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(pronounced Ko-Hane)
Dan is the Bram Stoker-nominated author of Plague of Darkness, Solomon’s Grave, and the critically-acclaimed Margaret's Ark. Writing as G. Daniel Gunn, he released Destroyer of Worlds and the novella (written with L.L.Soares) Nightmare in Greasepaint (Samhain Publishing),. His short stories have appeared in Cemetery Dance, Shroud Magazine, Apex Digest and many more. He and his family live in New England.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Walking Down New Roads with Smoldering Remains Behind Me


15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
    falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them;
    their violence comes down on their own heads.
- Psalm 7: 15-16

There was a recent schism (if I'm using that word right) in my church: a multi-site organization with locations, for the most part, around the northeast. A decision was made to fire our local pastor, even though our specific location was one of the healthiest in the organization and the pastor an amazing shepherd to his people. A lot of questionable behavior from the central leadership followed as they tried to prevent the mass exodus which eventually happened anyway. Our local church bled well over half of its membership to become a shadow of what it once was, formerly a growing, spirit filled congregation open to everyone and worshiping with bursting joy in community. The new local pastor is a nice guy with a big heart, and the people staying on are committed to working with him to rebuild, and I pray that his church will grow under him, I really do. I'll watch from the sidelines, however, as I myself have stepped away.

That itself was a hard thing to do. I'm not good at endings, but like someone who sees how his food is actually prepared in a favorite restaurant, and after many months of prayerful consideration, I felt obliged to. It still took a while, because I was in charge of what was called the "production" team and truly loved the people there who come in early to setup, run the lights and video and sound, and did not want to leave them. In the end, central management, the new pastor and I came to an agreement and just prior to me leaving for Spain for vacation (see earlier entry) we parted ways amicably. I told each team member (those still there), and people were sad but understood.

Why the verses up top? Well, after writing a 1200-word rant then deleting most of it, I trimmed it down and posted the main point on my devotional page, but in short, every organization working for the kingdom, be it a church or charity or what have you, survives only when it keeps its perspective upward, stays humble and grateful for the chance to serve, and its leaders never forget they are not the hinges upon which the door of their efforts swing. Sorry, not the best metaphor but I liked how it looked in my head.

The unofficial tagline for my novel Plague of Darkness is that secrets never stay buried forever. In the above verses, if you dig a large hole, you end up stuck in it like Mike Mulligan and his trusty steam shovel Maryanne, or at the very least you fall back into it at some point. The latter is usually what we humans end up doing. There's accountability for every action we perform, good or bad and whether we think we've hidden it or not.

A significant moment for me was during a date with my wife, Linda. We told each other pretty much all of our deepest, darkest secrets, stuff we hadn't told anyone before. Coming out of that, it was like the world was suddenly open like never before. So much metaphorical weight lifted from our chests. There's a song from the band Tenth Avenue North which goes

You told me secrets nobody had known
But I never loved you more, even though
Now I know what you did.

To climb out of the holes our own actions have dug, to break bad habits and patterns in our lives, we need others to be brought into the game. After years of trying to quit smoking, I succeeded only when I told people others what I was doing, and asked them to keep me honest. I think about what they might say if I start again. Being reminded that what we do has an impact on other people is a strong deterrent to bad behavior.

Sometimes because of this, we try to hide our secrets. That opens the door for our spiritual enemy (call him/it what you will) to work against us. Most major church movements start out honestly, humbly doing the work of the Spirit here on earth and perhaps growing in size and influence, not that this is an important attribute of a church, but that's a topic for another day. At some point, if we're not careful (and often we are not because we're a prideful bunch) the enemy will do what he always does: get us to destroy it all by ourselves. Pastors have affairs that shatter illusions of the people they serve. Church leadership becomes so obsessed with money that every sermon brings the subject up in some way, rather than putting more trust in God's provision. Preachers see themselves as deserving accolades and reverence, instead of serving humbly every day and being grateful for the opportunity to speak and teach. Obsessing over details, trying to control everything, rather than trust. So often in scripture Jesus warns us to stay humble, that the proud will fall. Or, in the words of Han Solo, "Don't get cocky."

Pride, and control. A lot of these potential holes can be avoided by putting guardrails in place, not least of which is being open and transparent with other leaders and even the congregation.

There's a lot more to talk about and I will over the next few weeks. When "going to church" has become so central to one's life, what happens when that man-made structure and organization is yanked away from you? My relationship with Jesus is still strong –as strong as it has been, at least, there's always room for improvement. Like my friend Marty, the aforementioned local pastor who after twenty years is on the same road (more so since "church" is what he has done twenty-four hours a day for most of his life), I'm walking down whatever road(s) the Lord lays before me and discovering what "doing church" can mean outside of the box we are constantly trying to shove God into.

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