Moby Dick and How I am Forgiving the Church

By Eugene C Scott

I set Monday aside for practicing forgiveness. Believe me, I need all the practice I can get. Regardless, my thought was that during Holy Week, like Jesus, I would forgive something Big. So, I rummaged around in my past and touched on a particularly putrid wound I had so far bandaged over as “just a flesh wound.” Wiser people call it denial.

Ignorantly I pulled this memory out and laid it on the table. I could’t believe it. This grievance was not that big when I stowed it away for safe keeping, I thought.

But there it lay–a virtual Moby Dick.

I’m supposed to be good at spiritual stuff like forgiveness. I am a pastor, after all. But maybe I should have started this during-Holy-Week-do-one-thing-a-day-that-Jesus-did experiment with something easy like walking on water.

Gaping, I wondered if I could hide Moby away again. But it was too late. I had even told my congregation I was going to work on forgiving something Big on Monday.

“I’m going to forgive the Church,” I said naively.

But it was difficult knowing where to start.

Like many of you, I’ve had several painful experiences in the church.* And yes, I said several. That means I’m like the guy who gets sick from the all-you-can-eat salad bar but keeps going back for more. And I’m not talking a little food poisoning here. I’m talking hemorrhagic colitis or E. coli O157:H7 infection.

But seriously, these three situations crippled me, hurt my family, and if not for God’s tender, firm hand and a few very good friends and counselors, I would have left the pastorate–and the church–and maybe the faith.

Never-the-less, all day Monday, as I went through my work day, I studied my wounds, and prayed, and grieved anew. This new pain piled on old is why we are reluctant to forgive. Mid-day, however, I remembered reading a book on forgiveness by Lewis Smedes. Smedes wrote you have to specifically name the wrong done to you before you can forgive.

I realized it was not mere denial blocking me from forgiving theses churches and moving on in a more free life. Low-grade bitterness stemming from vague forgiveness was keeping me emotionally bedridden. I had told others this truth but never applied it to these wounds of mine. Yes, I knew they hurt me. Yes, I was wronged. But how exactly? I was surprised after the years of moaning and groaning I’d done about this, I could not state the cause of my pain in anything but vague, general terms.

Unlike Aspirin, forgiveness cannot be applied as a general anesthetic.

Monday night I broke out my journals and began pouring over them to find clues as to what the real issues were. First, I recognized I was not hurt by “the church.” But rather I had experienced three separate battle field traumas in churches. Some were inflicted by individuals, some by systems, some by whole groups, some–in part–self-inflicted.

Second, I saw the wrongs ranged from a lack of acceptance resulting in judgement and subsequent isolation to emotional and spiritual manipulation leading to abuse or what is called clergy mobbing.

Suddenly the whale began to break into smaller pieces, pieces I could work on. Something in me floated free. Forgiveness began to feel real and attainable.

Attainable not in one day, however. As I ended Monday writing my newest journal entries on an old story, I adjusted my Holy Week goals. I would still work on my daily list. But forgiving something Big would not be a sprint but rather a marathon.

The next step? I’m not sure. But, as they say in running, I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other. And I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Eugene C. Scott is not a runner but likes to use running metaphors. Metaphors are not nearly as strenuous. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following his blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

*In saying this I am not claiming to be a victim or innocent. Though I was wronged, I realize my faults and sins added to these situations. **Clergy mobbing is a term researchers have begun using to apply to the abuse of clergy.


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7 responses to “Moby Dick and How I am Forgiving the Church

  1. Georgie-ann

    The cartoons are priceless,…the naivete is wonderful,…as a matter of fact, I think that subliminally I was actually wondering how-in-the-heck you were going to do that, but didn’t dwell on it,…so, I’m blessed by your honest sharing,…

    When we’ve been brutally and intentionally stabbed — (psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and even including physical abuse to the point of a nearly mortal wound) — and robbed — (of our good character, self-respect, personal dignity, strength and faith in our true essence, but also including admixtures with our own false pride, grandiose expectations, “thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought,” and other debilitating forms of our “vain imaginations”) — first of all, it hurts,…usually very badly,…and we’re not prepared for this at all. I know,…I’ve been there,…

    Living as a naive Southern transplant to the psychologically chilly Northeast (and I’m being “kind” here), I experienced a generally encroaching and subversive effect on my optimistic, comparatively buoyant and trusting “faith-filled” nature* — (*the kind a kid has, if they’re lucky!). A few things were obvious enough to notice right away — (for example: the “new to me” low level of dirty jokes, displaying an ingrained and blatant disrespect for females, on the 6th grade playground,… Boy, I should have really paid attention to that clue of what was to come!,… but of course, I had “no clue” at all!).

    Fast forward: jr. high & high school: destructive jealousy, envy, hatred, (“mean girl” stuff), mixed right in with “popularity,” fun, attention, competition, dumb athletic-hero boyfriend-type, academic “success,” and I was still not much the wiser, pretty much still “a babe in the woods,” but the plot was thickening,…

    College brought more smarter people doing more degrading lifestyles more openly, (but certainly not as openly as now!), and I definitely wasn’t “inspired,” was becoming gradually more and more disillusioned and disappointed,… a feeling of hopelessness and malaise was beginning to set in,… (this was during the Viet Nam & Cold War times, which contributed to the sad-and-freaked-out-ness as well). Naively, I had been hoping that “I would be discovering the meaning of life” in college (because I did realize that high school surely had missed that point!). My step-father was a very enthusiastic (Southern personality) college professor, so I had (subliminally) figured that that was where he must have gotten hold of “something worth living for,” but it didn’t work for me. Closing out senior year, left me with no particular outlook “to live for” — bummer.

    So far, kind of yes and no, I did take disappointments and betrayals rather personally, and I was losing touch with my youthful “good personal feelings about myself” a little more rapidly,… I was becoming a good little “helpless” victim of negative, eroding and disappointing circumstances,… and “the worst” hadn’t even yet begun!!!

    I should say: “the worst” AND “the best,” because with the loss of faith in the “world’s ways,” I was really opened and hungry for everything God would offer,… and I proceeded to “ask, seek and knock,” while He was SO GOOD to open simply wonderful opportunities to me to discover deep and deeper things about His World and His Ways,…

    Luke 11:9,10 [Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking]
    9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

    Well,…surprise, surprise,…without going into details, I’ll shorten the descriptions of how much WORSE Northeasterners “seem” to hate and resent — (and even feel compelled to try to destroy!) — people “in their midst” (even read “family” and/or “church”), who have a real and happy-fying connection/relationship with God and His (Holy) Spirit. I had never experienced such unhindered jealousy, hatred and brutality — both physically and spiritually negative and compulsively destructive — as after my Christian “conversion” was adult, definite and sure,…

    So,…who (and what) is “the enemy?” We could isolate individuals and piecemeal stories, but they all boil down to being various forms of “persecution” (and, spiritual struggle and spiritual warfare) in this world,…

    Mark 10:29,30
    29 “So Jesus answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, WITH PERSECUTIONS—and in the age to come, eternal life.’ ”

    … and Jesus ought to know! … and Paul:

    Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

    A separation process is going on here, as we live on earth,… we are distilling “spiritual” and “good” out of “darkness” and “evil.” To begin with, we are ALL born “into this mix,” and will definitely experience “woe” in our lifetime. Evil, in truth, has absolutely NOTHING going for itself, so it not only bitterly resents the simplicity, happiness and uncomplicated joy of the faithful (AND the Light on their countenance!), but also does not want to let go of its parasitic doom-and-gloom stranglehold and depressing smoke-cloud effect over “its subjects and pathetic minions:” — “mess with my (critical, negative, self-righteous, condemning, ignorant, controlling, superior and fixed/stubborn) influence over this subservient-to-me congregation, and you’ll be sorry!”

    Talk about bullies! The devil is the prototype of consistent and effective bullying in its many forms: nasty hurtful comments, sneaky subversive threats, stupidity and resistance and intimidation, the “I’m always right” complex, the “you’re always (worse than) wrong” position, the “I hate you (for no particular reason, that I’ll admit honestly)” mentality, and, of course, “it’s ALL YOUR fault (and let me tell you why)!” … The logic (the “Truth” factor) is always terribly flawed, but the steamroller effect of the brutal and accusatory emotional conviction, is what we must learn to resist,…especially internally.

    Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

    I’ve learned to recognize/identify the devil’s influence, motives, and actual personality, even when cloaked in fake “sweetness” or “superior enlightenment” or whatever. In so doing, to free myself from his effects on me, I also had to drop my own (gullible/fallible) hooks from him, that caused me to be caught in his traps and become vulnerable to his negative insinuations. It’s really always a “two-way street,” until we learn to let go of the whole negative process,… and our own end especially, (which is the only end we’ll have personal authority over).

    I need to be healed. Only God can heal me. As long as I “serve two masters,” I’ll always be “messed up.” Until I learn to learn to turn away from the force of the “sin” in the world that hates me, and wants to destroy and demoralize me and claim the pathetic “remains” as its own property, I’ll be holding on foolishly to a poisonous snake that will constantly “have it in” for me.

    Acts 28:3-5
    3 “Now Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and he was laying them on the fire when a viper crawled out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.

    4 “When the natives saw the little animal hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘ … Justice … has not permitted that he should live.’

    5 “Then [Paul simply] shook off the small creature into the fire and suffered no evil effects.”

    We can become like Paul, when we no longer keep “taking the Kool-Aid” of negative suggestions the world offers us, but instead speak God’s truer words to ourselves, turning our focus completely to Him. It takes effort and we need to train ourselves and practice. God will always “pick us up” if we fall/”fail.”

    Forgiveness? The devil will never repent. His hatred is eternal, and it is also God’s business:

    Romans 12:19 “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

    (It could even be dangerous to try to forgive the devil!)

    Forgive people? When we see/realize that all of us are victims of having been co-opted by “darkness,” and we understand “who and what” that darkness is, we can be free to pray that God will heal them as well. We do not need to be subservient to them, or remain chained by bitterness to situations of hurtful negativity. We can become free to let it go, and give it to God,… and I think in many cases, that might be the better part of forgiveness,… at least it’s a really necessary “first step.”

    Luke 23:34 “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ …”

  2. Barry

    You set aside every Monday to practice forgiveness, or just last Monday. You’re a pastor, Eugene, so the “every Monday” thing seems plausible. 🙂

    • LOL, Barry. Um yeah, not only do I need to practice it every Monday, but maybe the congregation does too 🙂 And now the you ask the question, it sounds silly to set aside just last Monday. But my hope was that each day this week I would practice doing something Jesus did as a way to deepen my appreciation of his life and death and resurrection. So far that is working. Just not in the ways I expected.

  3. elna

    with regard to forgiveness I have found the Bible to be literally true…”the root of bitterness” It’s like an onion, this root, and everytime we dwell on our hurt, we add another layer…and in the same way God removes this root..layer by layer…slowly…we can’t just say the magic words “I forgive” -and everything is hunky-dory… Everytime that we feel that hurt coming back we need to forgive again and again…I believe it’s because God is loving and kind…otherwise we would have this huge ‘hole in our soul” through which we would ‘bleed to death’ :))

    • Well said, Elna. There is a difference between dwelling on it and turning it into a prayer of forgiveness each time it comes up. And what a graphic, true picture is your hole in the soul comment. Thanks.

      • Georgie-ann

        Surviving our (inevitable) wounds and “injustices” suffered, is for sure a very amazing process, that seems to hurt all the way through it. Our suffering can “feed back”/(bleed back, as Elna says) into keeping the problems/battles going on (internal and external), and even making them worse,… especially if we feel justified to retaliate and keep “evening the score”, without ever considering forgiveness.

        “Considering forgiveness” as an option, in the light of Christ’s sacrifice, becomes an opportunity to “opt out” of the never-ending destructive back-and-forth interplay of wounded and wounding humans, who — on their own — can only perpetuate the unhealed cycles of bitterness and resentment and even hatred against one another.

        These are the humans who are in great need of “a Savior!” — as they can’t seem to save themselves — (and this means everybody!,… todos,… all of us),…

        In considering “forgiveness,” we realize that we can’t really do it on our own, — (as a positive and effective force that “cures” things and situations with ingrained problems) — but we CAN be willing to “put the brakes on” our own (automatic) bitterness and vindictive or retaliatory impulses that would keep feeding into the problems, and turn the situations over to God (for healing and protection and forgiveness) instead.

        Could this be part of Jesus’s admonition to us to “turn the other cheek?”

        Matthew 5:39 “But I say to you, ‘Do not resist the evil man [who injures you]; but if anyone strikes you on the right jaw or cheek, turn to him the other one too.’ ”

        Paul writes an amazing thing:

        Colossians 1:24 “[Even] now I rejoice in the midst of my sufferings on your behalf. And in my own person I am making up whatever is still lacking and remains to be completed [on our part] of Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church.”

        To endure the pain of (“unfair”) affliction, without striking back in self-justifying vanity (& thereby, getting nowhere), becomes our part in “breaking (at least some of) the cycles” of evil perpetuating itself in human life,… ad infinitum,… And this also may become an important contributing factor in the overall healing/Salvation/purgation processes going on in the whole human race.

        And, yes, it hurts,… (just ask Christ about the Cross!),… it IS painful,… but it IS also “doing something positive and redemptive” that could not happen otherwise,… If we “control ourselves,” resist the evil, and turn the rest over to God, we actually are already doing quite a lot that is admirable in God’s sight, and might be the only thing we CAN really do, with God’s help.

        James 4:7 “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

        Forgiveness is not about giving the devil a pass,… we should be making important and public stands for righteousness,… and it is also not about being a pathetic door mat for enduring wanton abuse. As humans, we can tend to go to one extreme or another,… but in God’s strength, we may be able to find within ourselves a position of strength and balance that IS effective in standing, and in confronting and dealing with these very difficult “issues,” without compromising God’s instructions and admonitions to us.

        Luke 18:27 “But He said, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’ ”

        If we learn to loosen our grip on some painful situations and turn them over to God, we might be surprised by how different they look, and how much better we feel. It’s all His anyway.

        Song of Solomon 2:4 “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love [for love waved as a protecting and comforting banner over my head when I was near him].”

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