Sunday, September 30, 2012

What’s with the Name of this Blog?

Well, this is a blog about faith. And what is faith? It is believing in something that you cannot see, touch, or hold, but you KNOW it’s there.

I know that air exists for two reasons: one is that I’ve been taught about air and can read about air in textbooks, and the other one is that I have personally experienced air.

Many people think that the Followers of Christ are a bit strange to live in our modern times here in the United States and practice faith healing. But, if you ask most Christians, they will tell you that they also believe in and rely on faith to heal, when necessary through the help of medical intervention.

Just like I have faith that air exists, without seeing it, I know that God exists. Like air, I have heard about God, read about God, and felt God’s presence. I cannot see God’s face, but I can see God’s creation.

Just a few days ago, I stood outside staring up at the evening sky – a beautiful cerulean with perfect patterns of fluffy white cotton ball clouds. I called my kids outside, and soon several others in the neighborhood came out to see what we were looking at. I love looking at the sky and admiring the world God has created for us to live in. Clear night skies are my favorite. I feel God’s presence at night when staring up at the stars.

An important point I want to make is that I’ve read about a great deal of things that millions of people have faith in, but I do not. The list include: crop circles/alien sightings, the Mormon story, the Lockness monster, Bigfoot, the Big Bang theory, and many more. I’ve read about these things and heard about these things from reliable sources: textbooks, the Internet, documentaries, and hard-core believers. And yet, I have no faith in any of them. Unlike air and God, the “evidence” does not convince me.

So, does air exist? Does God?

Name explained.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Keepsakes From the F.O.C.

I have a lot of good memories from my childhood and young adulthood with the Followers. I also have several momentos of this time in my life - mostly in the form of photographs, which would upset far too many folks if I published them. So, here are some objects I've held onto throughout the years:

Medical Abstinence Alert Bracelet:
"Suzanne M. Shumaker, Route 2 Box 380, Beavercreek, Oregon
632-6736, FOLLOWERS, Kin - Alton C"

In 1986, when church services were reduced to the singing of 10 hymns, church women got together to craft these lovely personalized song book covers.
I wasn't supposed to decorate my book...

A Song Book without a cover
Mom wrote down the key Bible verses that our church followed and other "worldly" churches disregarded, that White pointed out - such as the Holy Kiss and the Signs of the True Believer

My favorite souvenirs - church cookbooks. There are some delicious recipes in these two books - love the chicken pot pie from the 1989 book "Recipes from Friends." 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What Is A Worldly Person?

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

1 John 2:15

In the Followers, we defined anyone who was not one of us as a “worldly person.” That included all other religions and denominations. They were worldly churches and worldly preachers.

But the term worldly person is used outside of the FOC. In most secular contexts, it is actually a compliment. It is someone who is wise in the ways of the world. An educated, well-travelled person.

Here is how defines worldly:


[wurld-lee]  Show IPA adjective,world·li·er, world·li·est, adverb
1.of or pertaining to this world  as contrasted with heaven,spiritual life, etc.; earthy; 
2.experienced; knowing; sophisticated: the benefits of hisworldly wisdom.
3.devoted to, directed toward, or connected with the affairs,interests, or pleasures of this
4.of or pertaining to the people or laity; secular; neither ecclesiastical  nor religious
5.Obsolete . of, pertaining to, or existing on earth.

Churches outside of the FOC also use the term worldly person to refer to someone who dresses in fashionable clothes, has stylish hair, wears a lot of make-up, listens to popular, secular music, and is overly involved in the relevant popular culture.

I have recently heard some reports (yes, gossip) about how Shannon Hickman is getting along in prison. Because her case was high profile and covered in the news media and newspapers, the women prisoners had preconceived notions of how she would be when she arrived among their ranks. The thing that surprised the other prisoners the most was how “worldly” she was. What do you mean by worldly I asked.

“Well, she is into popular music, movies, and TV shows.” So, apparently the other prisoners were expecting someone who did not watch television or listen to music. Maybe they had in mind an Amish woman.

Despite their criticism of her, Shannon has made a lot of friends in prison, but she was a bit unsure at first. Her counselor, realizing that she wasn’t a hardened criminal had advised her to watch out for the other inmates saying, “If a woman comes to you and says she has your back, it means she wants to sleep with you.” Well, imagine her response when a friendly inmate said just that to her, with no intention of sleeping with her.

The inmates at Coffee Creek are required to work full-time jobs for very little pay. They usually receive $100-$200 per month for the full time work. Out of that money, they are required to purchase their own uniforms, shoes, make-up, haircuts, and personal items. Shannon’s chosen job is in the prison chapel. She is a clerk for the religious library.

So what makes someone a “worldly person” to you? Is it someone who gets medical care? Goes to a “worldly church/chapel services”? Is it a positive thing – an educated, world traveler and life-long learner? Is it someone who cares too much about worldly possessions? Or something else?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

First, We Sang 10 Songs; and Then Things Got Interesting

On Saturday evening at 5:35, I loaded my two children and their four playmates into the borrowed navy blue van (which came with the four extra children) to drive twenty minutes to our destination.

At the children’s ministry desk, I checked in my two children and registered each of the other four, who were just one time visitors. Thirteen minutes later, the kids were checked into children’s church. Unburdened by my wiggly, giggly, screechy companions, I walked down to the main sanctuary.

At 6:09 pm I walked through the doors of the sanctuary into darkness. To my right was the soundproof cry room, where parents of babies can sit and observe church through windows and hear the service through the speakers. I walked through the second set of doors and into the church sanctuary. The room was darkened and the congregation was standing singing along with the worship band “We Are Here for You.” Twin screens about 10’x12’ displayed one or two stanzas of the song at a time. There were no song books.

The next song was a familiar hymn from my days as a Follower: “Jesus Paid it All.” As these old hymns so often do, this one brought tears to my eyes and a rush of memories. We sang eight more songs and as I sang along with the congregation, I looked around and wondered who in this large room really deserved to be there. Who should I shun? Who is not worthy? Of course I knew the answer – it was me. I was not worthy to be there, but I was loved and welcomed anyway.

After the tenth worship song, the worship leader prayed while the congregation remained on their feet.

At 6:27 pm, the worship leader asked us to prepare our tithes and offerings while we listen to a prerecorded four minute video with church announcements, bible studies, potlucks, women’s retreat information, and student ministries announcements. I wrote a check and felt guilty for giving less than a full tithe.

The pastor is my age. He’s dorky, but in a cool way. He and his gorgeous wife have been married twenty years and they have five children. He wears black-rimmed glasses and has a soul patch on his chin (which he used to refer to as his “flavor-saver” but I think someone finally clued him into what that term actually means). His dark hair was styled with hair gel and came to a point near the top of his forehead. He was wearing grey slacks, rolled up at the bottom and a blue t-shirt.

The congregation is mostly young. Most people are in their thirties, forties, and fifties. Not many older folks. And the people who go to this church are quite attractive (maybe it’s from clean living).

The pastor asked us to pull out our bibles and follow along. The sermon was the third in a series of four sermons about heart conditions. This one was about half-heartedness (Luke 8:14).  The pastor paced and bopped around the stage while sharing anecdotes. He was getting our attention and getting warmed up for the meat of the lesson – the sermon would come back to his opening stories several times. The sermon, which started out light, quickly became serious.

After the service, we stood to sing again. The first song was another hymn from the past.We sang a final worship song – the twelfth song of the service, the pastor prayed for us again and the lights came on. I turned and talked with my best friend. On the way out, we stopped and visited with others. No harsh feelings, no glares, no shunning, no gossip. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Beverly Penrod: Terrified of God, Walter, and Haircuts

Last Wednesday, I received the following email from Beverly Penrod, the niece of Ernest Nichols, the rejected FOC preacher. She graciously gave me permission to publish her letter here.

As with all of my guest bloggers, the opinions and statements of the guest do not necessarily reflect my own beliefs or experiences.

* * * * *

My name is Beverly Penrod. My cousin told me how to reach your blog. I spent the biggest share of yesterday and many hours today reading it. I couldn’t sleep last night due to the memories flooding back. I was born into the Followers of Christ in 1942. My memories are of the church not good. No they are frightening. 
I can only say that Walter White is the devil himself and my Uncle Ernest Nichols was close behind.
We attended church in Caldwell until Walter and, I think his name was Vern Baldwin, had a fight, disagreement, argument or whatever. I do not remember much about the Idaho church. We followed Walter to Oregon City, to California, and back to Oregon City. I think that is the order of our moves. I was very young. We moved wherever he went or where we were told to go. My granddad, Kenneth Robert Sayre, was an Elder. I am not sure if he was ordained Caldwell or Oregon City. 

Church doctrine was strictly enforced in our home. I can remember my mother crying because she could not cut her hair. It was her crowning glory. Her hair was very thin and she wanted it styled. She was shamed. My grandmother popped my mouth for asking what God looked like. I was five years old. We were not allowed to talk about God. We were taught to fear God. Hell Fire and Damnation. If we strayed from what Walter taught we were doomed to hell. Even to get a haircut or wonder what God looked like. 

Uncle Ernest preached also. Walter, Uncle Ernest, and the elders picked someone to rebuke during Sunday’s service. This was truly frightening with the screaming and crying. People were made to stand and hopefully confess their sin. I think the rebuking was the most frightening thing to my young ears. My grandparents told me how the people were selected after we were shunned. The kissing was also frightening. It was awful having all of those old people kiss me on the lips. I still to this day do not want to be kissed on the lips by anyone. 

So I was terrified of God. Of getting a haircut. Of people yelling and crying during services. Of kisses. Of going to hell. Of making Walter or Uncle Ernest mad which was a sure way to get to hell. When I was 11 or 12 Walter baptized a lot of people in the river. I was one of them. I don’t remember if it was the Clackamas or the Willamette River. Guess it doesn’t matter. I didn’t want to go to hell. Then came the shunning. Another kind of hell.

Walter and Uncle Ernest scared the hell out of people to get them to do their bidding, but Uncle Ernest did not agree with everything Walter said and did. But Uncle was as guilty as Walter when it came to who would be shunned and controlled. Uncle Ernest and Aunt May had a small grocery store and Walter decided that everyone should shop there. My grandmother refused and Walter told granddad that he had to divorce her if he could not control her. Grandma and granddad lived to celebrate 50 years of marriage. 

Of course we could not go to a doctor and if we went to a dentist we could not have pain meds or Novocain. I still have an insane fear of dentists. When I was eight or nine years old I was stricken with Rheumatic fever. I was sick for months and my family was sure I was dying. Walter and the elders were called in to lay on hands. I was on the road to recovery in weeks. I firmly believe in the power of prayer in healing. I have experienced it more than once. So I cannot knock all aspects of the church. However the Followers’ cemetery is full of my beloved aunts and uncles and cousins who died very young from easily cured diseases and babies that were never given a chance. 
My family (grandparents, mother, sister and myself and various cousins) were shunned when granddad had to move from Oregon City for his health. Walter and Uncle said that if granddad’s faith was strong enough he would be healed in Oregon City. We were not shunned right away. Uncle Orin Keith wrote a letter a few years later. It about killed my grandmother. A great sadness came over most of my family. It installed a deep hatred of everything and everyone in the Followers of Christ.

I have been able to forgive, but I will never forget. The fear, the heartbreak, the pity I have for my family that remain in the church. I am very comfortable with my God. A kind, forgiving, merciful, loving God. 

Oh yes before I forget Uncle Ernest left the church. I think due to problems with Walter. Anyway his five kids shunned him. My aunts in Oklahoma cried at how the kids were treating their father. My sister and I at the same time said “it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.” I think Deaner may have seen Uncle after the shunning. 

I have had a hard time sleeping since I read your blog.  The church you write about sounds like a softer gentler one than I remember.  Since I read your blog the memories have come flooding back.  The fear of Walter most of all.  I go to sleep thinking about him and the church ect are on my mind when I wake up.

I am most grateful to know that Jesus is my way to heaven and not Walter White.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Your Sins Will Be Shouted From the Housetops

For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
Luke 12:2-3

            Lately, there have been many comments from anonymous folks who want to remind/inform the world of the sins of those who have left. If these folks were still in your church, would you sell them out like this?

What is to be gained by calling out the sins of someone else? Does that make God more likely to forgive your trespasses? What is in the heart of someone who keeps track of other people’s mistakes? Are you without sin?

I choose to shout my own sins from the housetop, by telling my story in my memoir. I do not look forward to having people I know read certain parts of my book. I’ve said, done, and thought things I’m ashamed of. But, I won’t hide my sins, I choose to confess and ask forgiveness. I hope that someone can learn from my mistakes, or find comfort in relating to things I’ve walked through.   

           I’m not suggesting that everyone should have a public confession such as the route I have chosen, but I am suggesting that when you wish to point out the sins of others so publicly - when you persist in remembering the faults of others, but so conveniently forget or hide your own - you may want to remember that all that is hidden, will one day be made known to all. One day, your sins will be shouted from the housetops my friends.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Matthew 7:5

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What is Hell Like?

When I was growing up, I heard angry adults curse others using this statement: Go to Hell! I heard adults telling others that so-and-so were going to Hell. I heard it preached from the pulpit even - those who leave our group are going to Hell. Scary.

I don’t recall anyone ever saying these three words to me (though I've been told that people said those words about me). And I don’t believe I’ve ever uttered these words to anyone else. But, if I am mistaken about this, I am deeply and utterly sorry for having said it.

Now that I’m “out in the world” there are many more ways people – most of whom do not even believe in Hell – curse each other. I’m sure you can imagine the expletives, so I will not bother repeating them. But the worst thing a person can say, in my opinion, to another is “Go to Hell.” It’s unthinkable. I do not want to go to Hell, and I do not want anyone else to go either.

I am terrified of Hell. It's a terrible place, the worst place any of us can imagine is better than Hell. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Where is Hell?

Do you wonder where Hell is? Scripture implies that Hell is located at the center of the Earth:

For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Matthew 12:40

What is Hell Like?

And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:10-15

* * * 

And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:50

Hell is eternal suffering and punishment. No rest. No relief. The worst kinds of pain inflicted upon you day and night for all of eternity. Terrible.

It has become a popular theory to say that Hell is not real. That our lives on this Earth are already “hell.” Many folks will say “how can a loving God and Father inflict this on his creation?” It just can’t be real. But, I believe that it is real. I believe that souls are eternal and each person makes a choice of how they will spend eternity by the choices they make.

Here is what some of my friends think about Hell:

        “It’s whatever you hate the most. If you hate annoying conversations, that’s your eternal destiny.”

“Being separated from your family and those you love.”

“Utter despair, fear, and darkness because it is complete separation from God. No cliches... No pitchfork or scales. Just utter despair and fear because of complete absence of hope and joy.

“Reliving mistakes, forever, without being able to change them.

“Unquenchable heat, thirst, pain, anguish...

"The absence of God"

“Realization of missed opportunities and wrongs you have done others.

“Permanent death of the soul and no memory of that soul with the living. Everyone wants to believe they will always exist but no life exists apart from the sustaining power of the creator.

“When I think about Hell, I picture the scene from the movie “What Dreams May Come” with Robin Williams”

“I think of Dante’s Inferno”

“After I hide from God for my sins and let the rocks fall on me then stood before God ashamed and broken, then It would be dark and cold filled with demons that Lear at me while I toil burning and in pain filling the ever burning fire"

I asked my old schoolmate, Chad Smith, to create a scene of Hell, from a description of my worst nightmares – eternal torment, the lake of fire, skin melting off, demons and Satan. Here is what he came up with:

Illustration by Chad Smith who Tweets at @MrNoodle

It’s too easy to dismiss Hell as not real. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about billions of souls in eternal torment. But, if Jesus is real and God is real, then Hell is too. I think people who don't believe in Hell or who have never feared Hell cannot fully appreciate the gift of Jesus' sacrifice for our salvation.

Recommended reading: A Divine Revelation of Hell by Mary K Baxter 

Recommended listening: Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God a podcast of the preacher Mark Dever delivering John Edwards’s famous 1741 sermon.

I'm interested in knowing what you think Hell is like.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Watch Your Fingers & Thumbs

Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:22

On Sunday's post about unconditional love, I posted a recent family picture. Because one of the members of my family requested that I take it down, I honored that request, but not before a reader noticed that I was supposedly flashing a "devil horns" hand signal.

Because I am not familiar with this particular sign, I had to do some research to understand what they were talking about. Most folks know that the hand sign posted below is sign language for "I love you." I do this with my kids all the time so I don't have to yell out embarrassing things that will make their friends laugh at them like, "Mommy loves you."

I Love You

But, I have found out that if you tuck the thumb away, the hand signal becomes "devil horns" as shown in the picture below. The devil horns are a popular sign in the Heavy Metal music culture. Now, I love all kinds of music - Country and Western, but I have never willingly listened to heavy metal. I don't like screaming "music" and I don't understand the lyrics. So, it's not surprising that I was not aware of this Metal music phenomena.

Devil Horns
 So to set the record straight: thank you Mr. Anonymous for introducing a new concept to me and the readers of this blog. It was something I didn't know about. And now it's something to watch out for: don't flash the "I love you" sign without your thumb!

Now for clarification, please check out this slice of the original photo, just showing me. You will notice that my middle finger is tucked into my pants pocket, my little finger is sticking out - something it tends to do, and my pointer and ring fingers are also out. I'm not sure if that is some evil sign - pointer, ring, and pinky fingers out, thumb and middle fingers tucked in; but, I am sure it's not a "devil horn."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Unconditional Love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Christmas day, 1994, Randy and I were home alone. Our first Christmas together. Twenty miles away, my parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews were celebrating Christmas. I didn’t expect to be included. I had made choices, and I was aware of the consequences.

We had shunned my sister, Karin, when I was in eighth grade. But we didn’t really shun her – not completely. My parents never shunned her. My brothers didn't speak to her for years, and I treated her like she was leper. But a few times a year my folks would take the younger kids (my youngest older brother and I) to visit my sister in California. And her kids. I loved those kids - still do.

Then the family shunned me, because I married the wrong person. I was twenty-one. My parents didn't shun me because I did the exact same thing they had done – Mom married my dad when he was a worldly person - but I wasn't included in the holidays that first year. Anyway, I didn’t do anything shun-worthy and my parents were smart enough to know that. My brothers eventually let me back into their lives as well.

My oldest brother left in 1999 and then my other two brothers and my parents left. We could be back together. Sort-of. Because two of the brothers were moving to Idaho. And there were years of hurt feelings and strain left in our relationships.

We weren't raised to give love unconditionally. We weren’t raised to believe in unconditional love from God. God would love us if we deserved it. But my folks loved us even though we didn’t always deserve it. My parents understood unconditional love despite that place.

I have my entire family and I love them unconditionally – though the strain is often still there. I am so glad to have discovered that Jesus loves me despite my sins. I am worthy because of Jesus. That is good news people.

I still fear Hell. I still obsess about it. I have been battling these thoughts and fears the past thirty-some years. They don’t just go away. Sometimes I have peace and sometimes I do not. I understand what the Bible says about grace, but those legalistic tapes from the past rear their ugly heads to put doubt into my mind. A friend pointed out to me how unreasonable my fears are.

She said, “That’s like saying to your own kids – I will only love you if you’re good, but if you’re bad, I will throw you out in the back yard and burn you to death.” Would I do that to my children? Never!

Think about how much you love your little children. God loves you MORE than that. Do you have loved ones you are shunning? If you, do, please think about if God would want you to treat them like that. 

I’m so grateful for my family. We’re not perfect – but I can call up anyone in my family and they will take my phone call! They will give me the time of day. The only valid reason I can think of for shunning someone is if they raped or murdered someone I loved. Seriously. If you want or need me in your life, I will be there. How sad that not everybody can say the same about their own children, parents, siblings, and cousins.