was not deliberate.  It was gross, even criminal, negligence.

What happened at Aetna was a travesty, a set-up.  From the beginning, a case was being built against someone for purely personal reasons, with the end goal of ousting him.  What’s strange is the path that people repeatedly chose to bring this about, including the July 4th weekend faction building, the sending of complaint emails and writing of ‘suggestions’, the encouraging of reporting discontent through inappropriate channels, the orchestration of the elder visits, the bias of the report summarising the visits, the underhanded one-on-one meetings between 13 and 54, and 13 and 21, the joke that was the ‘List’ and the manipulation of the record in terms of how it was initially presented to Simon Templar, the tissue of lies and innuendo that make up both the Article 17a and the summary report to Classis in early December 2015, were all unnecessarily messy and degrading.

A going of separate ways could have been done with forthrightness, grace and collegiality.  Why 13 and his party decided not to go this route, and why the church visitors encouraged them in their foolishness, will perhaps always remain a mystery.  Probably the main reason on the Classis side is that nobody knew what he was doing, and was captivated by what seemed to be the desperation of the moment.  Which is a ludicrous thing to say, given our parallel case.  At Hillsborough people suffocated in a mass of humanity while pleading for help in unison.  At Aetna, folk decided they were justified in flouting Christ’s commands and hurting others because some of them found biblical preaching intolerable, and because some of them didn’t want to do the hard work of dealing with the issues in the pews (because: ‘Well, then people might leave!’).  People then left as a result of the decision they actually took, and now they’re still vacant.

At any rate, there was deceit and guile from the very beginning in the Aetna case.  But as things got ugly, those struggling at the helm of the off-course ship decided before anything else, that if anything went wrong or looked untoward, Templar would take all the blame.  Everything in writing after autumn 2015 from any member of Classis seems to bear this out; each document was produced in light of the tacit assumption, and probably, articulated and agreed upon by some, that Templar could and would be vilified, and the Classis personnel could keep themselves in the clear.  Regardless of the difference in original intent, however, what is significant in each case is that the cover-up by institutions after the Primary Event, not the Primary Event itself, actually constitutes the greater wrong, in that it embodies the greater miscarriage of justice.

**

3. People are perfectly willing to say, hear, write, read and believe perfectly horrible accusations made against others without any evidence–or even contrary to the reality they themselves know.

Image result for the sun hillsborough lies

 

People believed these headlines about Liverpool fans–not only that they were the cause of their own melee, by breaking down a gate and forcing their way into the ground without tickets, but also that they were guilty of such disgusting acts as these claimed by the Sun.  And the family members and survivors of Hillsborough had to grieve and pick up the pieces knowing that such things were both said and believed about them–they were lies.  The documentary evidence of the day, the live footage you can watch for yourself, shows fans taking the lead in rescue efforts.  Yes, some of them in the footage are angry; but they’d been half-suffocated, and many of their fellow fans were dead or injured due to negligence and lack of police initiative.  For the most part, they are desperate to save others.  Once these headlines started hitting news racks and TV broadcasts, the families knew they had a battle ahead of them.  Also, notice the lead-in to the headline, in the all-caps.

People will believe and repeat almost anything.  If folk passed around the above heinous claims without fact-checking or even consulting with common sense, then it is no wonder that Simon Templar was subject to the slander and libel that was so thoughtlessly bandied about.  What’s more surprising in the Aetna case isn’t the content of the allegations, but who was making them, failing to check their veracity, and repeating them in speech and in print–‘Christian’ ‘leaders’, rather than journalists.  And not only did they not do their homework, they also ignored Templar’s challenge of the allegations (including his demand for examples and evidence), and denied him rightful means and opportunity for defense.  Well, actually, they did more than that: they pilloried him for asking questions, and for wanting to do the most natural thing in the world–protect his reputation.

In at least one case, one elder’s own experience with Templar forced him to recognize that the allegations were untrue, but he went along with the plot anyway, eventually succumbing to the Aetnaspeak.  I assume this was to help clear up the cognitive dissonance caused by the choice he made.  Eventually, what he had before admitted was untrue, he repeated without reservation like a parrot.  Other people, especially those on the council and the small group families, who should have known better, because they knew Templar so well personally, were beguiled by the dangerous combination of their own desperation and spiritual vulnerability.  They lacked discernment, they were afraid, and 13, aggressive, wheedling and blandishing, talked a pretty good game and seemed to have a ‘plan’.  And then, when the ‘authorities’ backed up 13 by giving him what he wanted, that provided the seal of approval on all the lies and seemed to give ecclesiastical, if not divine, authorization and justification of 13’s goal and methods.  But as I’ve demonstrated here, with respect to the allegations against Templar to superficially excuse the Aetna council’s abusive treatment of him, there were no examples given, no evidence provided, not even clarity of mind and argument.  Just a lot of blustering.  And yet they got results, and got away with it.

In both cases the lack of integrity, and abject gullibility coupled with moral irresponsibility, is thoroughly disgusting.

**

4. Slander has (lasting) consequences.

People think and act based upon what they hear and believe.  Even years after mass produced and published lies have been discredited, people’s judgment is still influenced by the libel and slander.  As I stood in the queue at Victoria Coach Station last Wednesday, waiting for my bus, a friendly elderly couple standing beside mentioned the Hillsborough headline.  And then the husband made a snide comment to the wife about how the men charged will now take the blame, rather than ‘the 2000 Scousers’ who ran over each other.  Then he chuckled.  The fact that people still knock Liverpool as hooligans who killed their own is a great injustice.  Should never have happened.

Image result for dieu et mon droit
The Taylor Report in late 1989 ought to have killed the idea that Liverpool fans and their behaviour were the cause of the disaster.  Yet the slander persisted.  The lies persisted, partly due to the way the Disaster and evidence related to it was handled in the first coroner’s inquest, which wrapped up in 1991 and was the longest inquest in English legal history.  Selection and handling of material is discussed at length in the TV documentaries.  In sum, due to the coroner’s ‘cut off’ time for validity of evidence, 3:15pm on the day of the disaster, everyone who died was presumed dead or unsaveable by that time, and one of the results of this decision was the verdict that every person’s death was accidental (rather than an ‘unlawful killing’.)

It took a new inquest–that running from 2014 to 2016–after the results of the Independent Panel to officially debunk the myth against Liverpool.  Will its verdict, and the criminal prosecution of Duckenfield et al., be enough to effectively set the record straight?  Time will tell.

There can be no doubt that the allegations and accusations, some of them very subtle, against Simon Templar in the months before the December 2015 Special Meeting of Classis affected the way his peers saw him; this in turn affected how they treated him.  We saw some evidence of this in point 2.  There can be no doubt that what 21 in particular aired about him in preparatory documents and on the floor of Classis biased the men who made up his Oversight Committee, and the CIC, against him.  How else can one explain their attitudes and actions?  I’ve never seen such coldness, rudeness, prejudice and unprofessionalism amongst colleagues in either the hospitality sector or academia.  I conclude that one of the reasons such happened and was allowed to happen in this circumstances was that Templar’s peers didn’t think he deserved any better, and that was justification for treating him with contempt.  They’d heard too much dirt about him not to be influenced by it.

I note, of course, that Christians are supposed to treat even their enemies with compassion; Templar was treated, by his fellow pastors, ‘worse than a criminal.’  Now, how does such behaviour from people you’re supposed to be able to trust affect both your perception of yourself and of others?  Perhaps even of God Himself?

**

5. Police & Institutions and Classis demonstrated lack of professionalism; investigation in the respective aftermaths was hampered by conflicts of interest, and lack of adherence to proper protocol, even in handling of documentation.

The infrastructure and ‘leadership’ in both cases did not have a plan, and in addressing the problem(s), by making it up as they went, ad hoc, the results were far from praiseworthy.  At Hillsborough, no emergency was declared.  Seeing and acknowledging a situation for what it is is essential to addressing it properly.  No one in Classis leadership tasked with handling what happened at Aetna was prepared, equipped or willing to see a petty power play for what it was, or the sham-empty claims–that had nothing to do with reality–for what they were, or how they evidenced spiritual rot.

Image result for hillsborough families funerals

There is a story to be told about the shabby treatment, professionally as well as [inter]personally, of the bereaved and survivors, the battered in both cases, by the harming institutions, but I’ll leave the documentaries and Prof. Scraton’s book to detail the Hillsborough families’ account.  The legacy of the abuse of and inhumanity toward my family is already here and clear on this blog.

After the fact, handling of procedure and materials went against both written regulation and common sense.  And of course, it was not only extraordinary, it was illegal.

The many police officers present at the Hillsborough Disaster were instructed not to give witness statements as dictated by normal police procedure.  One officer claimed they were ordered not to put anything in their personal notebooks.  Instead, their statements (‘recollections of the day’) were to be written almost like a diary entry on a blank piece of paper.  In a 1996 interview, a former police officer used the word ‘sanitised’ to describe the version of events he was pressured into attesting years before.  His interview eventually led to the discovery that hundreds of reports and witness statements had been tampered with, redacted before being handed over to the investigation.  When that happened, what a blow that should have been to the South Yorkshire and West Midlands police forces’ standing.  Not quite; not until the Independent Panel published its findings more than a decade later was the editing of officers’ statements in this case (mostly consisting of the removal of any comments critical of police procedure on the day of the Disaster) thoroughly scrutinized and condemned.  The altered witness statements can be viewed here.

The institutions again and again failed personally and relationally; the man set to head up the inquiry in the late ’90s, for example, was evidently not the person for the job.  He epitomized the bias against the victims and their families.  He also failed to avail himself of available evidence, like the altered police statements, which were being kept in a sloppy state in the House of Lords reading room when Prof. Scraton went to consult them in October 1998.  That sounds familiar.

The Classis’ methodology for release and review of documents is equally negligent and self-serving; they have no answer or justification when asked why certain things were shared with people with whom they oughtn’t have been, or why dissemination of 42’s and Templar’s documents were delayed, suspiciously, almost until 21 could whip up his atomic attack document so they’d all be released at the same time in December 2015.  This probably had the (intended?) consequence of overwhelming would-be readers in the 2-3 days before the Classis meeting.  And then of course, there’s the publishing of records and statements about Templar which were presented to Classis (or to congregations) which by rights he should have had a chance to see, if not agree to, before presentation.  Not only did this repeatedly NOT happen, but he was even prevented from hearing what was said about him in more than one ‘Executive Session’.  Baloney–from a bunch of executive turkeys.Image result for oscar mayer bologna

They again proved themselves inadequate to their duties when they failed to follow up and follow through with witnesses.  How useless.  Both 54 and BDK were approached by people trying to give them their side of the story.  54 was approached by several different people, BDK by the same person more than once.  I sent my documentation to everyone I could think of.  No one took us seriously, and those who were aware of our testimony continued to make assertions about the universal approval of the Article 17 at Aetna.  The very existence of these people–I hardly count, because I was no longer at Aetna regularly, though I was still a member–with their perspectives was omitted from the record.

Image result for kalkaska michiganAetna and CNM didn’t have the guts or the professionalism to just admit we were expendable, and that for the sake of politics and keeping the right people happy, we had to go.  Instead, charges had to be trumped up to make the person(s) on the rail out of town look bad, so that the people getting rid of them could be heroes.  Well, I trust, now that it’s more than a year and a half on, that sense of ‘burnout’ 54 mentioned in his summer 2015 report is even worse, especially now that it appears Aetna will have to share a pastor with another local congregation, as they can’t afford to call their own.  Things didn’t quite go according to 13’s plan–the guy he thought he had in his pocket in October 2015 got called up to Kalkaska!  God bless Kalkaska.

Finally, the Oversight Committee did exactly what the police did in running criminal background checks on all the Hillsborough deceased with a BAC.  As Prof. Scraton puts it, ‘[F]rom the outset, the police were determined to criminalise those who died, to damage their reputation.’  This would make it even easier to lay the blame on the victims.  Malicious.  This is analogous to the OC’s move to interview people from the church in Z– at which Simon Templar did his seminary internship 17 years before.  They were looking for ‘evidence’ of a pathology to bolster the case they’d committed to making at the outset.  They needed proof for their argument.  This ‘background check’ was completely outside the scope of their mandate; naturally, when challenged on this, they could not explain their reason for doing it; they lied about Templar’s response to their request for names; and they refused to name the denominational advisor or advisors who presumably suggested they go on this wild goose chase.  Both inappropriate and a waste of time.

We have talked elsewhere about their inconsistency in application of the church order; when they’re befuddled and being challenged to think for themselves, they fall back on it and what they assume its boundaries and spirit are.  When they’re ignoring it or contradicting its spirit, it no longer matters.  This is not love of either the church order or God’s Law.  Further incidents of lack of professionalism and conflict of interest we detailed, for example, in Exposure, pt.2.

**

6. Lies.

When it comes to Hillsborough, plenty of people have been interested in–fought for–the Truth.  It’s the name of Prof. Scraton’s book, and was the Metro headline when the most recent inquest proffered its ruling.  In Northern Michigan, perhaps the stakes just aren’t high enough.  In Aetna’s scandal, no one died.  But consciences were seared, hands were dirtied, innocents were seduced.  Evil was enabled and rewarded. Righteousness was attacked and befouled.  Leaders lied–first to score popularity points and puff up their own egos, and later, to save their own skins.  But an upright career was ended.  Christ and His bride were shamed, God’s Word was mocked, justice was perverted, the truth was locked away or even derided.  Friendships were ended, even denied.  Families were torn by discord. Reputations were damaged or ruined, names slandered, and integrity, where present, was questioned without justification.  Allegations and accusations of devastating import were aired without evidence or challenge.  Trust was broken.  Misconduct was excused, covered up, sometimes with praise and self-congratulation and -adulation.  Victims were intimidated and blamed.  Innuendo ran rampant.  Accountability was sacrificed on the altar of expedience.  Professing Christians found no need for transparency, forthrightness, or honesty.  People were hurt, souls were battered, hearts were bruised and minds were traumatised.  And as there is no sign of a change of conviction on the part of either the initially guilty at Aetna, or those overseers who at the least failed to hold them accountable, and at worst, bear even greater responsibility, I deem the damage done to be irreparable.

No deaths, no, except the death of Christian charity and every other virtue.  Shame on traitors to friends, and on Pharisees.

**

The Lie becomes ‘defining.’

And by lie, I do mean wilful misrepresentations–regardless of whether the misrepresenting party sees it as a lie or not.  Lies also include ‘slanting’ or ‘twisting’, using the power of suggestion (similar to innuendo), and convenient omissions.  You know–leaving things out which might undermine your claims.  13 is quite adept at this.

13 lied.

54 lied.

21 lied.

The OC lied.

Falsehood takes several forms, and some of it is subtler than others.  But even the most blatant seen in this scandal wouldn’t be acknowledged as such by Classis Northern Michigan pastors.  Either they don’t know the difference between truth and lie, or something else is more important than admitting it.

Several Christian ‘leaders’ evaded honest questions, the answers to which the questioning parties had a right (dishonest).  Several misrepresented conversations and events verbally and in writing (dishonest).  Some publicly and pointedly questioned the honesty and integrity of others without cause (dishonest).  Some went out of their way to proclaim personal care and concern while at the same time supporting or failing to oppose the actions of the faction (inconsistent, if not hypocritical and dishonest).  The dishonesty, the Big Lie and the little lies, in the case of Aetna’s scandal, like Hillsborough, is and are defining.

Image result for hillsborough advertising hoardings as stretchers
Liverpool fans tear down & carry advertising hoardings to use as stretchers.

Scraton’s book–again, incidentally entitled ‘The TRUTH’–names all the people who helped him bring the truth in that form to publication.  It is a humbling list of people who care, in great numbers.  And enough people across the UK over the past 28 years cared.

This is a generalization declared by a disappointed girl: when it comes to the Aetna scandal, nobody cares. This is on two different levels: Classis Northern Michigan and the Christian Reformed Church have failed in their duty of care.  And they have demonstrated they don’t give one fig about the well-being of people who are not worthy–of what, exactly, I’m not sure.  21 is to be excused, backed up on anything, beholden to; Simon Templar is to be punished for things he didn’t even do.  The culture is one of a clique, and if you’re not in it, why should any of them go out of their way to pretend they give a shit about you?  Nobody in the community cares if any particular ‘Christ follower’ acts like Jesus, so why put up a front?  Well, I have to confess, they keep claiming they care, and even talk about ‘love’, but in the same documents, they lie and go out of their way to make the people they claim to love look bad.  So, not a very great effort–it seems to be more to soothe themselves than to impress the CRC public in the area.

**

7. People don’t get over being screwed by the institutions that are supposed to protect them.  It is no good saying, ‘Just move on.’

Nobody believed the Hillsborough families from the beginning, and they were denied justice at every turn.  The system couldn’t give them what they were due.  They weren’t believed.  People who didn’t understand wondered what more they wanted, wondered why they couldn’t get over it, calling Liverpool ‘self-pity city’.  This attitude of those outside, and of the establishment, increased the suffering of the victims.  Scraton sums it up neatly: ‘Stress and pressure associated with injustice…exacerbated bereavement’, and ‘people [were] broken by the struggle for justice… The price of Hillsborough is not reducible to 96 people dying; the price of Hillsborough is the price of institutionalised injustice, the appalling treatment by some of the media of the good reputations of innocent people, the cavalier way in which wonderful people were vilified.  That’s the price of Hillsborough.’

You don’t get over that.  You don’t just ‘move on.’  My family has been treated the same way.  When Templar and I talked recently about whether others in similar situations would have ‘moved on’ by now, I said, ‘I don’t think people do.  It would have been one thing if the initial salvo came from people you expected.  But it came from a friend, and his whole family just went along with it.’  We’d all spent so much time together, shared so much that I thought was special.  And they just turned their backs on us (there are of course two exceptions, of my generation).  And then so many of the others in the church I thought I knew and cared about, and whom I thought cared about us, followed suit, seeming to do so very easily.  It’s finding out you really mean very little to people when you become one of two options–you, or the clan.  It was, again, the fact that it seemed so easy for fellow Christians, for friends, to throw us over.  And then the system joins them in kicking you while you’re down, and claiming to pray for you while they do it.  Trust me when I say, You don’t get over that.

Image result for justice for the 96 scarf
‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’ -Prof. Phil Scraton.

**

I’d closed the initial line of exhibits with some closing remarks.  I’ll make my final remarks here.

In 2009, at the time of the 20th anniversary memorial event of Hillsborough in Liverpool, at least one of the survivors was convinced that they ‘would never get justice; the truth would never come out.’  After a number of catalysing events, he was thankfully proven wrong.

Will we ever get justice?  Will Classis Northern Michigan ever admit its failure and misconduct?  Will Aetna’s leadership ever be told by CRC officials that what they did was wrong?  God only knows.  It may seem like small-town stuff.  It is small-town stuff.  But we are human beings.  We’ve been wronged.  We are owed at least the truth.  The Evening Standard’s article from last week closed with this: ‘Margaret Aspinall, whose son James, 18, was among the victims, said ahead of the decision: “All we want is accountability–nothing more and nothing less.”‘  Is that, fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, too much to ask?

Life is short; few will ever remember we were here, and like Dorothea in Middlemarch, let’s be honest, most of us will rest in unvisited tombs.  But we will still have left an indelible stamp on the little corners of the world in which we lived, and on the church in which we worshiped–or didn’t.  And–the Lord knows.  He does choose to forget, but the Bible is very clear–He forgets those sins which are repented of.

Image result for metro the truthThe context has changed, in the sense that Simon Templar is no longer in the midst of the mire, nor is he officially (or is he?) bound to or by Classis Northern Michigan.  But the fight for the truth to see the light of day, the fight for justice in some form of accountability, goes on.  I’m young enough to keep on, whether it means plunging back into battle, or waiting for an opportune moment.  The truth will remain here, with all the documentation now at the reader’s disposal.  I will continue to blog at my original site.  The time may come when more documentation is made available to me, and I will post it, given proper permission.  Thank you for reading, and thank you to my co-contributors and those who helped in acquiring and organizing evidence, in fact-checking, and in building and proofreading this project.

Truth is strength.  It is life, and it is freedom.

DICENDA EST VERITAS.  VERITAS PRAEBITA EST.  QED.

ekklescake.

ekklescake signature

 

Following Up on Forgiveness.

<–A Small Matter of Forgiveness.

I noted in the [rejected] article for The Banner that I found the book Unpacking Forgiveness unexpectedly challenging.

I picked it up, like others whose Amazon reviews I read, expecting to be validated in my definition of forgiveness.  I was–but something else also happened.  I felt convicted.

This is the message of the book that caught me off-guard: I ought to be seeking out those believers with whom I am now in damaged or severed (non)relationship, offering forgiveness and communicating clearly and graciously my desire to be reconciled to them.  As part of the ‘transaction’ I mentioned in the first half of the last post, mirrored on Christ’s intervention and atoning sacrifice on our behalf, I have an obligation to initiate peace-making.  Forgiveness from God Himself is not unconditional, but He took the initiative and paid the price.  While forgiving brothers and sisters who have offended me, and being reconciled to them, requires repentance, the Bible does not allow me, the injured party, to sit back and wait for them to come to their senses and take the first step.  Matthew 5 and 18 tell me to go to my brother.

While reading UF on the London coach, I often had to put the book down and look out the window, to mull over passages I’d just read, pray a little and ask the Spirit to bear witness to what the author was saying, and to give me a clear sense of how to apply his exegesis of these crucial Scriptures on Christian living and ‘conflict resolution’, for lack of a better phrase.

So now what?  There are a couple of people who come to mind immediately when I think of those sundered ties that trouble me.

Image result for tornado damage

It is a curious situation, not only because of the time that has passed since I last saw and spoke to these people, but also because of the group nature of the offense, and the group-think involved, which in some cases has amounted to a spiritualized brainwashing.  How do you approach someone to repair a relationship, when he or she has been inoculated against you?

I suppose nothing is a barrier to the Holy Spirit, but I do want to ‘do my bit’ in the wisest way possible.  So here is a draft of a letter I haven’t yet decided to send:

“Dear ‘Rosa’,

It’s now been more than a year since we were in touch in any form, and more than 18 months since we last saw each other in person, sitting across a table and having what I thought at the time was a heart-to-heart.  Even now I think it was, because I believe you were being honest with me, in spite of what happened afterward.

I am writing because what has obviously come between us troubles me.  I thought we were friends.  I trusted you, and looked up to you.  Our relationship is not what it was before the Article 17 ‘happened’ in late 2015.  The actions of other people–if I believe that it wasn’t you wanted, which I do–determined that, as with some others at A. Church, we were on opposite sides.  There aren’t supposed to be sides in the church.

I suppose I should say that I could be wrong.  Maybe I changed, or my perspective was what caused the rupture.  Maybe I assumed we couldn’t be friends, or that our relationship was altered when you didn’t see it that way (and I never asked).  And it’s true that I didn’t reply to your last email to me.  But I did send you a card at the launching of my blog, and even included a reply to that email, without your name, at my blog in Exhibit W.  I haven’t heard from you since.

In addition, you didn’t speak to me last September when I visited A.  Perhaps you weren’t there–I can’t be sure.  But if you were, like several others you avoided me.  And again, since September I haven’t heard from you.  That’s caused me to conclude that you either don’t care (which I don’t think is the case), or that you know things aren’t the same.  They’re awkward and uncomfortable, and of course, I’ve been very upset.   Very angry, even.   And so I’d understand why anyone in your position would resist contacting me, if it ever occurred to you.  Besides opening up myriad cans of worms, what could you do to change anything a year ago, anyway?

But I felt I had to break the ice with you because I’ve been delving into forgiveness–what it is, why it’s important, how to go about it.  I want some resolution between you and me.  I want to repair whatever’s been damaged, even if we never see each other again.  That’s one of very few things over which either of us has any control, one of very few opportunities to model Christ.

Not knowing whether it would be right to call you a friend makes me sad, and is one of several barriers, several instances of ‘unfinished business’ in my walk with the Lord.  So I’d like to offer to correspond, clear the air, work towards some meeting of the minds, some reconciliation, if you’re willing.  I want to forgive you, and if there’s something for which I should repent and apologise, I both want you to be able to talk to me about it, and ask you to forgive me.

Please let me know if you’re open to corresponding.”

I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish with this.  Perhaps it’s just a starting point.  But things aren’t right–I feel it, the staleness of left-behind debris in the way of spiritual communion with other Christians, especially those with whom I felt a special bond (though I discovered last year that this perception was not always shared by those others).  I’m not sure if that’s the case with ‘Rosa’.  Yet I’m also not sure if she’ll think she did anything wrong.  Like I said, I believe she was telling me the truth when she said she didn’t think the ‘answer’ (to what?), in October 2015, was to ‘get a new pastor’.  But I do think that she was active in the complaints lobby, and looked the other way when the s*@t went down.  She came close to making excuses for the ‘villains’, but not quite.  I think she was more interested in explaining or justifying her own choice to remain without protesting injustice.

At any rate, I have this first step in slow-moving action plan.  I will update this post after finalizing this note.

[Return to Table of Contents.]

 

A Small Matter of Forgiveness

<–Exposure, pt. 3.                                                               Following Up on Forgiveness.–>

While a student at UIUC, I went to a talk given by a brilliant, internationally renowned classicist. He had begun his academic career as a mathematician, but decided to dabble in Greek and Latin in his senior year of undergrad. He is now a leading authority on Aristotle. As Greek philosophy is not my forte, being a rather far cry from Latin epic, I am not familiar with any of this scholar’s many publications. But I did go to another talk of his just last week, on whether Aristotle recognized ‘aesthetic emotions.’

Image result for Aristotle bust of Homer RembrandtI digress. The talk he gave at Illinois in 2010 concerned pre-New Testament, Greek conceptualizations of forgiveness. While secular in its outlook, this presentation inspired a radical shift in my previously waffly thought on forgiveness in Christianity. In the few years prior to 2010, since two Big Events in which I and other loved ones had been hurt by people I trusted, I’d been considering what forgiveness actually was, what Christ and the biblical authors meant when they used the term, and whether it was what some Christians who talked to me about forgiveness—when discussed the Events and their ‘perpetrators’–believed it to be.

My notes from that talk are probably long since lost in subsequent moves, or else tucked away with other seminar handouts which would take me hours to sort through. I will sum up what was to me the most important effect of the man’s thesis: I came away from the seminar with the conviction that forgiveness is somehow a transaction.Image result for libra

Now it is 7 years later, and I have recently begun—and read most of—a book by Chris Brauns called Unpacking Forgiveness. I have discussed the meritorious thesis and arguments of this book with both my father and sister, particularly as it relates to the nightmare detailed in this blog.

Things are not right between me and several people in the visible church. Ditto for my dad and these same several people, and in turn for my sister and those who have mistreated her. What are we Christians–we and those we believe to have offended us, and with whom our spiritual unity in Christ has been disrupted–supposed to do about this?

Within a couple of weeks after I bought and started reading Unpacking Forgiveness, Simon Templar drove to the Michigan lake shore and sought out 21 in his new church (some pastors in Northern Michigan are permitted to leave their calling churches and seek out other pastures without being terminated—shocking, I know). This rendezvous—described in the essay below—occurred on a Sunday in late March.

In early April, I sent the following unsolicited article to the Banner. It was not accepted, and so I include it here, as submitted, for online readers. I toyed with the idea of asking my contact at the Banner whether there were certain criteria for publication which the article did not meet. I decided not to—I very cynically assumed the theme was just not as ‘relevant’ as ‘white privilege’ (there was an article on this dubious concept on the magazine’s website at the time I submitted the article). As much as ‘forgiveness’ might be a buzzword in the church, I doubt my take on it has a hashtag phrase on Twitter.

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Those of you familiar with the story on the blog will know who is meant by ‘Nicholas’ and ‘Ralph’. Those of you who are merely interested in reading about the practical fallout of doctrinal disagreements about forgiveness do not need the two men to be identified for the point of the article to be clear.

A Small Matter of Forgiveness: Where Faulty Doctrine has Left Two CRC Pastors.

A year and a half ago, a close relative, a pastor in the CRC, was dismissed from his church via an Article 17a. This is a provision in the church order which allows for a separation of a pastor and his calling church when there are issues such as “irreconcilable differences” and the like (readers unfamiliar with this bit of CRC church order may find information on the denomination’s website). The reasons were, as so sadly frequent in church disasters, petty. This Article 17, pushed by some members of the church’s council, was a tremendous shock to most in the fellowship. It was fast-moving, messy, and caused a lot of damage and heartache, and not only to the pastor’s family.1 But I have written a fairly full account of this elsewhere.

In my experience, Christians don’t handle conflict in a biblical way in general; if those involved in the situation just described had done so, perhaps the Article 17 wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Matthew 18:15-20 is not much discussed in the church as a guiding text for how Christians should approach dealing with offense and attempting to bring about resolution: namely, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is thus not surprising that this significant text was thoroughly ignored as a procedural template in the Article 17 situation at my relative’s church.

At the same time, “forgiveness” is a word that is frequently bandied about both in the church and in the secular culture around us. Since, as I’ve observed, Christians don’t seem to deal with interpersonal problems in a biblical way, perhaps it is worth asking the following question: how do, or rather, how should believers deal with the issues of lingering offense and the need for forgiveness in the aftermath of a conflict? Consideration of this question is the focus of the rest of this article.

Image result for Therapy spellboundI was first wrestling with this issue during the few weeks of controversy that preceded the above-mentioned Article 17, and I have continued to do so in the months that have followed. More recently, conversations with other Christians got me thinking seriously about what forgiveness is– one in particular concerned an incident that happened on a recent Sunday morning. I just couldn’t buy that it is about ‘letting go of anger and bitterness’. This almost-clichéd definition is, in essence, a form of emotional self-preservation that, ontologically, has nothing to do with the person whom you believe has wronged you.

Our forgiveness of one another in the church is supposed to mirror God’s forgiveness of us. And God’s forgiveness both comes at a price, and has practical effects. It doesn’t simply serve to make Him feel better. I have found Chris Brauns’ book Unpacking Forgiveness to be very helpful in exploring the meaning and implications of forgiveness in an honest, challenging way, and with a biblical foundation and focus.2 I do recommend this book for its solid argument that forgiveness doesn’t happen without repentance, while noting that this doesn’t get the wronged person off the hook: he or she is obligated to offer forgiveness freely, and to seek reconciliation with the offender. The relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation is something Brauns also helpfully establishes and defines.

As I noted, the matter of forgiveness is highly relevant to the incident I mentioned above. Please permit me to provide some background information: a Church Visitor assigned to mediate the situation at the church of my relative (we’ll call my relative Nicholas) helped those on the council who were in a hurry to dismiss Nicholas to the point that he actually drafted the Article 17 Request document for them. In this process, “Ralph” did several things which offended Nicholas. While it is a poor excuse, it must be admitted that he did not really know the situation, and thus did not altogether know what he was doing.

On a Sunday in March of this year, Pastor Nicholas went to Pastor Ralph’s church. By this time, Pastor Ralph had taken a call in a church in a different city, over a hundred miles away in a different classis. Pastor Ralph approached and greeted Pastor Nicholas after the service, when the sanctuary was nearly empty. Pastor Nicholas explained why he had come: to ask Pastor Ralph to sit down with him, sometime in the near future, to discuss what had happened, to try to understand each other’s perspective, and, in sum, to right the relationship between two brothers in the Lord. It seems that Pastor Ralph did not think this was important. It is his professed unwillingness to meet that brings me to this conclusion, for his answer was a definite, and definitive, “No.”

That is the concise account. Pastor Nicholas had come to ask for a meeting, not to hash things out then and there. Pastor Ralph, however, may have assumed Nicholas was seeking an apology at that moment, for Ralph asserted that he knew it “wouldn’t do any good” to discuss it, and that he wouldn’t have done anything differently. At any rate, whether that makes sense, he concluded that Nicholas—who had just told him he had been offended by Pastor Ralph’s words and actions as a Church Visitor—must “just forgive” Pastor Ralph without any discussion. Because there wouldn’t be any.

This is sad. I am saddened. We should be saddened, even dismayed, by this.

I myself am familiar with Pastor Ralph’s way of thinking from his writing, that is, from the articles he has written for the very magazine you hold in your hand. He writes with a clear awareness of the current weight granted (legitimate or not) to emotional experience by contemporary society, both within the church and outside it. Pastor Ralph appears to be quite comfortable with the vocabulary and categories from what can best be termed the “therapeutic culture”.3

I believe that the dismissal of a fellow pastor seeking reconciliation, along with some measure of “closure” (a psychological need long recognized for its importance), in the sacred space of a sanctuary, is a testifying moment. I’ll leave the reader to decide what I mean by that.

Let’s recap:

One says, “We need to make things right between us.”

The other says, “I’ve moved on already. I won’t discuss it with you; you’ll just have to forgive me in prayer without us working on it.”

What is this kind of “forgiveness” Pastor Ralph is talking about? Isn’t it just another way for the person who has moved on—and out—to demand that the other move on as well,4 without even going through the motions described by Jesus himself in the Gospels, which both these pastors were trained at seminary to preach? These two men didn’t even come to the point of asking the question of whether one or both of them had something of which to repent. One summoned the courage to approach the other in his church. He was rejected. And told to just forgive. On his own.5

Is this what forgiveness looks like in Scripture? Is there forgiveness for Christians without some measure of dialogue, some attempt at reconciliation, even if restoration is not complete in this life?

This kind of unilateral forgiveness posited by Pastor Ralph, and by many others—a forgiveness that only affects, and maybe is all about, only one of two or more parties—is not that forgiveness that our God extends to us. This unilateral forgiveness is, and accomplishes, nothing. I refer the reader to Chris Brauns’ book and to other writers more qualified than I for further discussion on this topic.

Here are two questions: if Pastor Ralph does not think he has done anything wrong, why should he expect or suggest that Pastor Nicholas forgive him? And, if forgiveness happens without admission of wrong-doing and without attempts from both sides to repair a relationship, why didn’t Pastor Ralph simply advise the members of Pastor Nicholas’ church who had grievances to just forgive him, rather than deploying an Article 17, and moving to evict Nicholas from the church parsonage at Christmastime?

What I’m getting at here are the practical, real-life implications and consequences of this confusionRelated image about forgiveness. One pastor wants resolution. The other won’t even talk about it. And yet both would stress the importance of forgiveness. Where does this leave the pastor who desires healing, especially since it goes beyond the personal? His career will forever be affected by the blot on his record; see this publication’s own article on the professional damage done by the Article 17 in “The Scarlet Number”, from February 2012.

A pastor (Ralph) believes that forgiveness is unilateral, and can or even should be enacted by someone else with respect to, and yet separately from, him, even when Ralph himself doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong (wouldn’t forgiveness then be unnecessary?). But apparently, unilateral forgiveness is only demanded from some people. Others can punish a person with whom they have grievances, using, for instance, an Article 17. No wonder I’m confused! There is at least one flawed understanding in play here.

Christ’s work on the cross to effect forgiveness and reconciliation was the realization of the abstract that is grace.

Grace, that much-beloved doctrine, particularly among Reformed believers! Yet forgiveness in the Bible has a natural and necessary consequence, reconciliation (though what that looks like takes different forms depending on the situation). God doesn’t forgive His people without being reconciled to them. This is at the heart of our faith. Pastor Ralph talks about “forgiveness”, but ignores reconciliation. I would argue that this is addressing only half of the matter, and it is a meagre half, because forgiveness itself can’t be properly defined, and done, without its necessary counterpart. To talk up forgiveness without reconciliation is what we call “paying lip service.”

When a pastor, it seems, can’t make the connection between the two parts of the “story”, how are the sheep, for whom he stands as an example, supposed to see it? And without understanding how it works, how are they supposed to “do” it?

Finally, I will confess one thing: I am one of those millennials the church is desperate to keep. What am I sticking around for? What wondrous love is there to be found in the midst of such confusion about one of the most central tenets—in terms of both faith and practice—in the Christian religion?6 And even if there is disagreement between pastors about what constitutes forgiveness, what is a young person supposed to think when a rift between pastors troubles one, but not the other? When one wants to go through the process of reconciliation, and the other doesn’t have time, and doesn’t even see the need?

I’m grateful that God’s forgiveness is meaningful and effective, and that by His Spirit He enables us to repent, accept His grace and be reconciled to Himself. But the church’s leadership apparently doesn’t agree on what that dynamic should look like within the household of faith. Lack of clarity causes confusion, and disagreements have consequences. The result here, I would argue, is suffering, and perhaps worse, an excuse for callousness.

1  Just in the first week after the Article 17 was submitted, 6 people who had been in the church for decades, some for over 60 years, left. So, for as much spiritual and emotional pain as it caused for the pastor, I’m not sure it left the small, rural church in better shape than it was before.

2  One of his most striking passages is one in which he discusses the dangers of “cheap grace”, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds (2008) Crossway, 69ff.

3   See recent books by David Wells for discussion of this and its impact on the church and Christian thought, especially God in the Whirlwind: how the Holy-Love of God Reorients our World (2014) Crossway.

4   There is an aspect of this that suggests exercise of power rather than humility…

5   My point here is that this “forgiveness” seems to be something a person does independently of anyone and anything else.

6   It is a central tenet, as well as, I would argue, a unique phenomenon in human religious and cultural history. Christian forgiveness is unlike anything other world religions have to offer.

[Return to Table of Contents.]                                           Astral Projection: A Parable.–>

Astral Projection: A Parable.

Somewhere beyond Antares, along the trajectory set by the tail of the Serpent, is a tiny group of stars, as yet unknown and unnamed by most on Earth. The effect of its cluster is blue, glowing and smoky, and its sector can sometimes be glimpsed as such on a clear summer night in the North.

Amongst them was one called Edmund. His light was yellowish, like a clear topaz, but warmer than the Sun, something like saffron. Edmund was hardly young, but he was among the newer stars in the group.

For reasons—still—known only to themselves, the elder stars had of late taken to running their courses in jars. Edmund had looked askance at them for some time, but went about his business of tracing the darkness of the universe. When a council of stars approached him, sometime after Aldebaran’s infamous holiday (after which, as we all know, that brilliant satellite was never the same), he began to understand.

‘We would like to speak with you, Edmund,’ Penda began.

‘Indeed!’ chimed in Offa, ‘Indeed, we want to know why–’

‘Ahem,’ Penda cut off his more abrupt colleague, ‘we would like you to know we have found you a jar. We hope you find it suits you.’ He offered up the object in question. Edmund looked at the jar with a mixed expression.

‘What is it for?’ he asked. Penda looked around at the others, then replied with a smile,

‘Why, it’s for you to be in.’

‘Yes, to be in, like all the rest of us,’ said Offa gruffly, moving the jar closer to Edmund as a sign of its obvious relevance.

‘Like all the rest of us,’ piped up Aeldred.

‘But surely it isn’t necessary?’

‘You see we’re all using them,’ said Raedwal, stepping in as apologist. ‘And we’re finding them very effective.’

Edmund gazed around silently, taking note of the different aspects of the group encased in glass. They’d been fogging up these shells with their own breath, and distorting the glass with their heat.

Edmund decided against pointing these things out. Instead, he asked,

‘Have the Great Shapes—the Pleiades, the Bears, Cassiopeia—have they been known and named by muting their light?’

The question was not granted the consideration he had intended. Almost immediately came a reply.

‘We aren’t interested in what they’ve been doing for their reknown,’ Offa said with a sniff. ‘Our purposes are here and now, and the other bodies may come closer and look harder, with the jars between them and us.’

‘Like a sort of shield,’ said Raedwal.

‘Yes, yes, a sort of shield,’ echoed Aeldred.

‘Yes, yes,’ said they all.

‘Surely you can see how this is helpful,’ Penda said, his tone unconsciously slipping into one of cajoling. Edmund looked at him hard while he thought.

‘But I was—we were—made to be stars,’ said he, ‘and see how the glass casts a shadow on you and makes your fire quiver. I have freedom to shine, to light my course, and burn unfailingly and to effect… And what’s more, we’ve never needed jars to do so before.’ Penda looked at him in dismay.

‘But before is not now,’ said Raedwal. ‘We don’t want to be so stellar now.’

‘I don’t want the jar.’

Offa seemed naturally to float to the front of the group.

‘You’ll take it like the rest of us,’ he said haughtily. ‘Besides you’re the only one without it, and people ask questions. It’s for the best, for everyone’s best.’ With this positive spin, Offa tried to smile.

‘Your insistence doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t seem right, somehow…’

‘Everything comes closer now,’ said Aeldred, proud that he’d taken advantage of the silence to say his piece. ‘Just in the last turn I’ve had a comet, a bit of an old Terran rocket, and even an asteroid pass very close indeed! The comet lingered to talk.’

‘Oh?’ Edmund prompted. Silence. ‘Where is the comet now?’

‘Er, um, well… the point is, she approached, and she didn’t have to squint.’

‘I see. All the same, I’ll pass on the jar. I’d rather anyone who came by know who and what I was, and to look, or not.’

There was a murmuring in the ranks, and a clinking as some of the jars knocked against each other. No one spoke to Edmund. Rather, all the stars in the front turned toward one another, whispering. Every now and again came strange hissing and growling sounds. Finally, Penda came back to Edmund.

‘Please, Edmund, just get in the jar.’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘I told you why not.’

‘Then, then, I, I–’ But before he could finish, Edmund looked about him and saw that several stars had emerged from their glass shells, and quietly surrounded him. Offa, Aeldred and Raedwal led the charge, and it was only after he was swept up and slid through a circular opening that Edmund realized it had all been moot. The scraping sound above him was a lid being put in place and screwed tight, though it was barely audible above the clamour and mutual congratulation offered by the group that the outlier was finally ‘like them’, and they wouldn’t have to feel so awkward about it all now.

Edmund saw through the already distorting window that surrounded him that Penda, still in his own jar, was looking at him regretfully, but uselessly.

It was after a time of chatter and sighs of relief that the stars, having returned to their own jars, realized that something had happened. A sort of winking out. And when they looked, though there was not much amazement, some were indeed puzzled. Of course, there was found no one to blame, for they had all decided it was for the best.

In their haste and their zeal they’d turned the lid too tight, and put the fire out, extinguishing it like a candle. And Edmund’s light shone no more.

**

The radiance of essence, the radiance of truth. Labour to quench it, and you may do just that.

Image result for nebula

[Return to Table of Contents.]

Exposure, pt. 3.

<–Exposure, pt. 2.                                                            Astral Projection: A Parable.–>

Well, we have had a hiatus of over a month—whoops! Today we’re continuing our list of issues, problems, and tendencies in the community which this experience has laid bare. We finish up the series with items 7-9:

Seventh, inconsistent application of biblical language and values: lots of talk about ‘love’ and ‘caring,’ but where is the evidence? James sounds like a sceptic when he asks the hypothetical interlocutor to show him his works, but it’s all because it’s simply too easy for someone to pay lip service to faith and godly living, and there’s no substance to it.

santini
A little smoke, a few mirrors…

 

There’s an awful lot of excuses for someone like the Raisin, who’s a bit of a bully, and who is rude and passive-aggressively domineering because–get ready for it– people let her get away with it. And then they get indignant when someone notes that her trip to the woodshed is a bit overdue, and dares to do the unthinkable: tells her she shouldn’t treat people that way.  Don’t say that!  You just have to ‘love on her’, and everyone else too!  I don’t suppose she gets told to ‘love on people.’  Different standards, even when it comes to biblical principles, you see.

It makes sense that people are too frightened or too lazy to scold a middle-aged child who’s been in the church her whole life, since she might throw a tantrum, and leave the church. And the person who confronted her would be to blame, not her immaturity. tantrum-girl

But how about this? An apologetic for people in the church who thumb their noses at Divine Law and stab their brethren in the back, from none other than Pastor Wordsmith himself, who asserts that their worldview is at least as Christian as (it’s actually probably more than) that of those who respect the authority of God’s word and believe (they don’t just say it) all people should be treated with courtesy, and that Christians should conduct themselves with honesty. True, it was a very shallow apologetic, because 21 couldn’t explain how two contradictory positions could simultaneously be the same one. Mkay.

So, the above people get a free pass: pleasant, validating excuses ready-made for them. If you’re like Simon Templar, ‘guilty of no wrongdoing’, you get chastised, humiliated, gossiped about, fired, evicted, penalised for asking questions (I thought dissent was the highest form of patriotism, or something?), condescended to by the inexperienced, and treated like scum without ever being given a chance either to hear accusations against you, or to present a defense. People who try to come to your defense then get talked about behind their backs and made to look crazy.

Here’s the basic rule in Classis Northern Michigan: if you’re a jerk (as in, you don’t bear fruit in keeping with repentance) but have money, are a long-standing (maybe Dutch?) fixture in the community, and/or people are either intimidated by you or think they need your ass in the pew to survive, they’ll bend over backwards and compromise on scripture to keep you happy. If you’re the type of believer who thinks people who call themselves Christians should take Jesus seriously, and tells the brethren they shouldn’t be jerks, you should bend over forward, because you’re about to get kicked. You may have figured out that love has nothing to do with it. kick-me-bttf

Eighth, inconsistent application of protocol. They’re just trying to follow the rules. Well, they certainly want ST to follow them; but as you look at example after example, it becomes clear that it’s a bit of a magisterium thing: ST must follow their interpretation of the rules, or those rules that matter to committees at any given moment. Also, which rules were binding upon the A. church council in the first place?

What permitted them first to make ad hoc, drive-by demands on ST, then to suspend him, then to conduct a series of secret meetings, and then to terminate him? Hrm– and on the other hand, we have looked before at their oaths, which compel them to support a godly pastor. Those apparently don’t apply when 13 is in charge. Of course, certain aspects of the oaths haven’t applied over the years anyway, like holding to the confessions: one ‘elder’ dismissed them out of hand as unnecessary. He was duly reminded that he’d committed to defending them. Apparently he didn’t know this, because he wasn’t paying attention when he took his oath, or he didn’t take it seriously. Either way, not something to applaud in ‘leadership’, perhaps.

Even an official written agreement couldn’t manage to be honoured by them or their clever spokessalesman, er, I casper-writingmean, ghostwriter. The statement to the congregation sent in mid December 2015 was supposed to be, if not a collaboration between the council and ST, at least agreed to in advance per the terms of the Termination Agreement. As was noted in the relevant post, who knows when ST would have heard about the statement, if not for the heads up from 42 & 43, and the returned copies which had been sent to the wrong addresses?

Sneaky, dishonest, or just couldn’t be bothered to read what they signed? Idiotic. But we found that rules don’t apply to some people in multiple contexts.

Then we moved on (up, haha!) to the level of classis committees, where the self-vaunting coupled with incompetence rose to soaringly stupid levels. And let’s not forget a sort of desperate, unmanly pride. If they had a proper, virtuous sort of pride that accompanies a concern for honour, well, perhaps the whole experience would have been different. At any rate, if they had pride in the duty and solemnity of the task to which they had been appointed, they’d have done a minimum of investigation to get the whole story; they wouldn’t have been comfortable with their own stonewalling, their lame excuses, their waste of time with mini projects outside of their mandate (while they neglected their obligations as laid out explicitly, in print, in the church order), their disorganised state, their inability to explain their own approach to the process, their adolescent refusal to take responsibility, and reasoning with past-contrary-to-facts, like ‘maybe if you’d been more submissive to the “process”, we wouldn’t have run you over with our fat tank.’

tank
A panzer, no less!

 

The inability to admit screw-ups is where the puny kind of pride comes in, the kind that says, ‘well, I’m not going to explain myself, because–even though I have no evidence for what I’m about to say– you’ll just use it against me. This way I can avoid having to try to articulate a cogent argument that doesn’t exist and question your integrity at the same time!’ It’s in such moments as these that certain members of the NM committees could be rather efficient.

Anyway. They couldn’t think outside the box, unlike A. Council and the church visitors. See, when it came time for the classis interim committee to face ST’s request that the OC be dissolved so he could deal with men who could reason responsibly (sorry, I meant be objective), they didn’t know what to do, or even how to stall for time. They ended up punting to the whole of classis at the September 2016 meeting, a body to whom ST had not addressed the matter, and who didn’t have the necessary material before them even to understand what the decision was that had to be made (it was not to appoint a new committee made up of NM delegates), and thus to make the right one. All the classis had was the report written by the Wannabe, K-bar, and Pastor 3-‘s impugning of ST’s honesty (Christian professionalism and grace at its finest!). So I’m sure that helped them make an informed and compassionate decision.

schultz

We know what decision they made– ‘well, there’s nothing in the church order that provides for a change of oversight of an A-17’d pastor, and we can’t be bothered making up a new committee, so even though you say this isn’t working (we can’t say because we’re completely in the dark, really), you’ll just have to keep going, ST–church order, you know. Even though they haven’t behaved in a biblical manner to you, well, church order. They’ve lied to our faces about you and have ruined their own credibility in a church government context. Well… Church order.

‘And, well, afterward, since the OC couldn’t finish their job because of the evaluation you wouldn’t give them (oh, we do know you have an answer for that), well, we’ll have to defrock you, because, church order. They have to see the evaluation. Never mind that they shouldn’t even be associated with you anymore on ethical principle. Evaluation, church order, defrock– we can’t *think* of any sane, Spirit-led (Spirit? Who’s that?!) solution!!’

But there was no church order-specified support, no encouragement, no attempt to provide opportunities for ministry (there wasn’t even consultation of the relevant points of the church order in advance of ST’s meeting with the OC. in April 2016–they looked them up on someone’s phone right then and there, to figure out what their commission was).  You want a demonstration of real respect for the church order? (Or the Bible, for that matter.) Full counsel-preaching pastors need not apply. Or rather, inconvenient portions of the church order need not be applied.  And certainly biblical principles that should inform adherence to the spirit of the law (hrm, like love) need not be applied either.

They don’t know how to do their job, so falling back on the rules dice(see below) is a means by which to save face. They can’t lead or make qualified decisions; case in point, all of a sudden they’re willing to let ST go without further flogging from the classis. Are we supposed to cheer? It’s all so arbitrary!

When I heard they accepted (or mean to accept) the proposal by K esq., which is substantially the EXACT SAME THING proposed by Simon Templar back in September, it does make you wonder how they aren’t saying to themselves, ‘ST said this five months ago, and it was no good, there was nothing we could do, church order, you know, and who knows if he REALLY talked to those guys at the denomination? But now K esq. says it, and now it has merit. My, that’s strange.’

This lack of awareness brings us to our last revelation:

Ninth, people not only lack conviction and discernment, but also imagination

I think we’ve already got plenty of examples of people parading their lack of conviction– my email exchange with Pastor 3- near the end of the last post is a good one. They don’t even believe enough in the wrong they do to try to justify it.

As for discernment, of both the natural and spiritual kinds, this also is hard to dig up in this excavation of the tar pits of believers behaving badly. We’ll perhaps look into this issue in a later post.

barneyLet’s talk about imagination for a moment. Imagination perhaps is not easy to define, and in a post-Barney & Friends world, may have a plethora of connotations.

The rich uncle, interviewing a young woman for the post of governess for his niece and nephew in the 1961 film The Innocents (based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw), asks whether she has an imagination. He approves when she replies that she hasn’t much of one–the suggestion is, perhaps, that imagination, or certainly excess of it, can get you into trouble.

But imagination isn’t all about fancy. Our culture and our personal experiences form and inform our imaginary capacity and bent. I’ll pull something from my research as an example. In the myth about Jason and the Argonauts, the king of the Colchians, Aeetes, compels the hero Jason to complete a set of tasks: yoking the fire-breathing bulls made and gifted to Aeetes by the forge-god Hephaestus/Vulcan; defeating a set of earth-both men sprung from the teeth of a giant serpent; and, depending on the version, even killing the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece, which Aeetes has promised to give Jason if he survives, having overcome the monstrous obstacles. The fire-breathing bulls are described in various texts as having bronze hooves, bronze mouths, iron horns, nostrils of adamant. How did ancient readers of Pindar, Apollonius, Ovid and Valerius Flaccus conceive of such creatures?

Jason Bulles.jpg
Panel from the Medea Sarcophagus, now in Berlin.

The material record from antiquity is less extensive for the bulls than for the dragon, and pictures of the bulls in vase paintings do not provide any textural clues which might tell the viewer what they’re made of. But the second-century Roman Medea sarcophagus provides as least one ancient interpretation: they appear thoroughly organic, with hair and profuse folds of skin in their dewlaps. They are also ‘normal-sized.’

 

Modern renditions also suggest a reading of the bulls as naturalistic (if a bit large) in appearance, with nary a gleam of metal to be found, as in de Troy’s 18th century depiction:

de-troy-jason-bulls
J.-F. de Troy, panel from tapestry set The Story of Jason, c.1745.

 

In more recent media, however, a new possibility has been visualised: namely, that Vulcan fashioned a machine reminiscent of technology from a Jules Verne novel. Judging from the evidence we have, pre-20th century recipients of the myth did not bronze-bull-4seem to imagine the bulls as artificial, or even as sculptures which Vulcan had given life. The much-loved 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts omits the bulls altogether, and it wasn’t until the high-budget TV movie of 2000 that the (one) bull came forth envisioned like a bovine tank, its joints needing some oil. It should be noted that this film was nominated for several awards for sound, and visual effects.

At any rate, what’s the point? Our exposure to certain things and ideas (apologies to Mr Serling!) impacts how and what we are able to conceptualize. Who knows whether H.G. Wells could have dreamed up the time machine without having known the locomotive and the mechanical by-products of the industrial revolution?

Christians are to be as shaped by the Bible as they are by their culture and personal experience, even moreso. What does it mean when Christians can’t recognise and name something for what it is? I dunno, something like, evil? In many cases, it’s not just because they can’t believe it’s true. They can’t wrap their heads around the concept that there are sociopaths and hungry wolves, narcissists and treacherous snakes in the church (of course there are just plain weak and ignorant people in churches too–that’s not whom I’m talking about). They can’t recognise ‘it’ when they see ‘it’, because it hasn’t even occurred to them that ‘it’ exists to even be thought of.

This isn’t limited to human behaviour. It is completely outside of many Christians’ conceptual capability that the Holy Spirit actually does stuff, and on the other side of the spectrum, that demons actually do stuff, and that people and places can be influenced, oppressed, and even occupied as satanic strongholds. How can this be? It all goes back to how people receive and value the Word of God.

We are a religious people. Yes, we have minds, and the Bible itself encourages a healthy incredulity at certain points: test the spirits, James says. But that is not because there isn’t activity on the spiritual plane. It’s because we can be so easily deceived and led astray. That would seem to suggest that we should have a higher awareness of spiritual activity, not less, and be seeking to grow in discernment.

van-helsingDr Van Helsing says in Dracula that the strength of the vampire is that people don’t and won’t believe in him. In our case, what this whole blog is about, people couldn’t listen to our story long enough to disbelieve it–they had no frame of reference with which to begin to speak to them. Their Christian education has failed them. It’s been like trying to explain a ship to people who don’t know of the possibility of the existence of the sea, as they haven’t even seen a pond for themselves.

That’s bad enough. What’s worse is that when you try to tell them they don’t understand, they cling to their inadequate view of the universe and get defensive, even angry, that you would shake them up by telling them of the possibility of navigating a body whose miniature analogue they can’t imagine. Of course, they probably also can’t imagine that the land on the other side of the sea is much better than where they are. ship

‘It’s inconceivable that that little church could be experiencing demonic interference–after all, it’s a good and godly church! How could it be that the oversight committee are rude goofballs? It’s impossible for us to appoint people who can’t do the job perfectly.’ In these cases, evidence doesn’t really matter. People haven’t been exposed to enough ideas and accounts outside of their own experience. They can’t see past their own assumptions, and wouldn’t know how to categorise such truths in their brains. (It’s like the stunned speechlessness that overcame my boss when he was suddenly confronted with the notion that intelligent, educated people who deny Darwinian evolution actually exist, and he’d actually met one.)

I know this sounds over the top; how could people be that naive? How could Christians who believe in an invisible God, divine inspiration of Scripture, miracles, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, the reality of sin and salvation, and heaven and hell, be spiritual sceptics? You tell me–how else could this have happened?

All I can figure is that some people read the Bible very, very selectively, and don’t stop and think about what these things, if they’re as real as the Bible presumes, would look like. They see spotted hides, soft noses and keratin; they can’t envision a giant metal bovid with clicking gears inside.

time-machine

 

[Return to Table of Contents.]

Exposure, pt.2.

<–Withering Heights.                                                    Exposure, pt.3.–>

[Exposure, pt.1.]

In the second half of Exposure pt.1, we looked at three truths about the community that is the epicentre of this blog’s main events that have been exposed by the events.  These were:Related image

  1. Lack of Sentimentality.
  2. Short memories.
  3. Group-think and/or Irrationality.

In pt. 2, we’ll explore truths 3-6.  Our list of principles, I trust, will follow next week.

Fourth, lack of self-awareness.  Some examples of this have been explored before, but we’ll limit ourselves to a few, and they’ll be in the form of quotes or paraphrases of what some of the pastors involved have said.

Church visitor 22: ‘Wow, you’re really concerned about truth!’  22 to 42: ‘Simon Templar is very enthusiastic about justice; do you think perhaps he could get a career in the legal profession?’  Implication: If you’re into justice, truth, and virtue, clearly the pastorate isn’t the place for you; that’s not really what we’re about around here…

From a pastor on the Oversight Committee, with the power of career life or death: ‘Simon, you’re taking pot-shots at me, and I’m always having to run for cover!’Image result for minion whaaat  Implication: wait, what?  I’m making you feel like a target?  Whaaat?

From a pastor on the CIC: ‘You should have submitted to the process, then maybe we would have done right by you.  Maybe.’ Read: well, since we didn’t actually read or interact with any of the documentation,* we can’t really discuss our conduct or whether you deserved any of this, but I know we didn’t like your attitude, which consisted of asking us to explain ourselves, so I can excuse us from any accountability based on that–that you made us uncomfortable and therefore weren’t submitting (to the process).  Being ‘cooperative’ here means, ‘don’t say anything, let them fumble about in the darkness and destroy you, because that’s what they’re there to do, apparently–some kind of a job, regardless of whether they do it well.’

[*The documentation addressed to the CIC from mid-September to the time of the pastor’s complaint about the overwhelming amount of written communication consists of:

–1 overview letter sent 15 September 2016, 3 pages, along with a supporting document recounting incidents with the Oversight Committee, 3 1/2 pages.

–1 follow-up letter sent 17 October 2016, 2 pages.

–1 letter as an addendum that of the 17th, sent 31 October, 2 pages.

–1 essay on the Star Chamber, sent 4 November (ST was at that point unaware that the OC had recommended to the CIC that he be defrocked, and that the CIC was meeting that very day to discuss this), 3 pages.

–1 letter sent 7 November, 2 1/2 pages.

Depending on how you want to count them, it’s 5 or 6 documents, up to a total of 16 pages, sent over the course of almost 2 months, roughly 53 days.  16/53=.3018, or, less than 1/3 page per day.  Maybe 2 paragraphs or so, required of men who on paper have the obligation to ‘handle’ this rather weighty matter.  But they were overwhelmed, dontcha know…

Of course, it’s hard to be overwhelmed by something you haven’t even looked at; back in the autumn, regarding the key initial documents from mid-September, at least 3 of the 5 men admitted to not having read them (I think it’s 3.  I suppose the guy who wouldn’t return any phone calls, texts or emails could have read them…we’ll just never know, like whether there was a second gunman on the Grassy Knoll).  See truth 6 below.  These 16 pages, I might add, are not in small font, nor do they have narrow margins.  One wonders how the sermon-writers on the committees who did read all, let alone any, of these 16 pages, and found it particularly arduous, approach a biblical commentary; on the flipside, if the laymen on the committee can’t read, what exactly are they doing on the committees? 

My reaction though is that 16 pages over two months seems like a lot to them because they themselves don’t write, so writing substantial (grammatically correct as well as articulate, strikingly so when compared with samples of their writing) amounts of material doesn’t seem to them normal.  And of course, if they don’t take this situation all that seriously, writing that amount of material will also be to them very inconvenient.  Because not only may they not be writers, but also, they likely are not regular (certainly not close) readers of text that requires significant (and continuous) mental engagement.

Excerpts of these letters may be included as evidence in the future.]

Fifth, inability to hear anything that contradicts preconceived notions about what happened, or who someone is.  This is connected to point three in Exposure, pt.1.  I don’t feel I’m yet in a position to explore this point at length, though I’m sure it is at the heart of what went on in 2016.  People heard the testimony of the church visitors at the Classis Meeting in December 2015, heard Simon Templar and 42 (for instance) maligned and marginalized by others, while the two of them went unheard, and that pre-empted any future objective hearing (see the next ‘truth’).  This helped to create a conspiracy–often an unwitting one, the people in it are so clueless. 

Image result for lion in winter philip geoffrey

I’m registered to take a course on the psychological aspects of approaches to evidence in March; I’m hoping this will help me to shed some light on why there’s so much selective listening and deafness going on in classis Northern Michigan.  Though I can say that there is some evidence of either closed-mindedness or intellectual laziness, since there has still been ZERO interaction with yours truly about this blog…

Sixth, lack of professionalism.

Image result for disney robin hood prince johnWhere should we begin?  This topic definitely spills over into others, like those that will be covered in pt.3.  But we’ll take a stab at it from a couple of angles. 

First would be operational incoherence that includes pervasive conflicts of interest. We’ll go through just the men on the CIC and leave it at that:

Pastor 1, the clerk of classis: his church is on financial life support from the ‘Classis’ (who or what is that, again?) who ‘approved’ the Article 17 in December 2015, and whose OC has been bungling their end of things for the past year.  He is thus bound not only by Classis money, but by Classis favour–he can’t afford to rock the boat.

Pastor 2, regional pastor and chair of the CIC: has to maintain personal ‘relationships’ and thus ‘goodwill’ with every pastor in his care, which is all of classis.  While a friend to ST, he also saw 21 on a regular basis throughout 2016 and finds it difficult to see people and their actions for what they really are; is compelled by his position to give everyone, including the wrong people, the doubt ad infinitum, long after they’ve demonstrated they don’t deserve it.  It’s easier to tell the one guy under the boot of the Classis monster what he has to do to change and kiss up to them, than to stand up to your pool of peers with whom you’re stuck and tell them they’re all wrong.

Pastor 3, ‘youth’ pastor, member of both the CIC and OC.  *cough* NO LIE!  Here’s the email exchange between him and me:

9 November 2016:

Dear Pastor 3–,

I am ‘reaching out’, as the buzz-phrase goes, to you from the UK.  I read your profile on —- CRC’s website; in addition to being their youth pastor, you’ve also been on my father’s ‘Oversight’ Committee, and the CIC as well.

I’m wondering whether you would be willing to talk to me (via phone or Skype) for a few minutes?  If you give me your number, I can make an international call quite easily, or we can exchange Skype handles and make contact that way.  There is a five-hour difference between our respective time zones, but if you give me a list of dates and times when you are available, I’m happy to call at your convenience.  Please let me know.

Regards,

ekklescake

10 November:

Dear ekkles,

Thank you for your offer, but I respectfully decline.

Take care,

Pastor 3–

14 November:

Dear Pastor 3–,

Thank you for your reply.  I was asking you for a favour, not offering one, but I suppose that’s moot at this point. 

At any rate, perhaps you do not object to writing just a little?  I only wanted to ask two questions: first, do you think the way the OC (and CIC) have treated my father sets a good example to the youth of the CRC in general, and to those in —- CRC in particular? Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, how so? I only ask because of what I read on your profile on the church website, and because you are on both committees.

Thanks in advance for your interaction on this. For what it’s worth, I’m probably younger than you (though maybe not by much).  Perhaps that means I fall under the spiritual purview of you as a youth minister?

Regards,
ekklescake

16 November:

Dear ekkles,

Unfortunately I am also going to decline this second favour you have asked.  It seems to me you already have your answers and no matter what I say,Related image you will use my words to support your stance.

I sincerely hope you can find peace with God surrounding the events of your father’s separation from A. CRC, even if you don’t have all the answers.

Take care,

Pastor 3–

 

16 November:

Dear Pastor 3–,
Since this email is a bit longer, I’ll put the most important part first: Why can’t you just tell me the truth, and be confident in knowing it’s the truth? 
You write as if you already know me, or know what I’m all about; based on this conception of who I am and how I think, if I had ‘answers’, do I seem the type to need your words to support my ‘stance’?  I do want to know what you, in your position, with your profession of what you think your role in the church is, think of all ‘this’.  I don’t like being accused of dishonesty, and find that very offensive and quite surprising, since you don’t know me. 
Again, perhaps you think you do, because of my blog or something?  Please give me any example from my blog where I have misappropriated someone else’s words to support my arguments.  You must have at least one, since you’re being so cavalier with your insinuations.  As I haven’t heard the perspective of anyone in this post-2015 string of events, there’s no precedent for asserting that I wouldn’t read what you have to say and interact with it in an honest fashion.  Still, I can say that I do appreciate that you’re not treating me like a child, by just blowing me off–you’re blowing me off and telling me what I’ve done wrong (or will do wrong) to earn being ignored. 
At any rate, if I were to ‘use [your] words’ to ‘support [my] stance’ in a way that’s irresponsible or dishonest, wouldn’t you be able to counter my misdeeds handily if everything is in writing?  Shouldn’t that offer you ample protection?  Anyway, pretty much anyone could use that as an excuse to never explain anything–‘Well, you’ll just use what I say to support your own position’ (with the intimation that the use is invalid or underhanded).  I don’t think the possibility of someone misusing information negates the obligation of people in power to articulate justification for their actions. 
On the other hand, if you can’t express yourself clearly enough not to be misinterpreted or misrepresented, since you evidently are concerned about this, I hardly think that’s my fault.  Or, if you don’t have the ‘words’ to explain what you think about this situation, or can’t explain your involvement in it, perhaps that’s good reason not to be involved?  This smacks of evasion– people in ‘official’ positions in this situation get to just walk away from the explosion after some promise to ‘pray’ or some vague wish for ‘peace’ and ‘healing’.  Gee, I thought Christian leaders actually did something to help people once in a while. 
Cynically yours,
ekklescake
**
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that I never heard anything back.  Probably he saw the length of this email and had to take a nap.  Also note–I never had any communication with this man before that initial email sent on November 9th.  This is the kind of Christian leadership engagement to be worked with and within.

 

Layman 1: is fellow parishioner/consistory & singing group member as Rogue K on the OC.  That’s right, they’re on the council of the church who were approached about the issue of the Ss and did…nothing

Layman 2: can’t even be polite.  Although we’ve got two different stories as to why this is–we’ll come back to this.   

So, conflict of interest, here in the selection of personal and the various hats they wear and diverse interests they carry with them into committee meetings or when reading (or not reading) their emails.

Professionalism is also lacking in failure to keep interested parties appraised of goings-on, of meetings, of those meeting’s subject matter, of correspondence between the committees, e.g., the recommendation by the OC to the CIC–when exactly was ST going to find out, if it had been left up to them to follow up?  this is a counterpart to the double-whammy of booting ST out of the September 2016 Classis Meeting, without having informed him of what the OC planned to present there, and thereafter failing to give him a copy of document they presented, which was only done after ST asked pastor 1 of the CIC to ask the OC to copy him.  Shabby–that kind of thing in the ‘real world’ in which I live and work is completely unacceptable. 

Linked to that is failure to reply to communications, even to acknowledge receipt, after a peer or colleague has specifically asked for it, in writing and more than once.  Then there’s the crummy email exchange I had with Pastor 3–, which speaks for itself above ^^^.  Accusing a person you’ve never met of ulterior motives and underhandedness without even a reason or example is both unprofessional and very bad manners.  In the Old West, there’d have been precedent for demanding a person take back such ‘fightin’ words.’  Unfortunately, we’re dealing with Christians who hate being questioned and challenged, and who apparently are never wrong.

 

Image result for gilligan's island the secret of gilligan's island
‘A Howell is never wrong! Break off a piece and make it fit!’

 

Author’s note: embedded links to come, and stay tuned for pt.3!

[Return to Table of Contents.]                             Exposure, pt.3.–>

 

Withering Heights

<–A Slight Detour.

Where am I?

I stand alone on a barren heath, where the grass grows sideways, bowing to the wind.  My head pounds, making it feel somehow distant, separate from the rest of my body. But the air is bracing, and it brings me back to myself.

Related image

The sky is half-clear, clouds sweeping or being swept across it like pieces across a chessboard, gracefully and soundlessly.  The sky is blue, but not bright, the cloud not too dark, but not too soft.  The air is akin to the winter gusts that tear through your coat and scarf , rushing down from the Arctic over the plains, gathering force and cracking bitterness of cold as they go.

It is, however, salty, carrying with it the traces of brine from the west.  In that direction, looking down from where I stand,  I see a white house.

I can see it, and inside of it, though it be even farther away than it seems.  There’s a blue glow within, the sound of voices and the smell of oven-fried steak, coffee and apple pie.  It is a scene rebuilt from memory–my memory, behold.  I see the chair in which I believe myself to be seated–to have sat? but there is nothing there.  Food on the plate disappears, a cup is drained, a card in the deck is lifted and added to the hand at my place.  The tiny flecks of vanilla in the ice cream are clearly visible there.

Other faces are there–sort of–and whose?  Only two I know for certain, yours, the cook, and yours, the banterer.

Not far off are loose stones for a project, a garden with corn grown tall, wood taking shape on the edge of the glade–all for the children, again, we hear–and a converted barn where the smell of roast turkeys past still lingers.  Voices, laughter, and an empty chair.

Am I seeing it with my own eyes?  Or rather, is this…from my memory?

Perhaps not.  For while I remember, I am not–was not–there.

A dog stops by the chair, and forImage result for golden retriever smile a moment there is a shape, and it reaches out to stroke her, smiling.  But she passes on, and the shape fades.

In and out of the house, I look here, there, see a sign with a name, a very familiar car, and, to my surprise, a large stone box.  Ah, not a box, but some kind of pyre, an altar.  It’s disused, but impressively made.  It has gems set in it, expenses proclaimed, with the names of the artists stamped on the edges and corners.  And lots of writing.  As the art of Islam takes in and returns the curving script of its book, so this altar is covered in words.

But they are printed a bit too large, I think to myself.  Yet they can’t be read–and they mean nothing.

I was never anything to you.

And in that way

I never was.

I was but a shadow in your house,

eating your food

and laughing at your jokes.

The fire burns elsewhere, and it burns blue.

 

[Return to Table of Contents.]