Posted by: Botolff | February 2, 2009

A Safe Place in the Pew?

I went to a church service this morning.  A friend of mine was speaking.  That’s the only reason why I went.  It was the first Sunday morning service I have gone to in eight months, since my termination.  Unless I’m speaking, or someone else I know is, it might be my last one for another eight.  It was a lot for me to handle.  I didn’t realize what would be required of me in order to sit in the pew again.  Even more, what I would go through well before I entered the doors.

Do you believe in good and evil?  If so, what do those look like to you?  I started off my day with a horribly wicked dream I was awoken from this morning.  Thank God I woke up.  I won’t share many of the details of the dream with you because I’m too ashamed of what was happening…and it wasn’t even real.  What I will tell you is that it was a dream about me and some Korean people, and I was a wickedly abusive man who was plotting to take advantage of a number of them.  I can tell you, that who I know myself to be didn’t match the man in my dream, and I have never dreamt of myself in that way before.  I can also tell you that the level of wickedness I was plotting in my dream would have created a fear in people that would have matched the kind of fear I felt around some people in the church that terminated me.  It was the kind of fear that only intentional deception and manipulation can create.  Maybe something similar, but not necessarily parallel, to the fear that was created by characters such as Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars, Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs and The Joker in The Dark Knight.  I can also tell you that, to my knowledge, I have never dreamt about any people of color different than my own in my dreams in the past.

Can you guess what kind of church my friend was speaking at this morning?  A Korean church.  The race that represented the people in my dream who I was going to abuse; and the place that represented the institution of people who abused me.  Again, do you believe in good and evil?  I do, and I think I was visited by both this morning.

When I stepped into the church, I was greeted by people who’s faces I had just seen hours before.  Not the same faces, but the same race.  I was beside myself.  I meandered about smiling and making small talk with people who said, “Hey so and so, (Botolff) is a visitor this morning.  He knows our speaker for the day.”  I got nothing but warm and pleasant interactions from people, but inside I was creeped out.  A couple times I had to remind myself that I’m a good man.

After a short time of introductions, I stepped into the sanctuary.  I made it about a third of the way up the center isle of about 20 rows of pews.  Then I stopped and stood there.  I couldn’t go any further.  Tears started building up in my eyes.  I can feel them again right now.  I thought I might need to turn around and leave.  But I didn’t.  I sat down in the pew to my left near the center isle.  I was there for about a minute and a half, and I had to move.  I slid all the way over to the left side of the same pew near the wall.  I wasn’t comfortable leaving my back exposed to anyone.  I needed to be able to curl up in a spot where I could turn and use my peripheral vision to keep an eye on everyone in the sanctuary.  When my friend’s wife got there, she invited me to come sit up front with her, and I said to her, “I can’t do that today.  I’ll talk to you later about why, and thank you, but I just can’t do it.”

This morning I sat in the pew of a place that is supposed to represent something of peace, comfort, compassion, hope, rest, joy and support.  I’m a 6’3 250lb. man who was scared.  Not so much about what would or could be done to me this morning, but much more that I may never truly feel safe in a building like that again.  I began to grieve.  Ironically, the church buildings I worked in felt safe to me for years; when in all reality, they turned out to be some of the most abusive environments I had been in.  Now that I was just visiting one, and little was required of me by the people who were there, I no longer felt safe.  Oh God, what kind of trauma have I been through that this is the result?  And how do I trust You when, in many regards, I don’t trust them?

Then something happened…my friend began to speak.  I knew the whole time that I didn’t really trust the people or the place.  But I did trust him.  And although the tension never really left, there was a point in time I was reminded of what I believe to be God’s care for me as I watched and listened to my friend.  Thank God for him.  A man I have suffered with, celebrated with, broken bread with, prayed with, been consoled by, received apologies from and who in many regards taught me how to fight for something good.  He is an example of the living church to me.  And if I never step foot in another church building, it would be much less a tragedy than if I lost friends like him.  I am thankful that amidst such wickedness swirling around me this morning, I was able to see something of God in the relationship that exists between me and this friend of mine.

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