Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fifty Years Ago

My folks joined the Followers of Christ when it was still possible to do so.  They were not raised in the group. Mom’s uncle (Elmo Welch) married a woman in the church. Her name was Irene and her younger brother married Walter White’s sister.  It was in this roundabout way that Walter White came into her life.

The day after Christmas, 1960, my great uncle Elmo, his wife Irene, and their two children, Charlie and Edna, were in a terrible automobile accident. Both Elmo and Edna were killed and Irene and Charlie were hospitalized.

Elmo’s side of the family – the Welches – arrived at the hospital along with Irene’s side of the family.  Irene’s family were there to have Irene and Charlie removed from the hospital, while the Welch family members were there to ensure that Charlie, at least, was left in the hospital. My mom had grown up knowing her aunt and uncle and being best friends were her cousin Edna. Mom was even living with the family at the time of this tragedy and they had never informed her that they were faith healers. My grandfather had warned them that if they spoke to his daughter about their religion, they wouldn’t be allowed to see her.

A nurse came out and asked the family members to donate blood for Irene and Charlie. Mom followed her family members to go along and do what she could, when she was stopped by Walter’s sister, who told her that they wouldn’t want her to give blood. That was the first she learned about their religion.

A few weeks after this tragedy, Mom dropped out of college (she had been studying to become a nurse!) and moved to Oregon City to help care for Irene and Charlie. Every evening members of the church were there, including Walter White. The men sat around talking about religion. My mother hadn’t grown up in a religious home and she found this fascinating. A month later, she asked Walter to baptize her.

About a year-and-a-half after she became a full-fledged member of the church, she met my dad. Their meeting is controversial, and I will leave the full disclosure of this to those who decide to read my book. But, needless to say, Dad was not a Follower. He was a sailor and was in Portland for the annual Rose Festival.

In October, just a few months after their first date, Dad was granted a leave of absence and returned to Oregon, where he collected my mom and they eloped. Shortly after their elopement, Mom brought her worldly husband to church. He was wearing his Navy uniform.

Dad’s first experience at church was negative because during this service, one of the elders stood on the pulpit and espoused the great idea of an adult man marrying a fifteen year old girl before the end of the calendar year so he could claim her as a dependent on his taxes.

Dad soon had to return to his station in Japan and Mom was left in Oregon filling out required forms and awaiting a passport so she could join her new husband.

Mom and Dad stayed in Japan for the first three years of their marriage, then Dad was sent to Chicago to push recruits. It was when they lived in Illinois that Walter flew out to visit them and talked my dad into leaving the Navy and moving to Oregon to join his flock. It was a decision my dad has never stopped regretting.

All of this happened fifty years ago. In fact tomorrow is my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. I’m so proud of them for staying together through thick and thin and being good role models to their children and grandchildren. My parents are amazing and I don't want to think about what life would be like without them to support, encourage, and help me, my siblings, and all of our kids. The older I get, the more I need and want my parents to be around. I love you Mom and Dad - happy anniversary!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

They Disappear Before Unmasking

Even though our church did not allow outsiders to join our ranks, there was one event each year,  when we always suspected there were strangers among us: the annual Halloween party.
There was always an odd feeling – almost that evil was in the air at the Halloween party, which was held every year on the Friday evening nearest Halloween. This event wasn’t just for teenagers. Adults and children also jumped into the action. It was great fun to dress up as something secret and have people stumped as to who was inside the costume.
One year, my friends and I dressed as VHS movie boxes (yes, showing my age with that detail). We went to a video rental store and got movie posters to glue to our oversized boxes. I was so into the whole disguise thing that I swiped my older brothers Air Jordans (which were the most coveted pair of shoes in those days), and used mascara to darken my arm hairs so people would guess it was a guy in my costume. I felt victorious when a group of boys surrounded us and tried to guess who we were by listing off the guys who owned a pair of Air Jordans.
1990 Halloween Party (not so undercover)
Near the end of the party was the unmasking, where all the costumed people would line up and wait for their turn to step up on the stage by the band and remove their disguise. But there were always some people who just never stayed at the party long enough to reveal their true identities. Strangers? Worldly people? Ex-followers? I worried that they were evil spirits and demons; so I stayed away from the parking lot during those parties.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No Immunizations

A note of clarification: this is my personal story of how my parents' decision to abstain from medical care for themselves and their children affected me. I am not advocating for anyone to avoid immunizations for their children. In fact, my own children have had all of their shots, and I have no second thoughts or regrets about raising them with regular medical care and all of the recommended immunizations.

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I've never had an immunization shot. I think it has benefited me in some ways. Yes, I did get some bad diseases that could have been prevented and were potentially fatal, but my immune system is much stronger for having gone through those illnesses.
When I was four years old, my oldest brother caught Whooping Cough from a schoolmate who’d had a live pertussis (whooping cough) shot. I think most of the things I came down with (maybe all) were caused from the medical interventions of others. My case of whooping cough was particularly bad and my parents were seriously worried. I was given small doses of red wine and anointed with olive oil while my parents prayed for my recovery. I think they suffered as much as I did – maybe more – they had five kids down with whooping cough! I remember those days, maybe weeks, when my then five-year-old brother and I slept in our parents’ bed and stayed in bed most of the days. I spent hours staring at the popcorn ceiling and imagining different objects, animals, and shapes moving around. They had a Japanese painting hanging over their bed of a sailboat on a moonlit night, but I kept imaging that the sailboat was really an evil witch.
I will never forget my first day of ninth grade. I woke up feeling off and assumed it was first day of school jitters. I couldn't stomach the thought of eating my normal breakfast of cheerios (the breakfast I have eaten nearly every day of my life from the age of four until now), and decided that Ramen noodles would be just the thing. I had Spanish second period and I remember sitting in my plastic chair feeling like the teacher was speaking from miles away. My head was spinning and I was sweating. I couldn't get her attention to ask to leave the room, but I was so ill, that I left anyway. I walked into the school office and asked to call home, but the secretary just waved me off and said it was just nerves. She told me to sit down and went back to her work. I immediately began vomiting in the metal wastepaper basket. By time all of my undigested noodles were out, the secretary had my mom on the phone.
It was disappointing to miss the first two weeks of school. I had planned to take school seriously when I got to high school. I always heard that grades don’t really count until high school, and here I was out sick. My teachers sent work home, but I was in no position to focus on anything. I had a bad case of the mumps. Even when I returned to school, I had swollen glands and a misshapen face.
In eleventh grade, I came down with German Measles. That knocked me out of school for nearly three weeks.  Whenever an outbreak of German Measles came about, the women at church who were pregnant, might be pregnant, or might get pregnant had to stay away from church and the public, in general – unless they’d already had German measles. I guess I also had Chicken Pox when I was a toddler, but I don’t remember it.
I don’t get sick much now. I have traveled in twenty countries and on four continents  and have never had to get inoculations. My immune system is strong. Last summer, I got a notice from my graduate school adviser stating that I needed a current physical and a record of shots. Although, it is no longer against my religion to get immunizations, I didn't feel that it was a necessary procedure, so I requested (and was granted) an exception. I have natural immunity to most infectious diseases, so why have extra chemicals forced into my system?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

God's Only Chosen People

Please note: The portion of today's blog about the Idaho churches is based on my second hand knowledge. If there are any discrepancies or inaccuracies, please let me know and I will update with the correct information.

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Do you think it's odd that the folks in the Oregon City Followers of Christ church believe they're the chosen ones? That all others are condemned by virtue of not being born into this select group?

Well, they're not the only ones who believe God only cares about them. On Wednesday, I wrote a blog questioning what happened in Idaho. Why did a large group of the church migrate to Oregon City. The best answer I could get was that there was said to be a preacher in the Idaho church who had been discovered in an extramarital affair and was allowed to continue preaching. That's what we were told. In Idaho, members were told that Walter White had a wrong spirit, and were warned to stay away from Oregon City.

There are at least four Followers of Christ churches operating in Idaho. The group in Marsing, Idaho is led by the preacher Ken Algers. It is a welcoming congregation. In fact, I'm told that Brother Ken was actually called to be an evangelist. The role of an evangelist is to bring the unsaved to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Closely related to the Marsing, Idaho group is a small church in Grants Pass, led by the preacher John Mead. Brother John and Brother Ken often travel to each other's congregations to minister to the both of these bodies of believers.

Elsewhere in Idaho, somewhere in the mountains is another Followers of Christ congregation that is also friendly with the Marsing and Grants Pass group, and welcoming to newcomers.

But there are more splinter groups. The group in Boise disapproves of the Marsing group and will not associate with them. I'm told that the Boise group functions similarly to the Oregon City sect in regards to associating with outsiders. There is also a group in Caldwell, Idaho that is closed off and believes that they are God's only chosen people.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Really Happened in Idaho?

For two years from 2005 until 2007, I taught in a rural junior/senior high school in Southern Oregon. Three periods of seventh grade English and three periods of eighth grade United States history. Some of those eighth graders whined the common refrain of "why do we have to learn history?" so many times, that I used it as a classroom theme and made them create posters advocating reasons that knowing history is important. Here are some of the ideas they came up with:

  • So we don't repeat past mistakes.
  • History has a lot of good and interesting stories.
  • A common set of knowledge.
  • To understand how we got to where we are.
  • So we understand what the reporters on the news are talking about.
  • So Jay Leno doesn't make us look like stupid Americans in a street interview.
  • History helps us understand people and society.
  • Knowing history is important for good citizenship.
  • To understand what adults are talking about.
  • To improve our reading and comprehension skills.
  • History provides a cultural identity.

So, as I think about what happened in Idaho and why some of the members of the Marsing, Idaho Followers of Christ church decided to leave and migrate to Oregon City, I ask myself why it's important. This happened in the 1930s and 1940s. Most of the people involved are no longer living (probably all of the folks are, in fact, dead). So, why bring it up? Why is it important?

It is an important question to me because I want to understand the confusion and lack of direction, lack of understanding, and most importantly the lack of hope that I grew up under. Why couldn't we go to Idaho and get baptized? Why couldn't one of the preachers from Idaho come to Oregon City to baptize people and provide leadership?

As a child, I had the feeling that the entire state of Idaho was pure evil. Whenever Riley and Glenford spoke of the Idaho church, it was to warn us to stay away from their evil ways. The only answer I could get on what was so bad about Idaho, was the vague idea that the Idaho church encouraged young people to "sow their wild oats" before getting baptized, getting married, and settling into a serious pursuit of the faith. I don't know if there was truth to that claim, but I have heard that this sort of thing still goes on over there.

I've also heard that the split was over the issue of women's hair. The Idaho group (the one that we in Oregon City thought were so sinful) believed women should not cut their hair. The Oregon City group allowed women to have hair cuts.

I'd love to hear comments from folks who know more about why the Idaho-Oregon City split happened.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How We Worship

From 1986 until 1994 - for eight years, I attended a church where the only teaching was done through the singing of hymns. My favorite hymn has always been Amazing Grace. It's the song I sung to my children to put them to sleep as babies. I sat snuggling my daughter yesterday and starting singing it when she stopped me and said, "You're going to put me to sleep. That's my sleepy song!" 

I never get tired of hearing or singing this song. Here are the original lyrics to this timeless hymn:

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd!

Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton, 1779

Note: this verse replaced the last few verses in the 1790 publication:

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun

Twelve years ago I became a born-again Christian and became familiar with more modern worship songs. The churches I've been to have generally mixed the traditional hymns with popular Christian songs. 

My kids attend a Christian school in addition to the children's church services on the weekends. They've grown up immersed in Christian teaching and worship. At home, we listen to Christian radio and the kids love to sing along and dance to what they call "Jesus songs."

Do you have a favorite hymn? What does worship mean to you and your family?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Perpetual Student

I've never been happier than when I'm in school - both in front of the class and sitting in one of the seats. Teacher or student, school is my happy place.
I wanted to go to college as a young adult. I told my then boyfriend that I wanted to go to Clackamas Community College after high school. He was baffled. He said all he wanted from life was to go to work, come home, eat dinner with his family and watch television. I was baffled by that. That sounded terribly boring (as a sixteen-year-old). I can appreciate the simple life now that I'm older and have children of my own. But I still love school.
After high school, I enrolled at CCC as a full-time freshman. I didn't tell people at church though. I knew that college was viewed as unnecessary at best, and more likely dangerous. My parents told me to forget college - it was no place for a girl. It would turn me into an atheist. It was a waste of money to pay for college when I was just going to be a housewife. 
I finished one semester of college, but couldn't afford any more school and really didn't have the fight in me. Instead I went to work - and I really enjoyed working in the business offices of car dealerships. By the time I was twenty, I was promoted to Office Manager. But I still wanted to earn a college degree.
After I left church, I went back to CCC and earned my Associate of Arts degree in one year - summer included. I was a straight A student - the one who always sat in the front row and spent hours every evening on homework. I went to Portland State and earned my Bachelor of Arts degree two years later. I thought I was done. I never dreamed I'd get into graduate school. That was beyond reach, I believed.
But in 2005, I earned my first Master of Arts degree. I'm now in the last few months of another graduate degree - my Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, and I know that I'm not finished. I am already looking into PhD programs. And, even if I need to wait a few years to begin the  next program which will finally earn me the right to put a "Dr." at the front of my name, I will enjoy my work teaching undergraduates, in the meantime.
I’ve figured out why I love school so much. I spent so much of my life in a group without an elder or leader. There was nobody with definitive answers. Nobody to give us hope or explain the big questions of life. I’m still looking for guidance – a chief or elder. Someone with the answers.
            I am looking for truth.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How I Feel About My Book

I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate that it makes me cry to relive bad memories. I hate that it makes me cringe to tell about the stupid mistakes – big and small – that I’ve made. I hate that it brings back feelings of resentment toward certain people; people I have tried so hard to forgive – and certainly forget – are brought back to life in the pages of my book. I hate that it is documented proof of my sinfulness. And, I’m so tired of rereading it and rewriting it. I can’t wait to move on.

I love it. I love it. I love it. It is a major accomplishment to have written my first book - a lifelong dream. I have worked hard on it. It is cathartic to have worked through issues from my past.

I worry about it. A lot. I worry about the reactions of the people I know and love when they read it. I worry about my kids reading it someday. I worry about hurting people with my words. And I worry about how people will judge my life.

But in the end, it is what it is. I have changed the names of the vast majority of people in the book – even my own family members. If people judge me for my decisions, that’s okay. I can live with it. If someone is a true friend, they will stand beside me, despite my imperfections.

I will continue to blog and will begin a new book as soon as I’m finished editing this one.

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Paul Hartung: The Lopsided Warfare

Today's guest blogger, Paul Hartung became a disciple of Christ at the age of twenty while reading the gospel accounts privately, and so began a lifelong study of the scriptures.  Now forty, he resides in Oregon City where he is raising five children to trust Jesus.  He posts comments occasionally on this blog under the name 'fools4christ' and welcomes thoughtful interaction.  While never a member of the F.O.C., Paul cares deeply about others discovering the riches of Christ regardless of their past or present circumstances. 

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But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4

Talk of spiritual warfare tends to sound like dark fantasy.  It is often described in ways so far outside the realm of normal existence that many feel they are not susceptible to such troubles (because most feel they are the normal ones while others are weird).  Maybe this extraordinary warfare only happens to occur among those very-spiritually-aware type of folks, they think.  Or perhaps it’s all just in the heads of those given to an overactive imagination? 

The awful truth is that an insanely lopsided warfare has been waged against humanity for millennia – and most are unaware of it and are, therefore, defeated already. 

What force is at work to prevent people from seeing the truth of the gospel? – that is the question I want to probe. 

Briefly stated, the bible teaches that sinners are blind and cannot see/hear/believe the good news unless and until the Lord overcomes every obstacle in them.  Even culturally religious theists need to have their hearts opened in order to obtain a saving faith (see Acts 16:14).

A short answer is not sufficient because there can be multiple factors that result in the same unbelief, and more than one of those factors may be at work simultaneously.  Nevertheless, there is one chief cause of unbelief under which the others fall: Satan, the god of this perishing world.  Read again the above passage from 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. 

There is nothing wrong with the gospel itself.  Everyone ought to be enamored with it.  The problem is a satanically induced blindness that permeates the human race to prevent genuine appreciation of the message of salvation.  While Satan is not able to prevent the Lord’s elect from obtaining saving faith and finishing the race of faith, he does not know who the elect are.  That is why new believers face great difficulty in making even small steps towards a renewed mind and a childlike faith in the Savior.

By his nature, Satan works tirelessly to make the message of Jesus seem unimportant, disgusting, irrelevant, or otherwise unbelievable.  It is a caricature of the devil to think he is about scaring folks, getting them to listen to heavy metal music, perform bloody rituals, or other wild behavior associated with social abnormality.  Satan welcomes such credit if it keeps his primary warfare a secret to those blinded. 

In this world, the gospel is being confused, muddled, and diminished constantly.  Power mongers select pieces of the gospel to carve out their own niche following.  Opponents are made famous by their bold disobedience to it.  Apostates are embraced as courageous for evolving beyond it.  The result is still blindness to the light of the gospel. And this is not only true in the external world of human communication but also in the internal thought process and memory.

When people don’t regard or understand the message of the gospel – that is when Satan does his most common work in the minds of the hearers. Jesus taught His disciples a critically important parable about different kinds of hearers and the warfare entailed when the message is proclaimed.  In Matthew’s gospel, the parable of the sower explains the lopsided warfare in terms of Satan removing what was planted:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.
Matthew 13:19 NKJV

This describes satanic warfare at the basic level of how a person processes words and esteems them internally.  A lack of understanding is no excuse for a lack of caring about the message of life through Christ.  If the message is not valued enough to think hard upon then faith cannot take root because the enemy of your soul won’t let the word survive.  And if the heart has no vital trust in the word and work of King Jesus, then you are perishing – you prove that you too are on the wrong end of the lopsided warfare.

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Paul can be contacted at